Coarse Language, but not Coarse Reading

I’ve written a couple posts about the use of colorful language in literary works, highlighting a problem without offering many solutions. With that I mind, I wanted to share a few creative ways for characters to express themselves while still allowing the reader to use his imagination.

The first two are from Randy Alcorn’s book, Deception. The novel features a homicide detective named Ollie Chandler. Ollie’s investigating a murder and every detective on the force is a suspect, including himself. I enjoyed the story, as I did the first two in the trilogy: Deadline and Dominion.

This first scene is where Ollie is interrogating a room full of his fellow detectives, each of them a potential suspect. You might imagine they are none too happy with one of their own questioning their integrity. One of the officers expresses his displeasure, (Ollie’s the narrator)

“Chandler’s a horse’s rear end,” Cimmatoni said, or something to that effect.

We all have guesses as to what Cimmatoni said, and that’s what I appreciate – the reader fills the blank. He avoids the character coming off as corny, while still keeping the book clean.

The second example uses a different technique and it’s equally effective. Chandler’s about to be grilled by the internally unpopular Chief of Police. Here’s how their dialogue begins.

Finally he stepped out and said to Mona, “Any calls?”

“Yeah,” I said under my breath. “Your proctologist called. They found your head in your –”

“Chandler!” Though he couldn’t have heard me, he beckoned, and before I was through the door he asked, “Situation changed with the professor?”

“No. He’s still dead.”

Waster basket? Clouds? Neighbor’s business? I guess we’ll never know. But then again, we all know exactly what Ollie was about to say. However, the pages are still free from the colorful language that graffiti so many books.

There was a third trick Alcorn used, but I was unable to find it as I flipped back through the book.

Another author, Dale Cramer, used some creative means to help give voice to his gruff characters without profaning the reader’s experience. His novel, Bad Ground, was in storage when I wrote this but Mr. Cramer kindly posted one of his methods in a comment.

He broke into a run— actually started running down the road toward the dead chair, the way a sane person might have done if a child had been run over— and as he ran he let fly with a veritable river of caustic poetry, a unified body of professional-grade profanity so focused and intense that Jeremy pictured it snuffing out entire constellations on its way to punching a new hole in the envelope of the universe.

None of us know what was said, but there’s no denying the emotional intensity of the moment. Each of these examples are methods of creatively dealing with emotion without cheaply penning the profane.

I appreciate the effort these guys are making to keep the pages clean.

Keep Discovering Writing.

Advertisements

About ryan85

A son, a brother, a husband, a father of eight, and a friend. A follower of Jesus Christ. A fan of the Seminoles and all teams Atlanta. I write, I read, and teach when I can. I prefer red pens. I'm easily distracted. I've lived in Augusta, GA, northern Minnesota, the beautiful western NC mountains, and Tallahassee, FL - Go 'Noles. I played football for FSU, was on the national championship team in 1999, and took a few snaps with the Pittsburgh Steelers. My favorite colors are fluorescent yellow, and Garnet & Gold. I drive a minivan and think it's cool.
This entry was posted in Writing and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Coarse Language, but not Coarse Reading

  1. char says:

    Love these examples! In my own novels, I’ve played with some of my own techniques to show crudeness without being crude. It’s actually very fun to do…a creative act in itself (much harder than just throwing a swear word down lazily on the page). I’ve used the “pain in the–” technique above and then have also used brackets [donkey] [dang] to show that it isn’t actually the word the person is really saying. Thanks for your posts (so I know that everyone in this world isn’t vulgar like it be easy to think sometimes when reading books or watching TV…or even reading other blogs)

  2. Dale Cramer says:

    At the risk of sounding more pious than I am, I have to say I take issue with a lot of Christian writers’ methods of masking bad words. It seems to me a kind of pharisaical hair-splitting. The character says, “He cast doubts on the marital status of my parents” and we all know the word he means to convey. But if we’re trying to avoid putting such words into the head of a reader, is it right to transmit the exact same word by a circuitous route? What difference does it make how the word gets into the reader’s head, so long as it gets there? Are we saying it’s okay to communicate the word as long as we don’t say it or spell it? Come on. What kind of a$$inine logic is that?
    We have to be more creative. Bad Ground is about a bunch of miners, and they talk like miners. I had to deal with this issue all the way through, but I never transmitted specific words. Here’s an example:
    He broke into a run— actually started running down the road toward the dead chair, the way a sane person might have done if a child had been run over— and as he ran he let fly with a veritable river of caustic poetry, a unified body of professional-grade profanity so focused and intense that Jeremy pictured it snuffing out entire constellations on its way to punching a new hole in the envelope of the universe.
    It’s possible. You just have to work at it.

    • ryan85 says:

      Dale, I’m thrilled you read and commented on the blog and I’m glad you shared an excerpt from Bad Ground. I enjoyed reading your different methods of communicating emotional intensity without take the easy way out. I assume you won’t mind my adding it to the actual post 🙂

      To your point. “Are we saying it’s okay to communicate the word as long as we don’t say it or spell it? Come on. What kind of a$$inine logic is that?” I laughed at this both times I read it (and again when I pasted it). You make a strong case. I prefer Alcorn’s approach over actually writing it out, but you’re right to point out it coming across as “Pharisaical hair-splitting.” My goal is to challenge all of us to think about what we’re writing and do as you said, “work at it.” Hopefully more will follow suit.

      I appreciate your writing. You’re welcome here anytime!

      Ryan

Share your thoughts

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s