8

Let's face it, I like edgy writing that borders on inflammatory. I read less for entertainment than I do for expanding my world view. I don't have to agree with the points or even like the style of writing as long as it is well articulated. Current fiction seems more focused on commercial success than it does on promoting dialogue or discourse with those having opposing views. http://thehofstrachronicle.com/provocative-writer-redefines-role-of-novelistbr/

I have started on my next novel that explores mental illnesses in the not too distant future. The cast includes sociopathic gang members, a detective with Asperger who is investigating the murders of psychiatrists and a cast of societal malcontents. The premise is a 'cure' is attempted on a psychopath who although innocent, had a high potential for committing future crimes. The cure initially manages to replace his core personality with a more 'normalized' one, but a traumatic event results in the creation of a dissociative identity, the first an artificial one and the second the original psychopath who now seeks revenge against those who tried to obliterate his mind.

The real problem comes when describing outcast members using realistic terms. People living in ghettos are apt to use politically incorrect dialogue. I have one in particular that I think is accurate but also may be seen as inflammatory, even though the character is a positive example. I have a scene where the witness to a crime is a transgender prostitute named 'Johnny'. Even using a transgender prostitute is edgy but having others call her a 'Tranny Hooker' although accurate in ghetto talk may strike many as offensive, even though the character loves that her appearance initially confuses the detective when he asks to speak to 'her' companion. The hooker laughs and explains he is 'Johnny' and the detective may use the pronoun 'he' if it makes him uncomfortable. http://www.slate.com/blogs/outward/2014/05/30/is_tranny_a_slur_or_an_identity_who_decides.html

As I said, I am a provocateur and love writing that makes one question society 'norms'. There are many great historical writers who would surely be banned today simply for using descriptive words of their era. Are there words too provocative for use in the current politically correct fiction markets?

Update: I decided with all the attention about using the most offensive profane word in the English Language that it is time to add a link showing its origins and laugh at those who think they are shock jocks for using such a slur. Yes, even Chaucer used the word 'cunt'. So, if you wish to trace its naughty origins, here are a couple of links. history origin

Some authors avoid the use of profanity so much, they have whole blogs dedicated why they do not use four-letter words in their writing.

*I wasn't raised to talk that way, so I don't write that way.* 
http://www.markhenshaw.com/random-thoughts/2014/6/19/why-theres-no-profanity-in-red-cell-or-cold-shot

So, is it really offensive to use such a word in a novel if that word has been in common usage for centuries?

  • 3
    "I read less for entertainment than I do for expanding my world view." - Big grins. Thank you! I don't find 'tranny hooker' bothersome. But, I found the word 'slender' mildly disturbing the other night, as it was being used to describe something pleasant ... and all I could think of were the slender man incidents. So you never know what crazy bias you might run into in readers. I'd say write what you feel is authentic, otherwise you are buying into the commercialization. – DPT Sep 18 '17 at 1:01
  • 2
    Bingo, My goal is to write to inform, if I sell great if not its okay as I am still enriched. – Richard Stanzak Sep 18 '17 at 1:24
11

I would use caution, and be sparing. Keep in mind that slurs register very differently to the people they are directed against than to everyone else, so it can be hard to judge a slur if you aren't a member of the group being slurred. What reads to you, the author, as authenticity, might strike the informed reader as a transparent reflection of your own prejudices, especially if you aren't in a position to accurately judge your own authenticity. For instance, you say tranny hooker is "accurate to ghetto talk." But is it really? To me it sounds, if anything, old-fashioned and hopelessly outdated, even as a slur. But I'm not really in a position to judge, and, I suspect, neither are you.

In general, the further you are from the group you are describing, the lighter you should tread --the more likely your notion of authenticity is likely to actually be a conglomeration of stereotypes. For example, white audiences loved Tarantino's Pulp Fiction, but black audiences found it hard to stomach the scene in which the director cameos as a white man with a startling fondness for dropping the "N" word.

If you want the edge of offensive language without the risk of actual offense, why not coin your own near-future slurs? J.K. Rowling was very successful in making "Mudblood," a wholly invented slur, feel very offensive in context. As far as I know, however, it didn't offend any actual readers, since it doesn't mean anything in our reality.

  • 4
    +1 for coining your own slurs. Let's not forget "frak" in BSG2004 (or "felgercarb" in the original), "frimp" in I Will Fear No Evil, "clot" and "drakh" in the Sten novels, even "feek" and "shuck" in the currently running webcomic Quantum Vibe -- you get the drift. – Zeiss Ikon Sep 20 '17 at 17:01
  • I love this idea too. I have invented some derived swear words for my project and it's been fun as they start to feel authentic to me, like 'frak' does. But the author used the words edgy, inflammatory, and provocative in his post. The first time you hear 'frak' or 'mud blood' it isn't edgy, its artificial. – DPT Sep 20 '17 at 20:56
  • Excellent suggestion about coining a new slur. I suspect hooker is enduring as it has been in use since the civil war. it's the transgender aspect that is difficult. Since the hooker is actually very loose with gender and is not strictly transgender, I could suggest a new slur in use as a 'Lucy'. The Asperger isn't sure of this term as it is a local slur and it is explained by the hooker that it means he is "Loose with his gender and Lucy is derogatory for 'Loosey Goosey'. Yep, of course this means all those with the name of Lucy will have issues. ;) – Richard Stanzak Sep 27 '17 at 11:31
  • 5
    @RichardStanzak Invented slang can sometimes actually feel more authentic, because a key aspect of real slang is that not everyone knows it. So creating your own slang for a small subculture makes the reader feel more like they are peering into someone else's world then if it was words they might conceivably already know --or even worse, that they know are being used wrongly. – Chris Sunami Sep 27 '17 at 14:23
  • 1
    I cannot tell you how useful this will be to me with my new novel. I so agree that using invented slang draws the reader into the story. I even laughed at my own slur of calling a prostitute with a very loose gender identity a 'Lucy' an abbreviated version of "Loosey Goosey". Loosey Goosey is a real phrase and basically means relaxed or comfortable with: yourdictionary.com/loosey-goosey Applied to a transgender prostitute who is willing to apply whatever gender pleases their client, 'Lucy' fits perfectly. I am not even sure it sounds derogatory, it's only a fact – Richard Stanzak Sep 27 '17 at 16:12
5

Richard, your question popped to the top of the queue following your edit and it immediately raised a caution flag for me.

I think you have far more potential for problems with your treatment of your transgender character than you have with the word cunt. Madelaine Dickie won the TAG Hungerford award in Australia for TROPPO and they didn’t have a problem with her using cunt (though she uses it sparingly).

Please set me straight if you are part of a transgender community and know anyone even vaguely similar to your character, but I don’t know a single transgender woman who would call herself by a male name, refer to herself with a male pronoun, or be okay with anyone else referring to her by a male pronoun. Would you be okay if everyone you met insisted on calling you ‘her’ because it made them feel more comfortable?? This character disgraces the transgender plight by trivialising her own gender. And I’d say you’re opening yourself up to a world of grief writing obtusely about men and women who are fighting tooth and nail to be recognised and respected for the true gender they were born as.

I am a straight, middle-aged, married woman but I find it offensive, so it isn’t only the LGBTQ+ community that you need to worry about. It raises far more alarm bells for me than cunt does.

There’s a reason that ‘write what you know’ has become an adage, because writing about things you know little or nothing about, particularly subjects that target an already massively maligned community can leave you in a mess of hot water.

I say this a lot: it really depends on why you are writing this and who you are writing it for. If it’s just for yourself, you can write what you like, who gives a crap? But if you intend to submit this, I would say that agents and publishers won’t touch it with a barge pole if it has the potential to embarrass them.

Using derogatory terms like tranny and the N word are okay if used cautiously and if you as the author distance yourself from the character using them by bringing in other players who make it clear that that character is a pretty despicable human being. Look at American History X, it’s one of the most confronting and challenging films ever made.

If I wanted to write a transgender character, the first thing I would do is talk to as many transgender women as I possibly could and ask them about the shit they put up with on a daily basis. You can inform your novel and your readers of transgender issues (by other characters calling her by the wrong pronoun, for example) but if she denies her own sexuality, plight and prejudices through your misrepresentation, the shit is going to fall straight on your doorstep. The reader won’t believe this character, they’ll just think the author is ignorant and prejudiced. I’m not saying don’t create this character — do — as you say, writing should make one question society. But do it with your eyes wide open.

Having said all that, I think your premise is excellent and so interesting. It had me completely engaged and I think it has real potential to be a saleable novel that will be snapped up. So don’t ruin your chances by landing yourself in hot water for the sake of being edgy. Tread carefully and you could have one hell of a novel on your hands, it’s really exciting.

Good luck!

  • Thanks for the reply. Actually, the transgender is a very likable character and plays the role of Dr. Watson to my female Asperger version of Holmes. I portray the character not as she wishes to be seen, but as the community in a ghetto will see her. I have her being empathetic and acutely aware that the detective is uncomfortable initially with her. I used to be a street person, two degrees ago and feel I still understand street talk and attitudes. The odd ones are not the hookers, it is the Johns that hide their preferences. BTW, yes I actually knew hookers and as a nurse many LGBTQ+. Thanks – Richard Stanzak Jun 8 '18 at 17:50
  • 1
    I think your novel sounds really really interesting. You should keep that first paragraph and use it as the basis for a one para pitch. I think you'll get an agent off that pitch. Something to keep in mind though: just because something has happened to you in real life doesn't make it believable in a novel. Does that make sense? Even if you have met a transgender woman who's okay with male pronouns doesn't make it believable for a reader who has never encountered that and many transgender people could be angered by it. If she's acutely aware, you will have to address how that makes her feel. – GGx Jun 8 '18 at 18:05
  • 1
    I still struggle with Johnny though. I could get on board with Daniel transitioning to Danni, but Johnny's a step too far for me. But hey, this is just my opinion, it's your novel, you have to go in your direction. I would certainly get a few of your transgender friends to read it though. Good luck! Awesome premise! – GGx Jun 8 '18 at 18:06
  • oh, I forgot to mention that I misspelled the hookers name. It isn't Johnny, it is Johnnie. Johnnie actually is written to DISPEL stereotypes. She is fearful of providing too much info to a detective so she uses the excuse of being the Asperger detectives hairdresser to relay information. I like her actually because she points out just how UNFEMININE the attractive Asperger detective is. The poor thing never does her hair and dresses like a slob. The detective's daughter loves the hooker is helping her mom look 'normal'. See, it is empathetic. Now I debate having her murdered. – Richard Stanzak Jun 8 '18 at 18:11
  • let me know if you care to read more on this proposal. It may be a series and I call the first Non-Standard Deviation- the Mukhannathun. Check out this wiki and I think you will see why I am using a transgender Dr Watson to help solve a murder of a 'transgender', only thing is the victim is a Mukhannathun not LGBTQ+ en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mukhannathun – Richard Stanzak Jun 8 '18 at 19:13
2

I see nothing wrong with it; as long as you know it turns some readers off, and may get your book in the not-suitable-for-(work, kids, the devout religious).

IMO such words are a fact of life; we use them, particularly joking with friends, with lovers in the heat of sexual activity, and in extreme anger. If they are used in a plausible context, it increases the immersion and realism of the world.

Cursing is part of the human experience, as far as I am concerned. In fact, to me they can be necessary in writing, few things break my suspension of disbelief quicker (and cause me irritation for doing so) than watching a movie censored for TV to replace "fuck you" with "duck you", or "bitch with glitch" or whatever they are doing. It is so out of place it is jarring and ruins the tension, or payoff, or whatever was good about the scene.

And to me, the recent trend on cable to allow "fuck" and "shit" makes the shows better, the writer's know when they should be used and fit. It may be space opera, but if anybody thinks we won't be cursing up a storm in space they've got another think coming.

  • I read one comment that stated the reason it is deemed so offensive is that there is no male counterpart to act as a rebuttal. But being ex-military, I know we routinely admonished each other not to be such a cunt if they acted timidly. One Reddit article suggests it applies to both genders equally and apparently it is a term of endearment in Australia: reddit.com/r/AskReddit/comments/eb09p/… – Richard Stanzak Jun 7 '18 at 20:39
  • 1
    Isn't "dick" the male counterpart? Really, "motherfucker" is by logic exclusively male, and certainly when I was younger, that and "cocksucker" were the most offensive terms applied to males. Being called a "cunt" would only make me think my interlocutor did not know how to curse very well. I don't trust your survey about "cunt" being the most offensive, unless they had predominantly female respondents. I DO think the scales of "offensivity" of words will be quite different for males and females. If I were called a "stupid bitch" I would laugh, but my wife, daughter and sisters would not. – Amadeus Jun 7 '18 at 20:54
  • The survey wasn't mine, I can think of much worse words. Nigger seems to be very high now, and I am sure Samuel Clemmons books are now nearly banned. My current novel involves a military team dealing with an outbreak originating in North Korea, sure sounds like a great place to drop a few expletives to me. I do think it is culturally dependent. I am not sure which culture is the most prolific in profanity, my opinion is either Russian or Hispanics where even granny uses language that would make Steinbeck blush. – Richard Stanzak Jun 7 '18 at 21:59
2

Edginess and the YA market go hand in hand. Seems like you can get away with some topics there that would struggle to get across in the adult market.

Other than that ...

GRR Martin seems to have gotten away with an amazing amount of violence (sexual and otherwise) against women in his novels, but anyone else would be pilloried for it and called a misogynist (and in this current environment you don't want that). If you can figure out why he gets a free pass, you may be able to use all the naughty words you like if you can duplicate his 'get out of jail free' card.

  • I think you replied to the wrong comment? I wasn't questioning your credentials? – Rick Jun 9 '18 at 19:25

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.