Lingua Caca

Today was a day of great pain and sorrow for me, because today I made a pass at cleaning up the language in my novel.

I really feel two ways about this. On the one hand the language, most of the time, feels natural and right and perfectly at home in the book where it was. On the other hand, I’m willing to accept that, perhaps, foul language is a crutch that I maybe lean on a little too much.

Want numbers? Here are numbers:

  • The novel as a whole is ~97,000 words in its current iteration. (It probably still needs trimming, but we’ll see what my first round of readers thinks.)
  • 37 were Fargos. (7 of those in my notes to myself. I’m a bit of a self-abuser in my own editing.)
  • 53 of those were Sharknados. (only 3 in my self-abuse notes. Also, and I’m rather proud of this, 7 of them came in one sentence. It was a good sentence.)
  • 1 Ash. Not a word I use a lot.
  • 48 Haberdasheries. This one makes me laugh a little, because its usage irks me in popular shows. If you watch Once Upon A Time critically, as I like to do (who am I kidding, it’s also a lot of fun), you might notice that they lean on the phrase “what the hell” or “who the hell” or “how the hell”. I can usually count 3 or 4 iterations per episode. Well, 90% of my offenses came in the same flavor. That old adage about the man in the mirror being a big, fat jerk comes to mind.
  • 7 Clams. Again, not one I overuse. 2 of them were directed at myself. This is within acceptable parameters.

So, after a few surgical strikes with the delete key, what did I accomplish?

  • There are no f-bombs left. It hurt me, but in every instance I was able to find a way to say what I was trying to say, only, y’know, with less fargoery.
  • There are 2 sharknados left. The ones still standing are really fargoing funny, and no matter how I tried, I couldn’t find a phrasing any sharper than a well placed s-word.
  • The ash is gone. I didn’t feel strongly enough about it to fight my ego-writer for it. No great loss, there.
  • The clams stayed. I figure if a person can handle a couple of sharknados, they can clam sure handle a few clammits.
  • The haberdasheries… well, I’m addressing those tomorrow. I can probably cut most of them, but again, for emphasis, a little haberdashery is hard to beat.

So how do I feel about all of this? I’m conflicted. The Fargos and Sharknados were easy enough to trim out. Those are the biggies, that people really seem to take issue with. Higher on the hierarchy, if you will. In a novel of almost 100,000 words, I think a couple of profanities are well within reason.

Aren’t they?

My wife argues (probably rightly so) that my novel may lose some of its appeal for younger audiences with the profanity intact. To be more precise, with the profanity in place, the book could get labelled in such a way that might make it hard to sell parents on letting their children read it. (As a teacher, I can assure you that a stray f-word or worse does not bother the average whateverteen-year-old in the least.) And I guess that’s a consideration worth … considering. Then again, the language is as natural to me as breathing, and I think that removing it from my characters’ mouths (and rarely from the prose) is a little like the aliens taking the nose off the Sphinx. (What, you don’t think aliens built the Sphinx? LOOK AT THE FACTS.) Maybe it looks better that way, but still, it feels … off, somehow. Certainly it feels like adjusting my style for an external factor, regardless of how relevant that one factor may be. One character in particular was exceptionally foul-mouthed in the first draft. Like, it was an integral part of what made him unlikable (I thought). The character works without having a sailor’s vocabulary, but knowing what he was, he feels like, I dunno, maybe 80% of what he could be? 85%?

Then again, maybe my wife is right, and the language is a barrier to more readers than I think.

It’s weird; usually I can bring an issue here to my dumping ground, marinate on it for the forty-five minutes or so it takes me to pinch off a blarg post, and come away with some clarity and feeling a little lighter. But on this one I feel even more conflicted than when I started.

What to do? Leave the salty language intact and ask my beta readers how they feel about it? Or proceed with the edited-for-TV version and ask, at the finish, whether foul language would read better?

Is the language a part of my authorial voice? Or is it a crutch getting in the way of my voice?