Holy Expletive! When to Use Four-Letter Words



I’m preparing to speak about writing dialogue to a group of writers in Monroe, Georgia at their monthly meeting in June. https://www.meetup.com/Walton-Writers/events/251013852/ If you are familiar with my crime fiction Well of Rage, you already know I’m not shy about using cuss words if it’s appropriate for the character and the plot. I don’t like censorship. It’s not American.

When my editors and I butted heads over what I thought was mild expletive usage for drug dealers, drug addicts, and murderers in Another Kind of Hero, I rebelled. However, rereading Hillary Waugh’s Guide to Mysteries & Mystery Writing reminded me that the pendulum swings to the extremes and back again in what is acceptable language even in literary fiction.

I doubt I’ll ever write Treasure Island-type family stories, or a character like Robin who would exclaim “Holy Oleo,” but I want my characters to be timeless. I hope in twenty years people will still read my fiction. It’s a balancing act of taste and skill.

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