Saturday, January 30, 2010

Naughty Words

I was reading a book by a popular historical romance novelist recently and was struck by the abundant (or for me overabundant) use of "naughty" words. The "c" word for male genitalia and the "f" work in particular. It got me thinking whether in our effort to "write sexy," we romance novelists are over-relying on naughty words and what readers think about them. I realized that for me at some point the balance tips from "sexy" to definitely "not sexy."

I'll state up front that I use these both of these words in my novels. The "f" word very infrequently (maybe a couple times in six novels), the other fairly often. To me the "c" word is the best of not a lot of great choices, and when used appropriately, the sexiest of the bunch. When I started writing in 2001-2002, the "c" word wasn't used nearly as much. When I sold in late 2004 I remember asking my then editor whether it was okay for Random House (the copy editor at the time kept trying to change it). Now I think it's entered the romance vernacular, and I'm wondering whether I really need to cut back on it. "C" this and "c" that really started to bother me in the book I mentioned. But the problem is what else to use.

I'll admit to an immature, middle-school-age-kid squeamishness for the word "penis." Don't like it, never will. Not sure why, maybe it sounds too clinical? Other clinical words I don't like: clitoris, vagina, scrotum, etc. Non-clinical "naughty" words that give me the ick factor: juice, "c" word for women, quim, and the "p" word for women. When I read these words in a romance novel, they COMPLETELY stop me and take me out of the sexy moment. Some more than others. IMO the word juice and dripping should never be used in the same sentence, LOL.

On the other side are the euphemisms. Euphemisms for male genitalia in particular are often the source of many of the jokes made at romance writer's expense. When someone uses something like "man root" or "magic love stick," it's not hard to see why. :) Some authors abhor all euphemisms for genitalia. Catherine Coulter has a really good workshop on this that I've seen a couple times. For the most part I agree with her, but there are a few I don't mind in historicals (i.e. "staff" is fine).

I love when I come across an author who can write really sexy, intense love scenes (and create great sexual tension) without the graphic descriptive words. Linda Howard and Tara Janzen comes to mind, but I'll try to think of some others. Victoria Dahl and Shannon McKenna are a couple of authors that do use more graphic language, but IMO do so to maximum effect, writing some of the hottest, sexiest love scenes out there.

So I thought I'd see what you guys think. Do naughty or graphic words in love scenes bother you? Do you think romances are overusing some of these words? What hits the "ick" button for you?