Writing Safe or True: A Bad Words Mystery

I have a problem with my new book. Seriously. I’m a quarter of the way through my second edit of my dark, superhero novel - working title = Adam - and I find myself cringing while I type. Cringing leads to second-guessing. Second-guessing leads to slow progress. Slow progress, well, is slow progress - frustrating and bothered.

All because of my own silly hang-ups!

Adam is the most unique story I’ve tried to write, very different from my writing of the past. The bony first draft went well. Joe read it and, aside from a few comments, loved it. To sum up his critique -

Beginning = awesome

Middle = lagging

Ending = awesome, awesome

For a very rough draft written in record time, I’d say that’s a pretty awesome result.

He also said (with kinda a huff and roll of his eyes - he knows me too well), “Adam would never say Freaking. Adam would cuss, really cuss.”

I gasped. He was right!

Adam’s a twenty-something loser with a special gift that he uses for drug dealing and blackmail. Of course, he should talk like a sailor (no offense to sailors). But, I’d censored him with words like freaking and darn. I might as well have made him exclaim, “Fudge!” Why hadn’t I stayed true to my character?

Threading the bones of the story with muscles in the second edit is actually more fun that getting the first draft finished. The hazy parts clear. The true story comes to life. The characters change from holograms to real people. It’s exciting!

So, I’ve been engaged in asking myself what would Adam do, what would Adam say. And each time I type one of those dreaded words, I cringe. Oh, no! Not another bad word!

I want to slap his hand and say, “That’s enough, Mr. Potty Mouth!”

Yes, it’s weird - that I’m writing him, creating him, and yet I can’t get him to do what I want. It just doesn’t work that way. I’m not Adam.

And I can’t make Adam me.

Letting him cuss is part of that. He does a whole helluva lot of stuff that I don’t like. Why is this any different?

I’ve written cuss words before, of course, here and there, as needed. It seems unnatural not to. In my Delilah Duffy series, my crime-solving heroine drops the occasional bad word. Criminals do, too. I want my characters to seem real.

Real life contains bad words.

Besides, how can I write a book with murder and a wide spectrum of other bad behaviors, and not include one of our most basic ones? That’s why I don’t enjoy Hallmark Mysteries as much as I could. The cases are usually clever enough, but the characters don’t ring true. No one wears heels all the time like they do. No one has perpetually perfect hair (always the same style, by the way) and make-up. And no one deals in life, especially in murder, without the occasional passionate embrace, door-slamming fight, and, yes, a once-in-a-while bad word.

Just once, wouldn’t you like to watch a heroine on that channel we can actually relate to? I’m not talking about an oh-I-dropped-the-muffins-egads-I’m-a-clutz kinda girl. I’m talking about a pour-me-another-beer-and-kick-him-in-the-balls chick. No, not trashy like Lifetime, but tough, sensible, and true. Hallmark movies would be the whole package, if not for this pesky true-to-life issue. (Hallmark, please call. I’ve left so many messages.)

But, back to Adam. Oh, my. He takes the sailor-talk cake. I use bad language as needed, as-expected. It’s not gratuitous. It’s just honest. It’s better to write him talking like a sailor, if that’s what he is.

I can’t Hallmark Adam - I just can’t!

Still. My naughty character is challenging my mom-first, Hallmarky good-girl instincts.

Holy crap (not a true bad word in my opinion, though Hallmark and others would disagree)! My Mom might read my book littered with f-bombs?!?

Okay, calm down. Calm down. Deep breaths….

It all comes down to this:

Do I want to write safe?

Or do I want to write honest?

Of course, honest.

And that’s exactly what I’m going to say when my parents ask me about the premarital sex scene at the end of Luna-Sea (they haven’t gotten to that part yet) and all of Adam’s f-bombs and other vices. It’s just honest.