As someone still circling around the site and feeling like a bit of a freeloader, I think I should pitch a question. By background: As anyone who has viewed my profile will know, I’ve written a fair amount of non-fiction relating to the Mafia. In doing these books I find I rely an awful lot on wiretaps – often thousands upon thousands of pages. These intercepts are unedited and verbatim; my current batch, on CD ROM has a neat little feature that allows me to click on an icon of an audio tape and actually hear through the speakers of my computer the folks talking. Tone of voice, pacing, loudness, intensity; all make for a totally different understanding of the underworld, whether they are, as on this current batch, planning a murder or a kidnapping or discussing leasing an apartment and how to furnish it cheaply or who is taking which kid to hockey. The day-to-day stuff is easy to work into my characters in fiction to give characters the human base all of them have. My question relates to the non-domestic dialogue. The business, so to speak.
Allow me to make an assumption – I’ve only published two novels with a third coming out in July; I don’t read a lot of popular fiction when I’m writing my own, so I’m somewhat behind – and I’m sure there are a lot of folks on the site with more experience in writing and reading crime-driven fiction. My assumption is that, when writing about crime and criminals, authors try to be realistic and accurate. DNA, for example. Police procedure. Authentic descriptions of police uniforms and equipment. Realistic and accurate slang and terminology.
The question, and thank you for waiting for it: How accurate would/should a writer be in presenting the reality of the dialogue of the underworld in a novel? I understand that a lot of people don’t have access to some facets of reality in the crime world, but if you did? I’ll add: my concern is specific words and phrases that might offend people, either racially or by gender or sexual orientation. Which is more important, then, accuracy to the story or the sensibilities of the readers?
Sorry about that: it turned out to be a long one.
Lee Lamothe

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I'll try a short answer: reality (your tapes and transcripts) tends to be a lot duller than what your imagination can supply. I assume you're writing fiction, but even if you are writing non-fiction, you would probably edit for dramatic punch. The real stuff is research, not the final work.
Sure, for dramatic punch, but if the question is about the worry of offending some people, "accuracy to the story or the sensibiliies of the reader," then it depends if you're writing genre fiction or literature.

If it's genre and sales you're after, worry about the sensibilities, if it's literature, don't.

This isn't unique to crime fiction. Unless you're worried about particluar "bad words." Otherwise literature, the ideas in literature that make an impact and last, offends sensibilities.
Dialogue goes to character. So if the character is a racist or a homophobe or a misogynist (or the full Limbaugh), he'll say racist, misogynist, homophobic things. If that's part of Mafia culture, then go for it, by all means. The only caveat is that it would be a tricky undertaking to try to present a character who held such views as sympathetic, particularly in a contemporary setting.
I see I should have finished reading your question. Sorry. You are getting to the point a bit slowly. By all means use the language. If you're writing about the Mafia, little old ladies aren't going to be buying the book anyway. For that matter, little old ladies might surprise you.
You're writing fiction, Lee. Its primary function is to entertain the reader, not follow the stifling, lockstep dictates of the PC crowd. If real-life versions of your characters use that kind of language (note to PC Police: some people actually do!), then that's how they should speak in your novel. The language, IMHO, shouldn't be gratuitous, and should always have a purpose, but should never be censored simply because someone might be offended by it.

Censorship has no place whatever in writing fiction.
Nothing can take me out of a story quicker than a hardened criminal who extorts, kills, beats, threatens, and whatever else his job entails, then says, "Darn!" when something goes wrong. I've read quite a few transcripts while researching books, and I'd say just clean up the ums, errs, and ahs. If a character is politically incorrect, a racist, whatever, and his language is reflective of that, use it. Stay true to the character above all else when selecting language.
Folks thanks for the responses. Yes I backed my way into my question; probably too much context which wasn't needed. Me, I've resolved the problem -- in my first novel, in which I attributed actual wiretap comments to my characters (the original speakers except one were all dead already; the remaining fellow, Vyacheslav Ivankov was murdered in Moscow a month or so ago). In the case of The Last Thief, I changed ct words to db, or in one scene to the anatomatically correct "vagina", which was sort of accurate as it had been used by a killer on another wire learning English. It didn't hurt the story at all although I felt a little strange doing it. My aim today was to see how writers restrict themselves, if they do, and how readers react to brutally frank and accurate language. And, I have to say, I felt like a bit of a piker hanging around the dancehall and not even whistling along with the band. So, if anyone wants to continue this thread, I'm still curious but I won't open a vein if it doesn't go anyplace. Lee Lamothe
I'm reminded of advice from authors greater than myself: slang tends to morph so quickly that you're probably better off making most of it up, lest you sound dated by the time the book hits the shelves (assuming you go the traditional publishing route and finish the book some years before it ever makes it to a general reader). In terms of 'offensive,' well -- we're writing about murder, here, aren't we? To my mind, it's a bit disingenuous to litter one's work with dead bodies but balk at using foul language.

I'm going to have to go against the crowd a bit here and say you can avoid the words I assume you're thinking of using (one of which starts with an N, another a C, and another--the sexual orientation one--an F) and still maintain authenticity of character. It's understood, I think, that a certain element of society uses language like that; it's not really necessary to use it "on stage." You'll sell more books if you don't.
There is no truly correct answer to your question. Realistic dialogue is going to get a certain subset of readers who might tune out if you toned it down. Toning it down will also gain you a different set of readers who wouldn't put up with profanity. On balance, you probably will net more readers with some censorship than without, but it may depend on the specifics. you have to decide what you think will work best.

me personally, I doubt I would put down a book just because the author toned down dialogue, although I prefer dialogue more "colorful". I like profanity that "feels" realistic, whether or not it is. If you do make changes, I'd recommend that rather than change say f$%^ to "darn", instead rewrite the dialogue whenever possible so no expletive, tame or otherwise, is used. Otherwise the "darn" may seem out of place.

One other note that I.j. touched on - what you're trying to do is make it seem accurate to the majority of readers, not necessarily be accurate in real life. When you're talking something the general public has very little experience with, the two may not be the same. To some extent, that gives you some leeway. If you have your character use that anatomically correct word, then that needs to be consistent with how the character speaks in the rest of the book, whether or not the character was "consistent" in real life.
To everyone -- Jude, Edward G. (love that name), John, Jon, I.J., Minerva, Dana, Mike and every- and anyone else thanks. When I write my stuff I put in all the words folks might hate; my father-in-law and my wife -- in the case of The Last Thief beat me up pretty good and I usually make changes of some sort. I'm not anal about it; I recognize people's sensibilities even if I don't agree with them. Responding to other comments, I have to say that I've had five non-fics published and two possible new ones in the works and they produce a little revenue stream, and money never has been -- pending a financial meltdown or if my investigation business goes to hell -- and will never be a factor in my writing. If I were twenty instead of sixty-one and had the ego and drive I had forty years ago, well, maybe. So if one publisher dumps me, as I.J. suggests might happen, well I'll just find another. Or epublish. Or self-publish and give the stuff away. In additon to the three novels my agent has, I have five more finished or nearly-finished in my computer. Unlike non-fic, where you can grab a good whack of dough upfront, fiction in my experience has to be completed before anyone will buy it. So, it costs me no money because the books are finished already. Great to get everyone's feedback. I'll try to come up with another question to spark some activity. Best, Lee Lamothe
Please don't take my comment on the other thread (about being dropped by "your" publisher) personally. It will probably never happen to you. It is what happened to me (the ambiguous "you"). I'm looking for another publisher again (it's the second time), and the options have shrunk. The big houses are no longer interested now, and the smaller houses are not terribly eager to buy in when my sales have climbed only slowly and when they see the big houses have given up. Since I have super print reviews and lots of ardent fans (though they may have bought the books used or read them from the library), I don't blame myself for this, but rather put it down to poor or non-existent marketing by my first publisher and a humdrum effort by my second.
And like you I have other finished novels, different from the troubled series, but I'm afraid that they, too, meet with the same problems.


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