This applies to readers, writers, movie-viewers, etc.: What's your limit on sex, violence, and profanity in a story?

How much does the content of the story affect how quickly you reach your limit?

What's worst-- sex or violence or crude language?

I'm one of those people who tolerates just about anything so long as it works in the story. But, if the story doesn't work, I nitpick like crazy. (Probably because I'm bored. =)

What about you?

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Funny. I just heard from a real Italian, second generation Sicilian, who informed me that the language in the Sopranos would not have been tolerated in his family. He did not complain about the authenticity of the violence and the sex. :)

Seriously, I think the commonality of the language thing is a fairly recent development.
I can handle about anything except un-necessary foul language. If its there just to fill space I'm gone. The "F" word being the worst. If the story as small swear words like ass... I can live with it. if its' F this and F that I don't even pick the book up again.

I also don't like to see "read" violent sex crimes. a reference to it... or implied is okay to see the actual crime...another story.
Appropriateness is key, I think. If the scene seems just a tag-along to garner readers, then I would say to toss the scene. That said, I am basically a reader. My mother's favorite expression, "Different strokes for different folks." I am a firm believer of that sentiment
I think I have a lower threshold than most. Torture--can't take it. Explicit violence against children or animals. Detail anything too much and I'm skimming over it, hiding my eyes. This is a case where tell don't how might apply for me.
I didn't see this discussion before posting an entry on this very subject on my blog page. My friend, Rick Blechta (Case of You, Rendevous, 2008) is on a panel titled "How much is too much" at Bloody Words and he posted about this at our group blog asking for people's opinions. The discussion has been lively. To read more, please drop in at Type M for Murder (
I'm on a panel at Bloody Words, too, called Sex and Violence. How much is too much was one of the questions proposed, but I sure hope it isn't the whole panel. How many times can we say, "To each his own?"
That's gotta be the same one, John.
Saturday, June 7th, 2:30. Not that I'm doing any self-promotion on Crimespace, no, wouldn't think of it... ;)

I think I'd be okay with a rating system for books, like movies or TV - except I'd like them to tell the truth, every time I turn into the CityTV movie and they say it has "adult content," I'm always disappointed. That's it? Sheesh....
Sounds like a good panel. You can always argue that that sort of thing depends on the intention of the novel. There ought to be a better reason for it than that sex, violence, and gutter language sell more books. And one hopes that there is a middle ground between a cozy and a super-hardboiled crime novel.
I'm still curious why we single out sex, violence and swearing. There are all kinds of other things that have been pushed out of books by market forces - politics (social, sexual, class, you name it) is maybe the easiest example. For me, too many books merely push the status quo.

That very brief discussion we had on banned books pointed out mystery books never get banned. I'm almost disappointed. They just aren't threatening to anyone.

I think the sex and violence is a mcguffin, focused on at the expense of everything else.
What these three have in common is that they impact on people's sense of morality. Rightly or wrongly, readers have individual tolerance levels that they associate with ethical behavior. If you are aiming at a specific market, you have to consider such issues, even if you don't agree. Few readers are so broad-minded or so experienced literarily that they will accept certain features because they serve a higher purpose.
And then there are those who love books that break all the rules, heaping up bodies and gore, wallowing in graphic sex, and peppering dialogue with the f-word. Sometimes that sort of thing sells well even if it does nothing but wallow in the forbidden.
I guess what I get stuck on is this idea of the forbidden because sex, violence (certainly violence) and swearing are no longer forbidden at all. They all may even be encouraged.

But other things have become forbidden instead. Any real questioning of the status quo is out in mystery novels. Good guys win and order is restored - except for the victims, and in most mysteries there aren't that many.

I thiknk we may have a bit of a "bread and circuses" situation rising up here where we've exchanged one forbidden for another and think we're further ahead.


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