Dirty Words

As you are doubtless aware, I’m finishing up my first novel. I’m just going through and doing some final edits, and proofing to make sure I didn’t mess anything up during the adverbpocolypse™ (I’ll explain that in a sec). As I mentioned before, after talking to a genuine professional editor, I decided I could not afford a genuine professional editor. So I turned to crowdsource editing, which gave me a lot of great feedback that I used to fix up the story. And I was just about to go to print, when out of the blue a friend told me she knew a genuine professional editor that really wanted to read my book. For free. I was skeptical.

But I sent her the manuscript and lo and behold, over the next couple of days I got back three pages of notes. Great stuff. Stuff I really should be paying for. I won’t tell you who this fairy god-editor is, because if the rest of the editing syndicate finds out she’s doing this for free, she’ll probably find herself sleeping with the fishes.

This editor found a lot of random sentences that she thought could be improved this way or that. And I made all those changes. But the biggest bombshell she dropped was that I just use too many damn adverbs. Very this, and really that, and particularly the other thing. Also just. Just is just an adverb, except when you use it as a noun like I just did before I just used it as an adverb three times. I thought all adverbs ended with “ly.” I’d file a complaint with the Schoolhouse Rock people, but I doubt they would treat my compliant justly. See what I did there?

Anyhow, she told me that I can mostly just delete them. Er, I can mostly delete them. Er, I can delete them. So with the help of global search and replace, I got rid of a hell of a lot of adverbs. I left them in dialog, because that’s really how people talk. I just (I really cannot stop myself at this point) took them out of the main prose. That was the adverbpocolypse and I now have to re-read the whole damn book to make sure I didn’t accidentally change “Lisa thought she was pretty.” to “Lisa thought she was.” Because while Lisa might have been playing with the concept of existential tautology in other parts of the book, she probably wasn’t at that particular moment.

But adverbs are not the dirty words I meant to talk about. That was all a big tangent. The dirty words I meant to talk about are actual dirty words. Let’s start with male anatomy, shall we? Cock. That’s an awesome word. It’s not clinical like penis, and it is not pejorative like dick, and it is not silly like schlong. So every time I needed to talk about male anatomy, I referred to the cock, and it was good.

But female anatomy has no such word. Cunt, twat, pussy, vag: no good. All pejorative or silly. Vagina? Too clinical, like penis. So after doing some research (a lot of blog posts have been written on this topic), I decided on Center. This is a wonderful word. It has a poetry to it, and it isn’t all messed up by social use. But there is only one problem: nobody knows what the hell I mean when I write it.

Crowdsource editing to the rescue. One of my readers pointed out that she had no fucking idea what I meant by “center.” So I did this thing that I later learned is called “hanging a lantern” for the reader. I’ll quote:

He asked if she had any questions.

“I do have one, Sir. What do you mean by ‘center’ exactly?” she asked.

“Oh, yes, sorry if that isn’t clear. I mean your vagina. But that word is so clinical. I thought about using ‘cunt’ or ‘pussy’ or ‘twat’ or something else. But I like ‘center’ best. It’s less burdened than those other words,” he explained.

“Of course, Sir. That’s probably because nobody uses that word to mean that,” she replied, smiling.

“Yes, that could be it.”

“It reminds me of the juicy center of a maraschino cherry, Sir.”

“Ha! I didn’t even think of that! That’s particularly funny because of the double entendre around ‘cherry,’” he observed.

“Uh. Yeah, Sir. Glad you are keeping up,” she teased.

See what I did there? I explained to the reader what I meant by “center” by having my main characters just talk about the word. This writing thing is easy.

So that settled, I only have one more puzzle to solve: orgasms. If you have been paying attention, you’ve probably figured out that my novel has some naughty bits. It’s not erotica, per se. But there is a lot of sex in this book. So people have a lot of orgasms, because that’s a cool thing that happens during sex. Or so I’ve read.

Annnnyway, I can’t say “she had an orgasm.” Well, I could say that, and I probably do. But mostly I want to say “she came.” And, interestingly, that is generally pretty clear. When it’s in the past tense, “she came” doesn’t leave the reader puzzling “where did she go?” But the same is not true of the verb “to come.” That is almost always confusing as hell:

I waited for her to come.

“To come where? Oh! To come! I get it.” That gets old as a reader, really fast. I know this because in doing my research for this book, I read a ton of erotica. To figure out how other people write sex scenes. And every time I saw the word “come” I got thrown out of the story trying to decode the damn word.

Thankfully, there is another spelling. Cum. That’s clear. It means exactly the same thing, but it isn’t easily confused with the other meaning of the word come. I looked it up, and it’s actually in the Oxford English Dictionary, but only in the two word phrase “cum shot.”

So I decided to go with “cum” and “came.” But what about that nasty present participle? Do I write “coming” or “cumming”? As I was doing my latest read-through I noticed that I was inconsistent. I didn’t use one or the other of those. I used both. I have asked some readers which they prefer. The results are mixed.

I need to be consistent, and I don’t feel particularly strongly either way. What do you think?

Update: I set a price.

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4 thoughts on “Dirty Words

  1. To be so close to the finish…how exciting! I agree with staying with one word consistently. Cum leaves little doubt. But I also enjoy variety. Perhaps a description of how and what the partner feels at these times. ‘Her release’. ‘The deep spasms’. Etc
    Just a suggestion.

  2. Deep spasms is a new one to me but, only in my opinion, still doesn’t mean climax (of said spasms). cum and its various gender participle and tense versions bore me when overused. You kind of need to use them sparingly because they then pack more punch, if you will. Regarding consistently, if you work the reader up through your prose dance of domination and satisfaction (or not), you will subliminally create a consistent pattern (of say seduction to the denouement through the epilogue – petit mort as the French call it), then it’s not just oh what verb do I use aka cum shot Oxford dictionary but it’s about your use of words to convey the feeling of…

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