22 March 2017: Remember whose reading.

Here’s the ninth installment of my series on How to Write a Good Romance (or any story really) based on what not to do:

9: Remember whose reading

Consider your reader. Who makes up you key demographic? If you want people to read more of your books, don’t throw a lot of bad language or overly fancy words at them.

A romance novel I recently read had a male protagonist who was a MMA Cage fighter.  Yum! However, he dropped the F bomb on almost every page of that book. OK, maybe that’s just how he talks, maybe it’s even realistic for the sort of man he was, but it’s certainly not something I want to read on every page of the book. There comes a point where reality and your reader’s sensibilities need to find a compromise. Had the author used half the F words I’d still have gotten the same sense of the character and would have felt more comfortable reading the book. If you think I’m overreacting, a search for the F word in this book  showed 179 uses of the f word.  The book has 240 pages.

If your demographic is primarily a female readership, the F word may not be something you want to use so liberally.

If your readership is sort of middle of the road education wise, meaning high school through college, consider how many words you’ll use that a reader will have to look up in a dictionary.  A novel I just finished contained ALL of the following words:

  • Hirsute
  • Desultory
  • Anodyne
  • Atavistic
  • Exultant
  • Surfeit
  • Portentous
  • Vociferously

I graduated college and even I had to look a bunch of these up. I’m all for writing in such a way that stretches your reader’s minds, but this is a bit too much.  After a while I was beginning to feel like a real idiot.  I’ll also mention that this book was written in first person and the person narrating it only had an associate degree from college. For this level of vocabulary, I’d have preferred it if she’d had a master’s degree in English.

The lesson here is to remember that while it’s important to keep the tone of language appropriate for your characters, it’s also important to remember who will be reading your work.  Will excessive foul language turn them off of your work? Will burning up the pages of your thesaurus annoy them so much they decide to skip your next book? There is a middle ground, you just have to find it.


Jennifer Geoghan, author of:

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