I read somewhere once that a character should not masturbate in the first three chapters of a book. Too bad that's exactly how I start Chapter Two!
There's a time and place for everything, but how exactly do you figure that out when writing a novel? I've been struggling a bit with my opening line to the second chapter, since I love it but it also kind of worries me: "I didn't like jerking off, but sometimes it was necessary." I like it, it fits the voice, but is it too much to open a chapter with? Are my readers going to laugh or be disgusted?
Well, I suppose anyone who's disgusted by that line should know that it only gets worse and probably shouldn't have picked up my book in the first place. But for those who really are interested in this particular story, is a line like this going to scare them off? When is it ok to be completely inappropriate?
I guess it depends on the story you're writing. And it's not just about vulgarity, either. You have to make sure every moment, every sentence, even, fits in with the overall tone and voice of your book. There are times when you can be subtle, and there can be times that make your reader gasp. You really need both to have a good balance. But I think the question that's really been on my mind lately is, should you ever hold something back in your book because you think it's too over the top?
I think I've already answered that question. It all depends on the story you're writing. And on the scene you're writing, actually. The reader is going to be able to tell if a moment, or even a single word, doesn't fit with the rest of the scene. It will take them out of the book for a moment, make them realize it isn't real. And you don't want that. So it's not even about holding back, it's about being genuine. Yes, I start the second chapter of my book with my narrator talking about masturbation. But he's a fifteen-year-old boy with a new crush. What else would he be doing? It's real, so I think it works, the weak-nerved reader be damned!
So mix it up a little. If the reader needs to be punched in the face, then you should punch them in the face. If your characters swear, and it fits your genre, then let them be who they are and talk how they want to talk. Of course, you don't want to overdo it. Every word has to be carefully planned out. It has to be necessary. You don't want swearing just for the sake of swearing. You want your characters to have real voices. Know what works for them and for the story. Never hold back just because you think you should. Hold back only when the story needs it.