Vulgarity in the first chapter

This question is geared towards querying.

So, I have a story where in the prologue, the F-Word is used.

In the prologue, the scene is dramatic and the vulgar language is used to emphasize the scene, and also introduce early on that this is a bit more of a mature audience. I don’t use vulgar language often in the story, but people do use it, as I want it to reflect real life. I also find it to be quite fascinating to see the characters that never use fowl language, compared to the ones that need to have a bleep machine attached at their hip. It’s a subtle way to really define a character.

Is this really such a turn off to agents that they will stop reading because of a vulgar word?

Maybe it would help to read it. This is the very beginning of the prologue and first few paragraphs of the story. It is a Paranormal Fantasy with a side genre of Romance.

The miner swung his pickax with rhythm, sweat dripping from his nose as metal struck rock. Each strike reverberated in his arms, successfully chunking away at the wall. Rubble tumbled down to this feet. He kicked a few of the loose rocks to the side before swinging the pickax again, pressing his lips together as sweat slid down his back.

That strike felt softer.

He panted heavily, his shoulders rising and falling with each breath. Staring into the darkness, eyes darting back in forth in consideration, he chuckled and turned towards the table with lit candles. He grabbed one, squinting at the sudden bright light, and chuckled with elation.

Had they really found it?

He held the stick of wax to the walls, a small flicker revealing the veins in the rock.

Silver.

He held the gentle flame closer, revealing more shimmers of the gray metal.

Even though the mines were thick with heat, gooseflesh trailed his body as the smile on his face crinkled his eyes.

“F*ck me, we hit a vein!” he softly shouted to the men around him. He was careful not to yell too loudly, or the vibrations of his voice would spell danger for the mines around.

The men huddled around him with commotion, dropping their pickaxes with a sharp clink . The air thickened with all of them breathing in the same corner. Then, small cheers erupted as they too confirmed what he had seen, their echoes bouncing against the stone. One shushed the group, silence falling over them once again, although the murmurs were clear.

“We did it, lads. We found the vein that might save us all," the miner said.

I don’t have a problem adjusting the language of the story at the very beginning, but at the same time, it doesn’t seem overly vulgar here. It’s the language they use. So is it better to err on the side of caution, rather than using a genuine character trait? I can’t tell if this is just advice that permeates to err on the side of caution, or if it is tried and true advice, no matter the genre or age group.

I’m no expert or anything, but from what I’ve read, the fact that you have a prologue is more of a turn off than the F-bombs. This isn’t MY opinion. I like prologues. I’ve just read this from multiple sources. That being said, I don’t think an agent or editor will be turned off by foul language in the first chapter. And putting it on the first page, will also alert readers what to expect for those who don’t like cursing. Thinking about it now, I have an f-bomb in my third or fourth paragraph.

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Yeah I see this all the time too, and it seems to stem more from improper use of prologues. It’s one of the reasons I asked this question, since I know adding a prologue will already raise a red flag for some agents, and I didn’t want the F-bomb to make them stop reading.

See that’s what I was thinking! Glad I am not the only one :smiley:

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I’ve been accused of having a prologue. The funny thing is, it isn’t. I start off in present day for a few paragraphs, go back to the past and a few chapters later, bump back up to the present day for a few paragraphs again.

And you’re right. A prologue needs to be done correctly. Many aren’t. But I also hate it when instead of a prologue, you get an info dump in the first chapter. I’d rather read a prologue than an epilogue… unless the epilogue is basically an excerpt from the next book.

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Start with a bang I always say. Its better people know what to expect.

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Yeah even I get nervous when I read that a chapter is titled Prologue. So I get it! Although for my story, it will be hard to avoid D:

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Awesome :smiley: I am so glad to see I am not the only one who thinks this way! I feel like as long as it fits, it works! But I just wanted to make sure, because just because I think something, doesn’t meant it’s how everyone else will think it :rofl::rofl:

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You’re supposed to write for yourself, not everyone else.:wink: People are going to love it or hate it no matter what you do. So, don’t worry about what others think. Write what you think is best for your story.

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That’s the direction I am going to go in with self-publishing! :smiley:

But for queriyng, I accept it’s a lot different and some things might need to be altered for that kind of market.

But if that falls through, then I totally agree with this :smiley:

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I feel you. I’m going to self-publish if I ever finish. I’m about to give up on querying agents.

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As long as it is not too long for a prologue and should be a real chapter, there can be occasions where a prologue comes in handy, but yes, agents have seen so much misuse that the simple title can put them off. Your swearword is nothing. It sets the tone and it’s also in context and in character I dare say. Not an issue at all. You will stumble upon people who hate prologues and who will reject simply for that reason. I entered mine in a contest and one person marked it right down because of a very short prologue that to this day I’m convinced adds spice to the novel.

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To add to what @lhansenauthor said, an agent who rejects you flat out just because you have a prologue might not be a good fit for you in general. Of course the prologue needs to be a proper prologue or the manuscript will fall flat from the start.

As to the swear word, it will depend on genre and target audience. If you pitch your manuscript as a middle grade, “clean” romance, or Christian fiction, one f-bomb anywhere will kill your chances. However, even in YA, is has become acceptable if used sparingly and for a purpose (such as to establish voice). However, stay away from the shock factor. In NA or adult fiction, it’s usually not an issue, even though there are a few very conservative publishers that don’t allow it, but they’d still sign you up if they love your manuscript and then tell you to edit it.

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Sorry, but I don’t agree with that. It’s fine to write for yourself if you are also prepared to have no readers (and I’m not saying that will necessarily happen, but it’s a risk to be aware of).

Yet if you want to publish and make money of your books, you’ll have to consider market trends and reader expectations. Certain genres will always trend, and it’s a rapidly changing market, so it’s crucial to stay on top of what sells. With millions of books to compete against, it’s already hard enough to stand out with something readers are itching to snatch up.

And than there are certain reader expectations. For example, a romance will generally fail without a HEA or HFN. No one wants a weeping, heartbroken protagonist in the end.

However, that doesn’t mean you have to lose your identity as an author when writing a story. Delivery, style, voice, and many other stylistic choices that make a writing yours should never be compromised. Yet there are just certain rules that authors need to follow if they actually want to sell their work. Of course if that’s not your main driver, you can say to hell with it all and do what you want.

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If you use that language in the novel, why would it matter having it in the beginning?

As an aside, I can’t read without editing. In the phrase I quoted, did you mean to write “back and forth”?

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Thank you so much for this!!!

If you don’t mind me asking ( and @SallyMason1) – the chapter I have could technically work as a first chapter. However, it’s with a scene that is 100 years before the novel begins. Although it is a momentous scene that kicks off the story. It follows a character that doesn’t even reappear, but his granddaughter will later.

Would it be alright to make this chapter Chapter One instead of a Prologue, despite it having characters we will only see again through their names? It allows the chapter to have more information and be an actual chapter, and also eliminates the dreaded Prologue :rofl:

I personally don’t need it as a prologue, but I thought it fit it best since it’s just one scene that happens long before the story, and deals with characters we won’t see again (Although we meet their descendants)

Thanks so much for this!! This was very helpful.

You CAN make it chapter 1, but those are the classic reasons to have a prologue.

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What @ximeraGrey says. This sounds like a classic prologue but - there will be agents so allergic to them, they might reject yours together with all the spoofy ones.