"Hardly a day goes by when some fuckhead doesn't want to shoot me. Today is no exception." This is how my most recent, and most successful, novel opens. The book is written in a neo-noir style, with a hard-boiled, cynical first-person narration.
You might wonder, but it was not a calculated provocation to throw profanity at the reader in the first ten words. The style simply dictated it. The effect this opener has had on my audience has been a real aha! moment for me.
I'm not a person who swears a lot in public. In daily interactions I fear offending people with such language, except in specific environments. My first novels reflected that fear; I censored my characters as I censored myself, not wanting to offend potential readers. But I had to take off the gloves this time because of the nature of the character and the writing style I had chosen to emulate.
I feared at first, that this would limit my audience. On the contrary. People have loved the book! And many have bought it based solely on reading the first line.
Even gray-haired old ladies, those I most feared offending, have loved the book. Three women's book clubs not only chose the book for their monthly read, but they invited me to come speak to them afterward.
The lesson I have learned is this: don't censor yourself. Be true to the character. The character is not you; he doesn't have to behave according to your own personal rules of etiquette. Be real. If you aren't, the reader will feel betrayed. They sense when you're holding back, not being completely honest.
Just lay it all out there and trust your readers. They'll get it.