Friday, January 11, 2013

To Swear or Not to Swear, That's the Bleeping Question


By Rich

Not too long ago my aunt informed me she purchased my short story Cat on a Leash. By the way, self-promotion of my ePublication in the first sentence must be some sort of record on this site. Anyhoo, when I asked her what she thought of it, she replied, "It was interesting." When I queried for specifics she didn't comment about the characters or the plot. Instead, she pointed to the tale's liberal use of curse words.

See, I'm not a habitual swearer in real life, despite being born and raised in New Joisey, nickname being "The F&*%(@g Garden State". With five small kids running around the house and sneaking up on me when I least expect it, any dirty word coming from my mouth normally ranges in the low PG range. Even when I was a young whelp the use of the colloquialisms for fecal matter and fornication didn't feel right on my tongue. So, since I didn't smoke, drink, or leave nasty, anonymous comments on other blog sites, I gave up heavy swearing. However, not when it came to writing.

For some reason, typing these words into the dialogue of a fictional character doesn't bother me in the least. Fact is, I get a strange thrill when I have one of the folks I create tell someone their comments are bullsugar or for them to go flaggle themselves. I cleaned those words up for you readers - just in case you didn't know. I reason it in this manner; these words are not being said by me, but from someone not of this time or place who doesn't care what everyone else thinks. Or, perhaps I'm channeling my filthy mind into one of my characters as an excuse to let loose the curses.

Are these viable excuses? Probably not. Does it mean you shouldn't add swear words to your stories? Hell...I mean, heck no. The 's' 'and 'f'' words, and their many cousins, are as common to the American vernacular as prat, git, and wanker are in British language. Don't be afraid to use as much, or as little, of them in your stories. Except, perhaps, if you're writing a tale for elementary school kids. Then again, if you've ever heard those tykes out in the playground...

Do you allow your characters to swear, even if you don't? Or are you a potty mouth while your characters conversations are as pristine as the driven snow? Let us know.




11 comments :

Marienka said...

I try to write the language that fits the character. Personally, I tend toward euphemisms but I'm not the one speaking on paper.

Tim said...

I am a great fan of swearing. It relieves pain (really, studies showed that). It finds lost objects. You get to tell your wife, "I didn't say that, hon, the character did." My protag in Memo to Hell swears (promo alarm) at http://www.amazon.com/Memo-to-Hell-ebook/dp/B00ATTFIHW/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1357575086&sr=1-1&keywords=memo+to+hell
The nuns said don't say anything you couldn't say around Mom. I say F that.

Dean K Miller said...

Not until I started "Her Father's Wooden Leg" did I really start lacing the dialogue with "wash-your-mouth-out-with-soap" language. (Hah...SSP in the first sentence of a comment!)

WTF...it's the characters talking, not me. Right?

Which makes me wonder, what would the Peanuts comic strip be like if Lucy laid out a few choice words once in a while?

RichardK said...

I would think Charlie Brown would let rip a tirade of curse words after Lucy took the football away from him one too many times.

BTW, 'Saturday Night Live' did something similar to C.B. and the gang this past Christmas. http://youtu.be/P1YlBPL77Wo

Timprovphilly said...

My characters normally don't curse. But, I had this one woman who cursed all the time in one of the stories I podcasted and I heard it from my listeners who basically said, "I would have wanted my son to listen to this but the cursing really put me off." Since I want my stories to appeal to as many people as possible I normally avoid having the characters curse if I can.

wordsnooper.com said...

You're right, of course, Rich: the language should fit the character, but you have to know your audience.

My character, Lexie Kahn: Word Snooper, hasn't sniffed out much @#$% yet, but she's an upcoming guest on Jenny Neill's blog http://www.jennyneill.com/blog/tag/seattle/#.UOskuI6bIbA. Jenny's doing a series called "Dunged" and Lexie will give the straight poop on a rather pungent expression.

Patricia Stoltey said...

It doesn't bother me much in reading or writing...but I had to take all the profanity out of a manuscript many years ago to get the action/adventure novel I co-wrote published as an audiobook. You never know...

Woodswoman Abroad said...

I'm kind of a potty mouth in real life, and my characters don't seem to swear. But my muse does venture into some completely unplanned erotica (NOT porn) on occasion, which completely shocks me. Doesn't shock me because I'm a prude . . . but because I don't plan the scenes. The characters just seem to move in that direction once or twice in the last few NaNo drafts I've done (all part of the same larger book).

Needless to say I might have to "vanilla" these passages, though I hope to check in with someone like Laura Pritchett about how to deal with these "automatic writing" parts.

teresa funke said...

I'm not a heavy swearer in life. I tend to reserve those words for times I really need them, so my friends were surprised when reading Remember Wake that my characters used such strong language. I've actually had people from the WWII generation, moslty women, tell me that people didn't talk that way back then, but my first-person sources told me that when you were in a battle with bombs falling on your head, you swore literally like a sailor! So that's how my characters speak in the book. It has to be true to character and not just gratuitous.

Baja Rock Pat said...

My book is about how rock star Sammy Hagar personally helped me to become a writer. My first draft was filled with colorful language because hey, that's how Sammy talks! The first person to edit my manscript told me that I should omit all those bad words because readers would be offended. I figured I was paying this person for their expertise--and it was my first book, so that person MUST know more about writing than I! So I went through the entire manuscript and removed all the bad words, and when I read it afterward, it sounded ridiculous! It was no longer MY book; it had lost all its spirit. I couldn't for the life of me stomach reading that Sammy Hagar was saying to his cheering, half-drunken audience, "Golly, it's so darn wonderful to be here!" So I put all the four-letter words back in, including the ones spoken by yours truly. I'm so glad I did!

Jane Louise Boursaw said...

WTF... :-) I run a family-oriented entertainment site, so have to watch my language. I swear internally, though.

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