When to Use Swear Words in your Writing

Every month in Writer's Digest's InkWell section, we pose a question related to the writing life. Tell us your thoughts.
coyote36
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RE: When to Use Swear Words in your Writing

Postby coyote36 » Tue Oct 16, 2007 2:50 pm

In my latest work, I have one character that is a former cop and another who served in Korea and saw combat. I think it would be odd if either didn't swear. I must admit to being reluctant to drop the f-bomb and would be hesitant to do so.

Chris

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RE: When to Use Swear Words in your Writing

Postby mewriter » Tue Oct 16, 2007 3:25 pm

Swearing is a part of life today whether we like it or not. So, it would follow that (truly drawn) characters would reflect the vernacular of the day. I use the blue hues sparingly so as not to cheapen the scene or character. But, some of my subjects just seem to have a propensity for tainting the air with profanity. A twist I have been using lately is instead of using the full F bomb I will substitute 'friggin' or something similar. It opens a different side of the character in that, in certain situations, he or she can exhibit a modicum of control. Nothing is lost in translation, but it shows the effort (however slight) to curtail the full blown F...

smm110861
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RE: When to Use Swear Words in your Writing

Postby smm110861 » Tue Oct 16, 2007 3:26 pm

Hi,
I couldn't agree more about the use of foul language, and applying some standards to when and how our characters curse. In my own work, Out of the Ordinary, I have strayed onto that George Carlin list when needed, but never more than was absolutely necessary.

I do feel strongly that intimate moments can be very powerful without making them sound like erotica. No offense to erotica.

In the end, the cursing in dialog has to be real for the character, for the story and circumstances, and absolutely not be a sell out to the author's spiritual, moral beliefs. Would you flush if your mother read what you've written?

It was a pleasure to see this articulated so well.

Sue

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Arwen9
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RE: When to Use Swear Words in your Writing

Postby Arwen9 » Tue Oct 16, 2007 3:47 pm

Though I know people use swear words in real life, I don't like the overuse of them when it isn't necessary and I feel that you don't have to tell me exactly what was said. I have read many good books, including Rebecca, LOR, Chronicles of Narnia...etc that did not have to use them and still got points across. I would rather see, Bob swore. Than to know exactly what he said.

For fantasy/sci-fi, I have seen and use something along the lines of made-up profanity. (Like Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series that does this) One set of characters of mine are devoted to the stars and moons, so I often have them say something like---Starry idiot....or a particularly nasty one is "Stars and Crescents!" :) I do different things for different cultures/races. Anyway, I don't mind that. I think as a whole we turn to profanity not to make a point, but as filler when we don't know what else the character should say, and I personally don't like it at all. (In fact, most books, if they start having a lot of profanity, I'll put down even if I'm interested in the plotline.)

Liz


P.I. Barrington
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RE: When to Use Swear Words in your Writing

Postby P.I. Barrington » Tue Oct 16, 2007 3:47 pm

I agree with most of you. I usually only use them to express extreme emotions from anger to surprise, even for my villains. It does get boring and sometimes downright distasteful, but the worst for me, is when their use indicates the writer cannot figure out how to convey emotions in a creative way. There are so many classics that were written without the use of any swear words at all and those usually stand the test of time, as opposed to 'today's audience'. Perhaps I am old fashioned, but if you write down to an audience, that's encouraging not only dumbing down of your readers but also bad writing. JMHO.

P.I.


Sheri McGuinn
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RE: When to Use Swear Words in your Writing

Postby Sheri McGuinn » Tue Oct 16, 2007 3:54 pm

I've just self-published my first novel and, with some trepidation, left in some f---ing and a few other swear words, even though it is geared for YA-adult. Why? Because I use essentially the same criteria as Morgan Hunt. In Running Away, a teenage girl's deteriorating language is one sign that there is a serious problem - a sign that her mother misses. When the girl runs away, the street people she runs into are not sweet throw-backs to 50's TV, they are the kind of people who do "help" runaways - and their language fits them. Cleaning up the language would diminish the story's impact by making it patently unrealistic.
Here's hoping this decision doesn't kill me commercially.

thejade
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RE: When to Use Swear Words in your Writing

Postby thejade » Tue Oct 16, 2007 3:59 pm

I don't think it's a copout to say that your characters swear and that's why there are so many four-letter words in my novel. But it still has to work.

My personal stance is balance. For example: a young man becomes a gangster is eventually gunned down by an informant at the age of 25 when a delivery goes tragically wrong and the entire crew is carted away to prison. It is to be expected that the language will be a little coarse assuming that this young man and his associates are not very well educated and use coarse language to express themselves.

This is an extreme example but I think you see my point. If it works for the character and for the setting: go, go, you son of a b!tch!

:)

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RE: When to Use Swear Words in your Writing

Postby thejade » Tue Oct 16, 2007 4:20 pm

I totally agree with you on leaving in the cursings. Especially among teenagers, cursing is still considered to be the thing that makes you sound older and slightly cooler, even when it's used in bad taste. Even if there is a lot of cursing, it sounds like you've created characters who would do that anyway. It sounds like you should be okay.

thejade
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RE: When to Use Swear Words in your Writing

Postby thejade » Tue Oct 16, 2007 4:27 pm

Chris, it sounds like you're in a bit of box. Based on what you've said about the characters, you kinda have to make 'em swear where you are now. On the other hand, you could make a point that one - or both - of them make an attempt not to swear and develop that. If that doesn't work, try desensitizing yourself by reading a few books that uses curse words often. It doesn't necessarily have to be tasteful - but hopefully by the end of the book you can be the judge of that.

thejade
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RE: When to Use Swear Words in your Writing

Postby thejade » Tue Oct 16, 2007 4:30 pm

I like your substituting and using not cursing as a device. The only thing with that is that you really have to keep it up so the believability isn't stretched too far.

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