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When to Use Swear Words in your Writing : Conversation question • Page 15 • Writing Forum | WritersDigest.com

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.
Shell Lee
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Re: When to Use Swear Words in your Writing

Postby Shell Lee » Fri Oct 03, 2008 9:05 am

I try not to put swear words in my writing, although I do swear more often than I should when speaking (I blame it on having worked in factories on third shift; if you think sailors are bad.... ). But the book I'm currently writing, while I've tried my best to avoid swearing, there's one scene where the only verbal reaction I can make fit the character and the scene, is "What the hell?", as my character goes from sitting on a couch to waking up to find himself balancing on the edge of a rotting balcony, 300 feet above sharp rocks and an angry ocean.

All things considered though, that's the only swear word in the book so far, and I'm on chapter 10.

Mild use of swear words does not bother me when I'm reading a book. When it's every other word or gets very vulgar, then I'm more likely to skim over a section. I've only found 2 books, out of the thousands of books that I've read, that i never finished.

A character that has every single sentence sound something like "I, um, uh, I think, um, well, um, uh, I..." is more likely to offend me then the occasional F word.

Ultimate Cheapskate
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Re: When to Use Swear Words in your Writing

Postby Ultimate Cheapskate » Fri Oct 03, 2008 12:12 pm

I don't mind sharing that I've taken some flack for my occasional use of profanity and off-color references in my book. But in all honesty it's probably 2% of the people who contact me don't like the book and indicate that they object to some of the language. Now, I'm understandably proud of the book and don't make any excuses for my work, nor am I inclined to change my style in the future, even though I know I'll get some hate mail and lose some readers. Balancing this out is the fact that people who really like the book tend to be drawn to its sense of humor, and that's the context in which the rough language is used. So, you can't please all of the people all of the time.

In my case, since I write, of all things, "personal finance," I think people just aren't expecting to find humor in a personal finance book, let alone some pretty edgy humor. The reality is that my book, at worst, would be rated PG-13, and most readers I've spoken with (at least the ones who liked it) don't even seem to recall the profanity. Certainly in fiction, my use of language would be considered mild given the industry norm.

That said, it's a bit amazing how different people react and the different standards people have when it comes to profanity. One critic - who hated the book - said I "drop the F-Bomb throughout the book." Now, I'm not opposed to the F word, nor am I overly in love with it. But the fact is, in 242 pages I use the F word exactly two times, both in the same sentence, a true quote from someone I heard talking on a cell phone, and a story that wouldn't have been funny without the use of profanity. But I guess the lesson is, anyone can say and write anything they want about a book, regardless of the facts.

leikec
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RE: When to Use Swear Words in your Writing

Postby leikec » Sun Oct 05, 2008 8:40 am

Sometimes a swear word works better:

     “It's crazy!  McNichols is also called Six Mile Road,” Sarah said.  “I found that out the hard way, one day when I went to a patient's house.”


    “You make house calls?” Maggie asked.  “I don't know of any doctors who do that anymore.”


    Sarah didn't say anything for a moment.  “This is kind of a special case,” she said quietly.  “It's a girl who was wounded in Iraq.  She's a double-amputee, so it's easier for me to go see her.”


   We all stopped talking for a moment.

 
  “Excuse my language, but I hate that f***ing war,” Maggie said quietly.


   Lizzie looked over at me.  Her eyes were huge.  Maggie didn't swear.  Not ever.

Jeff C


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wdarcy
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RE: When to Use Swear Words in your Writing

Postby wdarcy » Mon Oct 06, 2008 9:57 am


jmar2
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RE: When to Use Swear Words in your Writing

Postby jmar2 » Wed Oct 08, 2008 5:18 pm

I enjoy returning to threads like this one and catching up with the new comments and observations.  Like in the above snippet about Maggie.  In addition to the asterisked word, there is the extreme vulgarity of the words "double amputee" and "Iraq".  Now those are swear words - or perhaps curse words would be more apt.

I do feel that at 62, I have read more than a few writers and observed their application of certain words.

Personally, I support most of the threads that lean toward the premise that if the verbiage supports and carries the story, then it is acceptable.   Could Catcher In The Rye be written without the "F" words?  Maybe.  But would it be the same book.

Would "Nigger Jim" be the same character if Mark Twain had called him "Colored Jim" or "Black Jim"?

That all said, I also believe that in too many cases, inserting the swear word is the easy solution.  Even in the thread reference about Maggie, the passage might retain its strength if rewritten to exclude the asterisked word.  

“Excuse my language, but that war is the bastardized product of a deranged mind.  It's an abomination against the very God that this President blasphemed when he started it and claimed God's support."  Maggie said quietly.


Lizzie looked over at me.  Her eyes were huge.  Maggie didn't swear.  Not ever.

John

 


LostinOblivion
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RE: When to Use Swear Words in your Writing

Postby LostinOblivion » Thu Oct 09, 2008 5:59 am

If it's a book about adults, written for adults, I think cursing is fine. It would be more unrealistic to me if no one cursed at all. This isn't to say that every other word has to be a curse, but the average adult curses on occasion. I don't think I've ever used a curse in a short story (I haven't written many), but it never felt natural for the characters. I do use cursing for my novel though, for the cops, for reporters, and especially for the main character. She's jaded, sarcastic, and kind of a mess (busy, clutzy, disorganized), and she has a habit of mumbling, 's***, s***, s***'. I use that maybe three times in the book, but to me it was natural to illustrate her frustration with the world and even herself. Curses aren't really jolting to me, but I guess maybe I'm more numbed to them.

If it's a book about teens or young adults, and for them, I don't think cursing is as natural. From what I remember from high school, we cursed less than the junior high kids, because it was still a novelty for them. It also depends on the maturity of the kids and their mentality--do they think their tough little rebels? But, I never read much young adult fiction, so I don't really know the standards for it.

jmar2/John, I don't understand how double-amputee and Iraq are vulgar?

jmar2
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RE: When to Use Swear Words in your Writing

Postby jmar2 » Thu Oct 09, 2008 7:29 am

Ashley,

It's just my opinion, but the image of a healthy young body suddenly ripped apart in a war started and continued with lies is worse than vulgar.  It's obscene.



LostinOblivion
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RE: When to Use Swear Words in your Writing

Postby LostinOblivion » Thu Oct 09, 2008 7:53 am

I thought that was what you meant, and I tend to agree, except that using vulgar and obscene seems to imply that the word, the image, shouldn't be used. That's where my confusion came from, because that I completely disagree with. I'm going to guess here, and say that wasn't what you what you meant to imply?

Sarah Jane
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RE: When to Use Swear Words in your Writing

Postby Sarah Jane » Thu Oct 09, 2008 11:12 am


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EJSchwartz
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RE: When to Use Swear Words in your Writing

Postby EJSchwartz » Sun Oct 19, 2008 1:47 pm

[Don't over analyze it!]EJSchwartz - 2008-10-19 6:42 PM

I swear pretty much all the time but.....I think that there are times and places where your character should do this. I don't think people generally swear if say they work in a convent. I also think that generally speaking men swear more than woman, with the exception of me. One of my characters is a cowboy, and they usually swear but, not at women or children unless they are the bad guys. I don't think there is a black or white answer. I think it depends on the circumstance.

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