When to Use Swear Words in your Writing

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RE: When to Use Swear Words in your Writing

Postby thejade » Tue Oct 16, 2007 4:32 pm

BUT, what if you intended to make your mother flush? Think about it. ;)

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RE: When to Use Swear Words in your Writing

Postby thejade » Tue Oct 16, 2007 4:37 pm

Yes, most of the classics lack any swearing at all *but* honestly most major printers then wouldn't have even considered them. If you wanted it published, you didn't venture beyond a "hell" or a "damn" and even then those were two words in an ocean of thousands.

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RE: When to Use Swear Words in your Writing

Postby thejade » Tue Oct 16, 2007 4:45 pm

Tip: when you want to use a good book against excessive swearing, "Rebecca" might not be a good one to name-drop.

Also, the genre of sci-fi/fantasy - and let's be honest here - is written by and marketed to people who don't hold with excessive cursing. This particular genre of fiction is all about things which are completely fictional with most, some or no resemblance to real life. It makes sense then that this would extend to cursing.

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RE: When to Use Swear Words in your Writing

Postby P.I. Barrington » Tue Oct 16, 2007 5:42 pm

See, now isn't that weird? I think sci-fi and fantasy need more cursing to make them relatable. LOL! Of course, I did read one story where it said the character  'cursed in his own language' and thought that was very creative in the fact you know he/she/it was swearing but you could fill in with what you might picture that would be.

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RE: When to Use Swear Words in your Writing

Postby dgford » Tue Oct 16, 2007 6:13 pm

It is not my style to use foul language, but to say in my writing that someone swore is a bit my creative without the use of a particular foul word.  A reader may be offended at the F-word but not at the use of another.  So using their own imaginations, the readers place  their own thoughts in the verse or line and continue on. 

The goal is to keep the reader reading our work and turning pages.  No roadblocks here for anyone, that I can see.

But just because someone's work may have a "you son of a b!tch!" in it, shouldn't stop us in our reading, especially if we are picturing the old gal in "What About Bob" who has lost her dream house to the doctor.  I would never use this language, but the rather crude old gal in the movie would - and we all laughed.  Come on be honest, we all did. 

Many writers see swearing as another word for stooping.  That even cave men had better things to do with their time than to sit around swearing all the time.  Like trying to start that f*&^#+#g fire. 

Where eagles fly,


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RE: When to Use Swear Words in your Writing

Postby WichitaWriter » Tue Oct 16, 2007 6:25 pm

When I come to the place in my stories that calls for my character to say a curse word, I ask myself if the character would say those words AND is it appropriate for the reader to read what the character says. I think there are situations where anybody would understand a character saying "the appropriate word."

Take this scene:
Bill needed to clean out the gutters on his house. He pulled out the ladder and leaned it against the slippery metal gutter. He climbed up and began pulling out the leaves and trash. Bill didn't know that flying insects had made a nest in the gutter so when he picked up a hand full of leaves he also got a hand full of angry, flying bugs with stingers. He began waving his arms, trying to swat the bugs away but as he did that, he lost his balance and the ladder slid along the metal gutter very fast. Bill fell to the ground, injuring his arm and leg.

Bill got stung.
Bill rode the ladder all the way to the ground.
When Bill hit the ground he got badly injured.

Now, while all of this is going on, does anybody really believe that Bill would say,
"Oh dear. There's a nest of flying creatures in these leaves."
"Oh my. The friction between the ladder and the gutter has decreased to zero!"
"How unfortunate! I seem to have broken my ulna and dislocated my patella!"

No, I don't think so.
Bill would be screaming anglo-saxon words during every step of this scene and I think the reader would understand and expect Bill to be saying them.

However, I will say this. There are lots of curse words and I think a good writer should be able to write something besides "oh ***k" and "oh ***t" all the time.

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RE: When to Use Swear Words in your Writing

Postby nolan » Tue Oct 16, 2007 6:52 pm

I hold with the "when appropriate" crowd, on sex as well as language. I have three books in print:

A memoir, Ione, Circa 1930, a gentler time. Boys when not around girls used some, always under threat of mouth washed out by mothers. Girls never used foul language, at least around boys. Sex was always under threat of a shotgun wedding as the pill hadn't been invented.

A mystery, Mauled, it wasn't necessary. A cop would use a mild expletive and then apologize to a woman present. Sex was often but only by inference, not graphic.

The third, a novel based on my WW2 experiences, Clouds Are Always White On Top, used both. A bunch of guys - there were no women in the aif Force then - led to lots of both. More than once I heard someone say, "I'm afraid to go home on leave - afraid I will sit down to the table and say 'Hey ma, pass the F---ing peas'." Sex was alive and well. still no pill, but guys lived under," tomorrow I may be dead", and many of the local gals over there were looking for a ticket to over here.

Today, my grandkids use the F word a lot more than the word please and the girls go on the pill as part of entering highschool.

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When to Use Swear Words in your Writing

Postby Brian » Wed Oct 17, 2007 3:05 am

Check out this month's conversation question:
http://www.writersdigest.com/mbbs/forum ... 00&start=1

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RE: When to Use Swear Words in your Writing

Postby camper » Wed Oct 17, 2007 4:01 am

It always amuses me when people will defend the importance of using swear words to color the speech for characters who are criminals and vagrants, teenagers trying to sound cool, or people who, for the moment, are not within full control of themselves due to being injured, surprised, or angry -- all while trying to say that the use of swear words is not a sign of laziness or a lack of intelligence.

Will there be times that a person swears?  Of course.  Are there times when a character lies in bed, scratches his head, and then holds an internal argument whether to stay in bed vs. get up for 5 minutes, before finally going off to brush their teeth?  Yep.  Or how about going to answer the phone, does a character look at the phone, let it ring one more time, stand up from their chair, walk with strident determination to the phone, check the caller ID, sigh, roll their eyes, and then answer it by saying "Hello"?  Yep.

But does the reader need to know every one of those details?  Probably not.  Unless everything there is vital to the story, then definitely not.  Is it vital for a character to swear in a book?  Possibly, but I think people should look at the words a character uses just as closely as they would examine how they describe a person answering a telephone. 

If a writer has to look at a character and say "He better swear, or else he won't be believable to the reader" then I have to ask:  Is your protagonist made of Oak, Balsa, or Pine?

For example, if you can't fathom portraying a mafia character without constantly dropping the "F" bomb, then how many times are your characters saying "Nobody makes better marinara than..." or "Youse guyz" or "capiche"?  Stop watching the Godfather, Soprano's, and Goodfellas.  Amazing how the language DiNero and Crystal used in "Analyze This" is funny in the context of that film, but it's exactly the same language you'll find in all your traditional 'mobster' films.  Hmmm......something to that I think.

Reliance on swear words to draw a character tells me (as a reader, mind you) that the author is trying to show me how 'real' a person is by invoking stereotypes and archetypes without really coming up with someone new.  If the story is compelling, I’ll ignore it.  But don’t think I didn’t notice it.  I think King writes characters better than anyone, and the ones who do not need foul language to be colored in are the strongest.  His villains, and the ones who swear like sailors and truck drivers, are as cliché as the illustrations I just used.

The writer of the article made a valid point about Lecter...did he swear at all, other than repeating what someone else said?  I don't think he did, but I'm not sure now.  And few villains are more reprehensible than Hannibal Lecter.  Or as memorable.

I also happen to think that the rule of "Show, don't tell" is somehow excluded from dialogue in fiction, but it shouldn't be.  People think they're 'showing' you a character by the words they speak, but the truth there is that by invoking a stereotype they’re 'telling' the reader what kind of person they are. 

Just my thoughts.  Obviously the writer needs to decide whether to use the words in the first place, or when it's appropriate.


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RE: When to Use Swear Words in your Writing

Postby coyote36 » Wed Oct 17, 2007 5:14 am

My uncle told us a funny story related to using swear words. He had just come back from the war (WWII, Navy). He told us that when he was in the Navy, the guys would always swear. It was f-ing this, f-ing that. When he got home, his mother had made dinner for the family. Without thinking, he asks if someone would pass the f-ing salt. His mother didn't say a word and just handed him the salt.



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