Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Words of Curse

Another South Park reference! (There are three shows I constantly reference and in order to have a decent conversation with me you must watch the following: Family Guy, South Park and 30 Rock)

OK! Swearing! In my own life I swear like a sailor. However in my fiction nary a character drops the F*bomb. In fact, they don't swear a lot at all. Obviously I don't mind swearing. I've read books where every other word was fuck. Layer Cake is linguistic genius, full of British slang and tons of swearing. I swear a lot on my Live Journal but it is near absent in my fiction.

There is very little in Tea Times Three and I carefully consider my choices when characters do swear and what words they use. So far not much cursing has happened in T3 but there are has been a bit.

My friend Sunny has some very firm opinions on swearing in books. That very often a lot of gratuitous swearing will alienate certain readers. I'd like to add that I think a lot of swearing becomes back ground noise. Which is fine if you are writing Layer Cake which is all about drug dealing Londoners. But ask yourself this: does the swearing have a purpose? Does it add to the characters? Reflect their socio-economic back ground? Show a culture or sub-culture they take part in? Or is it just bad habit (as is my case...) :) which could make a nice character trait especially, if like me again, they are trying to curb their potty mouth.

In a weird reversal of this I was recently reading an urban fantasy where all the characters used 'fantasy' swears throughout the book peppered with the usual mid-level swears of 'shit' and 'damn' . So when I came to the one and only 'fuck' in the entire book it was glaring and felt very inappropriate.


  1. While not a prude, I feel a writer needs to know the audience they are writing for. I was criticized for having the "cleanest-mouthed drug dealers" in my book FOOLS RUSH IN. Hey, the reader knows there's cussing, no need to rub their faces in it!

    The shock effect of profanity went out after the '50's. Male writers seem to feel the need to "keep it real." Many female writers need to prove they can play with the big boys. I think a good writer can come up with alternatives.

  2. In the interest of realistic characters, I think that sometimes a curse word fits and identifies the character. However, I think we can pick and choose what words we use. There's very little cursing in my own books, and none at all in some. I don't want to offend the readers, and I have to admit that there are a few books I put down because the language offended me. Same with some movies. Sunny's right; there are alternatives that can be used.

    Besides, I read for entertainment. Cursing doesn't really entertain me.

  3. I overheard the conversation of a group of 11- and 12-year-old boys yesterday. They didn't realize I was there listening. Every one of them felt as though he had to say "F this" or "F that." My sons passed through that stage several years ago. I knew that this group of boys was trying to sound grown-up to each other.

    >> ask yourself this: does the swearing have a purpose? <<

    In my mystery/suspense series, yes, it does. The series is set during the Southern theater of the Revolutionary War. The fact is that people swore differently back then. The F word, if it was used, was as a verb. "Bloody" was a really bad word. "Damn" was "damnation." The bad guys were scoundrels, rascals, sons of mongrels/curs, etc. If a character in my series cusses, the *difference* of it helps impart "period flavor" to my fiction.

    Suzanne Adair

  4. I try to be selective in the foul language. I know cops may swear a lot in books and movies, but I've kept my cop's language more cynical. However, my PI does swear a lot, but not excessively. I try to keep the F bombs to a very minimum, only when she's really pissed. But I agree, language can help identify, quantify, and 'liven' up a character.
    Stephen SLB.

  5. My protag is a prosecutor surrounded by cops, As a former prosecutor surrounded by cops, we all used curse words, particularly the f-bomb, as nouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs, terms of endearment, etc..

    So I write the first draft exactly as it would go in real life, have the characters speak and think in exactly the same words they would be speaking and thinking in, but then I whittle it down. I cut, edit, try a lesser version of a big bad word, but where I think the story demands it, I keep the big bad word in.

    I don't want to offend, but I also want to be realistic. I don't want the novel to not read authentically because I haven't been true to the characters.

    And BTW, I loved Layer Cake.

  6. In my novels the use of profanity has to fit the character. I would never dream of having a child or a priest uttering expletives but I would expect a criminal, caught in the act to say sh** or something stronger. And there are times- when writing about someone in the privacy of their home-when it can be effective to use one. It makes the reader think, gee I would never have thought that of that guy!
    Having said that I have also written books without a single one.

  7. Thanks! This has been intersting! I think a lot of people just want to be shocking but there is always a context for swearing, and for not swearing.