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Author Topic: !@#$ %^& @#$
wetwilly
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Something Phanto said in another post triggered a question for me.

How do you all handle vulgarity in your fiction? Obviously if it just doesn't bother you to profanity in your work then it's not a problem, but for me it's a problem. I try to keep it clean, but it's difficult to do that and still "keep it real." Example: What does the hardened criminal say when he gets shot in the hand. "Oh crap" and, "doggone it" just don't cut it, but I don't want to drop the S-word in there. Or when a hooker gets busted for plying her trade, does she call the cop a "stupid butthole" or a "jerky crapface?" I don't think so. However, the words she would actually use are words I won't use, so how do you go about representing her accurately? Is there a way, or do I just have to write about cleaner things if I want to make my clean language fit?


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Monolith
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Willy, I feel your pain. I've been trying to avoid cursing ( read: 3yo daughter ) However, I think, if it fits the character(s) that you are going to use, then I'd use it, but possibly sparringly, if you don't like to curse. The idea would be to convey the character's personality ( isn't that what you do when writing? ) that's what I'd do. But if you can get your point across without cursing, that'd be great too. I know that I'm new to this thing but, I'm sure everyone might tell you the same.

Example for me would be that the main character of mine is a cop ( who's blown up in his 69 T-bird ) but his years on the force hardend him to blend into his environment. ( The streets )

Just an example. Thanks for reading this.

Bryan


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Gen
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You could try writing around it.
  • "Her mouth would have made a hardened criminal blush and promise to call his mother."
  • "I swore. 'He what?!'"
  • "Quentin started saying something in Mittelhochdeutsch. Judging by the tone of his voice, it wasn't anything I wanted translated any time soon."

Only. You know. Not quite so cliche.

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Christine
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We've discussed this before. This time, I decided the only option was tor ite a scene where I imagine someone would be cussing and see what it is I do, because I use cussing very rarely myself. Oh, if the situation is right I wlil throw in an s word or two, but in general, i don't like it. So let's see what happens....

*****

"Put the money in the bag!" Joe growled as he showed his gun to the bank teller.

The teller's pug face went instantly pale but he took the bag from Joe and began putting the money from his drawer into it. Good, everything was going good.

Joe thought he would make a clean getaway when he heard the sound of approaching sirens. Maybe they weren't for him. Maybe they wre going someplace else.

They screeched to a halt directly in front of the bank. Joe swore loudly and grabbed the money from the teller, sizing up his options. He did not want to get into a hostage situation. Maybe there was a back way out.

"Is there another way out of this building?" Joe asked the trembling teller.

"Y-yes," the man pointed and Joe ran for it, hoping he could make it out before the police had the building surrounded.

When he opened the back door and steppd into the alley, he breathed in the smell of freedom. It smelled exactly like garbage, but he did not care. He began making his way down the alley and out onto a side street.

"Hold it right there!"

Joe froze. Two cops waitd for him at the end of the alley.

"Put the gun down and put your hands where we can see them."

He would have to shoot them. He had no choice. It was all that pug-faced teller's fault; he had pushed the alarm button. Very slowly, Joe began to lower the gun to the ground, pretending that he would lay it down. At the last second he changed direction, aimed, and fired at the cop on the left. A second later he had another bullet zooming towards the cop on the right.

He had not even heard the cop fire over the noise of his own weapon, but when he looked down he saw the blood pouring from his own chest. Strange, he couldn't actually feel it. He put his hand to his chest and lightly dabbed at the blood. His hand came away dark red.

He knew no more.

**********

I'm going to try this again with a moderate level of cussing, just to see what the cussing adds:

********

"Put the money in the bag!" Joe growled as he showed his gun to the bank teller.

The teller's pug face went instantly pale but he took the bag from Joe and began putting the money from his drawer into it. Good, everything was going good.

Joe thought he would make a clean getaway when he heard the sound of approaching sirens. Oh shit. Maybe they weren't for him. Maybe they wre going someplace else.

They screeched to a halt directly in front of the bank. Joe swore loudly and grabbed the money from the teller, sizing up his options. He did not want to get into a hostage situation. Maybe there was a back way out.

"Is there another way out of this building?" Joe asked the trembling teller.

"Y-yes," the man pointed and Joe ran for it, hoping he could make it out before the police had the building surrounded.

When he opened the back door and steppd into the alley, he breathed in the smell of freedom. It smelled exactly like garbage, but he did not care. He began making his way down the alley and out onto a side street.

"Hold it right there!"

God damn it to hell. Two cops waitd for him at the end of the alley.

"Put the gun down and put your hands where we can see them."

He would have to shoot them. He had no choice. It was all that pug-faced teller's fault; he had pushed the alarm button. Very slowly, Joe began to lower the gun to the ground, pretending that he would lay it down. At the last second he changed direction, aimed, and fired at the cop on the left. A second later he had another bullet zooming towards the cop on the right.

He had not even heard the cop fire over the noise of his own weapon, but when he looked down he saw the blood pouring from his own chest. Strange, he couldn't actually feel it. He put his hand to his chest and lightly dabbed at the blood. His hand came away dark red.

He knew no more.

**********

not, let's try it with a lot of cussing, the so-called "realistic" method. Just to be fair, this is REALLY uncomfortable for me. If cussing offends you, definitely don't read this version.

**********

"Put the money in the ****ing bag!" Joe growled as he showed his gun to the bank teller.

The teller's pug face went instantly pale but he took the bag from Joe and began putting the money from his drawer into it. Good, everything was going good.

Joe thought he would make a clean getaway when he heard the sound of approaching sirens. Oh shit. Maybe they weren't for him. Maybe they wre going someplace else.

They screeched to a halt directly in front of the bank. "****!" Joe grabbed the money from the teller, sizing up his options. He did not want to get into a hostage situation. Maybe there was a back way out.

"You goddamned mother ****er, I should kill you where you stand. How do I get out of here?"

The man pointed and Joe ran for it, hoping he could make it out before the police had the building surrounded.

When he opened the back door and steppd into the alley, he breathed in the smell of freedom. It smelled exactly like shit, but he did not care. He began making his way down the alley and out onto a side street.

"Hold it right there!"

****. Two cops waitd for him at the end of the alley.

"Put the gun down and put your hands where we can see them."

God damn it. He would have to shoot them. He had no choice. It was all that ****ing teller's fault; he had pushed the alarm button. Very slowly, Joe began to lower the gun to the ground, pretending that he would lay it down. At the last second he changed direction, aimed, and fired at the cop on the left. A second later he had another bullet zooming towards the cop on the right.

He had not even heard the cop fire over the noise of his own weapon, but when he looked down he saw the blood pouring from his own chest. Strange, he couldn't actually feel it. He put his hand to his chest and lightly dabbed at the blood. His hand came away dark red.

He knew no more.

********

I don't know...I was just playing, maybe. I don't cuss well in real life, so i guess I don't do it in fiction, either. But it seems to me that the best way to avoid cussing if you don't want to is just don't do it. Don't try to play with silly replacement words, just make the anger real, the tension real, and the emotion real and people won't even notice that the cuss words aren't there.

[This message has been edited by Christine (edited June 07, 2004).]


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Christine
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darn it, something got messed up.

[This message has been edited by Christine (edited June 07, 2004).]


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Inkwell
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I've wrestled with this topic a bit myself. In my own writing, I tend to stay away from hard language (though many individuals have varying definitions of 'hard'). Occasionally, where especially emphatic or emotionally charged dialogue is needed, I will use some profanity. IMHO, vulgar language is definitely character-specific. If you're portraying a street thug or other unsavory individual, the words coming out of his mouth need to reflect a clear feeling of realism (as you stated before). However, I've also found a few ways to get around actual usage. By using descriptive lines like 'He swore viciously, clawing at the ugly gash in his leg' you can avoid serious language (offensive to some readers) while maintaining a sense of vulgarity. I've read some very good books that used this method most of the time...then again, I've read others that tried to use this tactic and failed miserably.

It all seems to come down to your personal feelings about the matter. I wouldn't recommend forcing yourself into writing lines that contrast with your own values, as doing this can tend to make your work sound artificial. I'm sure there are exceptions to this, though I've talked to many writers (and read their work) who've had the same trouble I described. The issue appears to boil down to what you believe is acceptable and what is not. You can get away with quite a lot nowadays, though lines can still be crossed (inadvertently or otherwise). I try not to get too close to those boundaries.


Inkwell
------------------
"The difference between a writer and someone who says they want to write is merely the width of a postage stamp."
-Anonymous


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cvgurau
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Like many of you, I've often wrestled with this issue, because while I want to stay "true" to the character, I also want my stories to appeal to early teens.

If I'm feeling witty, I'll say something like "He took the Lord's name and then commented on my mother's coital tendencies."

If I'm not, I'll say something like "You goddamn son of a whore!", figuring I could edit it in later versions, if needs be.

Whatever works, I guess.

CVG


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wetwilly
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Note: the german reference is appreciated, Gen. War doch gut, Jung!
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Gen
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I've always wanted to learn to swear in Mittelhochdeutsch. Something of a life goal.
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Eric Sherman
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I usually look to OSC as an example. He's dealed with 'scummy' people in his stories, but he dosen't have them swear. A good example is his short story 'Dogwalker'. Not alot, if any, swearing in that story. He gets around it in very creative ways. Pick up 'Maps in a Mirror' and read that story for a good example.

I've also noticed that when a story has little or no profanity in it, when it IS used it is MUCH stronger. An example that comes to mind is 'A Seperate Peace'. That has one swear word in it, shortly after the main charecter betrays his best friend. It was such a powerful word in that story becuase it was only used once. So I'd say save the swear words until they are really needed.


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RillSoji
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I dislike having to use vulgar words but there are ways past it. I liked Gen's example the best.

Personally, in books I've read, made up swear words help to lighten a situation

quote:
Great jumping green jellyfish!

or show the intensity of a situation

quote:
Emperor's black bones! (Star Wars books use this one quite a bit)

Writing around it is good but if you think it fits, making up your own doesn't hurt.


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TruHero
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I think if you are uncomfortable using them -- don't! If you do and can't connect it just comes off as false. And if you try to sweeten it up by using a replacement word it almost comes off as laughable, why bother at that point. The point of using a swear word or combination of them, is to get that little punch of quick release when no other word will do.

I used to work with a guy that used four letter words in just about every part of his speech. After a while you hardly noticed he was swearing(haha). Everything was f***ing something or other. I might say, "it is really hot today." He would say "it's F***ing hot today", as his normal speech. It became cartoonish and laughable and soon most everybody was making fun of him.

I will say this, use them sparingly or they lose the intended force behind them. And use them in dialogue only, not in narration. I think it has more of an impact that way. If you aren't a swearing person, it is going to be really hard for you to write that way. Keep it to what feels natural for you and your character.


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wetwilly
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Okay, Gen, just for you, here's a lesson on swearing in Mittelhochdeutsch. (Which, by the way, can be shortened to just Deutsch without losing anything).

Scheisse (SHY-suh)--the favorite curse-word of german-speakers everywhere. It's the S-word, but it doesn't carry anywhere near as much weight as the English equivalent.

Verpiss dich (fair-PISS deekh)--literally, piss off. This is the strongest curse in the German language. Use sparingly.

bescheuert (beh-SHOY-ert)--retarded. This is a pretty strong word.

bekloppt (beh-KLOPT)--also retarded. Stronger language than bescheuert.

Enjoy.


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Pyre Dynasty
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I once read a book where it had the swear words covered up just like in cartoons. It was good, (it was YA though, but then so was I)
I like made up words when it works. I even make up my own words. swear words usually come from what aggrivates the people most. In quebec I hear the worst word you can say is Tabernac, translated temple or church.

(I don't know what this has to do with anything but"Once behind me in a line two kids from mexico were saying some pretty horrid stuff about me in spanish. I only caught half of it but I turned around and said "I know what you just said." Their eyes got wide and blushed a little.


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Phanto
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If I'm not, I'll say something like "You goddamn son of a whore!", figuring I could edit it in later versions, if needs be.

The thing is, that language isn't strong enough to shock me. Nothing "hard" in it. *shrug*


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Balthasar
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The key thing you have to remember about swear words is that they must add to the fictional dream by adding a dimension to the character. It's a lot like having a highly intelligent character use big words. The man who says in all seriousness, I must confess, I'm a baseball aficionado, is not the same man who says, Baseball rules!.

Like any unusual word you use, you have to have a reason for using it. To pepper dialogue with R-rated swearing is not the least bit artistic, but a properly placed "f**k off" can send an emotional charge through the reader.

I don't subscribe to Stephen King's rule of profanity: that's how people talk, so that's how they'll talk in my novel. People also use a lot of bad grammar when they talk, as well as mispronouncing words, and they use a lot of "umm" and "ahs" and "wells" and so forth as they talk, and we don't put all that nonsense in our dialogue. We don't include any of that in our dialogue--unless it's necessary--and I for one don't see any reason to pepper one's dialogue with superfluous swearing.


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Survivor
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I generally don't use POV characters that swear a lot. That said, I do occasionally have swearing.

Most of the time, my POV describes the swearing just the way I would if I encountered it in real life.

quote:
He used a short word to describe himself.

Yeah, I'm of the opinon that swearing is a reflection on the speaker more than anything else.


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Gen
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Hey, wetwilly! A couple of those are new. I actually speak German, and so know scheisse and esel and mist and so forth. I was more thinking of learning some of the truly archaic stuff from the Middle High German, the stuff the Niebulungenlied is written in-- bears about as much resemblance to modern day German as the Cantebury Tales do to our language today, and similarly hard to understand... but reading both out loud, the rhythm and meter and the flow of the language are truly remarkable. It'd probably be the most gutteral, visceral, and poetic swearing on the planet.
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wetwilly
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Esel and Mist? Definitely not swear words, Gen. Just warning you, if you ever get into it with a German and tell him he's an Esel or that he's full of Mist, he'll probably laugh and hit you. It would have the same impact as calling someone a donkey or telling them they're full of poopy in English.

Also, contrary to popular belief, (I know you didn't say this, but a lot of people think it) "Schweinhund" is not swearing like a tough guy in German. It's talking like a Kindergartener.

Scheisse, though, that's a classic. They love that particular swear word. When cussing is needed, always Scheisse, never Mist.

Esel: I think what you're going for is Arsch. Both translate into ass in English, but Esel is an animal and not a cussword, while Arsch is a bodypart and definitely a cussword. Popular contexts: Arschloch (Loch=hole), die Arschkarte (lit. "the asscard")--when you have bad luck, you pull the Arschkarte, (Ich kriegte die Arschkarte), to tell someone off, say, "Leck mich am Arsch!" (Lecken=to lick).

As far as the archaic stuff goes, I can't help you out. I know a little bit of the grammar and a couple words, but no cusswords. I do know that the Archaic German word for defecation is Shit, though, but it's not a cussword, just the normal inoffensive word for it.

[This message has been edited by wetwilly (edited June 08, 2004).]


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Gen
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Well, I did learn my German swear words from my sixteen year old exchange student older brother figure. Still, glad to hear that your experience is so extensive, of course.
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Phanto
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*looks both ways*

Ummm...

*looks around again*

Ummm... For my latest work, I have to have a phoentically spelled German swearwords. Yep. Now how do you pronounce them?

(Alright, alright! I've always had a dream of being able to swear in German. We all have goals and hopes, right? )


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Lorien
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German words are fun because you pronounce them exactly as they are spelled, none of this funny business with silent letters (at least not that I've seen).

Some rules of thumb:
words with ie/ei - pronounce the second letter, always
words with ch - not a hard sound like in "chair", push the sound towards the top of your mouth and back of your throat.

Ok, so I guess someone better at phonetics and German should continue this...

Try here:
http://www.ex.ac.uk/german/abinitio/pronounce/

[This message has been edited by Lorien (edited June 09, 2004).]


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Khyber
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Profanity is no problem. If the character is a WHORE, the content is already of a profane nature so cussing is to be expected. However, perhaps the question here is whether your book should have a WHORE in it. That is, don't try and decide whether you want the character to swear, just write true to yourself and true to the characters. The question here should be if it is appropriate to have a character that would be swearing(whore, etc). If that's how your plots working, by all means, swear.
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wetwilly
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That's all well and good, artistically speaking, Khyber, but morally it's another story. The fact is, I don't use that kind of language (or at least I try not to--wish I did better with it). And someday, if all goes according to my plans, 2 conditions will be fulfilled: 1) My works will be published, and 2) I will have children who I will want to raise to be moral people. If my stories are full of profanity, I can't very well teach my kids that profanity is wrong. (Profanity is bad when you say it, but it's okay when I write it). Also, I don't want to contribute to society in general thinking such language is okay.

Phanto: Scheisse=SHY-suh, Arsch=ARSH, Arschloch=this one is hard, because we don't have the German "ch" in English, and the "o" sound used here is also a little bit different than English. You can get it close enough by making the same "o" sound as the "o" in "hole". For the "ch" think "kh," and something along the lines of a hissing cat, and you'll get close enough. So, ARSH-lokh.

die Arschkarte=dee ARSH-car-tuh.

Lech mich am Arsh!=lek mikh ahm arsh.

Any other words you want, let me know, I speak it fluently.


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Inkwell
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Sorry to post a little off-topic, but I just noticed the irony of this whole conversation. We've got a discussion on the morality of profanity on one hand, and a coolly logical analysis (in regards to usage) of it on the other. I don't have a problem with this, but I just found the concept briefly amusing (in my own slightly strange way of looking at things).

(Sorry, again, for barging in without a productive reason.)


Inkwell
------------------
"The difference between a writer and someone who says they want to write is merely the width of a postage stamp."
-Anonymous


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wetwilly
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Speaking of irony, obviously my profanity scruples don't translate into German.
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TruHero
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I noticed that. Isn't it amazing what you can justify if you really put your mind to it!
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srhowen
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I used the word crap a few times in MEDICINE MAN. My agent said--for Pete's sake, Shawn, this guy has been in the army, he's an adult--he wouldn't say crap.

But I temper it--I hate people who use the f word to qualify everything, and i don't like to read books that use god to damn things either. Though a character in one book does say it--once. (and he meant it)

I think you have to consider very carefully what words you use and when--to the best effect, not just for over shock value that loses it value the more you use the word. (Sheesh, did that make sense?)

I went to a writers workshop where the guy gave a lecture on cuss words--right in the middle of it he yells the F word. Everyone took notice. His point--impact. Once it has impact, fifty times it is just an annoying word.

I read Sue Grafton's alphabet mysteries--she's written 17 now. At one point around book 14 I think, she switched agents and publisher--all of sudden the main character swore--I didn't like the change. At first it was only once in the book and I thought--Kinsey wouldn't do that. Then in the other books Kinsey continued to swear.

I also noted that her books were no longer vying for space on the best seller list with Hillerman.

Random thoughts courtesy of a long long day.

Shawn


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rickfisher
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Wetwilly--

I don't know if this will help or not, but let me tell you how I approached the matter with my own children.

My stance was (and is) that there are no "bad" words, but there are "bad usages" of words. And one "bad usage" is using almost any swear word. Why? Because it offends some people. Being offensive is rude, and rudeness is a form of immorality. Or, to put it another way, words are just sounds, and there's nothing wrong with sounds--but sounds convey meanings, and not all sounds convey the same meanings to all people.

What I wanted to do was to raise children who were not, themselves, offended by these words, but who understood that other people were, and therefore would attempt not to develop the habit of using them.

For me, this made it easier to use a limited amount of swearing (and/or vulgarity; I'm grouping those things together here for convenience) in my writing. I mean, if I can have someone murder someone in a story, surely I can have them say a bad word. That doesn't mean I condone it's use. If I, personally, don't use such language, that sends a far stronger message than that the characters in my stories don't.

But it also means that I won't have gratuitous swearing. If I have a character say "Damn!", it's because anything else would sound silly, and nothing at all would sound flat or unrealistic. I have never found it necessary to use either f*** or sh**. If the necessity arises to use one, however, I'll use it. I also have no problem saying these words in front of my children--but only if I'm talking about the word rather than, say, using it in anger. I don't even mind reading stories that contain these words--it gives me a chance to remind them that this is not how they should speak. However, if I were reading a book that went way overboard on such usages, I'd just edit all or most of them out--with no loss to the story, which pretty much proves that they shouldn't have been there in the first place.


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TheoPhileo
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What Christine said earlier: if you simply omit them, the reader will have no idea there were possibly there in your mind. And they are not necessary to convey anger, hate, jealousy, etc, as English has an abundance of far more specific adjectives to use in place of these meaningless catch-alls.

In SF and Fantasy writing, we also have the luxery that our worlds are entirely made up, and with them, the meaning of languages. Robert Jordan uses "Blood and ashes" often in Wheel of Time (though usually only with one or two characters), and when it's really vulgar, "blood and bloody ashes. Granted, "bloody" is considered quite vulgar in the UK, but not to the American reader. He also uses "Light!" quite often, as a sort of dodge from using God's name in vain.

Think about your world. What phrase could be constrewed in some way to be vulgar? What if it's a society that lives entirely on ships, rarely setting foot on dry land. They could curse someone out by calling them "land-born" or something similar. In Harry Potter, calling somebody a mudblood is very insulting, though perhaps not vulgar in the same way.


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punahougirl84
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If you reread Christine's examples, you will note how the swearing changed the character - especially between the first and third examples. It was the same story, but the character comes off quite differently. I was almost sympathetic towards the first -wondering what had pushed him to such dire straits. I was happy to see the jerk in the third example 'get it.'

I think if you are truely uncomfortable writing with swear words, I would wonder why you are writing characters that seem to need them. If you want a way around it, then examples have been given. Some authors come up with their own terms - some work, some don't. I know I've mentioned "tanj" as an example that did not work. I think Anne McCaffrey did a great job using 'shards' and 'shells' in her Dragonriders of Pern books - they make sense because we know about dragon eggs, and they start with 'sh' like another word...


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Lorien
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I agree it depends on how you use the swear word and your frequency of use. If your character uses it sparingly, then it can maintain the goal of emphasis, but if swearing becomes substitued as adjectives, nouns, and verbs all the time, it gets quite bogged down an annoying.

For example, I've just begun reading the African Safari Papers by Robert Sedlack, and the main character swears alot, ALOT - think 1 to 2 times a sentence. He is quite a vulgar character to begin with, but the swearing makes me respect or even have simpathy for him even less.


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Christine
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I think that's a very good way of putting it...swear words decrease my sympathy level. Here's something we need to remember in writing.

The goal is not to be realistic.

What? But we are trying to explore some truth about our world.

Fine, but in my opinion, always being realistic is not the way to do that. Truth is one of those highly subjective things that has lttle to no basis in reality in and of itself. I just finished reading a book in which one of the characters suggested that she could weave a tapestry that would cause all in its presence to speak the truth. Setting aide any issues with the magic you might have, I found it amusing. What truth? Whose truth? The truth of an impartial observer, because no one even knows that truth to speak it.

Anyway, enough about truth, back to reality. I recently wrote a short story in which I began by showing a scene that actually happened to me. The first 1000 words or so were, in fact, autobiographical except I changed the names of the characters and told it in third person. Nevertheless, someone suggested that the section lacked credibility.

I learned something from the coment. The reality we experience and the perceived reality we experience through reading are two different things. Really, only the former is experienced, the second is evoked. Writers have the true challenge of evoking emotions and perceptions of reality from their readers, and this is not always done through explicit reality.

Let me draw this back around to the case of cussing. If you want to show what life is really like for a street gang, you need to consider your angle. Do you want people to sympathize with these people, do understand how they got into their position and why they feel they cannot escape? If you do, then having your characters cuss every second word, while decidedcly realistic, will fail to convey the reality of the situation. On an emotional level, far deeper than the intellect with which we often which we could rely, cussing turns intended heroes into bad guys. In fact, you may never get your message across because no one except the proverbial choir will ever read it.

In this same situation, if you fail to use cuss words at all or if you use them sparingly, it will allow the reader to break through the haze that had dimmed their view of this particular walk of life. It will allow the reader to see past the stereotypes and the badness they perceive so that they can look into the heart of a gangster and see the humanity that lies within. Ironically, this truth is only accessible through a little white lie.


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Survivor
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Whatever.

I was in the Army, and I don't use the F-word (I do use "crap" pretty liberally). Not everyone in the Army uses a lot of profanity. I actually grew up in a household where profanity wasn't shocking unless you used it to sincerely express something genuinely blasphemous (in verse, if you were really serious).

No, I didn't grow up in Hell, there are more things between Heaven and Earth yadda yadda.


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srhowen
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I grew up (well part of it anyway) in the Air Force just spent the last 9 years as an army dependent--let me tell you that outside the LDS circle swearing and cuss words are as rampant as smoking and drinking, and adultery.

And I am not talking about saturating a book with the f word or the s word--the f word appears once in 120,000 words. The s word 3 times.

There is a difference between cussing and swearing.

Cussing is using vulgar language--F*** or SH** and so on

Swearing is using the Lord's name in vain.

I cuss. Sorry, but I do. People around me say Oh golly gee, holy cow, or any other assortment of "cuss" words. They are the same thing. They are still a word used to express surprise or some such and I think sound silly.

There is a big difference between a character who says Holy F***! and one who says Holy Cow!

In writing we strive to make characters larger than life other wise all we'd read about is my daily walk to 7-eleven and back. Or other mundane things--lets face it most people don't go out and fight an alien everyday.

SO we also need to strive for the balance of language that creates the character's inner self. In a tense moment if the character is shot and he looks at his wound and says: Holy Cow I've been shot. We think and feel one way about him. If he sees that blood and starts hyperventilating and says Sh**, sh** over and over we feel another way about. If he says F*** just once then goes about stopping the blood flow--we have another picture of him. And yes we can just have him franticly try to stop the blood and say John cussed a blue streak while searching for his bandanna--that again creates a different feel to the scene and the character.

Can you write with no cussing or swearing--sure can. Can you tell a good story without it? Yup.

But the point I see is that you have to choose carefully. If you have a tough guy cop who is hot on the tail of a serial killer having him say flip as his f word choice will make him one way--where as f*** will have him seen another.

We have to make choices that characterize our characters in a way that the reader will believe. Not reality so much as not to mess with the suspension of disbelief.

Shawn

[This message has been edited by srhowen (edited June 11, 2004).]


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wetwilly
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Ah, that's an aspect of it I hadn't thought of yet, Shawn. I guess "Holy heck, that buttface just shot me in the gut," does kind of mess with suspension of disbelief.
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Balthasar
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Well, that's certainly another point to consider--the dramatic aspect of the situation.

What's amazing to me are all the seedy characters writers such as Dickens, Tolstoy, Hemingway, and Faulkner created, and how they were able to make them seedy without relying on the use of profantiy. Oh yeah, I know that was not acceptable back when they were writing; but they were able to work within that limitation and still create people you'd rather not spend a Saturday afternoon with. Dicken's Fagin (of Oliver Twist) and Faulkner's Joe Christmas (of Light in August) are two of the most morally repugnant characters in modern literature.


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wetwilly
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I LIKED Fagin. He was the man. Ralph Nickleby, though, there was a morally repugnant Dickens character, made despicable without profanity. I hadn't thought of that, all the scumbags who have been created without profanity. Jack in "Lord of the Flies" is absolutely despicable, and there's no profanity in the book, and I never noticed either case being unrealistic when I read them.

And I just need to mention, since somebody said his name, that I hate Hemingway.


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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I've been told that besides police and military people, there's another group that comes in contact with gore and death and such unpleasant things on a regular basis. And they swear and cuss a lot, too (or so I'm told). Some of them can get really crude and vulgar in other ways as well, in spite of their "professional" status and their extensive educations (and presumably vocabularies).

I'm talking about people in the medical professions, and I think there's a connection there. I suspect that such forms of expression are a coping mechanism.


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Lullaby Lady
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Some wonderful insights, everyone. I'm enjoying this conversation!

~L.L.


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MaryRobinette
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One thing to remember is that something that there are cultural differences here, so you have to remember your audience. I was just having dinner with a British woman and she said, "I'll be buggered-," slapped her hand over her mouth, looked at me and said, "Sorry. I'll be damned if I'm catching a bus that early."

I had to laugh, because "buggered" means absolutely nothing in American English, but "damned" is a loaded term.


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srhowen
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I agree with Kathleen--listen to a bunch of EMT's once--holy cow batman! And rude jokes are the rule. It is a coping mech--which my be why it is better for my main character trauma surgeon to say sh** vs crap.

As I said, characterization is the key--I will not put a book down for one or two well placed cuss words--but a book full of it for the heck of it--forget it.

Shawn


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Jules
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quote:
Jack in "Lord of the Flies" is absolutely despicable, and there's no profanity in the book, and I never noticed either case being unrealistic when I read them.

You wouldn't expect the characters in Lord of the Flies to use profanity because of who they are -- upper class school children, essentially. That doesn't exclude downright evilness.

In Britain at least profanity is a class issue, although current media trends toward more profanity might be blurring that a little.

Going back a little more...

quote:
Granted, "bloody" is considered quite vulgar in the UK, but not to the American reader.

I don't think many people think it so vulgar any more. It's old fashioned, I think, and losing a lot of its power these days. That's not to say there aren't people who would find its use shocking, but then there are people who are shocked by anything

And Mary's story was funny!

These two do bring up a useful point, which is that probably the easiest way of distinguishing the speech between British and American characters is by their choice of profanities.


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wetwilly
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Yet another point I hadn't thought of, Katleen: profanity as a coping mechanism. I guess a vulgar story would make a heavy situation less heavy (which, now that I just said that, makes me wonder if that principle could also be used to lighten up a story when it's getting too heavy).

Your story made me laugh, Mary.


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Foxy
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I've had the same problems with working around profanity in my work. I'd agree with whoever said earlier that Swear words should be used sparingly, to increase the impact when they are used. In the mean time, I've found that in light hearted work, "he swore", "he uttered unreapeatable profanity", "he muttered something under his breath" or "she learned some new words from him that day" tend to work fairly well.

When actaully cursing does seem to fit, I tend to look to other cultures. Some Brit sland that would be very offensive in Britland is hardly meaningfull, but still recognizable in the U.S. For some reason, using curse words that are uncommon in the culture I am writing for seems effective, and at the same time, less profaine. Sure, this may eventually lead back into the same prolems if I ever get published in certain places, but during the early writing process, borrowing swear words works well for me.


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HSO
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Apologies for dredging this topic out of the ether, but I didn't want to create a new one. I figured there had to be something like this.

And there is...

Apologies in advance for the below ranting:

I just read a story (no offense to the author) where cussing and swearing may have been appropriate for the circumstances and/or a given character. Yet the author, decided to substitute non-offensive words instead. And this really threw me and I believe detracted from the story a lot!

Now, my teen years were spent in SLC, Utah. We used "dang" and "gosh" and "flippin'" and a whole host of words to avoid actually saying anything deemed offensive or "bad." I like to think of it is a "religural" thing -- where religion impresses itself wholly on a local culture, where even those who aren't in that religion tend to follow along.

Still, I must say this: If it's appropriate for your characters to swear in your story, so be it, and put it in. Suck it up if you must. It's not you swearing. If you do substitute silly and less-offensive words, you're very likely ruining the effect your were trying to acheive, and worse: your story, probably.

Now, I know some of you would baulk at writing stories like that: stories that have excessive violence and cussing. That's perfectly fair and fine by me -- I like all sorts of stories from fairy tales to horror. Just please don't have an obviously vulgar and crude character say "Gosh!" or similar unless you're going for a comedic laugh. If they're a nasty piece of work all-around, then write it like it is.

Please. [edit] Naturally, your other option is to not write that kind of story. [/edit]

Final note: Of course, if your not an adult, then ignore all of this for now. Swearing is bad!

[This message has been edited by HSO (edited August 08, 2004).]


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TruHero
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HSO,
I agree completely. If your character is nasty, he should act, move, look, and talk nasty, maybe even smell nasty. I think the made up words you mentioned have the same intent, so you might as well use the real thing. **pre-pare for a bad word** I say, if you put a glossy sheen on shit, it is still shit, just more glossy.

I will say, that if you can't pull off a string of cuss words with believeability, then maybe don't try. Or ask someone who does swear to tell how to do it. Most of the time, cuss words don't make any sense, especially in the terms in which they are used. But that is the irony of the whole situation; your character is usually mad or frustrated and is not making sense when they spout off. So a few vulgar words do make sense at that point. That sounds wierd, but that is how I see it.


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Christine
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HSO...a thought...By your post it is clear that you missed the cussing. Something in the way the story was written made it ridiculous, something along the lines of, this author didn't want to cuss but he should have. A good author can keep cuss words out of situations in which they are normally used and the reader will never even notice their gone. An excellent writer can make the reader think the cussing was there when it wasn't! I've read all three types of stories, and I know that there are some cases in which the writer may as well use the cuss words, but not because the situation or character warrants it, but because they're not good enough to keep me from missing them.
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HSO
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I am in whole-hearted agreement with your post, Christine. Sometimes just alluding to it is far better than actually doing it.

I'm reminded of something a teacher once told our television studio class regarding sexiness:

"A woman will be infinitely more sexy when she's dressed (or scantily clad) than she ever could be completely nude. When she's dressed, there's the possibility of becoming undressed at some future moment. She's an enigma; she's hiding something. When she's naked, there's only the getting-dressed-again left."

I believe the same holds true for using vulgarity in stories. And, indeed, many other things in life.

Edit: I didn't miss the cussing. I felt the substitutions were a poor idea and detracted from the character's believability and the story as a whole. It is akin to using skim milk when double cream is required for your recipe.

The author has since cleared up the reason for doing so... they never swear.

[This message has been edited by HSO (edited August 08, 2004).]


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ambongan
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I think cussing and swearing can almost always be avoided and are almost never needed.

I have my characters do things like:
"he muttered somthing under his breath"
"He cursed, then said, ..."
"She bit off an explitive"
"He wasn't sure what the other guy said, but was sure it wasn't nice."
Sometimes I have a bell ring in the middle of someome's line. Or I have another character interupt the speaker before the swearing takes place.

Anyone who reads the stuff knows what is being said, so I don't need to actually say it.


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