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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Profanity (Page 1)

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Author Topic: Profanity
ChrisOwens
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I know this probably has been discussed in several writing forums, but I need to vent. I unfortunately have to put up with some profanity in fiction, written or visual. And for most people, this is a realistic manner of speaking. But I have my limits and the stronger profanities I find offensive.

I got two hundred pages into a three hundred page novel, bristling at the profanities about ever page or ever other page. Finally after a strong obscenity placed in the middle of a blasphemy, I threw the book away.

It’s not that I’m a prude, but I was raised with certain values. {Not the values of the pseudo-moralists in big business and politics who use the word to sell themselves or gain power and dominance. Otherwise what value is joblessness?} One of those values is to strive to excise profanity from my own mouth and minimize it in the entertainment I seek. My family and friends uphold these same views.

Of course, people have the right to choose whatever entertainment they like and either accept or reject it. But isn’t there a better way than to litter one’s writings? Sure, strive to keep it real. But after all, it’s entertainment. It doesn’t have to be that real. Surely if it’s a good, well-written story, nobody would notice that it lacks obscenities. And why alienate a portion of one’s audience by adding them?

Proponents of profanity seem to fear characters talking like Wally and the Beaver or saying ‘Oh me, oh my!’ But that’s just plain stupid. Nobody wants to hear that either.


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HSO
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quote:
Finally after a strong obscenity placed in the middle of a blasphemy, I threw the book away.

That's silly. Go trade it in for a book that suits you. At the very least, recycle it. C'mon, think here.

(teasing, but books sans covers can be easily recycled.)

Maybe you could lobby the book industry to start putting profanity warnings on their book spines. Just like movies and video games get ratings, so too can books.

In all seriousness, every choice you make for yourself has consequences -- good or bad. If you choose to dislike books with profanity, blasphemy, and othere vulgarities, then there is nothing wrong with that. It simply means you've made your choice over what you find suitable.

But, in a free society, you must be willing to accept those who dissent from your opinion. In my opinion, words (such as cusses) have no power unless you choose to give them power. Words are not inherently good or bad. They are only words, invented by humans, and determined by humans to be offensive or not.

Someday, we will find the word "sponge" to be offensive. It seems harmless, but someone will be offended by it eventually. It is inevitable.

Moreover, once you know the etymology (origin and history of a word) you have supreme power over it. Many of the words you might find offensive started off rather inoffensive and harmless, or were derived from another language. Some words may have held secret meanings, and once learned, the "upper crust" of a particularly society decided it was vulgar. Other times, it was a particular religious movement that chose to demonize a word -- for various reasons... Most often, words are subject to personal interpretation, regardless of belief.

They are, and always will be, only words. It is the "intent" of using words that should be questioned, not the actual words.

Clearly, many will disagree wtih me (and have in the past, on this very board) My defense is that the above is pure opinion. By all means, disagree... no one has yet swayed me from this view. I'm a bit stubborn that way.


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Christine
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HSO, I do agree to a point. Profatnity is an interesting topic, once I tend to get into whether I should or not every time it is broached.

But anyway, you're right. They're just words. The offense they generate is in our own minds, placed there by parents and society.

Moreover, our rights so express ourselves in this country include the right to use profane words in speech or in writing. (Sometimes I think politicians are trying to take some of these inalienable rights away but...well, that's a topic for another time and another forum. )

So, now that we've established that anyone is free and welcome to use profane words, as well as free and welcome to not take offense to them, let's talk about writing. Because my problem with excessive profanity in writing is not on moral or legal grounds, and I will fight cencorship tooth and nail.

So what's wrong with profanity? It's what Chris said. It's not the TRUTH but the PERCEPTION that matters. Whatever the words really mean or wherever they came from, that doesn't matter. Here and nwo when a person shouts "F*** you!" it sends certain creepy chills down our spines and makes us detest the speaker or at least like him a little less.

I can't help it. I was programmed that way. I do cuss a bit when I'm particularly angry, but I'm afraid I'm going to have to learn to stop here pretty quickly because I want my first child to be able to fit into society and that requires a certain adherence to rules that don't always make sense.

What about writing? Story-telling is not always about reality or realism. The purpose of story-telling is to convey certain emotions, themes, morals, and ideas. But, you say, we want our stories to be realistic, don't we? Oh yes, realistic, but I've learned time and time again that's not the same thing as real. I've written scenes that were practically autobiographies and had people questioned their merit whereas some of the most far-fetched fantasy doesn't raise eyebrows at all. Real and realism are not the same. So I don't buy that argument.

Every word you write serves a purpose. Profanity serves a purpose, too. A well-placed explative in the middle of a story or novel that does not overuse them will catch a reader's eye and make them pay attention. They will understand that the scene has a deep emotional level and begin to feel some of that. I have used the well-placed explative to serve just this purpose.

But if you use an explative on every page the effect is lost. The only thing you could possibly be trying to do is to show some sort of realism. But let me ask you this? How often do you say "er?" or "um?" or stumble over your words and how often does that appear in story-telling?

And that's just for starters. I've found that people don't notice profanity NOT being there...they notice it there.

Basically, it's down to what effect you want to have on the reader, which is the heart of story-telling. Yeah, gang members cuss, but do you want to show us gang members cussing so we continue to despise them or do you want to show us that deep down underneath they're people just trying to fit in? What's more important?

[This message has been edited by Christine (edited June 13, 2005).]


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Beth
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I find the idea that authors should write to Chris's standards of morality ludicrous.

Chris can make his own decisions about what to read. Shouldn't the burden be on him, not on me?



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djvdakota
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Well said, Christine.

Exactly!

I started reading American Gods by Neil Gaiman. He uses the f word multiple times per page. It was annoying and totally lost any impact that it might have had, it made the characters totally unsympathetic. Even the antagonists.

"Huh?" you say. "Sympathy for the antagonists?"

Well, yeah. Even the antagonist has to engender some level of sympathy from the reader (and by sympathy I mean a connection, an understanding), or the reader will detest him so much he will a) no longer be believable and/or b) he'll be too over the top awful to maintain the reader's interest.

I think I only made it through a couple of chapters of American Gods. The story became ABOUT the f word, and how many times per page Mr. Guiman could type it.

I recently wrote a story in which I introduced the character as a man with a penchant for cursing and strong drink--both of which got him into trouble. Interestingly, not ONE of the people who read for me noticed that my character never actually swore in the story.


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Beth
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Gaiman's approach doesn't seem to have hurt his sales.


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HSO
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In defense of the much maligned F-word, you will find a link on OSC's homepage to a marvelous and hilarious video that is a must-see. Yes, the F-word (used twice) is gratuitous in itself, but without it, some of the impact is lost, and it becomes funny without being offensive (to me, obviously). I won't spoil it, just fair warning. Check out OSC's homepage, look at the middle-top of the page for the MACS RULE blurb. There are two links, a high-res, and a low-res.

I'll provide the low-res link here (about 7 megs or so):

http://www.ripolot.com/video/happynowhere/hn_appleswitch.wmv

To make one final point before I disappear, I also don't enjoy stories that use excessive profanity. Not for any moral reasons, but because I feel the author is deliberately trying to be confrontational with me, the reader. I do agree that most profanity is unnecessary and can be reworded or skipped altogether. And there are times when I feel it's absolutely the best possible word to be used. Like the above video...

[This message has been edited by HSO (edited June 13, 2005).]


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Rahl22
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Moreover, Stephen King does a similar thing. I'm halfway through "Hearts in Atlantis" right now (which I'm loving for the masterful way in which King develops characters) and the F-word is prevalent throughout.

I'm not offended in the slightest, nor do I think the use of the F-word detracts from the prose. It conveys a clear sense of the narrator's laid-back style. And it does lend credibility due to realism. It is true there are other things that are neglected in the name of story-telling, but dialogue is a bit more iffy. Many authors do include notes when characters stammer or hesitate. They might not write "umm" but they indicate the same sentiment. I would be more distracted if not one of a group of college students ever swore.

And like Christine alluded to, it isn't inherently offensive to me. If someone is angry and says, "F--- you!" to me, I'd take offense. But the word itself possesses no power over me, only the intent of its wielder.


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djvdakota
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quote:
Gaiman's approach doesn't seem to have hurt his sales.

So does that constitute a blanket justification of using gratuitous profanity?
Or is it a sad tribute to our society that American Gods is considered a great novel?
Or is it a sad view of American culture that Gaiman, a Brit, seems to think of us as irredeemably vulgar?

I like you Beth, but it sounds like you're trying as hard to defend and promote the use of profanity in literature as Chris is trying to question its need.

My point really is that if your character requires a great deal of profanity in order to be characterized, what does that say about your characterization abilities?

However, I must agree with both Beth and Chris on one very important point--sales. A writer who uses a great deal of obscenity is going to alienate a portion of the audience. A writer who writes fantasy is going to alienate a portion of the audience. A writer who writes in first person is going to alienate a portion of the audience. A writer who writes with a typewriter is going to alienate a portion of his audience. A writer who are Catholic or German or female or ugly or popular or Madonna are going to alienate a portion of the potential audience.

Get the point?

Sales are not a measure of a story's value to all readers. And writers shouldn't, IMO, add obscenities (or any other perceived 'popular' device)to their prose in order to increase sales. Great way to rip the heart right out of your writing. Just be aware that no matter what choices you make about your writing, you are going to alienate/attract a certain audience. So put all the profanity you want in your prose, but don't expect me to read it.

I, and Chris apparently, have no desire to attract an audience based upon the baseness of my language. I'd much rather attract an audience based upon the beauty of it and the power of the story--and not make any choices that will detract from those.

[This message has been edited by djvdakota (edited June 13, 2005).]


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Christine
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This conversation hsa taken an interesting turn since my last post. I must say that I don't think number of sales is the best way of arguing for or against any aspect of story-telling, though. Number of sales seems to only be loosely related to the quality of work, much the same way the New York Times Best Seller list is only loosely related to actual best sellers.

I mean, I'm not arguing for or against profanity right now, I'm just suggesting why this one point might not be the best argument. It seems to me that there is way too much that goes into selling a book, from name to reputation to marketing to subject matter, to suggest that one aspect of that book has effected sales either positively or negatively. How do you know that American Gods wouldn't have sole like Harry Potter without the cussing? I don't know. I can't talk about that book in particular, not having read it (I keep hearing people say it's awful, actually ).

You know, it's interesting, Beth. On the sex issue (which also often comes down to peple's idea of morality) you weren't interested in reading about sex. On the profanity issue, I'm not interested in reading profanity. But I must say, I appreciate other arguments that stay away from the vague catch-all phrase that politicians use to try to collect votes by claiming the other guy isn't. (Moral, that is.)


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Dude
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There are certain groups in our, or any society, that will use profanity regularly. Military people, teenagers, kids in Catholic school (trust me on this one), blue collar workers, people that party hard every day. Yes, these are stereotypes, but true nonetheless.

I agree you don't want to throw profanity into your story just to get a reaction, but if a character would normally cuss in a given situation - then let him.

Yes, it may limit your audience, but you limit your writing if you censor your characters. The world isn't full of people who inhabit the moral highground (whatever that means). It is full of different types and each type of person has there own unique speech patterns -- including profanity.



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Beth
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When I find a sex scene, I usually just flip past it. I don't start a topic demanding that authors write according to my preferences, and not "litter up" their work with material that I don't like, and write according to the moral system that I was raised with.

It is 100% fine for someone to not like profanity, and to not read books with swearing. Or whatever other thing gets under their skin - no problem. And I think it's useful for authors to realize that the choices they make in their writing will turn some readers away - and if an author wants to write for Chris's demographic (whatever that is!) that's fine.

I do not accept the responsibility of protecting Chris from swear words, any more than you should accept the responsibility of not boring me with sex scenes.

now you all think I am a pro-obscenity anti-sex android! that's ok.


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Christine
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You know, we keep going on and on about offending people but that's not my issue with profanity. I've got no problem offending people. I've got no problems with the fact that certain demographics won't read my books for whatever reason.

My issue with cussing, and the one that keeps getting skirted around, is the fact that I think it weakens story-telling. Words have power. Every word you choose to write comes attached with a history and connotations.

Some people think it strengthens story-telling to have people who would cuss cuss. I respectfully disagree with them. I think it weakens characterization and clouds reader perceptions.

We aren't writing in a vacuum. We are writing to an audience and in a society that comes with baggage. Word baggage. Emotional baggage. Whatever.

Dakota's right on one thing. It is entirely possible to write about a character who cusses and not use a single cuss word in the story. It's like Card said at his boot camp a couple of years ago...people think his stories are violent but when asked they can't actually point to a violent scene.

What's the difference between having a character who cusses actually cuss in the story vs not? Perception.

The thing is, it doesn't really matter if people will read your story or not. I'll read your story if it cusses all the time. I'm not offended. But that doesn't mean I'll like it and it definitely doesn't mean I'll see your point through the cussing. Like everyone else in this society, despite not being offended by cussin. I have preconceptions and connotations related to those words.

I can't help it. I guess I'm a bit of an android too.

Anyway, I only caution against using profanity and suggest the likely reactions by the widest variety of readers, both those who are and aren't "morally offended" by it. Whether or not you use it is your choice. Whether or not I read it is mine.

[This message has been edited by Christine (edited June 13, 2005).]


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Beth
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actually, I agree with every word of that post.
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johnbrown
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What's believable? What's interesting?

1) If you can write belivably about people without using profanity and that's what you want to do, then do it. For many readers, you do not have to have a military guy or blue collar worker or [insert stereotype like against-type grandmas] use profantiy to evoke him and have the reader believe it. You can do it a million other ways. There's no one way in art, especially not in drawing chracters. So the "you must use it for these people to be believable" line is absolutely false. No, you must use it for some audiences to believe it, but not for all or even most. This doesn't mean you have him say, "Gosh." It means you find other ways to evoke the nature of the character.

2) If you find that profanity dampens your interest. If you find it offensive, then you simply don't write it. There is a natural audience that will appreciate it. Except for the belief issue above, I don't think anyone would think a story wasn't interesting because it lacked profanity. We don't go looking for profanity. We look for story: supsense, curiosity, delightful characters, humor, etc.

3) On the other hand, other authors/people don't have issues with profanity. They write their stories and find a natural audience that doesn't mind it at all. So let them read.

The trick is, on the one hand, to find the books you like (a little flipping through the pages might help) and, on the other, to not foist your books on the wrong audience. And if an author does use some occasional profanity, well, I guess you have to draw your line somewhere, or, as has been suggested, simply skip it.

[This message has been edited by johnbrown (edited June 13, 2005).]


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Void
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What about editors? Do they sometimes recommend that an author add profanity, sex, or violence to their work to make it more marketable?
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djvdakota
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Dude, the point is that you limit your audience no matter what choices you make.

What I find fascinating is that somehow it has been interpreted that Chris is "demanding" editorial censorship, that authors should write according to his moral preferences. He never even said anything as assertive as "I think authors should..."

He just wants to know why some authors find it necessary. That's a valid question. As in every choice you make in your writing, you should have a valid answer to that question, and a valid answer is not "because it's what the audience demands," or some such, and often a valid answer is not "because people talk that way." But that's a subject for it's own thread, which Christine alluded to--realism vs. real.

Chris's topic also brings up the idea that maybe warning labels should be put on books. It would sure make it a heck of a lot easier for libraries to properly label Youth Fiction, and VERY helpful to me in steering my children (not to mention myself) toward acceptable books. My two reading-age children read far above their grade level and it can be a challenge finding things that are both interesting and age-appropriate.

You know, I wonder if such a system might actually INCREASE fiction sales. I wonder how many potential customers don't buy books because they're afraid to sink their money into something that might be morally offensive? I mean, look at a couple of things.

First, a couple of decades ago, the trend was to 'litter' fiction with as much sex and profanity as possible. Authors who submitted 'clean' manuscripts were told to heat them up in order to make them saleable. The reading public came to expect it in everything they picked up off the shelf. So how many people stopped picking books up off the shelf, in favor of rated films and CDs?

Second, there was a recent news article on the increase in sales of G rated movies, to the point that they now outstrip sales of R rated movies, despite the fact that R rated movies far outstrip G rated movies in numbers. That G rating is attracting customers. Could it not do the same for books?

So I'm wondering, how many people sink their limited funds into films instead of books because they can be fairly certain of what's in the package when they buy it?


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djvdakota
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Christine, I'm only right on ONE thing?

To answer void's question, the latest I've read on the subject says that the 'trend' toward editors recommending or even demanding that authors include more sex/profanity seems to have passed. Don't know about violence, but then I'm not one to be all that bothered by violence.

So Beth is a pro-obscenity anti-sex android and I'm a sadistic serial killer wannabe.


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Beth
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I interpreted Chris's questions as demands, yes. If I said "Why don't you go jump in a lake?" or "Why can't we all just get along?" or "Why don't you bring me a pizza?" I'm not actually asking a question.

If they were in fact sincere questions, I retract 47% of my indignation and apologize for overreacting.


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Christine
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No, Dakota, you had many good points. That was just the one that stuck out the *most*.
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djvdakota
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PHEW!! I was starting to think I'd left my brain somewhere.

Beth, so when you meet a cute guy and he asks: "Why don't you spend the night at my place?" do you interpret that to mean that he is demanding sex?

I'm just totally failing to understand how you can interpret "But isn't there a better way than to litter one's writings?" and "And why alienate a portion of one's audience by adding them [profane words]?" as anything approaching demands.


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Void
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Early in our marriage, my husband would get upset with me for saying "I'm sorry" when I was apologising for something I truly regretted. I couldn't understand it. Eventually he explained that in his family everybody said they were sorry, but never really meant it and never did anything to change whatever the problem was--it was just a way to dismiss the issue.

Given the fact that we all come from varied backgrounds it's a wonder that we can communicate effectively at all, and no wonder that there are so many misunderstandings.


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Doc Brown
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Some characters use profanity because it suits their personalities. So do some narrators. If a writer is good the presence or absence of profanity says nothing about the writer's personality, parentage, upbringing. It only speaks to his or her ability to tell a story.

I consider Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas to be the masterpiece of Gonzo journalism. Of course it's loaded with profanity! If you took all the profanity out of Fear and Loathing you'd have nothing left but some disturbing artwork and a paragraph about the tire pressure in a 1971 Coupe de Ville.

[This message has been edited by Doc Brown (edited June 13, 2005).]


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Beth
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ok, "demand" is overstating it. but it's clearly, to me, a request for desired behavior, rather than a request for a discussion of the subject. The questioner has a behavioral outcome in mind.
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djvdakota
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OK. I can concede a request for desired behavior--maybe more like a desire for changed behavior--but still assert that Chris's questions were meant to discuss the issue calmly, not cause division.

Consider his questions as coming from a reader. Because he is one. He reads and buys books, too. How can we, as writers, address these concerns that a portion of our potential audience obviously has? Do you care? Is it an issue that effects you or your writing? One thing we CANNOT do is attack our potential customer base because they don't like our product. And if we should be polite to our customers with differing views, how much more polite should we be to our Comrades in Word Processing who hold differing views?

But, in relation to the guy asking you to spend the night at his place, your reaction was the difference between calling the police to attempt a reported rape and a simple, polite 'No, thank you.'

Now, IF it turns out that Chris's sole motivation was to stir the pot and piss everyone off, I, of course, retract all the potentially nice things I said about him and commit 47% of my indignation to berating him mercilessly.


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Christine
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Might I humbly suggest that we move past the intent of Chris' original post for the sake of keeping things friendly? Suffice to say that as is want to happen in any situation, particularly one in which we have only words and no non-verbals save smiley faces, a misunderstanding occurred. The best ways to keep such things in check is to move on.

[This message has been edited by Christine (edited June 13, 2005).]


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franc li
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My husband refuses to use the phrase "I promise". The "I'm sorry" thing reminded me of that.

I remember right after I was diagnosed with OCD and was reading about Cognitive Behavioral techniques of exposing myself to the things that bother me. I mean, I thought there was a hidden sexual meaning behind the end of "Toy Story" when Rex says he wants to be the "dominant predator".

So I decided I would try watching R-rated movies again. My first pick was "An Officer and a Gentleman." I decided I would be able to recover from OCD without watching any more R-rated movies. Now I'm sure Eddie Murphy's "Raw" had more actual occurences of the F word. But the usages in O&aG were so much more colorful. Blue, to be precise.

Though what did that marching song really tell me about the Gossett character? I don't think he had really done what he was singing about. (picture 99 bottles of beer on the wall but for Navy pilots).

So did you buy this book from a mail order book club? Is there some reason you weren't able to ascertain the density of profanity prior to purchase?


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wbriggs
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Please consider what Chris actually said. He didn't say, we need censorship; he didn't say, you have to do it my way. He said,

quote:

I need to vent.

the stronger profanities I find offensive.

One of [my] values is to strive to excise profanity from my own mouth and minimize it in the entertainment I seek.

people have the right to choose whatever entertainment they like

But isn’t there a better way [to keep it real] than to litter one’s writings?

It doesn’t have to be that real.

why alienate a portion of one’s audience?


I really can't find anything offensive in that.

--

My practice on profanity is to minimize it, to avoid alienating readers. Sometimes I can't, without damaging the story, so I keep it in. One of my Hatrack-group teammates recently suggested I scale this: if I'm going to say the F word on page 20, don't say "rear" for "ass" on page 5 -- let people know I'm going to be using some. This made sense to me.

--

quote:
{Not the values of the pseudo-moralists in big business and politics who use the word to sell themselves or gain power and dominance. Otherwise what value is joblessness?}

I didn't understand this, Chris, but I don't think you have to apologize!


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Beth
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Would any of you interpret this post in moral terms? Would you interpret it as requesting you to comply with my morality? Would you become deeply resentful and offended? Or would you say oh, how interesting, someone wants to consider the impact our choices have on some readers; let us discuss it rationally.

I know this has probably been discussed in several writing forums, but I need to vent. I unfortunately have to put up with some Christianity in fiction, written or visual. And for most people, this is a realistic manner of speaking. But I have my limits and the stronger Christianity I find offensive.

I got two hundred pages into a three hundred page novel, bristling at the Christianity about every page or every other page. Finally after a strong baptism placed in the middle of a conversion scene, I threw the book away.

It's not that I'm a prude, but I was raised with certain values. Not the values of the pseudo-moralists in big buisiness and politics who use the word to sell themselves or gain power and dominance. Otherwise what value is joblessness? One of these values is to strive to excise organized religion from my own mouth and minimize it in the entertainment I seek. My family and friends uphold these same views.

Of course, people have the right to choose whatever entertainment they like and either accept or reject it. But isn’t there a better way than to litter one’s writings? Sure, strive to keep it real. But after all, it’s entertainment. It doesn’t have to be that real. Surely if it’s a good, well-written story, nobody would notice that it lacks Jesus. And why alienate a portion of one’s audience by adding them?


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Beth
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I'm not saying that's what I believe. I'm trying to illustrate how I read Chris's post.

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Christine
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<sigh>

You've made your point, Beth, but may I make an observation? Usually, when people write posts like this they don't *mean* to be offensive or for it to come across as if they think everyone should think and believe as they do. Chris prefaced his post by saying he needed to vent and then poured out his feelings to us. Especially when I see a disclaimer like that, I go ahead and give the poster the benefit of the doubt. I think sanity and peace suggest that we all try to do that. It doesn't mean we can't disagree. In fact, I highly suggest that we do disagree so we learn the answers to our unvoiced questions. In Crhis' case, his unvoiced question was: Why use profanity?

I also suggest, again for the sake of peace, that for those who disagree with Beth's take on Chris' post it might be better to let the matter drop. Nothing can possibly be gained by this except an argument -- not a discussion. If Chris would like to clarify his remarks, that is one thing, but otherwise let's discuss the topic -- profanity.

However he phrased the question, that is the issue at hand.

[This message has been edited by Christine (edited June 13, 2005).]


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Christine
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So, let me play devil's advocate a bit and try to answer Chris' unvoiced question: Why use profanity in writing?

Let's assume, for the moment, that we are writing for an adult audience.

Cursing can be used affectively in a story to illustrate the folowing:
1. An extreme mood or temper.
2. An extremely bad situation.
3. A particularly vulgar character.
4. A realistic portrait of certain environments such as the military: I advise caution here. If cursing is the only thing you use to make it real then the cursing will serve no purpose except crassness. In fact, unless you have been in the military and understand the nuances of the culture, I wouldn't suggest trying to add just this one detail because you heard about sailors' mouths.


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Beth
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Yes, please, no one disagree with me, because then I might *reply*.

My apologies. Enjoy your conversation.


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franc li
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I think curse words are more like adverbs. Can you write a book without them? Sure. Will it be better than a book with a few sparingly chosen ones? Probably not. Will it be better than a book that has one in every sentence whether it needs it or not? I would guess so. What about a chain of adverbs? Only if necessary to indict the character speaking.

Curses used as adverbs are right out. With the exception of "ass". I find "ass" used as a postposed adverb to be one of the most interesting linguistic phenomena developing in the English language today.

P.S. I re-read Beth's post and realized she wanted a reply and not the opposite. If she checks the thread again. I'd say I disagree because the re-written analogy would not hold up for a minority religion. And the F word is not anyone's religion that I am aware of. Though to use the specific term "I'll pray for you" in place of curse/Christianity, that I could wholeheartedly agree with. Sorry about the dangling prepostion.

[This message has been edited by franc li (edited June 13, 2005).]


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mythopoetic
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Ok, I guess I have to put my two cents in here. I find it terrible that when I thoroughly enjoy a story, I have to be careful who I pass it on to. For instance, Ender's Game is one of my favorite books. The first time I read it was in middle school and I've stuck with it since. I'd love for my little brother to read it because I think the character of Ender would really speak to him the way it did to me, but I have to worry about the profanity card uses in his book. And Card isn't even one of the really bad one's I've read when it comes to profanity! To be honest, I can understand one or two well placed expletives in a story meant to shock the reader or get his or her attention. I don't use them myself because I don't curse, but I can understand their use in that manner and at least abide by it. That has obvious story telling value. However, general cursing in a story does nothing to enhance the story. It's like putting a sex scene in a movie just to get the hormone driven teen males to go see it. Give me a break. Be honest, would anyone here not read a book because it lacked curse words? Probably not. They might refrain from reading because they don't like the story, but they wouldn't because of its lack of expletives. On the other hand, there is a large audience who would not read a book if it had too many expletives. So as a writer, which kind of story does it make more since to write? Can't people think of better ways to express something than a curse word? Ok, well now I'm ranting. My apologies everyone.
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Dude
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Now if you look at key words in Chris' post, it is obvious that this goes beyond just asking a friendly question. Let's see, if you use profanity in your writing, it is "bristling","offensive" or "littered" . It might even be "a strong obscenity" or "blasphemy". These are not positive words. Of course if you agree with Chris then you have "certain values" and you "uphold" your views. It sounds to me like an attempt at censorship.

Being an ex-sailor (enlisted - which makes a difference) I would say that if you write a scene with this kind of character and don't use profanity, then you don't know f***ing s**t about it (just an example). You see, it is a part of that culture. It took me years to unlearn it and I still revert back from time to time. I never cussed before I joined the military(or when I went home on leave for that matter), and I rarely cuss now, but nobody I knew in the military refrained from it (except maybe the officers). It wasn't offensive, it was a normal speech pattern. This is just one example of a culture whose speech patterns must have some profanity to be believeable. Yes, you can clean it up, but why would you want to lose the realism.

[This message has been edited by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury (edited June 13, 2005).]


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Isaiah13
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Hmm...interesting timing on this topic. I'm currently working on a story about a prostitute, and since I'm writing it in first person the internal monologue has plenty of curse words. Do they need to be there? If I'm going to be true to the character in my mind's eye, they do. Don't get me wrong, I'm not going out of my way to make it as vulgar as I can, but I'm not going to shy away for fear that I might offend someone either.
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wbriggs
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I think if you're reading a story about a prostitute, you may as well brace yourself!

Beth, I'll give a reply, not to convince, just to answer. I'd find the simulated anti-Christianity post offensive, but Christianity is dear to the hearts and identities of many. I never heard someone identify himself as a cusser! It's just a manner of speaking. I think a better analogy would be an anti-passive-voice post, or an anti-acronym post. We might find these posts strange, but offensive?

I don't even find Chris's post strange. One purpose of cussing is to shock. For some it works too well. I cuss like a sailor, but I recognize some people don't like it, so I don't do it around them. This also restrains me from mooning people. Most of the time.


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Spaceman
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This thread is getting far too long to catch up, so forgive me if I'm a retread, here.

In my own writing, I use profanity like a habenero (world's hottest) pepper.

First, I think Bill Cosby is one of the greatest commedians because he can crack me up until I'm rolling on the floor, and he's squeeky clean. It isn't normally necessary.

Second, if you use the words sparingly, they are very potent and extremely effective.

In my first novel, I had occasional gang encounters. If memory serves, I used one obscene word to set up the characters in the readers' minds. No more was necessary.

In a short story (the one I used to apply for boot camp, in fact) I have a much more liberal use of profanity (but I generally selected words with more than four letters). But then, that story was titled "Road Rage," and it was a very angry story. But then, in a story called "Road Rage," you wouldn't expect the main character to say:

"Golly-gee, that silly man just ran me off the road. Gosh. Whatever will I do?"


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Christine
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quote:
Being an ex-sailor (enlisted - which makes a difference) I would say that if you write a scene with this kind of character and don't use profanity, then you don't know f***ing s**t about it (just an example). You see, it is a part of that culture. It took me years to unlearn it and I still revert back from time to time. I never cussed before I joined the military(or when I went home on leave for that matter), and I rarely cuss now, but nobody I knew in the military refrained from it (except maybe the officers). It wasn't offensive, it was a normal speech pattern. This is just one example of a culture whose speech patterns must have some profanity to be believeable. Yes, you can clean it up, but why would you want to lose the realism.

I was hoping to come across an ex-sailor on this topic!

I have a few thoughts and bear with me, but I'd love to hear your reaction to it all given your unique perspective.

First, I suggest that anyone who doesn't know about sailors shouldn't write about them. It's easy to say that sailors cuss, that it's a part of their culture, but the nuances of culture are often difficult to put into words There's so much of it. I imagine there's much more to it than cussing, for that matter.

Second, given that there is so much more to it than cussing, if you wanted to write about it, would you like people to understand the fullness of that culture and the depth of individual characters or would you like them to come away with what everyone already knows, that sailors cuss? I ask this because if your characters use profanity the way real sailors do, few people are going to see the story for the cursing, and those are going to have to look for it.

Let me explain why before you get back to realism, which *is* a good point. I will grant you that much. But a sailor's cursing isn't even a matter of them being particularly angry people. It's just a thing they do. So let's take all the emotional baggage and connotations of cursing out of it and create a group of people who blarg as part of their culture:

"Hey, Bob, blarging fowl weather today."
"Blarging blarg."
"Blarging being cooped up all day. What the blarg am I supposed to do?"
"Get off your blarg and clean your blarging room."
"Don't see you doing any blarging housework."

Nothing offensive about blargs at all, but damn if it isn't getting in the way of that conversation.

You see, when I write a story set on another planet I translate their language into English.


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ChrisOwens
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>Now, IF it turns out that Chris's sole
>motivation was to stir the pot

I'm not a rock the boat type guy. I didn't think anyone out of sorts over what I said. Censorship is certainly not my intent and if is was, I might lack the power to enforce it.

Use of obscenity in fiction is a reality. So when I happen to go to a movie or read a book, it's not the occasional use that I find disturbing. But the overuse, ever page or so, becomes taxing. And when a writer takes a certain name, and sticks the F word in the middle, as if it were a middle name, well that leaped over a line.

[This message has been edited by ChrisOwens (edited June 14, 2005).]


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franc li
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quote:
I think if you're reading a story about a prostitute, you may as well brace yourself

Well this is why I am wondering why Chris got so far into the book and then decided to toss it. Was there not any profanity/vulgarity/scatology in the first 13 lines? First 5 chapters?

In going through my first serious 13 lines process, it seems the people here are quite demanding about me giving them everything about the tone, story and characters without making it feel like some kind of data dump.

I think I have an additional hurdle in my story not being sci-fi. I guess I can raise that question elsewhere, since I'm really getting off topic.

Also, my husband was enlisted Air Force and didn't swear overly. But I know the Air Force is ridiculed/envied by other services since they have more women.

Bill Cosby did have the bit about thinking his name was a swear word when he was little. There is also the bit about Cocaine.


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tchernabyelo
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djvdakota:

"Or is it a sad view of American culture that Gaiman, a Brit, seems to think of us as irredeemably vulgar?"

Actually, I think it's because Gaiman is a Brit that he includes profanity in "American Gods". Here in the UK, profanity in the media - TV in particular - is a good deal more common than in the US, where only HBO and such networks can use anything much stronger than "darn" or "heck". Even for Neil, who's pretty familiar with American culture, I think it's sometimes hard to remember just how much of "middle America" there is that really genuinely does get its proverbial "knickers in a twist" (if I may use such a phrase...) at the use of rude words.

"And writers shouldn't, IMO, add obscenities (or any other perceived 'popular' device)to their prose in order to increase sales."

I really can't imagine anyone of even moderate intelligence (and most writers, I would hazard, are of moderate intelligence or better) really thinking that simply adding profanities would in some way increase the sales of a book. I have not met anyone who would be more inclined to read a book if it had swearing in it than if it didn't. Swearing, however, is part of an "attitude package", if you will, so in that sense it could be that Gaiman's target audience is focussed at people who have a set of attitudes that include a tolerance of swearing. As you have rightly observed, every writer "limits" a potential audience with what they put in a book, but similarly they can try and appeal to particular target audiences - some deliberately and cynically ("hacks", one might call such people), but others simply because they are happy writing in a style for a particular audience and so quite honestly and genuinely want to write in the style that makes them most appealing to that audience. In that sense, swearing may be appropriate in "American Gods".

I have to admit that it's a while since I read it, but I certainly didn't register it as being full of gratuitous profanity. But then, as noted, I'm a Brit (though I like to think of myself as passably familiar with US culture) and thus it may simply not have registered to any great degree because I've been desensetized.


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djvdakota
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quote:
But then, as noted, I'm a Brit (though I like to think of myself as passably familiar with US culture) and thus it may simply not have registered to any great degree because I've been desensetized.

How sad! And to think that many Europeans view America as the land of the vile and crude!

Still, I can't imagine that ANYONE could read American God's without noticing the vulgarity. In the first few chapters (which is as far as I could stand to read) there is not a single character (OK. Maybe I'm exaggerating, but not much.) who can't speak without inserting the F word into every spoken sentence. Multiple times per page.

Writers are cautioned not to overuse ANY word in their prose. Someone posted something on Open Discussions recently that linked to a column warning, in part, about the tendency of writers to use 'favorite words' over and over. What does it say about a writer who's favorite word is f***!? What does it say about his attitude towards his audience? What does it say about the people who vote on the Hugo and Nebula awards that American Gods won both? IF that's what it takes to win, I hope I never do.


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Christine
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quote:
How sad! And to think that many Europeans view America as the land of the vile and crude!

I think most Europeans and Americans differ on their view of what is crude. They think, among other things, that we're loud. Which we are. Also that we're smugly superior. Which we are.

But cursing, to them, isn't as crude as it is here. So when they call us crude, they're using a different standard to judge.

Honestly, I sometimes find that American's moral values are warped. I don't know how else to put it, but we seem to value things more than people. It's more important if someone thinks the right way than if they're kind and decent. It's more important if they talk the right way. It's more important that they love the right people than that they love at all. I posited once that love was more important than anything else, and was told that morality just "wasn't that simple." Well, I suppose not, but dang it if it isn't a heck of a start. (Alternately...damn it if it isn't a hell of a start. )

Now, to tie this to the issue of profanity in fiction. I do find it sad that often people can't see the story through the words. I always prefer a great story to perfect wording (although admittedly there is wording that gets in the way). In fact, beautiful language can get in the way of a story as much as awful language!

That said, I've read books and watched movies in which the point seemed to be to see how many times they could say/write the "F" word. In fact, there was a highly amusing episode of South Park that did just that...but believe it or not in the end they were making fun of that kind of stupidity. (If you could get past the fourth graders cussing, at least. )

I make cautionary suggestions about how cuss words are likely to be perceived in US popular culture. Partially due to that, and partially due to 28 years of programming, I leave most cuss words out of my stories. But then again, I've never written about a prostitute or a sailor.

It is highly likely that you will turn off more people by putting in the cussing than by leaving it out.

So, who are you writing for?


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Dude
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Christine,

You kinda over-blarged on that one. I have only met one person who couldn't complete a sentence without the F-word. That would be my wife's aunt who lives in Rhode Island, and she can't put two blarging words together without it (and yes, she is very annoying, even to a sailor). If I were to write a story based upon her as a character, then I would leave all the words in -- it would be easy to tell her apart from the other characters, and you wouldn't need any dialogue tags.

When I said you over-blarged, I meant you used the cursing to make both characters sound the same. Even in the Navy, some sailors cursed more than others and no one I knew cussed all the time.
I would write a scene something like this:

"Yo, Bob, what's up?"
"Nada."
"Hey, you seen Joe today?"
"Nope. Why?"
"He's a blarging idiot."
"No blarg, what did he do this time."
"He blarged-up the battery room and now I gotta fix it."
"Good luck."
"Blarg you very much."
"Hah, you wish."

It's casual cussing. No one has an extreme mood or is a particularly vulgar character. It is just how they speak.

It's easy to get around this problem in scifi or fantasy, just make up your own words that mean the same thing (Although I don't think I would recommend blarg). A good example of this on television is Battlestar Galactica where they used Frac and more recently on Farscape were they used Frell. Everyone knows what the words stand for, but for some reason it's not as offensive.
A good example in Scifi writing is David Weber and John Ringo's "March to the Sea" or "March Upcountry" (which you can download from Baen's free library). They have a character in these stories that is a habitual cusser, but they use the word "pock". He's always pocking complaining about his pocking job. It works, and they do a good job of showing how this pocking culture rubs off on the pocking officers and pocking locals.

Franc li,

Yeah, we always thought the guys in the Air Force were pansies. They got all the good duty stations, good housing, and easy jobs. (Yes, it was definitely envy) Also, most of the sailors I knew didn't cuss around the women sailors unless they knew them real well. You know how some women become "one of the guys" and some don't.


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franc li
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I'm going to start using "Visa!" as a swear word. Or maybe "American H. Express!"

I did have a new thought, that profanity may be a cheap way of yanking someone's strings- like having a bus full of adopted kindergarteners getting blown up, or threatenened to be blown up by a madman.


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Christine
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Dude: and this is why I won't write a story about a sailor.

Thanks for the info, though.


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Ahavah
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I have to admit that I like the "blarg" and "American H. Express!" My mom started using "Guggenheim Museum!" or, alternately, "Guggenheimers."
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Spaceman
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"Bill Cosby did have the bit about thinking his name was a swear word when he was little. There is also the bit about Cocaine."

The exceptions that prove the rule.


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