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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Profanity in Writing (Page 2)

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Author Topic: Profanity in Writing
Miriel
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I thought I'd offer my two cents on the subject.

I try not to use swearing in my writing. Aside from moral issues, I find that (for me at least) if I'm having a character swear, it's because I'm trying to inflate a scene with importance. What I have going on isn't strong enough, so I cut the corners and have someone swear. That'll get an emotional response, right? Make the scene powerful and vivid? If someone's swearing, it's usually a clue to me that I need to do something to that scene to make it emotionally powerful without just throwing in words that are powerful by themselves.

It's just like badly characterizing a villian. The words "murder" and "rape" are strong words, and one can always hope that attacking them to a villian's name will make the reader loath them with passion. But...it doesn't. It takes more work than that to make a vivid villian that readers will detest. I don't know anyone who passionately loathes Akar(?) Kessel from R.A. Salvatore's Icewind Dale trilogy, but if you mention Rita Skeeter or Dolores Umbridge to Harry Pottery fans, they grind their teeth -- even though Kessel has more Bad Deeds attached to his name. So, if I find swearing in my writing, it's usually a clue (to me, at least), that I haven't written the scene correctly and I'm trying to take short cuts. It may jolt the reader, it may offend the reader, but it won't necessarily make the scene emotional or memorable. Other people may write differently...but that's how I look at profanity in my own writing.


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Survivor
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I have to apologize to Robyn and perhaps explain. Or...if it could be explained that easily, it wouldn't have been so funny, I guess.

One has to understand, my father always believed right to the core of his child-like being that God really did exist and disapproved of certain things my father did habitually, including the blasphemy. Robyn has a point, that belief is what makes blasphemy possible.

I occasionally say bad things to Mr. Smarty-pants of the Universe, even though I know I should be trying to cultivate a better understanding of why He does things rather than getting heated over what He does (as my irreverent nick for Him might indicate, it also really steams me when He turns out to be right about things...again).

I think that God is happy when I deflect myself from feeling angry about certain things and instead learn to take it with a grain of salt and a bit of perspective. I'm sure He wants me to develope a better perspective, and I work on it, but I don't actually worry that God will be offended, as if His dignity were at stake. We're really only talking about my dignity.

In other words, the very core of true blasphemy, really disrespecting God and His position, is to believe that you can insult a being so immeasurably greater than yourself. Usually we only concern ourselves with how our outward blasphemies hurt those around us.

And not only did Robyn express exactly that belief (whether intentionally or not), she also casually lumped God into a group of deities, presumably all of whom are easily offended. It was that artlessly sincere statement of something so blasphemous which I found really remarkable. It was...amazing, in a way.

I'm sure that nobody here can fathom what I'm saying by now, which is just to point out the other aspect of my little jibe. See, blasphemy is in the eye of the beholder. Any statement about Deity is likely to disagree with something that someone holds to be an essential or self-evident truth. We can't judge what offends God, only what offends man. That's a simpler point, and probably easier to understand.

Anyway, I apologize for taking the shot, it probably was a bad thing to do. I have to say "probably", because after all, so many of the things I think are good ideas are so clearly evil. This post is probably one of them


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Robyn_Hood
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And here I thought you were pointing out that I had mispelled deities...

Your explaination is interesting and not the interpretation I expected.

I meant to use offend to mean "to transgress or violate", not "to cause wounded feelings". If you are one who believes the Ten Commandments to be the first of the laws handed down by God to Moses for mankind, then taking the Lord's name in vain, would be breaking, transgressing and violating His law.

When people are offended (using whatever definition you like) the response is often anger. I can live with angering a fellow human. When God is offended (meaning more specifically that you have violated His law), anger is probably what you are incurring, and I don't particularly want to incur the wrath of the Creator.

Perhaps "anger" or "slander" would have been the better term to use, but I chose "offend" without considering its varied meanings.

quote:
In other words, the very core of true blasphemy, really disrespecting God and His position, is to believe that you can insult a being so immeasurably greater than yourself.

To truly hurt someone, I think there has to be a personal relationship in place. If a stranger says they hate you or don't care anything for you or otherwise slander you, it is unlikely to be as damaging to your esteem or as hurtful to you than if someone you love and care for deeply said the same things. If you believe that it is possible to have a personal relationship with God, then why is it blasphemous to believe that He could conceivably be hurt? It might manifest itself more as a disappointment as opposed to insult, but I think that if He saw fit to put in His top ten list, it might be something He considers serious.

And I almost didn't put deities for exactly the reason you point out, but as not everyone believes the same thing I didn't want to be overly specific or exclusive and indicate that only the one I believe in can be blasphemed.

quote:
Anyway, I apologize for taking the shot, it probably was a bad thing to do. I have to say "probably", because after all, so many of the things I think are good ideas are so clearly evil.

Survivor, I don't think it was a bad thing to do. I appreciate the clarification for something I took as more of a glib comment. And it allowed me an opportunity to clarify my meaning (theoretically ).

Besides, a good evil idea is great fodder for a story.


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JOHN
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It’s strange that many here write fantasy, and have no problem dealing with violence (most fantasy takes place in a medieval setting and well, they weren’t happy times), the occult (most fantasy baddies are into some sort of “black magic”), and pagan gods (i.e. ones made up specifically for the story) but when it comes to swearing and sex--well, that’s where the line is drawn.

Just seems odd to me.

JOHN!

(and damnmit, I need to start posting more again! I thought I was the resident offender!)


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Beth
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I've noticed the same thing, John. Swearing (and hints at homosexuality) cause a lot of hand-wringing and preaching about morality in some circles, but wide-spread slaughter and other reprehensible behavior doesn't seem to raise an eyebrow.

Everyone has their issues; it's useful to know how different groups of readers react, so that you can consider how much you are willing to do to accommodate them. It is less useful to assume that everyone thinks the way you do, or the way any one group of people thinks.


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pantros
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Offending someone's morality will not usually make them put a book down.

Offending their intelligence will.

Goes back to: use profanity where it would be naturally appropriate.


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JOHN
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It's funny too that most of came to this board because of common admiration of OSC. Have you ever read Card's early work??? Hart's Hope has a fairly graphic rape scene. My buddy raves about Songmaster and I hear there's a homosexual love scene in that one (tame as it might be).

Honestly, though, there's no right or wrong here. It's YOUR story, and YOUhave decide what's best for YOUR work.

JOHN!

[This message has been edited by JOHN (edited October 26, 2005).]


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pantros
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Sex and violence are not profanity.

I could write a detailed and graphic rape scene and never use profanity, same with gay sex.

However, sex and violence should be treated the same way, use them where they fit naturally into the story.

EDIT: I just realize that the more graphic a sex scene is, the less profane it is likely to be. Really, the F word is more of a tell word. The show words are all a little less profane.

[This message has been edited by pantros (edited October 26, 2005).]


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wbriggs
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It always surprises me when people find it paradoxical that others don't want sex scenes in fiction, but don't mind violence scenes -- probably because I don't understand it. Which would you rather have in real life: sex, or violence? I'd rather keep sex in real life, and put violence into fiction, where it belongs.

Of course, I don't mind that sex be fictional (although it's not as much fun), but I don't want to watch them Do It in every detail, just as I wouldn't want to spy on real people's bedroom activities. Tell me how they felt about it, and I'll know enough about the details.

But this was about profanity. I don't find it interesting, so I try not to put it in dialogue, just as I cut out deadwood and other irrelevant detail. But some characters just won't sound right without saying it, so I let them.


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Robyn_Hood
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Sex and violence can be vulgar, which ranks right up there with the profane and the blasphemous.

-------

Miriel made a good point, sometimes profanity is a signal that something is missing from the scene -- a cop-out or short cut so to speak. Not always, but sometimes (the same way gratuitous sex and violence can be used to add three chapters and cover up a plot hole ).

Things that shock people (ie vulgarity and profanity, etc.) should be to writing as salt and seasonings are to cooking: used properly seasonings liven up food and add taste, use too much and it ruins the food completely.


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JOHN
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Take a look at Fay by Larry Brown. This is one of the most tragic, heartbreaking, sweet, enduring, haunting, and countless other adjectives I can't think of books that has ever been written.

It's also absolutely filthy in parts--well actually, in a good bit of it.

Is it a bit over the top? Perhaps, but I don't think it takes away from the story being told.

A story can have all sorts of stuff in it, but still be something completely different.

There’s also something to be said for separating the art from the artist. Maybe you don’t swear, but do your characters? Sure, you may think this is sophistry, but I’m sure there’s a lot of things your characters do that you would never do.

I also don’t think swearing should be used in the same way as a black hat is in old Westerns. If you have a secular audience, swearing isn’t going to make the bad guys badder in a lot of their eyes.

JOHN!

[This message has been edited by JOHN (edited November 02, 2005).]


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JOHN
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This whole thread reminded me of a familiar diatribe belonging to my buddy Matt. So, I shot him an email for the highpoints. Enjoy.

quote:
Most "curse" words we know and love today come from Germanic roots. They are not, in and of themselves, bad. In fact, they were merely the common terms for what they describe in the Saxon-ruled England. However, after 1066, the nobility spoke French due to William the Conqueror's roots in France's Normandy coast. The old words became low-class, common, or in Latin, vulgar. The only actual curses in the English language involve the words "hell" and "damn" and are generally considered pretty mild. So consider that [if] you criticize someone's work for using vulgar language, you are only telling them the truth -- that they are using the language of the common people. Because, let's face it, most people use some of those words now and then.

JOHN!


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djvdakota
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From: She Who Started It All,

We seem to be so mixed up on what the point of this argument is.

Is it about censorship? Or following rules? Or is it about the worth of a story?

Anyway, I just wanted to say a couple of things, and if I'm lucky I'll start a whole new round of bickering (just kidding, KDW ):

1. Asking people in a public place (kinda like this forum) to follow certain rules of decorum, is no more censorship than arresting someone for sunbathing naked at the local city park. If I had demanded that SB change the content of his story (the first thirteen lines posted on this forum NOT being the actual story) or if a publisher had changed the content without his consent AND contrary to a contractual agreement, THAT would be censorship.

2. Just because a story--despite its vulgarity, profanity, sexual content, swearing, etc, etc, etc--has greatness in it, does not mean that all readers will be be able to enjoy it for the greatness of the story. The fact is that there are readers who would be hard pressed to find the value in such a story for the offensiveness (relatively speaking, of course) of the content. Are these types of readers any less valuable than others? Does it make the story less meaningful? I don't think so. No book that I know of, however, ever sold less because it lacked offensive content. I mean, really. Do you think ANYONE bought American Gods BECAUSE Gaiman used the f-word a couple of hundred times in the first two chapters? Probably not. But do you suppose he lost sales that he might have made otherwise? Yup. Me included. Sad. I so absolutely LOVED Stardust.

2b. Were my comments of SB's story inappropriate? Absolutely not. They have served to clarify a few things around here, I think. To remind us of a few rules and principles that have made Hatrack the kind of site that writers such as myself have found a safe haven, valuable, polite. Something different than so many writer's sites, from which many here at Hatrack have fled.

3. Rules are rules. Just because you choose not to read them doesn't mean you're not responsible for keeping them. Try telling a cop you just didn't KNOW that it's illegal to change lanes in an intersection. I guarantee you'll get the ticket anyway.


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keldon02
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"Do you include profanity in your stories?"
Not usually. Sometimes I will if it leads to a direction which is unobtainable otherwise.

"When do you think this is/isn't acceptable?" It is acceptable when it doesn't lead to utter boredom on the part of the reader. The problem with profanity is that it is extrordinarliy limiting in its descriptive potential. Having served time in the military I can understand the meaning when a person says. "F the f'ing f'er. It's all f'd up the f'ing b'ard f'er! F this S, SOB." But this is usually accompanied by finger pointing and gesturing in a rather simian and emotional manner, all of which isn't translatable to print.

Interesting, but the worst of Hustler Magazine just doesn't come close to capturing the real words people say during really pithy life situations. Once you've heard a schizophrenic man speak after he's been shot in the belly by the police or talked to a hundred pound woman while she's giving birth to a ten pound baby you realize that much profane writing is just pretension. So literary pretensions of obscenity leave me with an overweening boredom.

"What about highly crass expressions/descriptions that aren't profanity?" Well, they need to be culturally acceptable both on the part of the reader and the character who is speaking.


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Shendülféa
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I never use profanity in my stories because to me it is pointless. Why use it when I can get the point across in another way? Even my ruder, tougher characters--those who seem like they would be ones to swear--speak as cleanly as the sweeter, more innocent characters. I just don't see the need for it. That's not to say my characters don't swear. I just don't write it down. Instead, I say something like "he swore", "she cursed", etc.

I don't think profanity in novels is ever good, but that's because I don't think that it is needed and because I've seen successful novels that don't use one profane word and are just as effective at conveying the personality traits of the different characters as those books that do use profanities. However, if one wishes to use profanities, then so be it. I'm not going to stop them. I'm just not going to use any.

The same rule applies to highly crass expressions/descriptions. I can generally avoid those by saying something like "...and then he muttered something unintellegible.

"Gabriel cringed at hearing such crass words coming from his friend."

I think this way, it leaves it up to the reader's imagination to figure out what it is that my character was saying.


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Survivor
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I wouldn't agree that we don't find violence obnoxious in fiction.

I know, it's utterly off topic and not properly a part of this thread at all, but when a character resorts to behavior that I feel is immoral, even if it's just kicking an obnoxious student out of a class which that student needs in order to graduate (and yes, that does refer to a specific case), I don't overlook it.

I can sometimes forgive it, if the character repents sincerely, though.

Anyway, back to the topic. Matt is full of s***

[This message has been edited by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury (edited October 27, 2005).]


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JmariC
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Wow, a KDW edit. Go Survivor!
'-)


And for the point of being OT -
Fight Club, the book, would have had badly developed and unbelievable characters had the author not included their cursing and swearing.
Do you think someone who urinates in soup and conducts violence on a regular basis would way, "Make love", or "sex", or even "fornication"?
Blue Velvet, the movie, again has a character who is largely defined by his choice of language. I'm sure there are people who would argue that the movie could have been done without it, but the language choices served to point out the class differences, the slide in to 'bad' of one character and the aggresive mentally ill behaviors of another character. It also gave us a lot of great lines, like "F you, you Fing F." which has made it's way onto a T-shirt, with full spelling.

So, sometimes it is needed.


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Paul-girtbooks
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If the question is purely a matter of whether or nor curse words are appropriate to this forum then the solution is simple:

Either * all swear words which appear in posted fragments

"Wanna f***?"

or change the wording

"Wanna get it on?"

and then, when and if any members ask to read the whole story, the text can be left intact, as it is being send privately by email. Provided, of course, that the author has prewarned readers that there is cursing in the story, thus avoiding misleading anyone as to what they're about to read.

As to cursing is general?

Joe R. Lansdale has his characters cursing so beautifully and colorfully that the text really would be the poorer for it. So is all depends on the book and ultimately how good a writer you are. (Lansdale's so mouth-wateringly good I hate him!)

[This message has been edited by Paul-girtbooks (edited October 27, 2005).]


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Smaug
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As someone who tries to follow God's laws (I'm a practicing member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and "practicing" is key!) I once asked one of my church leaders if it would be okay to include swearing in a western I was writing. We all know that cowboys and such had salty speech for the most part. My church leader said, "well, maybe you should write something besides westerns."
I agree with what has been said about profanity being a crutch at times for an inability to make the scene strong enough to work without it. Still, when a loved one is being attacked and the hero comes to the rescue, I have a hard time picturing him not swearing at the perpetrators. I haven't used profanity in that sense, and I have a difficult time figuring out how to make the scene strong enough without those emotions coming through verbally.

On the taking the Lord's name in vain issue. I've heard it said that what that truly means is doing evil in God's name. Surely God hates that much more than a mention of his name in anger, however bad that may also be.

Shane


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ChrisOwens
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Wow. I had to skim this thread, it mushroomed into an epic in a matter of days.

My personal rule-of-thumb is never to write anything that I'd be embarassed for my grandmother to read.


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Survivor
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Ah, sorry about that Kathleen. I got all caught up in the meta-argument I was making. Pointless, since everyone has already ignored that argument, but I thought it would work better if I modified it a little this time round. You know, spelled out the vulgarity and winked to call attention to the irony.

But it really is a pointless argument. Some people really don't get it at all.


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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It's okay, Survivor. Sometimes things work, sometimes they don't.

I'm just trying to be consistent and impartial, even though I'm only human like most of the rest of the people around here.


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nimnix
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I'm in the wrong forum if everyone here is human...

*goes off to find the aliens and mythical creatures.*

If I could write dialogue well, I might include cussing if the character was that kind of person. I cuss all the time (except in front of my mom) so seeing it doesn't bother me. But I don't want to see in my own writing what I hate most, dialogue that seems wrong, stilted, or just useless padding, used to characterize a person because the author is lazy or ineffectual. Slang and foul language seems to be easy to mess up in writing.

Cussing alone doesn't paint a character in my mind, it's just another layer. It's effective to me if we already have a clear picture of the person and we would be shocked if the character didn't speak a certain way in a situation.


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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quote:
I'm in the wrong forum if everyone here is human...

Please look at my post again. I didn't say everyone here is human.

quote:
human like most of the rest of the people around here

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nimnix
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True, but there are significantly more non-human creatures in the Fragments and Feedback forum than here.
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Survivor
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How do you figure?
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nimnix
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In addition to the "people" who post, who are the same here and there, there are the characters that you meet in the F&F.


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Survivor
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But we talk about them in quite a bit of depth over on this side of the forum. You often get to really "meet" them rather than just glimpse them.
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dreadlord
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profanity is just a way for a bad writer to make his/her point. In my oppinion, it S***. (pardon my french. )

[This message has been edited by dreadlord (edited November 01, 2005).]


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JOHN
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quote:
profanity is just a way for a bad writer to make his/her point.

I thinks thats a cop out. I see a lot of people say that. Swearing isnt usually meant to be creative. Swearing is a lot of times used as an exclamation, out of anger, excitement, or some other emotion. Its a knee jerk reaction a lot of times. If I stub my toe or get cut off on the highway, Im not trying to be creative. Im trying to vent my anger. Sheesh!

For a lot of people swearing is just habit. Again, not trying to be creative.

This whole profanity is just a way for a bad writer to make his/her point or thats how weak and/or uncreative people express themselves is just horse sh!t.

I wont out of respect, but I could post a rather creative string of swears that would make your eyes bleed for the number curses and the sheer vulgarity of it. But it is very, very creative.

Yes, you have to know when swearing is appropriate in the confines of the story. For example I have a story that changes POVs with each chapter break, rotating the characters throughout. One character is a born-again Christian, and devoted family man. There is no swearing in those chapters. None whatsoever. Its really not that hard of a thing to do.

Then I have another character who grew up in the boonies living in a trailer, her mom and little brother died in a car accident and her father became an abusive alcoholic. She ran away from home and has been a stripper every since she was sixteen. Shes a hard drinking, coarse, loose woman of twenty-one now.

I dont see her drinking with her pinky in the air saying, Please pass the tea and crumpets.

You also have to be aware of your audience. If youre writing childrens books or Christian literature probably isnt a place for swearing or vulgarity.

And no, you dont need those words to make a good story. Though, I would rather read a book with a few f-bombs then characters saying fudge or frack or other nonsensical euphemisms or made up swears. Its silly and takes me out of the story and makes the author look prudish. I think its better to avoid it all together or use vague tags instead. (i.e. ,he swore under his breath.)

It sounds as if a lot of the poster here just disregard any literature with anything more vulgar than an occasional hell or damn. Thats the kind of attitude that gets great works such as Cater in the Rye banned. Its asinine.

If you dont enjoy reading or writing books that have that sort of language in them, then dont read or write them, but dont dismiss them as irrelevant or criticize the authors ability.

JOHN!

[This message has been edited by JOHN (edited November 02, 2005).]


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Survivor
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Hmmm, but all too often, it's still a crutch. I know I mentioned this before, but I found the stereotype of soldiers being particularly vulgar in their speech to be completely untrue. The ones fresh out of high-school swore like schoolkids, those with any significant time in service or other post-highschool education had much cleaner language.

You think that the same thing can't be true of strippers? Well, maybe you know more about that subject than I do, but please question your assumptions.

Using profanity is generally a very lazy thing to do. I don't have a problem stereotyping some characters a bit by putting those words in their mouths, but you do need to be aware that it's a stereotyping device. Think of it as showing a character straining to dump a load in the toilet. True to life? You betcha...

Okay, the thing is, I actually have written that kind of scene Like I said, I also write profanity into my characters' mouths when I feel it's necessary. Maybe I shouldn't, but I do. But writers need to be aware that using profanity doesn't make the character "cool", it just makes the reader regard both character and author as having filthy mouths. When that's exactly the effect you want, use it, just like when you want to show your characters in the most embarrassing way possible, you put them on the toilet.


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Christine
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Everytime this topic comes up it strikes me as strange, because I read stories with soldiers, gangsters, or strippers in them that somehow give me the feel of the character and situation and I don't recall seeing cuss words in them...I'd have to go back and check on a few. I'm not sure what they're doing to make it seem realistic without the cussing, for I would certainly believe that these types of people would cuss. They're definitely not saying "fudge" for the F-word, because that would have been laughable.

On the other hand, I've read stories in these settings with curse words. I know for sure I've read those because I remember the cussing. It sticks out, especially the f-word when it is overused. Actually, if you want to talk about lack of creativity, have you ever read an author who only seems to know about one cuss word?

I'm not sure what the first authors are doing right. Maybe...just maybe...they did have cussing in there and the reason I don't remember it being there is that it was handled with extreme competence and naturalness. Or maybe they simply didn't use the words, but the emotions and attitudes were handled so well I filled in the details.

When I do remember cussing I can tell you for sure it's handled badly. In fact, most people who use profanity in their stories don't know how to use it, it sounds clunky and/or unnatural, and this shows in their writing.

If you're going to do something, at least be able to do it well!


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JOHN
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quote:
You think that the same thing can't be true of strippers? Well, maybe you know more about that subject than I do, but please question your assumptions.

I dont think she swears because shes a stripper, I think she swears because thats what she was raised around and thats what shes surrounded by now, both in her personal and professional life. This is a woman who, try as she might, often picks up guys in bars and sleeps with them when she gets drunk. Again, not because shes a stripper, but because she a sad, lonely person, with a effed up childhood. Bourbon and marijuana are two of her closet friends. Shes looking for something to fill a hole in her life. I dont think swearing is going to be something shes adverse to.

Theres also certain tone Im going for. Maybe if I give you few lines it will make it clearer.

quote:
F***ing Stephanie, she muttered rubbing her sore, tired feet. Molly shouldve been off an hour ago, but the new girl, Stephanie, decided not to show up--hadnt even bothered to call in--leaving Molly to cover her shift. Now in hour seven of a twelve hour day, Molly couldnt have been happier to be on break between sets. Usually, thats when she would walk the showroom floor and try to drum up some private dances, but f***k that. She needed a break, and since she was filling in, no one would give her any s**t.

In contrast, the main character whos also a stripper, doesnt swear as much and rarely drops the f-bomb. Another character whos Irish swears fairly regularly, but also says things like, sodding and bugger which can be considered swears or not at least not so nice in the UK.

Again, I dont want it to seem that Im a proponent of swearing in literature, but it doesnt bother me as long as its not nonsensical.

I do think swearing can show many things like, the persons just vulgar, theyre young, theyre uneducated, they dont care, how they were brought up or any number different things. I dont think you can so easily say swearing = bad person. Like I said before, if youre person swears in front of children and doesnt tone it down or care, yes, that shows theyre bad. If the same character is out with some buddies at a bar and their dialogue is peppered with swears, doesnt show them in a bad light.

JOHN!

[This message has been edited by JOHN (edited November 02, 2005).]


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Elan
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I often handle cursing in my stories this way:

"He cursed."

It's simple. It allows the reader to insert the appropriate level of #$@!% they imagine. And it is concise. I far prefer it to any string of blue words I could concoct. Although I do have a fondness for the oath Katherine Kerr's characters use in her Deverry series: "By the black hairy balls of the devil himself..."


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pantros
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I completely disagree that foul language is a sign of bad writing.

A writer that goes to extremes to avoid foul language, when it would be the most natural and appropriate thing for a character to use, is as bad as if not worse than one who uses vulgar language for the heck of it.

"He cursed" is telling, not showing If the rest of the scene were detailed descriptions and dialogue, a simple "he cursed" would stand out, which might work in some scenes but mostly it would break the rhythm of the story and cause the reader to stumble. But a "He cursed such a string of obscenties that Mary felt a need to check to see if her ears were bleeding," might fit fine.

Still, in the appropriate genre written for an appropriate audience, using the actual vulgar words is usually the better way to go. In both science fiction and fantasy a good author will create their own swearing, But in contemporary fiction, creative swearing may not maintain the feel of contemporariness.


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JOHN
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quote:
In both science fiction and fantasy a good author will create their own swearing...

This usually annoys the hell out of me. It seems forced and fake.

Most fantasy settings are very reminiscent to medieval times. There were real swear words back then. Ass/arse, shit/shite, damn, hell, bastard, bitch, etc. These were all around, and are fine to use if you so chose. If you dont, then fine, but theres no need to make up swear words.

Now, given that the above words were around for all that time, dont you think theyll still be around in the future? More than likely, yes. Again, no reason to make up swears.

Someone earlier mentioned Firefly, which I thought did a really good job with it. Most of their swears were in Chinese (and were real Chinese swears) and that was explained in the story as apparently 500 years in the future we move away from a Latin based language. That was cool.

JOHN!


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Christine
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If you're translating to English, you should also translate the swear words to English. That's why it sounds fake.
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Survivor
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Well, I have just managed to write myself into another toilet scene. Hopefully I can navigate it tastefully.

I'm not going to say that using profanity is necessarily bad writing (in fiction, at least), just that most people who use it are entirely mistaken about the effect it will have on the audience. In other words, if you are under the impression that profanity will give your scenes more impact or realism, then you are entirely mistaken and it will be a crutch whenever you use it.

Coarse profanities (the only kind that are generally regarded as "realistic") shove the reader out of the story in several ways. Not all apply to everyone, but the overall tendancy of recognized profanity to disengage the reader's imaginative faculty and arouse the reader's critical faculty is very nearly universal. When you shove your reader out of the story, the story seems less real.

Basically, you're appealling only to those readers who have been carefully trained to regard any use of profanity in fiction as proof of the author's "gritty realism" or whatever. But if they had already been engaged in your writing, you're only losing out by making them think about how gritty and realistic you are. Whether or not they even believe what they've been trained to think.

Sometimes a character or scene really does call for profanity (or a toilet scene)...and it is a challenge to incorporate it without ruining the story.

For me, most profanity is like people using "literally" for mere emphasis of a figurative expression* Of course, I'm not most people. But the simple fact remains, it is wise to avoid that kind of thing in your writing.

*"Literally" is often used when there is some danger that a phrase could be taken as figurative, for instance, if you became so irate that you actually began pulling your hair out, you would say "I literally tore my hair out." It is also used to indicate the more prosaic meaning "to the letter".


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dreadlord
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john, shutup. you make me sound too stupid.
what I meant was that that is my opinion you may have a different one, but that doesnt mean you can shoot me down. that just $uck$. sh!t, man, give it a break.
quote:

Hmmm, but all too often, it's still a crutch.

at least someone agrees whith me


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nimnix
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If your curses are translatable ideas, then of course, translate them. But idiomatic expressions and curses tend to make references to concepts that are inherent to the culture. When we curse using the f-word, it's considered cursing specifically because of our culture. Sex doesn't necessarily have that kind of power in another culture. For example, if gazing at the moon were a mortal sin that only the lowest of the low would even contemplate, calling someone a "moongazer" could be as bad as us using words like a**hole to describe someone. But if you wrote that in a fantasy novel...

"Moongazer!" she shouted.

either you would have to add some exposition, or you have to be able to really build worlds and characters so real that people understand without any hints that she spat a truly foul curse. It just doesn't sound threatening in English. I have seen cases where made up curses are effective, especially when the scene has already been built well. The cases I find ineffective and annoying are those using made up words to replace specific words in English, or when they create what is obviously a curse, and then explain it in language that completely kills the mood. (Excuse me while I glare at Mercedes Lackey.)


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JOHN
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quote:
The cases I find ineffective and annoying are those using made up words to replace specific words in English, or when they create what is obviously a curse, and then explain it in language that completely kills the mood.

There you go. Thats pretty much what I was getting out. There was a comic book called Spider-Man 2099 (obviously a future interpation of the character we all know and love set in the year 2099). The writer, Peter David, is uber-talented, but he would use the word shock to replace f**k. A lot of times this was used humorously, but it did get annoying after a while.

quote:
For example, if gazing at the moon were a mortal sin that only the lowest of the low would even contemplate, calling someone a "moongazer" could be as bad as us using words like a**hole to describe someone. But if you wrote that in a fantasy novel...
"Moongazer!" she shouted.

Thats really good actually. I think it would be more analogous to something like bastard, though. Which in and of itself wasnt a swear word, it was just what it was, someone born illegitimately. Now, that society has moved past caring about such things, its used exclusively as a swear. Back in the day, though it wasnt a swear, just a really, really, bad thing to call someone, especially a gentleman. Which why John Adams was found of using it towards Alexander Hamilton, though technically the term was accurate.

JOHN!


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Survivor
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Hamilton is an interesting character, and a lot of it related to the fact that he was, after all, an illegitimate child who made his way into the governing circle of a new nation by bastard cunning as much as by his genuinely outstanding merit.

Adam's personal dislike for Hamilton and his "unscrupulous" notions of how to get things done ended up in several important disasters for our new nation and not a few stains on our national honor. But such things happen. It is interesting to note that Washington was never affected by consideration of Hamilton's origin, only ability and loyalty mattered to him. Not necessarily in that order, but Hamilton had both in spades.


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JOHN
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I hate to bump this thread, which by all rights should die the death it deserves, but I found a really interesting article on a similar subject. While the article deals with movies, I think the same themes can be applied to fiction writing.

quote:
What Is a Christian Movie?
Many godly people think that the goal is for movies to be "non-offensive" in terms of sex, language, and violence. But the problem with that standard is it only describes a void. It doesn't give any creative guidance. A lot of Christians lauded the 2002 release A Walk to Remember mainly on this basis: "It didn't have any bad language, and the two teenagers didn't sleep together." Yes, but it was a banal, predictable story with underdeveloped characters, pedestrian acting, and saccharine dialogue.

http://www.beliefnet.com/story/178/story_17841_1.html#cont

Another, somewhat hackneyed point, I wanted to bring up as well.

If I wrote the following in a story, many people would be truly, truly offended. (I hesitated to even copy it here)

quote:
There she lusted after her lovers, whose genitals were like those of donkeys and whose emission was like that of horses.

That would be really raunchy and racy, and many people would actually be mad at me.

Guess what? The above quote--Ezekiel 23:20.

Just something to think about.


JOHN!

[This message has been edited by JOHN (edited November 11, 2005).]


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Robyn_Hood
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You can never overstate the importance of context.
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Elan
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You can pick the nits about profanity until you are blue in the face. Anyone seeking justification for their actions, for good or ill, in the Bible (or the Talmud or the Koran or the Bhgavad Gita, for that matter) will find it.

Using profanity is a choice. As with all our other writing decisions, ie: POV, tense, action vs dialogue, characterization... there is a price to pay.

Writers who choose to use profanity pay the price. It will engage some readers, by giving the story a more gritty feeling. It will put off some readers who feel like profanity-laced dialog is rather like sorting through used toilet paper. Unfortunately, some of those readers who are put off by profanity will be editors.

The question has nothing to do with "Should there BE a price for using profanity?" There IS a price. Get used to it. Griping does not change reality.

The question is: are you, as a writer, PREPARED to pay the price? It's a matter of being true to your genre, and your demographic. If a story isn't true to genre without the profanity, then most likely the reader who turns up their nose at it (editors included) wasn't your demographic to begin with.


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JOHN
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quote:
You can never overstate the importance of context.

True enough. This is taken from a happy little tale entitled The Two Adulterous Sisters. The one sister is beaten, raped, and killed at the end.

JOHN!


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Survivor
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The Bible is chock full of cautionary tales which involve the grossest of gross immorality, including guys going after their own sisters, [step]mothers, and a memorable instance of a pair of sisters going after their father. And there are many worse things described in some detail.

But, in the better translations, it is never necessary to resort to crudities in order to tell those stories with all their grim details intact.

Which is merely to say that that particular argument is a total non sequiteur. Sometimes profanity is necessary to the story. Just like a toilet scene.

But if it is necessary to you, as a writer, then you aren't a very good writer.


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JOHN
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quote:
...it is never necessary to resort to crudities in order to tell those stories with all their grim details intact.

From the article I posted a link to above:

quote:
A Christian dramatist needs to portray sin with the same intensity as does a purely secular dramatist because, as Flannery O'Connor noted, "Redemption is meaningless unless there is a cause for it in the actual life we live."

By the rationale of the article, my stripper story could very well be considered a Christian story There is a message of hope, and an exploration of good and evil and right and wrong.

Like the one character I was describing before who bar hops and finds a different bed to sleep in every night. No, she doesnt learn her lesson, but the reader can see shes lonely and her life is unsatisfying.

quote:
Sometimes profanity is necessary to the story. Just like a toilet scene.

But if it is necessary to you, as a writer, then you aren't a very good writer.


That I can agree with. (though, I find necessary in a great many stories I write).

JOHN!


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D_James_Larkin
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This thread has interested me as I have been reading through all the comments and feelings.

Here is my point-of-view on the matter.

I would never presume to tell others how to write, or what to include in their writing. In my mind, that would defeat their purpose of expression and effect the self satisfaction for writing in the first place.

As one who prefers NOT to have profanity in the books I write and read, mine is based on my personal beliefs and that will never change. Does that mean I will never use a colorful metaphor as it was called in one of the Star Trek movies? Not necessarily, but if I do, it will be in extreme moderation and from a shortened list of the lesser crude.

Here is an example of the effect too much foul language can have from different points of view:
Recently I finished reading a novel that started with metaphors in four letter profusion dripping off the pages. I was so busy being disturbed by the quantity that I just about tossed the book in the circular-file.

The book had, right from the beginning, soured my taste both for the novel I was reading as well as what I think of the Author (which really should not be done on a single work). I dragged myself through it and it ended up getting a little better, but not much. Bottom line, I wouldnt recommend the book to anyone I know, with the exception of a few construction works who have the same profanity on enabled in their OS (operating system) as the Books author did. In summary, I hated it.

Now I will tell you it was on the New York Times best seller list and won the Hugo and Nebula for Novel in 2002, American Gods by Neil Gaiman. I may have been in a minority of readers who didnt like the book almost completely due to the language, but that didnt change the fact that I found it generally deplorable.

I compare that book to Uncle Cards Enders Game, having little to no foul language what so ever. In my mind, there is no contest. Enders Game was superior for me in every regard.

Feelings between reader and writer can vary like the grains of sand on a beach. If I dont like your use of language in expression, I simply wont read your writing. But I encourage you to continue to write in what ever manner suits you best just the same. If its something you enjoy, there are probably others that will enjoy it too, unlike the smell of pig farms which only my nephew in the world enjoys.


D. James Larkin


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D_James_Larkin
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One other thought I forgot to include in my post, I have not seen it in others works before, but we have all seen it done in movies, that is to do something like the following:

"Tom! ... was that you?... WHEW!" Jim says waving his hands in a distressed manner trying to get fresh air.

Tom, laughing uncontrollably says "Sorry... sorry... kinda smells like..."

Assimilation of Mikes thesis into the project proceeded at an abysmal pace....


Anyway, if you didnt get it thats ok, youre not missing much.


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