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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Mind your Ps and Qs

   
Author Topic: Mind your Ps and Qs
thexmedic
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Right now, while I'm soliciting feedback on my novel from some friends, I'm working on a short story/novelette thing and the MC is the sort of person who would throw the F-word and other such curses around with wild abandon. My question is, therefore, would a substantial amount of bad language limit my chances of getting the story published in a magazine?
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Beth
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Depends on the magazine.
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Elan
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Beth is right; depends on the magazine. Check it out... do you find a lot of F words published within it's pages?

Keep in mind that objections about heavy cursing aren't all centered around the moral issues of the thing. My personal objection to heavy cursing is that I feel it's lazy writing. Now, if a writer has CLEVER cursing, that's another matter. But simply writing: "Fword, fword, fword let's fword the fword before the fword fwords the fword.".... that does not constitute good writing in my book. It takes no brains to write "fword" over and over. Conveying emotions and action and intensity and plot WITHOUT cursing... THAT takes some skill.


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Robert Nowall
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I'm sure we all know somebody whose every other word is the "F" word...I mean, they don't even realize they're doing it.

But in writing? Near as I can tell, none of the big markets have a total ban on the "F" word (or others)...nor do they publish anything where every other word is the "F" word (or others).

I'd be sparing in its use...besides, it loses all emotional impact when it is, indeed, every other word.


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TMan1969
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I think some characters require a bit of spice, but not too much - then it's tasteless or is that too spicy???
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Survivor
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Using the F-word with wild abandon will limit your opportunities for publication. It will also limit your characterization significantly. However, depending on the markets you're targeting, it may very well vastly improve your chances of getting published.

If you like writing that kind of character and using that kind of language in a story, then you're free to do so.


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wbriggs
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I struggle with this too. In my WIP I have a couple of characters that would naturally say it a *lot*. I've kept it down to a couple of occurrences. I'm not sure I was right to do it.
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Robert Nowall
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I remember a TV show (no, not the one I used in my Internet Fan Fiction period), which had a minor character who did use the "F" word repeatedly. They used bleeps to cover it over.

That would not work in dashes ("F---"), the equivalent in the printed word, not in the frequency it was used. Who'd be willing to read a long stretch of dialog largely composed of dashes?


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kings_falcon
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If you are writing erotica you would probably get away with the liberal use of that particular word (and a host of related others). But, be careful outside that genre. Many people will put a book/story down because of the cursing.

Or you can take a page from Robert Jordon and others (assuming it is a sf/f world) and make up a curse word. While Matt in Robert Jordon's swears ("blood and ashes") it is not often, consistent with the character and using a phrase without our baggage attached to it.


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Survivor
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Who'd be willing to read a long stretch of dialog composed mainly of the F-word?

Besides, ninety percent of the impact is in the delivery.


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sholar
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You can also let the reader know every other word is a cuss word- tell not show. Another option I have heard of (which has its problems and I am not sure if I like) is to initially use the cusswords and then slowly lighten them. The reader knows how he speaks by that point and just fills it in).
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wetwilly
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One thing to keep in mind: in spoken language swearing has very little effect because we hear it so much, but printed on a page a little bit goes a long way. In real life a person might say use F--- ten times in a sentence, but printed, ten F---s on one PAGE will seem like a LOT more than those ten F---s in a spoken sentence.
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Elan
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that depends on who you are. I find usage of the "fword" to be odious, whether it is spoken or written.

Of course, that doesn't keep me from ripping off a few of them myself from time to time.

but overuse of cursing has kept me from watching certain movies when I know that the bulk of the dialog is profanity. Bleah.


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Survivor
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You use the F-word? That's very interesting.

I've said the F-word once, back when I was a kid. I was trying to say "Fozzie Bear", and...well, literally F-ed up the pronounciation

Like I said, though. Much of how any ejaculative expression is taken depends on how it is spoken. Somebody used "Saa" in a bit of dialog posted recently. But it's so meaningless unless you actually hear how it's said.

When you spell out certain words, the assumption is that you're giving them the maximum emphasis. So you just can't use them with the variation of tone that is common in real life. Not without elaborate explanation of the context and attitude of the speaker. I've seen it done well, but it's usually done very badly.


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MaryRobinette
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As Beth said, it depends on the magazine but it also depends on the context in the story. For instance, I just sold a story to Cicada which uses the word "shit" twice. I seriously considered changing before sending the story, because Cicada is a YA magazine. The story dealt with a kid cleaning feces out of pens on a pig farm. After having a very hard day, he falls face first into a pile of dung. The most natural thing to say would be--Darn? I don't think so.

On the other hand, I have a character who curses in another story and most of the time I do things like, "She cursed and ..." because the cursing is unimportant to the story.

The other thing I want to say, since we see mostly speculative fiction on this board, is to remember that fashions in cursing change. So if you are writing fantasy or science fiction, or even alternate history, make sure that your curses fit your world.

[This message has been edited by MaryRobinette (edited July 24, 2006).]


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pooka
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So why is this thread entitled "Mind your Ps and Qs"?
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thexmedic
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Interesting question...

Beer used to be served in both pints and quarters, so at closing time the landlord would ring the bell and say "Time please. Mind your Ps and Qs gentleman." (Pubs were very mysoginistic at this time).

However, these days my parents use it to mean "be polite." So, erm, it was the first thing I thought of. Let's face it, it beats "Holy Guacamole Batman" which was my last attempt.

Alternatively, I have just been in advertising too long...

All that aside, thanks for the advice. You guys are always fountains of the aforementioned stuff.

The piece I'm writing is first-person, present-tense, so it's constantly the narrator speaking and he's dealing with some very low-life type people. Hence, the amount of profanity. However, it seems like a wise idea to remove most of it. While I made up curses in my novel, that's not going to work in this piece, so I think I can go one of two routes:

1) Just remove it and be done.

2) Modify it to the minor British curse words I use virtually constantly (my language is, sadly, awful), like "damn" and "bloody." My worry here is that this will also be perceived as offensive (I think unlikely, but...) or, that it'll just read oddly to an American audience (I live in the US now so that's where I'd start trying to sell, at first at any rate).

Any thoughts? Thanks.


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authorsjourney
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Maybe I'm too much of an idealist, but I would say write the story the way you feel it needs to be written. Only worry about getting it published afterwards. Making changes to a story based on outside influences, rather than the demands of the story itself, always seem to make things ring false.
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Robert Nowall
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A made-up swear word---any made-up word, actually---usually comes across as phony...and just as likely to stop the story as a stream of technobabble. Unless the writer can invest the word with some meaning---even an emotional charge, if possible---well, you'd be better off using the real swear words...

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Grimslade
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I am not offended by reading the ole F-bomb. The problem I have with most swearing is that it looks flat and lifeless on the page if it is used repeatedly. Original phrases used as profanity help some, Robert Jordan's 'blood and ashes' for Mat Cauthon.
Remember characters in fiction need to be better than real life. People may swear all the time, use F-this and F-that, over and over again. Reading a transcript of a conversation filled with that would be painful and tedious.
I treat swearing in my work the same as writing dialect. You use it sparingly. Too much and your work looks sloppy, Huck Finn non-withstanding. Just because your character comes from an area known for frequent punctuation with F---, doesn't mean you need to write it. A little dash here and there for color and keep anyone not from his world pure as the driven snow to contrast.

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Elan
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quote:
Alternatively, I have just been in advertising too long

You and me both. On the upside, I can put a postive, marketable spin on nearly everything. On the downside, I see all advertising as the emotional manipulation it really is.

quote:
You guys are always fountains of the aforementioned stuff.

Uh... do you mean we are fountains of guacamole?

quote:
Modify it to the minor British curse words I use virtually constantly (my language is, sadly, awful), like "damn" and "bloody."

if you are now living here in the States, you know that use of The word "bloody" marks your MC solidly as a Brit or from Downunder. Be sure you WANT that particular cultural association. If the millieu is set in a fantasy or sci-fi world, the term "bloody" comes across as a bit jarring to me due to the fact that the phrase comes across as a very modern one that is localized in our real world.

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trousercuit
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Just come up with your own spleefing words. I disagree, they'll sound totally groiting authentic.

Piftling hleks. Spit.


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pooka
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Hey, if you're writing in first person present, go ahead and use it. But don't be surprised if it is rejected by publications that don't normally sport that sort of language. That's all I'm saying.

See, I always thought "p's and q's" was a proofreading expression. But my husband got quite uptight about it being a British drinking expression.

Perhaps you could use the word "fup"

Q.S. That Making Marines show just has me jazzed. I was astonished at how often the drill sergeants used "friggin'". Which is still a bad word by some measures (in it's provenance, it is an offensive term, particularly for anyone connected with the navy). But most people would mark it off as a meally-mouth replacement for the F-bomb.

[This message has been edited by pooka (edited July 23, 2006).]


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Spaceman
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Despite havig used f-bonbs for one particuarly gritty story, I generally try not to use profanity in my writing because it's much more challenging and much more rewarding to convey the same information while leaving out the profanity.
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Sara Genge
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"Damn" is ok for a US audience, but "bloody" marks your writting as unmistakebly british
Has your character contact with people from other nationalities? can he swear in Spanish? or in French? It would be a contemporary way of making up the curses, like fantasy uses made up curses in medieval-like magical setings.

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MaryRobinette
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quote:
A made-up swear word---any made-up word, actually---usually comes across as phony...a

I just want to clarify that I am not talking about making up words. The current crop of swear words all have specific meaning. So, when looking at a fantasy or science-fiction culture, it is important to make sure the swear words match the cultural taboos of the world. The "blood and ashes" example is an excellent one.

I mean, at one point to say that a woman was "pregnant" was considered quite vulgur. She was "in confinement." Fashion in language shifts. The easiest example is that "bloody" and "fanny" are both vulgarities in British English, but not in American.


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pooka
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I was tracing "Winnie the Pooh" through Wikipedia (because my husband's british grandmother found the name disgusting, and I was confirming it came from Britain.) In the process I learned a statue of the original bear, Winnipeg, stands in a park called - get this- Assiniboine. I also found it funny that the bear was smuggled to England by a WWI unit from Canada.
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Robert Nowall
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Oh, yeah, meaning evolves over time. (Or devolves, depending on how you look at it.) Obscene words included.

Somewhere once, I read a short account of English obscene words...how little they've changed compared to some other words...but how, for about the 1640s through the 1840s (I think), they completely drop from the written word, so there's no record of their existence.


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