1. Oscillate Wildly
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    Oscillate Wildly New Member

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    Cursing in Dialogue

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Oscillate Wildly, Dec 17, 2011.

    Hello forum,

    I was just wondering about all of your thoughts on cursing in dialogue. Does it hinder the story in any way, or do you think it helps with realism? In example, if you were to write a war story or novel, would it help with the realism to have the characters curse? Or writing about a bunch of college aged kids going to a party (Or just any plot, really)?

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    Thanks for the feedback! :)
  2. DeAnnaClaudette
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    DeAnnaClaudette New Member

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    I think it helps with the realism, but you also don't want to overdo it. A general belief is that those who rely heavily on swear words don't have a very broad vocabulary, so I guess you would also consider that when developing your characters. (Personally, I swear a lot and I think I have a pretty expansive vocab. :D) The setting will also play a big part of deciding what kind of language is most appropriate, obviously. Soldiers, notoriously, have potty mouths, so it would realistic for them to swear often, but it would also depend on WHO they are swearing around. They would not likely speak that way around a commanding officer, or someone that out ranks them UNLESS they were also really good friends. I think it also depends on the overall tone of the book. If some parts of the book is very light, but other parts are gritty, it may throw the balance off. Just my 2 cents. :)
  3. naturemage
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    naturemage New Member

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    I run into this problem as well, and it came up in one of my other threads (based on age appropriateness). Anyway, I find that for realism, everyone lets one slip once in a while. If it's a major problem, and I mean something huge, then how could you not. For example, in my story, the main character wakes up to find that he is naked in bed with his best friend (female). They swore never to be anything more than friends, so him swearing seemed not only appropriate, but real. I try not to overuse it though.
  4. Cacian
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    Cacian Banned

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    I reserve judgments on swearing. I find off putting at the best of time.
    To then read it is is totally inadequate for me. I won't carry on reading the story after that.
    That is because I write very differently to the way I speak.
  5. VM80
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    VM80 New Member Contributor

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    More offensive, to my mind, to come across a burly soldier or drunken sailor etc who exclaims 'gosh, darnit...'

    That's just insulting the reader's intelligence.
  6. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Supporter Contributor

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    amen to that!
  7. iabanon
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    iabanon New Member

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    Only you can judge if swearing is right for your story. I hate it when people use the excuse that swearing is for people with no vocabulary or IQ. I've known genius's that swore prolifically. it has nothing to do with IQ or education.
    As for other authors; look at Irvine Welsh's books. his characters swear prolifically thoughout the stories. it's about who you're aiming your story at. who is your readership? I have plenty of swearing in one of my novels because it's the world they are in and it suits. anyone who reads it and doesn't like the swearing can move on. that's always going to happen.
  8. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Awaiting a good story in the local pub... Contributor

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    Pretty much what the last three posters said. It all depends on what your story demands. My MCs will curse, but since my audience are likely young adults, the worse they'll say is "shit" and "damn". The highly-offensive words, rare as they'll be, will be cut off by either another character reacting to the swear or whatever action just happened to halt that word. (Words like the F-word, I mean. I have characters who say a long string of "shit" and "damned" when they're angry.)
  9. Ettina
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    Ettina New Member

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    You could also try saying the character cursed without writing out the exact words used.
  10. juniorfletcher
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    juniorfletcher New Member

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    personally i don't avoid having my characters curse....if it fits the situation they'll curse like a sailor....maybe avoid it if you wouldn't speak that way...no need to force it. there are other ways to show frustration, excitement etc.
  11. Blood'N'Shadow
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    Blood'N'Shadow New Member

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    I don't think cursing is necessary in a novel, unless is an intense and/or dramatic one. Other than that, I find cursing unescessary/unneeded. But that's only my opinion. Have a nice day!
  12. digitig
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    digitig Senior Member Contributor

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    An incorrect belief, as it happens. Use of taboo language is known to relieve stress and physical pain in a way which non-taboo language doesn't. People don't generally use taboo language because they don't have another way of expressing themselves, they do it because the very fact of it being taboo helps. If somebody swears a lot it says more about how they interact with the world than with how good their vocabulary is; it probably indicates somebody who is permanently angry or stressed.

    As others have suggested, the way you handle swearing depends on what you are writing and who you are writing for. If you are writing for the Christian YA market, few of your characters will swear a lot and it will only be indirectly reported. If you are writing for adults, and are writing about a war zone or inner city drug addicts there will probably be a lot more swearing and if you're writing for a general adult audience you can put it in directly (even for a YA audience you can drop the occasional taboo word in -- The Dog that Barked in the Night has one instance of the f-word). But remember that dialogue is never an accurate representation of natural speech (that would be unreadable). If you are reporting a Glasgow drunk at least 50% of whose utterances comprise words from the first four of George Carlin's list of seven words you can never say on television (I have met a couple), you only need to establish it and occasionally reinforce it; don't put them all in.
  13. CH878
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    CH878 Member

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    If it's appropriate for your target audience then use what you would expect to hear in real life. The thing that really grates on me is when authors go out of their way not to use swear words and it just sounds so awkward and wrong. If profanity is the natural thing for the situation and character then either use it or reengineer the situation to get rid of the necessity.
  14. VM80
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    VM80 New Member Contributor

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    In this case, young adults often swear a lot... should books not reflect that?
  15. Kallithrix
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    Kallithrix Banned

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    I see profanity as yet another tool of expression and characterisation. My novel is set in ancient Egypt, and my police chief has been known to drop the f-bomb when he's really, really angry - I use it sparingly to emphasise just how angry he is because normally he is very well spoken.

    Some people think using curse words in historical fiction is anachronistic, but do you really think the ancient Egyptians didn't have swear words? The Greeks and Romans certainly did, so why not the Egyptians? Just because they never wrote them down on monumental inscriptions doesn't mean they didn't exist! Every culture has its own taboos, and they usually revolve around the bodily functions - to quote a university lecturer of mine, every language has a taboo word for 'pissing, shitting, fucking and farting.' So if the ancients used them, I figure can show them using their modern equivalents. :)
  16. Masterforger
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    Masterforger New Member

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    Well, for cursing, one could make another character curse, and describe it as "turning the air blue" or "screaming blue murder" It gives insight as to a) how angry someone is or b) what kind of character they are
  17. Kallithrix
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    Kallithrix Banned

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    Mmmm, except this is both a cop out and a cliche :D
  18. Fullmetal Xeno
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    Fullmetal Xeno Crimson Angel Contributor

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    I think it depends on how much cursing is involved. If it's too much it hurts the story horribly. But otherwise it puts a darker, grittier picture for me.
  19. joanna
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    joanna Member

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    As long as such phrases are used because they're apt and not specifically to avoid a curse word or seven that would better describe the situation, there's no problem. I'm all for swearing, but really, a string of vile words isn't necessarily better than the author simply telling me a character "screamed blue murder;" which I actually kind of like, and have never heard before.
  20. Yoshiko
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    Yoshiko Contributor

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    If it fits the story then I don't see a reason not to.

    I write mostly male characters in their late teens & twenties, often uneducated and unemployed/on minimum wage, living in urban areas in the 21st century. I think it would seem strange if my characters didn't swear (yes, I'm stereotyping - but stereotypes have to come from somewhere). There were two characters in my last story that I was conscious about using cleaner language with - one was to show class/position (she was a politician) and the other was for a character whose vocabulary was of a similar level to that of a child.
  21. Anarchist_Apple84
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    Anarchist_Apple84 New Member

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    It depends on the character and setting. I try to use it sparingly, but some of my characters have potty mouths because it suits them. Overuse can come across a bit cheap and seedy but in some settings it's clearly going to be more acceptable than others.

    Say one of your characters has had a serious row with someone, I'd imagine they'd swear a few times, it's pretty common. Now say they were almost hit by a car, I'm sure they'd have some pretty choice things to say about the driver!

    I'm currently writing a British gangster short and one of my characters has a terrible case of potty mouth, but everytime I think I should tone it down I see a British gangster film and think maybe I'm underselling it! haha

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