1. Anaïs Rose
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    Anaïs Rose Member

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    How do you handle profanity?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Anaïs Rose, Dec 21, 2015.

    This is a big issue for me because I started writing when I was pretty young; I remember being terrified that my mom would look over my shoulder and spot the well placed "Damn!" I had hidden in-between dialogue. I found this actually seemed to plug up my creative juices, so to speak - there were intense moments in my writing when cursing would be a perfectly natural response, or even ramp up the action. Imagine a character who is very reserved sobbing over a loved one's death while cursing out the person who killed them! How impactful! Despite this, I still can't make myself step over the line. I try to write my book like a PG-13 movie; damn, hell, bitch, bastard, etc. are acceptable and can be used liberally, while limiting myself to three s-words, and if the time is right, one f-word. However, as I'm delving into a more adult world of writing, I'm still afraid of using profanity. How do you use it when you write? Do you follow any "rules" like I do?
    *EDIT*- as an addendum, I'd like to add that I fear that profanity would alienate my beta readers; they're usually friends of mine and might be shocked by it; I don't curse, myself.
     
    Last edited: Dec 21, 2015
  2. Tea@3
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    Tea@3 Contributing Member

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    I personally think it's unnecessary, and can actually LESSEN the effect the writer is going for in the scene.

    I get this a lot in movies. IMO it's a balancing act like a wire and if not handled exactly perfectly, will backfire and come off as 'wannabe' stylish. Yes Tarantino uses it to great effect, but like I said without a highly developed intuition driving it (and he has one for sure) to know where to place them, which ones to use, and when to scale back, profanity can seem plastic and affected.

    When I started writing it was for film, and I sometimes wanted to juice up the effect with profane dialogue, but as I read over old dialogue now it comes off as superfluous. These days I tend to just leave it out. I think if the story is done well the impact is strong without it.
     
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  3. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I have certain swear words/vulgar words I won't touch. I don't personally like them and no matter if I feel my characters would use them I'd rather they use something else. So I self censor. Right now I'm writing a novel that takes place in prison and I average about a couple of swear words per page. That includes the F-word. Much more if someone's arguing. There's also derogatory words being used and names being called.
    Truth is - I knew I'd have to go there. It's a prison - the prisoners are mistreated - they're going to swear. I'm somewhat comfortable with this ( I myself don't swear. )

    One of the good things is - this is a first draft. I can let things fly knowing I'm going to eventually cut a lot of it. Not to edit out the swearing, I'm just tired of the huge patches of dialogue. I won't scale down according to number. But rather what's needed, what works. And if I can do it better without swearing then I'll go for it.

    Unless your subject matter really, really calls for it - I'd keep it sparse. That way you've got the bonus of reaching a broader group of readers. And swearing can quickly lose it's impact anyway when overused.

    Sometimes when I've had it with typing in a swear word I'll just type - Ivor swore under his breath. I've eliminated a word but kept the idea.
     
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  4. Bookster
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    Bookster Banned

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    To me, it doesn't depend on what I like or find objectionable, but rather on what the character would say. I've never been able to watch military dramas on television because my own military experience tells me that soldiers, etc. don't pussyfoot around (no pun intended) when it comes to profane language.
     
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  5. Lifeline
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    Lifeline The Dark - not in Wonderland Supporter Contributor

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    I concur with @Bookster . But even then I am heedful of the meaning behind the used word. There are some words out there most people use without thinking about where they came from and when I realized I swore to myself never to do this. I am a german native speaker..
     
  6. Dagolas
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    Dagolas Banned

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    Fucking swear.
     
  7. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    If you want to write profanity, write profanity. If you don't, then don't.

    If you are writing for younger audiences then obviously don't use it. If you're writing for adults, make up your own mind about whether you want it.

    If you're worried about alienating alpha or beta readers, get new readers.

    As for rules, those are up to you. I personally do write profanity but I try to run by the rule that I shouldn't use it unless it's really natural, and keep in the back of my head that overusing it can lessen the impact and make it look like you're twisting the knife too hard. If I ever see more than one f-bomb on any given page, I generally think I need to revise one of them out. The same redundancy rules apply to profanity as any other words, so I tend to mix up my expletives and try to rotate f-words and s-words so that neither gets repetitive. That and not every character or scene calls for it. Some characters I use it more often, some don't, and they obviously follow the same rules as real people in terms of using it in the workplace and such. I also have different rules for each character so they stay internally consistent - my innocent protagonist rarely ventures past "heck", so I'll get max symbolic impact when she drops an f-bomb near the end. The villain is purposefully obscene and usually berates people using only profanities that evoke assertions of sexual power. My southern belle minion gets a lot of "damns" in her internal monologue when I really don't use that word often for anyone else. Etc.

    Don't ever use it just to make the story seem grittier. It doesn't - it just makes you look like you added profanity on purpose. If the story is gritty, the profanity will flow naturally as part of the dialogue.

    And if you can't bring yourself to write it - don't. Write what feels natural and listen to your internal ethics. Personally, mine swear like sailors, but I have religious issues about taking God's name in vain. The reader would never realize that, but there's tons of f-bombs but almost never an "Oh my god!" in my text. Is it totally realistic? No. But it's my book, so there. :)
     
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  8. NeighborVoid
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    NeighborVoid Active Member

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    I use them for (humorous) emphasis.
    For example :
    "We just found aliens on the moon."
    vs
    "Holy shit, we just found aliens on the fuckin' moon."
    or
    "Holy shit, we just found fuckin' aliens on the moon."

    No rules except for not using profanity so often that it becomes meaningless.
     
  9. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    You could warn them ahead of time - i.e. my book has some swearing in it. Would you still be okay beta reading it? If you know your beta readers aren't expecting certain things it's best to warn them or ask them if they're still comfortable reading it. If they aren't, find someone who is comfortable. Friends might not be the best beta readers anyway. They're practically obliged to be nice.
     
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  10. Bocere
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    Bocere Member

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    I agree with @Bookster as well.

    When I wrote my first draft of the fantasy novel I'm currently working on I had my main character (who is a thief who lives and grew up on the streets, heavily involved in the criminal underbelly of society, etc.) speaking without swearing hardly at all, and I found that a lot of her dialogue sounded comical (not in a good way).

    Once I got comfortable throwing around the curse words a little more I found I was able to get a little more into the character's head because the dialogue felt more organic to what I had originally intended her to be, rather than the way-too-squeaky-clean smuggler I had originally created.

    If there are lines you personally won't cross with swearing, I would say make sure you are creating characters who also wouldn't cross those same lines.
     
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  11. Anaïs Rose
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    Anaïs Rose Member

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    I really like what you had to say about this; it makes the most sense out of all the replies I've gotten so far. My struggle recently was with a character who, although lacking bullets and actual combat skills, carried large guns and knives around with her. Now, if she's posturing, would she say, "This plan won't work," or, "This plan is bullshit,"? And that was the point when I realized I had to decide whether or not I was going to take the bull by the horns (pun TOTALLY intended, groan if you will)
     
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  12. aj*colher
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    aj*colher Member

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    When I come across a line in a book for adults in which an author has plainly avoided swearing, I wonder what else they're too timid to do with their writing.
     
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  13. Shbooblie
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    Shbooblie Contributing Member

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    It depends on things such as the target audience, character personalities, setting, time period etc, but personally, I'd say if the circumstances are right then I see no reason to avoid swearing.
    I don't swear a lot in real life but that's not because it offends me, just because I don't feel the need to do it very often. My MC however swears a lot, but it's just because that's the sort of person he is. My secondary character doesn't swear, only in really bad situations or in arguments, much like myself. I think she'd probably go to extremes to avoid it, so that's how I've tried to write her dialogue.

    If you're an adult writing for adults and a swear word would fit better in a particular sentence I'd say add it. Writers have to write things which make them uncomfortable from time to time if the story calls for it, I doubt writing traumatic scenes are enjoyable but still they end up in stories.
     
  14. KennyAndTheDog
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    KennyAndTheDog Member

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    As a lot of people have already said, you have to be careful to only use it where it would be natural. I swear in my life a lot more than any of my characters do, not for fear of offending anyone- I'm a Manc- but because it can be really clunky with the wrong context or character. I wouldn't write me swearing as much as I do!
    On the other hand a lack of efs and jefs can also make the language seem wrong. I gave up ghosting fiction when a client aske me to take the 'bad language' (which as an F and 2 Bs) out of a scene where a father found his own daughter murdered. That scene didn't work without those 3 words (so I made the changes, took the money and ran)
    It's hard to get it right. Shocking for shock's sake is old hat and OTT, but when done well it can make a character believable, human.
    good luck!
     
  15. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Back in the 70s when my brother came home from boot camp, literally almost every other word was fuck. And I do mean literally. Could be it's not that bad these days but the military and jails the language would need to fit the characters at least to some extent.

    But you also need to consider your readers. My book's YA so I made up all my cuss words. I'm not even using 'damn' or 'crap'. I have had to change a few though when my critique group said holy snails reminded them of Batman. :p
     
  16. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    The one thing I have had to adjust to, was finding superlatives that weren't profane. Quite often what you are trying to do is show the character is shocked, or angry, or expressing some other more extreme reaction. It helps to build up a repertoire of good superlatives.
     
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  17. KhalieLa
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    KhalieLa It's not a lie, it's fiction. Contributor

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    I write what would come out of my character's mouth.
    That means in some works I do use common profanity and swear words. In other works I end up saying things like , "Looks like you two have been milking the bull." My personal favorite exclamation is "Absent Gods," because if the gods were present we wouldn't be in this mess.

    The last piece I turned in did have swear words and my editor dutifully removed what he called, "naughty language" before sending it to print. The dialogue looks silly now, but as long as he keeps sending the checks I guess he can do whatever he wants.

    The bottom line, write what you want. It can, and will, be revised later.
     
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  18. aj*colher
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    aj*colher Member

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    I hope they're nothing like the made-up curse words in Maze Runner. 'Klunk' and 'shuck' and what not are so tedious! But I love it when it's done right. One of my favourite books for creative language is A Clockwork Orange.
    YA is a pretty broad genre. I consider my latest writing YA but it's pretty sweary, drug-fuelled stuff.
    Can you share any of the words that didn't remind people of Batman?
     
  19. huntsman40
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    huntsman40 Active Member

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    Swearing can almost be considered essential in some cases. Think about your normal life. Do you know people that swear a lot? If the answer is no I would be surprised.

    If I have a character who is a soldier, a construction worker or maybe a pirate it would not be natural in my opinion for them not to swear - and frequently. I've known soldiers that put more F-bombs in a sentence than the rest of the words used combined.

    So in short, the answer is that it depends on your characters. Will having them swear fit who they are? Will having them not swear make them not sound authentic? Though, of course your target audience must be considered too. You can't use heavy profanity in a book aimed at young kids, and even young adults you should have some care if it is used.
     
  20. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I did : Holy snails! That was the only one and I took it out because I agreed with them. I'm also trying to stay away from "holy".

    Some of my better:
    Scared the sweat out of me.
    Pond scum (not original, of course)
    Termy dittle (that's the dick on a male insect in my made up world)

    I'm still working on the city slang.
     
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  21. Lucidity
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    Lucidity Member

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    I suppose I'd have it dependent on the character, how they're feeling at the time, how I want the audience to view them. If you really don't like profanities, or are trying to keep it to a minimum, I'd say writing it in the narrative to show that the character is using vulgar language rather than them actually saying it in dialogue could still give the reader an idea on their emotion or language without actually having seen those words written.
     
  22. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I remember the true story of a football coach (don't remember his name; it was back in the 1960s) who, when most grievously upset, would bellow, "Oh, my side and body!"

    You craft your characters a certain way, and their language should reflect that. If I created a character like that football coach - church-going, teetotaling, soft-spoken, thoughtful - then having him scream obscenities at his players wouldn't ring true with his character. OTOH, if I created a coach character like, say, Bob Knight, having him bellow, "Oh, my side and body!" wouldn't work at all - except possibly for humor.
     
  23. AASmith
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    AASmith Contributing Member

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    I think it can be disingenuous to NOT use curse words in your writing depending of course on the material and your audience. In the YA book I am writing my main is pretty depressed, going through some shit right now and yes every once in a while he will curse, especially when he's with his friends or younger brother. For example someone might say "that's bullshit and you know it!" That is how people talk and I'm not going to pretty up my work for the sake of using better words.
     
    Last edited: Dec 22, 2015
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  24. xanadu
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    xanadu Contributing Member Contributor

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    As others have said, I write according to the story and characters. Frustrated adults, innocent kids, foul-mouthed teenagers, professional businessmen, seedy mobsters, and upbeat musicians are all characters that have existed in my stories. They all speak differently. Some might utter slurs, some might curse infrequently, some might not curse at all, some might let something slip once in a while. It all depends.
     
  25. Cave Troll
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    Cave Troll Bite the bullet, do your own thing. Contributor

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    It is dependent on the characters and the situation. Though I tend to be reserved about using 'fuck', as it is already to overused in contemporary culture. Try to use it more to the advantage/personality of the characters. I think the gratuitous graphic violence is far worse than a few swear words, and I use them all. Worst one I can think of is at one point one of my MC's thinks: 'I am done being shot, you stupid cunt.', when fighting with a female enemy combatant. I hate the c-word, in large part to my ex-wife always use to say it. I guess I am in with the majority on this topic. :p
     

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