1. Alesia
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    Alesia Pen names: AJ Connor, Carey Connolly Contributor

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    How much swearing is too much?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Alesia, Aug 2, 2013.

    I've been going over some of my old works, one of which has a particularly foul-mouthed first person narrator. Where is the boundary between staying in character and too much cussing. The particular passage I was looking over had 7 swears in just the first 245 words (2 S-words, 3 F-words and 2 GD words.) Is that overboard from a readers point of view?
     
  2. NeonFraction
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    NeonFraction Member

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    Advice I got from a publisher: If you're talking in terms of getting published, swearing is poison. Even if it would fit the character to outline the roughness of their personality, or fit the situation, such as soldiers swearing in battle, most publishers will gladly dump a book that needs to swear every few pages or worse, every few lines.

    It may seem strange, especially to younger generations, but swearing is often seen as filthy and crude and will alienate a large portion of readers. As time goes on, swearing is becoming more acceptable in writing, but to rely on it won't do you any favors.
     
  3. Alesia
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    Alesia Pen names: AJ Connor, Carey Connolly Contributor

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    As per my signature, I'm only concerned about the reader.
     
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  4. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Just as a rule of thumb, I'd say if it strikes you as too much and out of character, it probably is!
     
  5. Steve Day
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    Steve Day Senior Member

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    That's an interesting tidbit from NeonFraction.

    Like the use of dialect or an accent, swearing can be useful to introduce a character's persona, but the reader does not need to be constantly reminded throughout the work.

    And there are plenty of euphemisms we can work with, instead of the "real thing". Crap instead of shit. Screw you, instead of the "F" word.
    Speaking of that one, we often see 'effing' 'effed up', "Get the F (or eff) out!"
     
  6. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    It's so refreshing to see someone else who thinks like that. I've always liked the idea that you come up with a vision and abide by it instead of trying to please everyone and her dog. You should write what you love and then find an agent or a publisher who appreciates your vision and is willing to publish it as it is or, alternatively, with only changes that don't affect or detract from your vision. Then, once the story is published, you can do everything in your power to market it, be it advertizing it in your blog, touring book shops, running around naked while handing out copies of your book for random pedestrians, i.e. whatever to make it sell. To me, that's not selling out; I define selling out as sacrificing your art, your vision to please your intended audience which is, sadly, what is often demanded of writers.

    As for the topic: imo swearing is just fine as long as it sounds natural. Some of my MCs almost never swear, some swear all the time, but I try my utmost to make everything sound realistic. One thing that helps is to read your dialogue outloud. If it sounds like something you might hear at your local pub, great. If it comes off as pretentious, like a kid trying to sound like an adult, you need to work on it. Unless you're writing a kid who's trying to sound like an adult, that is.
     
  7. Mans
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    Mans Contributing Member

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    Swearing is not deserve to a honorable writer. Did Albert Einstein do so in physic ? Did Alfred Hickok do so...? Did William Shakespeare do so ...? Did ever Mr. Bean do so in his movies ( he even didn't speak in his movies at all). And like these, look for the other famous writers, did they do so?
     
  8. BritInFrance
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    BritInFrance Active Member

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    I am guessing English is not your first language, but what you have written there does not make sense on several levels. Shakespeare pushed boundaries at the time - his jokes (which may not even be considered jokes now) were considered bawdy. Never put Mr Bean and honourable writing in the same sentence (opps!) :)

    Swearing has its place. If it fits the character, and is not overdone it works. But like any tool in the tool box if it is over used or jars the reader, then it will bring them out of the story, and that is not good.
     
  9. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Why don't you take a break and get off your high horse for a change? After all, shouldn't the right to judge others be reserved only to God? ;)
     
  10. CyberFD
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    CyberFD Member

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    Miley Cyrus taught me that while she twerked.
     
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  11. Mans
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    Mans Contributing Member

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    I just expressed my viewpoint and opinion and didn't want to constrain anybody to be agree with me :)
     
  12. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Many famous writers made/make use of vulgarities and profanities. Shakespeare did to great effect by not laying them plainly, but instead making word play of them. This only serves to enhance the use of the vulgarity, not disguise it, because it anything, it draws attention:

    Warning, the following quote from Wikipedia concerns the "C" word, which some members may find disagreeable.

     
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  13. u.v.ray
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    u.v.ray Member

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    A publisher that doesn't like swearing to the extent they would reject a book about soldiers in battle because of their swearing is not a publisher you'd want publishing your book.

    If a novel were about a nunnery, then a bunch of foul-mouthed nuns would either be out of character.... Or comedy.

    As others here have already alluded to, swearing would be dependent on the characters and the story you are telling.

    In these modern times writers and film-makers have much more freedom than in days gone by. You watch an old war film now from the 1930's and "Gee whiz" and "by jove" and "I say, old boy" in response to a heavy shelling seem somewhat comedic.

    We wouldn't write like that nowadays.

    Convesely, you can have too much swearing. My take on it is this: it's only too much if you're doing it for the sake of it, or for shock value. We have the freedom today to use it when needed -- but it no longer shocks as such.
     
  14. NeonFraction
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    NeonFraction Member

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    Actually, publishers are all about what will reach the most people. What will sell well. If you have a publisher willing to publish something that won't sell well, you've found a crappy publisher.

    Most people above 30 see swearing not as an expression, but as a crutch used when proper language can't be found. Even I, who doesn't really mind swearing, realize that most well educated people tend to swear less. And well educated people are more likely to read.

    I know right now lots of people are reading this, freaking out, and shouting, 'I read a lot!' 'I'm well educated and swear!' 'I'm over 30 and swear!' You are missing the point. The point is not the swearing makes you a bad author, it means you are sacrificing a large portion of your readership. I feel lots of writers throw out haughty phrases like: 'Well, if they can't handle it, they don't deserve to read it,' but then complain when people don't read their work.

    It's like writing a book that relies on readers to have lots of knowledge about the culture of India to understand it, or has the characters making lots of sex jokes, or having every fight scene have one or two grusome deaths describing organs and ligaments being squashed in great detail, or has complicated talk of economic theory every chapter.... Each of these things gives the book a unique flavor and style that reflects the author's tastes. But each of these is also going to shave off a huge portion of your readers.

    No one can tell you that swearing will ruin a book for everyone, but it will ruin it for a lot of people. Decide whether or not you're willing to limit your readership, or if the story just cannot survive without it. I think in 99% of cases, toning down swearing will not hurt or really change a book for the worse in any way. In the end, you'll have to decide which sacrifice to make for your style and audience. And remember, changing something about a book to make more people like it does not mean you've sold your soul to the publishing devil. We all change and improve and grow our writing every day. That's what it means to be a writer.

    EDIT: Everything about swearing here refers to constant swearing in writing, not occasional.
     
  15. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Which may sound like an obvious caveat, but it bears saying. I would never limit the kinds of words I use in my writing, but the overall frequency is another matter.

    The Steel Remains by Richard K. Morgan contains the F word, in all it's different forms, 496 times. That is way too much, IMHO.
     
  16. Malo Beto
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    Malo Beto Member

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    I'm probably in a minority but it actually bothers me more when an author tries to cover up swearing, rather than just letting the characters who would swear, swear. I do think there is a point where there can be too much, but in my experience most authors worry too much about if their characters are swearing and try to cover it up.
     
  17. blackstar21595
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    blackstar21595 Contributing Member

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    Shakespeare didnt swear,but his characters did body language that was equivalent to swearing. i.e. "I bite my thumb at thee."
     
  18. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Actually, you indicated that authors who write characters who swear are not honorable. That looks an awful lot like judging to me. Then again, I may have misunderstood the first sentence of your post, so if I'm wrong, please do correct my surmise.

    Also, you said:

    The simple answer is 'yes.' Is Stephen King famous enough? Some of his characers swear. Same thing with George R.R.Martin and oh so many other authors who are generally considered famous.


    I agree with Malo Beto: it bothers me much more to see an author try to cover up swearing than having an author write characters who swear. I'm also a huge fan of realism and fact is, people swear. A lot of people all around the world. In fact, I'd argue most people on this planet swear, so omitting it, pretending they don't, or circumlocuting it extensively detracts from the work's realism (in many cases, that is), in my opinion.

    That being said, I'd rather not publish my writing than to cut out every single swear word. If I'm to have my works make it some day, I'd want them to reflect my vision and it just so happens that it does include at least some swearing even though I agree with most here that too much is simply too much (duh).
     
  19. ManOrAstroMan
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    ManOrAstroMan Magical Space Detective Contributor

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    I think the shortest answer is that if you notice it, it's too much.
     
  20. Lisztomania
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    Lisztomania Member

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    I don't know if counts, but poets like Allen Ginsberg, charles bukowski, etc cuss and are great.
     
  21. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think that a character that swears that much has an annoying manner of speech. Just as you probably wouldn't give a first-person narrator other annyong speech patterns ("And, y'know, he, like, got in the car and, like, he turned the key and, like, y'know, the car started...") it would be best to eliminate an annoying frequency of swearing. Used that much, the words cease to have any real meaning or function, and words without meaning or function should usually be cut.
     
  22. u.v.ray
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    u.v.ray Member

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    >> Actually, publishers are all about what will reach the most people. What will sell well. If you have a publisher willing to publish something that won't sell well, you've found a crappy publisher. <<


    You're wrong.

    Some very good publishers are not about producing mainstream novels for a mass market. That is why there is a whole load of cult classics that publishers were brave enough to put out -- even in the face of having them banned.

    George Bataille.

    Alexander Trochi.

    Derek Raymond.

    Dan Fante.

    All of these writers (and the list goes on), when they were first published, did not sell well. Even now, most of the reading public will never have heard of them.

    It's a good job we do have publshers willing to put their principles before profit, otherwise many books that we now know as literary classics would never have been put out.

    So, no. A publisher that produces underground literature is not necessarily "crappy."

    It goes without saying that, novel for novel, Dan Brown outsells Vladimir Nabakov. But I know who the better writer is -- and I am pleased the publisher who introduced Nabakov to the world wasn't just looking for financial success, but raher was good enough to have foresight.
     
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  23. NeonFraction
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    NeonFraction Member

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    I was focusing on writers who want to write for a living, but you've made a valid and interesting point. I will also grant that advertising to a niche market can be very very profitable.
     
  24. hello blue monday
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    hello blue monday New Member

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    I'm trying to think of good writers from the last century that didn't at least cuss a little... not much is coming to me.
     
  25. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    What's annoying is pretty subjective though. Yeah, too much is too much is too much, but e.g. Jay McInerney's character, Alison Poole, who narrates The Story of My Life, she says "like" a lot, too much to some probably, but I liked it because it was obviously a part of the character's speech and she did have an interesting story to tell.

    Another example I can think of is Helen Walsh's character Jamie in Brass. He repeatedly says "if truth be told" and "la", so much so it could piss off some reader. Again, that didn't bother me, it somehow made his voice recognizable (it was other things that made him an awful character to me).

    Of course the f-bomb can be even worse to many, if it's being thrown about a lot. But I still think that if it sounds natural for the character, if you can hear a real person speak like that, you should keep it the way it is.
     

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