1. DefinitelyMaybe
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    DefinitelyMaybe Contributing Member Contributor

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    Swearing characters

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by DefinitelyMaybe, Oct 4, 2012.

    In my stories my characters often swear.

    Personally I don't like swearing and usually manage to avoid it in my real life. But if I try to do the writery thing and let my characters be themselves, they often swear. And not just minor swear words, but the F word and others.

    I'm not sure what my question is, but could anyone comment on this?

    I don't think I can avoid it, unless I limit myself to a very narrow range of characters and stories.

    At this stage of my writing development (if that's not too pretentious a thing to say), I feel that I want to try everything, rather than restrict myself.
     
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  2. Thromnambular
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    Thromnambular Member

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    I almost don't see what the problem is, if there is one. I mean, other than limiting your target audience in the eyes of a publisher of course...though that's not really a concern of mine.

    If you write any fantasy or science fiction, try inventing "offensive" words endemic to that universe like I do. It's a nice middle ground, and coming up with the words can be fun.
     
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  3. artsia
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    artsia New Member

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    I think that overuse of swearing (even if true to the character) can wear on the reader. It's analogous to writing dialogue with all the "filler" words we use in real life (like, um, etc.). Also, is the value of using swear words (especially the f word) worth potentially alienating readers who are turned off by them? In the end, it's up to you, but I would be judicious.
     
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  4. James Berkley
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    James Berkley Banned

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    i have some characters that swear a lot too. i have others that do not swear at all.

    personally i might be one of those rare people that swear more at work then anywhere else.
    my girlfriend on the other hand swears a lot.
    like most things characters personalities come into play and make it believable or not.
     
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  5. cybrxkhan
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    cybrxkhan Contributing Member

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    Since this isn't decades and decades ago when using swear words in books was considered shocking/avant-garde/etc., it's fine.

    For instance, I often have my adolescent-aged characters swear. Why? From my experience, adolescents love to swear. Or at least when I was in high school. And if my characters are walking, talking sailors, then so be it. There is a point where it is too much (one time in a creative writing class, the guy editing my writing noted that my two main characters said "damn" a lot - and later I figured he was kind of right when they were using it every other sentence), but otherwise that's really for you to decide when it's become too much.
     
  6. DefinitelyMaybe
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    DefinitelyMaybe Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm a bit jealous that a young adult author like Jeremy Strong doesn't have to include swearing, nor does he have to write explicit sex scenes.

    I do know that other young adult authors like Bali Rai write about more serious topics. But none of the Jeremy Strong books I've read to my son had any swearing that I remember.
     
  7. SuperVenom
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    SuperVenom Contributing Member

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    I think it all depends on tone and type of book. A street thug type would more than def swear where as a sweet petite school mistress might not. Tho it can make for great impact if a situation makes said mistress swear, it shows how much it has effected her. Kinda like i knew i was in trouble if i made my mum come close to swearing. (she never did). If still not wanting to use swear words, I have seen in books a walk around the swearing ie. 'Profanity shot from behind his gritted teeth, turning the air blue as he dropped the hammer to the floor gripping his thumb.' (lol best example i could come up with this time in morning, but i hope i given teh idea :D)

    Plus in childrens book you cant go wrong with *!%$ and let the reader fill in the blanks, then its there vocab not yours. :)

    ps I like your disclaimer i'm in the same boat, mind if i borrow it lol :p
     
  8. DefinitelyMaybe
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    DefinitelyMaybe Contributing Member Contributor

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    Be my guest. Though, I'd be more impressed if you one-upped me and came up with something more witty.
     
  9. SuperVenom
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    SuperVenom Contributing Member

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    Challenge accepted :p
     
  10. Pheonix
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    Pheonix A Singer of Space Operas and The Fourth Mod of RP Staff Contributor

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    I personally think that most of the time you can come up with a better way to express a character's emotions. Some characters almost demand to swear, but usually I find that if I take a little time to think about it, I can come up with a more expressive, non vulgar way. But I don't swear, vocally anyway lol. I don' think that the F word has a place anywhere, but that's just my take on it.
     
  11. cogitatio182
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    cogitatio182 Member

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    I believe that the writing should reflect the character. Personally, I don't swear, it's vulgar. But my character's aren't all me, they have things that make them who they are, and swearing might be part of them. Also, it paints an appropriate picture for the background. Some books I've read come across as unrealistic because the characters don't suffer from disadvantages, or from personal bad choices. Shifting the topic a bit (but still relating to swear words), should a character in your book do something that you would never do? I would answer yes! Just be careful what the book begins to promote, or what light it's put in, because people will walk away with something after they read your book, and you should control what that something is. So don't let it overwhelm the reader, but if it needs to be there, it should be.

    I'm with you both on the disclaimer, thought I'm trying to top it...now all I can think is a spoonful of sugar by Mary Poppins...great, the song is stuck in my head now, and just that one line! :)
     
  12. SuperVenom
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    SuperVenom Contributing Member

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    You should so have spoon full of sugar for signature lol.
     
  13. DannyA
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    DannyA Member

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    Being realistic, some people swear. I expect certain kinds of characters to swear - if they don't, they don't seem real. Even Ron Weasley was allowed a 'Piss off' in Harry Potter - and at that point I remember thinking 'Did he just swear? Finally a teenager that's behaving like a teenager!"

    Whilst I wouldn't expect Sister Mary to be cussing in every other sentence, I'd expect the troubled teen that's just smashed her favourite stained glass window to be capable of cussing like a trooper - not necessarily all of the time, just enough to make the character believable.

    In Andy McDermott's novels, the character Eddie Chase is an ex SAS soldier and mercenary - and is more than capable of swearing all the time, however Andy simply allows him the phrase 'buggeration and fuckery' every now and then whenever Eddie is frustrated or his plans have been dashed. This seems to be enough to make the character believable without being too foul mouthed.
     
  14. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think swearing (or any type of language, really) has to depend on the character and audience. If you're writing for younger kids, swearing probably isn't a good idea. But for adult fiction, using euphemisms for swear words can sound contrived and cartoonish. Suit speech to character, regardless of your personal inclinations.
     
  15. cazann34
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    cazann34 Active Member

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    If you don't like swearing you could take a leaf (sorry for the pun) out of Terry Pratchett's book, The truth, were one of his characters, Mr Tulip, swears constantly throughout the book but TP does it so cleverly he just writes '-ing' leaving the reader to insert the appropriate word before it.
     
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  16. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I don't swear at all accept for the occasional damn or doggonit - that's used more humorously. But in some
    of my stories a few characters swear. I try to force myself to find something more clever to say than
    just the obvious f bomb or whatnot. Old movies are brilliant for this. Tough guys were tough without swearing
    who could top James Cagney comparing the electric chair to a barber chair. Or when a guy stuffed in a
    trunk complains it's stuffy - he says stuffy huh? I'll give you some air and shoots four times into the
    trunk. Violent and brilliant.

    Personally I find swearing annoying, it's so repetitive and
    usually doesn't do what it was intended to do in the first place which was to shock or express anger.
    Nowadays you can see some teenage mom pushing a baby carriage yaking on the phone about how
    she bought the most f'in coolest dress to wear to this f'in cool party, on and on, till I wanna say
    like get an f'in new word.

    Not that I think you could drop a bomb near one of your characters, let the shrapel fly and
    have him shout - owe, that hurts! Everybodies different, so is every situation. I've got personal
    beliefs that don't allow me to cross certain lines. Only do what's comfortable. Rework the character
    if you have to, remember it's cliche to think that everyone whose a tough guy, teenage boy, or
    prisoner will swear. Your only goal is to make your characters believable.
     
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  17. marktx
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    marktx Contributing Member

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    My characters swear like sailors. Casually, off-handedly, almost to the point where it's a form of punctuation. F-bombs, MF-bombs. Name any other verbal bomb. They've probably dropped a few of those, too.

    But the effect of all that swearing is that the swearing itself becomes part of the normal cadence of the speech of my characters. That is, the swearing doesn't shock (and isn't intended to), and although it's used freely, it's always used in a way that completely fits the situation and flow of what is being said.

    Of course, my characters live in the streets, use hard drugs, and have been arrested several times. So it fits. And that's the real question you have to ask when the language veers towards the far end of the pH scale--does it fit?
     
  18. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    Each character is different and their backgrounds determine the kind of language they use. My MC, having been a former gladiator slave and exposed to that world, curses a lot in her thoughts and moderately in her speech. It comes from the particular background, and exposure. My second MC or MC 1B being in the military will throw out some, but it doesn't get hard unless she gets mad. My third MC or 1C is an educated doctor, a prodigy more like it, and she just about doesn't curse at all because of her education level.

    It depends on a combination of environment, education and personality.
     
  19. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    You don't HAVE to swear in writing. Don't put it in if you aren't comfortable about it.

    Ian Flemings James Bond novels are generally considered soft core porn. Nevertheless, he used very few instances of profanity in his writing. So it is indeed quite possible to give the impression of profanity without the literal presence of it.

    If you do choose to include profanity, always use less than what you think is realistic, unless you are going for comedic effect. The camera may add ten pounds ("Exactly how many cameras are you using?"), but the printed page magnifies every f-bomb by ten.
     
  20. James Berkley
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    James Berkley Banned

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    why are we only talking about the f bomb. their are plenty of other wonderful swear words out their to color your vocabulary.
    i think that is part of the problem with swear words in the media its just f*** this and f*** that. their are plenty of other swear words to use
     
  21. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    "We" are not. It was an example, nothing more.

    And yes, fuck has been used so fucking much if is fucking pointless and unimaginative these days.
     
  22. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't see a big problem with swearing, but it sounds like you'd rather avoid it. My first thought is that maybe you're having trouble finding other ways to depict your characters' emotions, and that maybe more work on describing body language, revealing thoughts, that sort of thing, would help?
     
  23. marktx
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    marktx Contributing Member

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    This.

    And a corollary to this: If you aren't comfortable about it, you're probably not very good at it. Go with what you know.

    I view profanity as a spice, a strong extract, a form a cayenne pepper with burning punch. Used properly, it can raise the dialogue, sharpen the senses, and approach poetry.

    Used improperly, it will just $%#! up the whole dish.
     
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  24. NeedMoreRage
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    In my writing, I only have certain characters swear in dialogue and thought. There is a balance to it so that it won't distract the reader or come across as forced. This is coming from someone who will casually drop swears every minute in a friendly conversation. When it comes to dialogue, you want to streamline conversations so readers aren't just reading ten minutes of stutters and dead air, but you also want to color it to make it seem more believable, and that's where word choice and sentence structure fits in with dialogue.
     
  25. Fivvle
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    Fivvle Contributing Member

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    I think less is more when it comes to swearing. An overuse of swearing just dilutes everything and cheapens the dialogue... in my opinion, of course.
     

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