1. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    **** This! How Necessary is Profanity in Writing?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Cogito, Jul 25, 2008.

    Every once in a while, the matter of swearing and its place in writing arises. This especially comes up when someone posts a story and finds the writing peppered with **** instead of the choice words he or she meant to deliver.

    For better or worse, this site blocks certain words from appearing anywhere on the site. Still, your meaning remains clear, unless the ****s begin to outnumber other words. Does it mean the writing is any less legitimate? No. Your writing is no better or worse than it was to begin with.

    But let's focus on the larger question. Does profanity have a place in writing? Sure it does. Those are words, too, and can be chosen for effect, just like any other.

    And yetr, this site is not the only place you will encounter restrictions on "colorful" language. If you plan to submit a script for network television, or a story for a family magazine or the Boy Scouts of America's Boys' Life, you will have to curtail your language as well as certain themes.

    But this should not force your characters to be shallower either. Of course people swear. They can turn the air blue. They also fart, belch, clear their throats, screech, and gibber meaningless syllables. You can convey any of these without reproducing every last word or sound that comes out of a character's mouth, and learning to do so without loss of intensity is a valuable challenge for any writer to attempt.

    Dialogue does not exist to reproduce the sound of someone talking. Dialogue is expository. It's purpose is to reveal character, agenda, mood, conflicts, and so on. To do this you filter and reconstruct the words to craft the conversation to its purpose. You may even want some invective there to punch home a point. But sprinkle it in with a light touch! Like habanero pepper flakes, a little goes a long way, far more than you intuitively feel. Say f*** once in a paragraph, in the right place, and the reader will believe that every other word out of the character's mouth rhymes with "truck".

    Let's face it - were you ever impressed that someone was able to string together a sentence laden with the eff-bomb? Just how much creativity does it take?

    Instead, try writing aeound such restrictions. Learn to say it without literally saying it. Instead of seeing it as a limitation, look upon it as a creative challenge.

    Your writing will become so much better, you'll be ****ting bricks.
     
  2. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    What an author should realize is that the use of profanity in their writing will limit what markets it can be submitted to (where it could ultimately be published).

    On the other hand, there are some markets that don't mind, or may seek out works laced with profanity...although I am more aware of the former than any of the latter.

    I think also a writer should consider readers. In my experience they generally fall into two camps:

    1. I don't care for writing filled with profanity.
    2. I don't mind profanity in novels/short stories, especailly where appropriate.

    I guess there could be a third category:
    3. I prefer reading material that has profanity in it.

    I've not run across many readers in category three, but I am sure they are out there.

    I suspect the publishers' preferences mirror the readers' preferences for a reason. The former would not stay in business if the latter did not buy what they publish.

    Just a few thougths I figured I'd toss into the discussion.

    Terry
     
  3. Chickidy
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    Chickidy Contributing Member

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    Well that raises a question for me Cogito. I agree with everything you said, but for the most part people still know what those words are. I don't understand how off putting it can be to some people as I don't have a problem with it, but some do and I respect that But since the people who seem to mind swearing are people who know what swearing is, the *** sort of defeat the purpose, because they still know what the words are and will most likely take offense regardless, hypothetically of course, I don't know how people think until they tell me how they have thought. But I understand children go on this site and might not know the words yet, so they might pick them up here and say them around the house and get in trouble and etc., so I understand the bleeping for this particular sight.

    My question is about racial slurs, now I am not a racist person and believe strongly in the philosophy that only those looking to take offense will, but that does not change the fact that people will take offense to certain words, and the last thing I want is to make people feel uncomfortable. I believe that they are necessary in writing, though, to show any number of things. What is your stance on the dirtiest, most hurtful words in the book?
     
  4. FlakeandFins
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    FlakeandFins Contributing Member

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    I don't have a problem with people writing profanity into their work. The problem that I do see, and have seen on this site a lot, is that most of it feels unnatural and forced and, thus, unneccesary.
     
  5. Marcelo
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    Marcelo Contributing Member

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    Well, you could go a la Eoin Colfer. He inveted a word for swearing used by faeries: "D'Arvit!".
     
  6. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Believe it or not, I’ve actually counted (on more than one occasion) the number of times I use language inappropriate for network television in one day. The number was actually quite small. I am no saint, and do not limit the kinds of words that come out of my mouth, at all.

    Given that dialogue in any story is not going to represent the complete amount of speech for any person in one day, how much colorful language is really needed on the page?
     
  7. Rabid Fox
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    Rabid Fox Member

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    I remember the first bit of feedback I ever got on the very first draft of my very first attempt at writing a novel: "Awful lot of profanity in there, don't ya think?"

    After re-reading it myself, I realized I cuss like a sailor just as much in writing as in small talk. Curbing the four-letter words was the first editing tasks I ever did for myself, though I still use profanity in my writing.

    I think it's fine, so long as a writer is aware of the audience he's writing for and the context of the dirty words in the writing. Cussin' for the sake of cussin' does little in telling a story, let alone getting published. :)
     
  8. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    There are words so offensive, so hurtful in their intrinsic purpose, that I never, ever use them in person. Nor woould I ever have a positive character ever use them, because they are so vile that they are antithetical to what I consider a "decent" person.

    Having said that, I cannot rule out ever having a despicable character saying one of those words, although I would probably still have it come from the character's mouth without staining my page. In that category I include some of the more abhorrant racial slurs and gender terms.

    My approach would probably be, how would I tell what happened to a priest with my mother-in-law and the HR director of my company listening in (I'm neither a mamber of a religion nor currently married, but you get the idea). If you're sufficiently motivated, you can find another way to tell it. On the other hand, there may be circumstances in which you decide there is no better way to say it to your intended audience than to just flat out use the word.

    If it is not your habit to use such language, and it suddenly comes flying out of your mouth, people will certainly sit up and take stunned notice. But be warned, the second time you do so, the impacty will only be a fraction of what it was that first time, so choose that moment well.
     
  9. Charisma
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    Charisma Transposon Contributor

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    Other than moral boundaries, I find usage of profanities pointless. I don't find profanities have a place in the written work most of the time. People try to fill up their pages with profanities sometimes - sometimes it is good, as it portrays the foul language of a character and his social background - but most of the times, its a pathetic excuse for profanity. During novel reading, I often lose interest if the writer writes a profanity once - let alone filling it up. You can be rude, distasteful and angry without a chain of ****s, you know.
     
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  10. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The first piece of writing I ever submitted to this site contained a single instance of the word f***ing, in dialogue, as part of how I was shaping my character. The next revision removed it, even though my character was no less unlikeable, and I believe it was a much better piece of writing. It wasn't solely the removalof that dialogue, but it helped.

    EDIT: As words go, f*** has become rather anemic. Some people argue that that makes it a prime candidate to allow it to appear without fuss. Still, many poeple continue to find it offensive, and it is now so vulgar--in the old meaning of "common"--that it deserves to be turned into a strip of stars, even if only to say, "Here lie the shoals of weak word choices, where imagination be shallow."
     
  11. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Absolutely true. Some of the finest tongue lashings I have ever delivered (real and literary) contained not one foul word. I think they were actually strengthened by the lack of low-brow language.
     
  12. Charisma
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    Charisma Transposon Contributor

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    To add to that, I manage to be a irate and rude person without any profanities, and so do my characters. It's the art of writing which determines the person's rudeness, not solely the number of curse words you use.
     
  13. Lilith
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    Lilith Member

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    First off, I want to say that I totally support the use of profanity, but only in a sense where, when its being used, it gives the story and the dialogue a little extra kick.

    But the subject does raise a lot of controversy as seen in the Suggestions and Feedback forum. I for one see f*** as just another word and, being just a word, it should be treated as such. I just posted a story entitled "F****d up and Numb" and the fact that it was censored did upset me. The title I did out of respect for other members but the line is found in the story and using any other word was out of the question. It made the emotion of the moment feel right at least for me.

    Really though, isn't that one of the freedoms to being a writer. Being able to express yourself as openly as you can in whatever way shape or form feels right to you.
     
  14. tehuti88
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    tehuti88 Contributing Member

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    Profanity has a place in writing, given that it's not overused. Just like adverbs and incomplete sentences and many other writing devices. As a person who doesn't swear, even minor curse words, I find the F word shocking, myself, hence it very rarely appears in my work and only then when I want to make an impact; but when I see a movie like Casino where they use the stupid thing every two words, it loses its shock quality. Curses are meant to be shocking. So when overdone, they lose their point.

    I don't use it much simply because I like to keep my work PG-13 and most of my characters aren't colorful cursers anyway. With ones that are, I can always just say, "He cursed" or some such. On the other hand, with my characters in time periods/places that don't make use of things like the F-bomb, I like to come up with original "expletives" that make more sense to such people. I find that lots of them revolve around waste materials and bodily functions, of course.
     
  15. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Of course it is one of the freedoms of a writer, but this is a privately owned venue. You must keep in mind that the owners have the right, every right, to impose these types of restrictions on what is published in this forum.
     
  16. ManicHedgehog
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    ManicHedgehog Member

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    It depends. I use it very sparingly, although I use the word "damn" from time to time when the situation and character call for it, and I don't really consider it to be a curse word. Beyond that, I avoid it almost completely unless in the most heated situations and with the most testy of characters.

    I think profanity is often an excuse to either make a character seem cool or testy without actually taking the time to develop that trait properly. There are many more interesting ways to develop a character's temper without swearing, and, swearing, honestly, is not cool.

    When you use it with characters who don't normally swear, in situations that really warrant it, that's when swearing in writing is most powerful. It shows that your character is under an unusual amount of stress and shows a side of the character we might not normally see.
     
  17. Rawiya
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    Rawiya Member

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    Honestly, I've been swearing my entire life. Seriously, just ask my mother! But when it comes to writing, its just like you say Hedgehog; there are so many more interesting ways to develop a character that has a temper, or is foul-mouthed for any reason than by using swear words. Instead of using mere dialogue, why not have the character DO something like punch some one or kill a kitten to show how horrible they are! And if you want to use dialogue, why not think of a more interesting way to say something? True, this might be more difficult for characters with lower intellect which might not have the proper vocabulary, but that's when you go back to plan A for Action!
     
  18. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    The language restrictions on this site are regrettable, but necessary. I personally have no problem with any level of profanity in a story so long as it is required for authenticity. For example, I am almost done with a Viet Nam war story which incorporates a lot of vulgarity and racist rhetoric because that language was authentic to the time and place. Unfortunately, I could never post any of it for review on this site because of the restrictions.

    How do I "feel" about such restrictions? I support them! Not because I find expletives offensive, rather, when such language is permitted, there is almost always some loose cannon who will take the offending words out of literary context and direct such terms toward other members in the heat of argument. I have spent time on several writing sites and this one is, by far, the most constructive and congenial...thanks to a few reasonable restrictions and the diligent oversight of the moderators like Cog.

    So, for me, its a trade off. I willingly lose a little literary freedom in exchange for a comfortable place to commune with like-minded people.
     
  19. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I think it also needs to be taken into account that there is a significantly different general demeanor on this site than on other sites. Say what you will, but I love that this site holds civil discourse over rampant flame-wars and pie fights. I think that the restriction on language plays a significant role in the keeping of the peace. A black & white rule concerning what is allowed keeps ridiculous arguments over this is allowed here, but not here, and never here or here, but you can do and say what you like here, here, and here from occurring and becoming the predominant discussion.

    That B/S is what drove me from the last forum I was in.


    Edit~ Sorry, Saulty. I just realized that I pretty much paraphrased what you already posted. My bad! :D
     
  20. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    You'll hear from my attorney shortly. I demand $1,000,000 for the plagiarism! LOL
     
  21. TwinPanther13
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    TwinPanther13 Contributing Member

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    I look at it like this in movies there can be an overabundance of nudity and sex or too much violence. If it gets to the point where it detracts from the story then it is a problem. If it does not then call it artistic licsence ( i suck at spelling). If an author is all about having cussing in his book then it belongs in the same place as a porno in my opinion. I have read some comics like that though with lots of cussing and you had to be 18 to buy it.
     
  22. Show
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    Show Contributing Member Contributor

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    I rarely feel a need for profanity and if I do, it's usually in a heated moment and the profane word is something minor like the B or D word that you can say on television. I have other content issues that concern me much more. I just don't think frequent cursing is really necessary and I feel it can detract from the plotline very easily.
     
  23. Ore-Sama
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    Ore-Sama Senior Member

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    Profanity can hurt a story in one fahsion but both ways:writing in a way to avoid or to add in as many as possible. When you have a situation where a swear is called for and use something else, it hurts the credibility of a story. If a mafia hitman finds himself trapped by SWAT ready to apprehend him, he is not going to say "Oh snap!" On the other hand, going into a tirade filled with F bombs, C bombs and any other swear you can think up ten times over wouldn't be realistic either. It's not something you should focus on while writing your first draft. If through revisions you find some swears you want to edit, that's fine but it shouldn't be a focus as you write, or you'll distract yourself from more important things like plot, character development, etc.
     
  24. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    You don't have to change the way the hit man talks to decide whether or not the F word appears in print. Nor am I saying you shouldn't ever swear.

    If you are writing your hitman for network television, you had better find a way to convey who and what he is without putting that word in his dialogue, because face it - it ain't going to be aired with that word.

    So if, as a writer, you have never written your way around such a restriction, you're handcuffed, gagged, and tossed in the trunk.
     
  25. Ore-Sama
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    Ore-Sama Senior Member

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    I never even brought up television and such. I was refering to novels mostly, maybe short stories and the like. Television and film is a whole different ball game with a whole new set of rules.

    Besides that though, I've heard the F word on TV many of times. It might get your show a later time slot or maybe even a channel like HBO and Cinemax, but it'll still air.
     

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