1. Fox Favinger
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    Fox Favinger Contributing Member

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    When is Profanity too much?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Fox Favinger, Oct 21, 2009.

    This is a question I have been asking myself lately because some of my characters have mouths on them. Publishers always mention that they don't want excessive violence, sex, and profanity. I try to keep violence realistic and my characters consistent, especially in the dialogue. Basically I'm worried about slush readers being turned off by off color dialogue.

    In a recent short story of mine I have an MC who is young, doesn't follow the rules, and is in a scary situation. What do most young people without a sense of right and wrong do in their speech? They curse, and my MC is no exception. The profanity was pretty tame for most of my story until I came to one scene where the MC is wounded and reeling pissed. He goes on a short rant dropping 1 or 2 f-bombs in every sentence. It's brief and he seems to be cursing for the sake of cursing because he is. I don't feel I went overboard, but then again I'm not sure.

    What I notice in a lot of stories is that many authors seem to skip over stuff like that. I read a lot of "he cursed under his breath" "he went a rant filled with lots of curse words" "they angrily cursed each other out". I don't like to skip out on dialogue. I remember Robet Ludlum always had some profane characters, usually they were the more educated and intelligent characters which gave it some comic relief. Last two non-fiction books I read were loaded with profanity, there was some even in the dialogue, but these are novels, not short stories.

    Bottom line is am I taking a risk by not skipping over these scenes? Or am I just being paranoid as the publishers probably mean stuff that reads like "Johnathon --ing woke up early today to go to the --ing doctors."
     
  2. Misterecho
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    Misterecho New Member

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    I would write it out exactly as your character would say it, review it change it if need be. I personally wouldn't be concerned too much. As long as it's justified it makes your character believable
     
  3. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    It really depends on the style of your writing and the publisher you eventually choose. For now, I'd say write it as you want it, and think about it again on subsequent revisions. Generally, less is more; they lose effectiveness if they are overused. And (if you get it published) it will depend on the market the publisher wants to sell you into how much swearing they will allow.
     
  4. seije
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    seije Member

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    if it fits the character, i don't see a problem with it. That is, of course, if the audience of your book is mature enough to handle it as well.

    It's been a while since i read it, but i seem to remember Catcher in the Rye having quite a bit of profanity in it. I hate swearing. I think it makes one sound immature. And yet, i loved Catcher in the Rye. The swearing fit the character, and it was almost charming to see the character talk that way because it helped you understand exactly what type of person he was.
     
  5. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Profanity in writing always comes across as more than if you hear it in speech. If you are using it at all, understate it.

    Contrary to popular belief, realistic dialogue is not a word-for-word transcription of actual speech. You write what the observer hears, not what the character says.

    Good dialogue is a well-crafted illusion. Every line has a purpose, and usually the dialogue says far more than the words that comprise it. So forget the notion that if the character swears like a sailor who has been groin-kicked, the writing needs to captuie every blue syllable, fahgeddaboudit.

    When it comes to profanity in writing, less is most certainly more.
     
  6. Fox Favinger
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    Fox Favinger Contributing Member

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    I get what you're saying Cog but quite frankly I love a lot of dialogue and I never seem to get enough of it in novels of any kind. I always crave more and maybe that has affected my style. If something is redundant I'll skip over it, but I like to look into the dialogue and use a limited perspective when describing it. Maybe it's my love of radio talk shows lol

    Looking back at the scene I find it isn't drawn out or anything and cutting it down in my opinion would destroy some of its power. No point in posting the example without the whole story sadly.

    You guys are right I just need to find a publisher that's ok with it.

    Oh yeah I just finished reading Donny Brasco and almost every line was profane, but of course that's how the actual people said it. Same with Black Hawk Down.
     
  7. SilverWolf0101
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    SilverWolf0101 Active Member

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    Around a year ago I read a story that was all about sex, drugs, fights and profanity. So I don't believe that the publishers have too much of an issue with the content, but then again it all depends on what publisher it is and what market they prefer to sell it in.

    As for the cursing, if it makes the character seem more natural and human then in my personal opinion, let the language fly. I myself have a character that has a fowl mouth, in fact, she's known to say nothing but curse words in every language whenever she looses her temper.

    But as a said, if it makes the characters seem more natural, and you are happy with how it flows, let it go.
     
  8. ManhattanMss
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    ManhattanMss Contributing Member

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    With respect to your question about whether you're "... taking a risk by not skipping over these scenes" my own opinion is that the very best fiction is characterized in some way or another by a good-sized dose of risk-taking on the part of its author. That said, profanity, per se, is probably "too much" when it's the only or most salient defining feature of your character--especially so in short fiction where building character is often central to the storyline in some way. Excessive profanity (or sometimes any profanity) can be seen as a crutch or a shortcut rather than as a bona fide literary device.

    Determining how well it's used to build character and story (like anything else you try to accomplish in a short story) will certainly be subjective to your readers. I'd look at it this way: if the language you've included is enough to raise the question in your own mind about whether it'll be considered excessive (as described as a potential rejection criterion in the guidelines of a particular lit mag), I'd either submit it somewhere else or expect a rejection slip in the mail.
     
  9. Irish87
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    Irish87 Contributing Member

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    I can't really help you from the perspective of a Published Writer, but as a fawn Reader I know that I hate seeing curse words. This, of course, goes against the fact I use the F-word just about every other word when I'm with friends. Then again I use words like ain't with them as well, but I would never write it. My opinion, however, stems from the idea that people who curse can't find a better word to use, something my old creative writing teacher in High School beat into my head. So I'm biased.

    I would say that if you want absolute realism, then go ahead. However, I would advise you to act out the scene in your head - even go as far as reciting the dialogue. You might find that you're tossing in an absurd amount of curses for no reason. Either way, I wish you the best of luck.
     
  10. Rawne
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    Rawne Member

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    maybe the character can't.

    I remember the time I first read the c word in a book. I had to read it again because I couldn't believe I'd seen it. It did, however, look as though the author put it in just for the sake of writing it. Not cool.
     
  11. yournamehere
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    yournamehere Member

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    I would actually echo this comment. The best sort of dialouge does 1 of 5... ("sir?") 3 things:

    1. Imitates the Persona and Rhetoric of the character
    2. Advances the conversation and plot meaningfully
    3. Gives the reader more information about the character

    As long as each line does one or some of these 3 points, your pretty safe as far as dialouge goes. When it comes down to profanity, it normally falls under point number one. That being said, you've got to be very careful about finding the balance between too much and not enough persona.

    Here's how I look at it. If you want the cursing to have power, you must spell it out. If it's a bunch of meaningless cursing because the character is angry, then you have to convey the idea in some form or another that the cursing is meaningless or unimportant. This normally means saying "he cursed under his breath".

    Like Cogito said, it's always better to stick to the conservative side if one wants to communicate the dialouge correctly. That doesn't mean you can't have allot of dialouge, but it does mean that you've got to choose your words wisely. You have to look at each word and sentence and consider whether it has a purpose. The dialouge's purpose can technically even be not having a purpose--but even that falls under number 1 or 5 ("sir?") 3.

    peace,
    -nick
     
  12. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    What Cogito is saying has nothing to do with the amount of dialogue. It just has to be purposeful.
     
  13. Fox Favinger
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    Fox Favinger Contributing Member

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    Alright I'm good. Thanks for the help guys! I feel I'm am using it effectively. I don't throw in dialogue or scenes in general with great detail unless they are meaningful and entertaining.

    Well if you're wondering about the scene itself I've read it over again and have spoken the dialogue as well (I always act out the dialogue to see if it sounds real and if it grasps the character personality, it also helps me describe the tone of voice and things like like that). The character is spitting out curse words but the way he does it makes it seem like he's drunk. By itself the scene seems comical, but in the context of the story it's quite sad because it lets the reader know that the character has lost so much blood from his wounds that he is starting to lose his mind. Just describing the scene would destroy most of its power.

    By the way since angry rants have come up I've observed that my dad and I both seem to yell with that hard hitting c or k, not just the F word! Things like "I can't believe this!" It seems like when we hit the hard C we put extra emphasis on it as we are using it to vent. I am doing this with this character which is why there are extra f-bombs. It's not the word's meaning but how it's said, it's pure rage.
     
  14. SayWhatNow?
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    SayWhatNow? Senior Member

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    Example of a book with too much profanity: Nocturnal by Scott Sigler; it's a podiobook.

    He uses swear words a bare minimum of once every two sentances in the first chapter. I couldn't bring myself to listen to such a skewing of the English language for more than five minutes.

    Example of good swearing in a book: most The Last Templar by Raymond Khoury.

    Sometimes it was comedic (I don't care if it's thermo-****ing-nuclear! or, she expected a ****ing prince in shining armor) While other simply added emphasis and realism to the situation.

    Those are two books I'd recomend you try to read (or listen to) to get an idea.
     
  15. Kas
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    Kas Contributing Member

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    Fox, you make a great point. I hadn't given it much thought before, but you're absolutely right. It's the sound of the word that matters, not the meaning. Most curses are utterly nonsensical, but it feels good to say them. And that's how "God" becomes "Cod!" and "Jesus" is reduced to "cheese".

    The originals just don't cut it; we need something harsher to express vein-popping rage. Screaming "CHEESE!" at someone enables you to shower them from accross the room, too--most effective with a mouthful of cod.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I write a lot of fantasy/sci-fi, so this will help me to come up with better material. I think this is why so many made-up curses don't quite hit the mark. They don't sound right.
     
  16. Fox Favinger
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    Fox Favinger Contributing Member

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    Thanks, glad I could help.

    Dude I make up curses all the time (when I'm alone). I'm one of those gamers that screams at the TV. Ever watch AVGN? Yeah I'm that guy 9minus the nerd part lol).

    I always hit words with that hard C or sometimes G. Usually they are just a combination of the F word and both C words, dick (can I say that? lol), and random syllables thrown in. They are completely nonsensical like you said but it vents the frustration somehow in a sorta non-violent way lol. And like you bring up different sounds help people vent, maybe "es" sounds might be what lets it out for the character.

    A technique I've always used is to look at the bad things I say and do and apply them somehow to my characters. We're not logical all the time and that's what makes us and our characters human.
     

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