How often do your characters swear?

Discussion in 'Character Development' started by naruzeldamaster, Mar 30, 2021.

  1. big soft moose

    big soft moose An Admoostrator Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

    Aug 1, 2016
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    East devon/somerset border
    when I was in the army i had a corporal in my platoon who couldn't get through a sentence without swearing about half a dozen times

    "So Corporal smith how are your kids doing?"
    "Fucking excellent sir the little bastards are killing it 'special in fucking math's, the wifes fucking pleased as a fuckingcat about it sir"

    I also remember being in a contact in ulster once when we were getting shot at by a sniper from the flats, and we'd gone firm behind the ferret (armoured car) and this corporal next to me going 'fucking sniper, who's the little shit think he he is fuck him... etc

    If you wrote it in a book you'd be accused of being gratuitous and quite possibly lazy writing, but in real life...
  2. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin Funky like your grandpa's drawers.... Staff Contributor

    Jan 8, 2017
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    Rhode Island
    I'd say. I Imagine there's a lot of human assumptions that get tested under live sniper fire.
  3. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Aunt? Supporter Contributor

    Feb 12, 2015
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    Plot 1369, Staff Yasukuni
    I was home on leave from the Marines one time. Profane phrases sweep through units like pinkeye through daycare center, one day somebody says something particularly foul and the next everyone from the 1st Sgt on down is using it.

    So I was having a nice home-cooked meal with my dad and my stepmom, maybe my little (high school aged at the time) sister as well and I wanted to add some pepper to my food.

    But the word for pepper had temporarily slipped my mind.

    Did I ask my father for the, umm, <makes a pepper grinding motion with hands>?


    Did I say "Hey dad, can you pass the fucking, umm, not the salt, the other fucking thing?"


    I spoke as I would have to my squadmembers.

    "Dad, could you pass the motherfuckin' goddamn goddamn?"

    Because that was the filler phrase we were using for "thingamajig" "stuff" "whatchamacallit" those days.

    My characters? I'll probably have some profanity in there, they don't seem like avid churchgoers, but I'll probably keep it to a low roar. Andy Weir opened The Martian very well with:

    It sets the character tone very well, but I don't recall that there's a ton of profanity in the rest of the book.
  4. Teladan

    Teladan Senior Member

    Dec 20, 2017
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    Never. I don't think I've ever written a story in which a character swears, at least not seriously. Does 'damn' and 'bloody' count? It's just not my style at all. I don't connect at all with irreverent styles. For example, I've just forced my way through (I have a problem) Laird Barron's Occultation collection, simply because he's a known Weird writer. Not a single character in any of those stories was likeable or in any way endearing. The constantly smoke weed, fuck, and argue like children. I'm not kidding. All the couples have "cute" quips and speak like they're trying too hard to impress. It's insufferable. There's also gratuitous sexual detail. Fingers being stuck up assholes. People cumming. Acid trips and frat bro fights. Nightclubs. Constant drinking. Everything is "badass" and "super". I couldn't be further removed from this style in my own writing or sensibilities, even though I'm a 27 year old male. I'm honestly surprised I finished the book. Well, I would be if I didn't have this compulsion to finish every book I read for some reason. I've never read a book like this before and certainly won't be reading Barron again. I read to be removed from reality to a certain degree.
  5. Bakkerbaard

    Bakkerbaard Active Member

    Apr 9, 2020
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    Yup. If I feel the dialog calls for it, there will be swearing, although I prefer to have it a tad more creative that just a flat "fuck". I'll even do it in narration, albeit more sparingly. To make it easier on myself, I write like I'm telling you a story over a beer in the pub. Of course there will be swearing.
    It does kinda bother me that it automatically becomes "lazy writing". Obviously, it'll become awkward if you overdo it, but generally I think it livens up the conversation.

    The good folks at Science did once science out that swearing does help. It seems to aid in the endurance of pain. I don't recall the exact percentages, but subjects that were allowed to swear while having their hand in a bucket of freezing water held out some 25% longer.
    Fiender_ likes this.
  6. stevec

    stevec New Member

    Feb 8, 2015
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    Hi folks,
    I have not been on this forum for ages. I came on as after a few years off, I am back on trying to write my book and saw this subject which is something I struggle with in my book.
    I was brought up not to swear. I have never heard my Dad swear and my Mum, only on a couple of occasions, when she was repeating something someone else had said (much to the displeasure of Dad!).
    However, I then left school and started work, work that involved working around trucks and truck drivers. Most of then swear, a lot!!
    So when I started writing my novel and I thought about will my characters swear or not firstly, I thought about Mum and Dad reading it but I was driven mainly from it being real! There are about a dozen characters in my story and I feel that 2 or 3 of them would be the type that swear and others would range from never swearing through to sometimes swearing! So thats what I went with.
    When I asked Mum and Dad if they wanted to read the 'story so far' I offered to removed the swearing but they both said I should leave it in.
    ItzAmber likes this.
  7. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

    Dec 24, 2019
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    edge of the spacetime continuum
    I think it's more interesting to have some characters swear and some not, just like in real life. Put people from different social classes together, or as some people would say different walks of life. You don't need to spell it out, you shouldn't have to—it should be clear from the way they talk, dress, and act what kind of culture someone comes from. Put them together in a high-pressure situation and see how they each handle things differently, how it affects each. What happens when the person who refuses to swear is in a life-or-death situation and there's nothing he can do except kill someone. Does he break and swear? Especially considering the other guy is cussing like a drunken sailor and calling him names he's never even heard before, blaming him for everything and threatening (or trying) to kill him.

    Maybe one has been around the block a few too many times and the other has lived a sheltered life and this sets them at odds with each other immediately.
    naruzeldamaster and Lifeline like this.
  8. Javelineer

    Javelineer Member

    Dec 18, 2020
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    My characters are probably less profane, on the whole, than I am. There's a lot of reasons for that, but one big reason is because I have a very technical, minimalist style of writing, and profanity just generally feels superfluous.

    Another is because I don't like writing dialogue at all and try to avoid it, so they don't have as much of a chance to be profane or non-profane.
    Last edited: Apr 9, 2021
  9. madhoca

    madhoca Contributor Contributor

    Dec 1, 2008
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    the shadow of the velvet fortress
    If your characters are the type who will swear, then let them. However, I write mostly historical romance so I don't really have any swearing in my work.
  10. Catriona Grace

    Catriona Grace Member

    Feb 24, 2021
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    Another funny aside: half a lifetime ago, I attended Narcotics Anonymous meetings wherein a woman used one particular swear word endlessly. I started counting the occurances out of curiosity. One day, I said, "You said 'fuck' 67 times in five minutes." Several weeks later, we were in a meeting together and she said it not once. I mentioned that, too. She said, "You know, when you first pointed it out, I was really angry with you. Then I got to thinking, 67 times in 5 minutes? Well, I figured if I could quit drugs, I could probably quit swearing, too." My answer, "Fuck, yeah!" Ah, nothing like bonding over bad words.
    B.E. Nugent, Iain Aschendale and Xoic like this.
  11. Mr Grayshaven

    Mr Grayshaven New Member

    Feb 28, 2021
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    I'm not a swearist IRL but in my work, I don't mind if I have characters swear alot. It really is a case-by-case basis of how often though. I came up with an empress character a few days ago and if I was to write a story with her, I'd only have her swear once since she would have a professional attitude and would see swearing as the opposite of that.

    On the flipside, another character I made swears every other sentence it feels like due to the stress of everything they're going through. Which makes some degree of sense.
  12. naruzeldamaster

    naruzeldamaster Member

    Jan 8, 2021
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    Yeah, it really depends on the character.
    Most of my characters swear once, possibly twice every other chapter if there's a purpose TO swear. (usually they don't) For example I have a simi stoic (he can experience emotion but can't express it, not even in his voice.) who almost never swears. The only time he does is when he's making a point about how serious he is. Even then I think he only uses stuff like 'shit' 'damn' and 'hell'.
    On the other hand I have a snarky as fuck red mage who's so loose tongued and angry that she makes even some english sailors blush! well compared to most of my characters at any rate. I still try to avoid using the really 'bad' ones though.
    I also have a character who never had any proper parents and she just casually swears because she doesn't know better, and she usually only says 'fuck if I know' and things like that. I don't know if she'll ever swear AT someone. (like saying 'go to hell' for example unless it's a villain)

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