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Swear words/bad language: yes or no?

  1. The more the merrier!

    23.5%
  2. Occasionally for character development/humour.

    58.8%
  3. No swear words; it's offensive or lazy writing.

    17.6%
  1. Ally Gale

    Ally Gale New Member

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    Swearing and bad language

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Ally Gale, Aug 28, 2018.

    Hi all,

    I'm writing a mystery/thriller novel in the first person and my protagonist is a rebellious and cynical young woman with a dark sense of humour. She's a teenager in the prologue (14) and a twenty-something-year-old for the rest, and every time I write in her voice, I want to include swear words and bad language, because I feel like that's how she would think and talk. However, every time I go to write a swear word/slang, the writer in me tells me it's 'lazy writing' or could be offensive to readers, or that agents/publishers wouldn't be interested in a book peppered with bad language. Any advice?

    Target audience for the book is probably women in their twenties (20-29ish).

    Thanks! :)
     
  2. EstherMayRose

    EstherMayRose Gay Souffle Contributor

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    Some books do have bad language. The Martian, for example, has a lot of expletives, because you would swear a lot if you were stranded on Mars. I think if that's her voice, you should listen to your character, but don't overdo it. That would almost definitely put people off, IMHO. J. K. Rowling wanted to have her characters - particularly Ron - swear a lot, but her editor advised her to take them out, so you can often see bits like "Ron said a word that made Hermione say 'Ron!'" or "Malfoy made an obscene gesture." I personally don't have any bad language in any of my books, but my fanfic is littered with expletives, and the problem I've found is that now I swear all the time! So have a care.
     
  3. big soft moose

    big soft moose An Admoostrator Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    I wouldn't do it in MG, or over do it in YA, but in adult fiction if you want to swear, swear - there are loads of adult fiction books littered with expletives because it suits the characters - do be aware though that some time threat etc can be more menacing without a swear word

    I'm going to fucking kill you ... would imply anger and the character doesn't really mean it
    I'm going to kill you - could be read more as a statement of fact
     
  4. Floran Bailey

    Floran Bailey Member

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    I personally tend to prioritize being true to the character over readers getting offended, and tend to think that to do otherwise is somehow dishonest and a misrepresentation of "reality."

    Ex. If a character is in the military and they never hear a single cuss word or off color joke I'm calling bullshit. The world is not a christian minecraft server. Some people swear. Some people don't. And that's okay.

    I will be the first to admit though that my stance of character > offense is pretty much universal. I'll write basically anything and don't have much in the way of a filter so I doubt I'll ever publish something that isn't offensive to someone in some way and I'm more than okay with that. Just because a character does something does not mean that you have support that action in real life. Just because I don't support the use of racial slurs doesn't mean that Joe the character wouldn't use them. I will usually balance it out with a character who thinks Joe is a dick but that's not a requirement. In my current project most of the agents cuss, some more than others. There's a 12 year old that cusses because they learned it from their dad and there's a several characters that think cussing is wrong or just don't cuss for other reasons. I might be biased but I don't think that's lazy writing. It's just offensive to some readers.
     
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  5. Privateer

    Privateer Senior Member

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    My protagonists usually swear rather less than I do, so roughly twice as much as most people.
     
  6. Necronox

    Necronox Contributor Contributor

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    Depends on the character for me. But mostly, yet they swear but not in the angry type of swearing. More so as if they were just making conversation like: “this cake is just fucking brilliant. What bloody moron cooked it?” It is not angry or used as an insult. I do this mostly because it fits my characters. My personal views on swearing (which is that I don fit care how much, or how little, profanities people use as long as it does not dilute of cloud the meaning) does not figure into this at all
     
  7. demifiend

    demifiend New Member

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    The only profanity I don't use in my writing is "cunt", and that's because my wife made a point of telling me she doesn't like the way that word sounds or the way it's often used. Otherwise, if I'm writing for adults and my characters are working-class types, enlisted military, or NCOs then their speech might get a bit salty.
     
  8. EstherMayRose

    EstherMayRose Gay Souffle Contributor

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    "Cunt" is an amazing word.

     
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  9. big soft moose

    big soft moose An Admoostrator Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Not even close to being the rudest xmas song ever … very NSFW

     
  10. demifiend

    demifiend New Member

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    It's my understanding that the word has different connotations in the UK vs the US. Also, it's one of those words where gender politics come into play. I'm not going to belabor the details, but there are only a few situations where "asshole" isn't a perfectly valid (and gender-neutral) substitute.

    Though one person born with an imperforate anus accused me of ableism because I called them an asshole. :)
     
  11. Floran Bailey

    Floran Bailey Member

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    My view is, if I can call someone a dick I can call them a cunt and anyone that says it's sexist can eat either option, I really don't care. Equality.
     
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  12. EstherMayRose

    EstherMayRose Gay Souffle Contributor

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    That was funny until the end. Then they left us with that last image for an uncomfortably long time. But I love Fascinating Aida, they're hilarious.
     
  13. demifiend

    demifiend New Member

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    Fair enough, but I find I can avoid a lot of hassle by just calling people assholes.
     
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  14. katina

    katina Banned Contributor

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    Done. Swearing in writing is lazy.
     
    Last edited: Sep 1, 2018
  15. EstherMayRose

    EstherMayRose Gay Souffle Contributor

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    Any particular reason?
     
  16. Lemie

    Lemie Contributor Contributor

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    Like in a thread just like this one a week or so ago I'll say: I'm a supporter of swearing and I'm a supporter of the cunt, both as a body part and a swear word/insult.

    Swearing is not lazy writing, an amount of swearing is more or less needed if your character is going to seem human at all. Unless they had a strict and or religious up bringing they will probably curse. It's a good thing.

    You don't have to go overboard but I'd rather read a book with too many swear words than one with none at all.
     
  17. Kalisto

    Kalisto Senior Member

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    Using swear words is not necessarily lazy writing. Can it be? Sure. But so can using fictional languages. What would be lazy writing would be that your character uses swear words and everyone in the book love her like she's the coolest person on earth. That is lazy, because that's not actually how people act when they come across a person who swears a lot, unless they're in middle school or something. She's going to come off as unlikable to the other characters and even to your reader. If you're okay with your readers not liking her attitude, that's great. If you're not okay with her coming off as slightly unlikable, then you probably need to rewrite the character.
     
  18. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    I have my characters swear when it makes sense that they would swear. I've never heard a peep of complaint about it from agent, editors, or readers.

    If you're writing for children, religious folk, or the otherwise prudish, it might be an issue. If not? I don't think it's a problem.
     
  19. big soft moose

    big soft moose An Admoostrator Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    using swear words in your actually writing in third is lazy - using them in narration or dialogue is not it is down to how the character speaks - since for example a bunch of squaddies in the middle of a fire fight (or a bar fight) don't speak the Queens English.
     
  20. S A Lee

    S A Lee Contributor Contributor

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    I think that using it as a demonstration of the character's voice is fine, how much someone swears is a personality trait after all, but I wouldn't use it in narration myself.

    As others note, think about your audience, if it's younger, then perhaps keep it mild or minimal. I think that the BBFC's guidelines do inspire food for thought on this. PG is milder swear words, 12 permits one use of strong language max in a film, and it steps up gradually to 18.
     
  21. big soft moose

    big soft moose An Admoostrator Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    I only use it in first person narration - where its the character doing the narration. I wouldn't do it in third
     
  22. S A Lee

    S A Lee Contributor Contributor

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    My female lead is a native English speaker but given her character she's incredibly clean mouthed, while my male lead does curse now and then, he mostly does so in foreign languages (usually his native Serbian, but he sometimes masquerades as Russian or Polish so he uses curses in their languages instead as part of that).
     
  23. EstherMayRose

    EstherMayRose Gay Souffle Contributor

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    I don't think swearing a lot makes someone unlikeable. Emma Blackery swears all the time and she's very likeable. It adds humour.



     
  24. Malisky

    Malisky Malkatorean Contributor

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    I don't understand the correlation here. What does lazy writing has to do with swearing? I voted for the second option. If done well, then where's the trouble?
     
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  25. ddavidv

    ddavidv Senior Member

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    I wrote an entry early in my blog about "writing a dirty book" as my second novel was laced with sex, profanity and violence. I'll post an excerpt here.

    "Is this a work to be proud of or embarrassed by? Several times I read over the scenes I had created and a) wondered where they heck in my head they came from while b) fitfully assessing if they could-or should-be toned down for public consumption. I ultimately decided they would stand as originally written because I had to tell the truth. Brianna needed to be shown as she really was no matter how vulgar. Her story is one of growth and triumph over things previously out of her control. After 250+ pages of working with her I cared for her far too much to stifle her voice. Repulsive to some readers she may ultimately be, but it is who she is…and who I must allow her to be. Though her creation and actions may embarrass me slightly, I am dedicated to a truthful telling of her stories, warts and all. My intent is not to titillate but to accurately depict a reality that is out there. That it may be different and even repugnant to some readers is a risk that a wordsmith must sometimes embrace."

    An author has ultimate control about what kind of story he/she chooses to write. Not every character or every story can be 'clean' or PG-13. Sometimes a realistic depiction of a character or world requires NC-17 style dialogue or scenes. Though I stressed over how to handle that book I don't regret at all my decision to utilize profanity or graphic sex. The majority of my readers have agreed that it paints a far more vivid and realistic picture than shying away would have. Even my Evangelical conservative mother-in-law liked my book (and it's sequel). It needs to be handled properly, with realism and without relying on it simply for shock value.

    Blog link for anyone interested; second entry from the bottom: https://davidwittlingerauthor.wordpress.com/
     
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