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Reading Room > Writers, Readers, and Foul Language.

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message 1: by Jessica (new)

Jessica Boardman (jessicacane34) While I don't mind cursing, I've recently noticed that more and more of todays writers are using more foul languge in their stories than is necessary. It bothers me that it's used so nonchalantly, when, in my opinion, it takes away the integrity of the story and makes reading it pointless. Agree? Disagree? Discuss.


message 2: by Lena (new)

Lena | 24 comments I use a fairly lot of bad language in some of my books, but I try to make it authentic. If you are writing about people who would swear, they should swear. I dislike euphemisms. Maybe despise is a better word.


message 3: by Jessica (new)

Jessica Boardman (jessicacane34) Sorry, I should have specified that I meant out of dialouge for the most part. Though I still think there is a fine line when it comes to exactly how much is used within dialouge as well.
This morning I read a 275 page book with at LEAST 2 or 3 curse words per page and a lot was from dialouge. I couldn't get through it easily.

If used incorrectly it makes the author seem less intelligent.


message 4: by Kendall (new)

Kendall (kendallfurlong) | 7 comments You make a good point, Jessica. Using foul language in narration may well indicate poor vocabulary or just simple bad taste (whatever that is). There are obvious exceptions, 1st person narrative by a foul character for example, but it doesn't negate the general case.


message 5: by Lena (new)

Lena | 24 comments Whether using first or third person narration, the book should be in the voice of the protagonist. if the protagonist would swear, the author should use the words the character would use. otherwise, the book isn't authentic.

Just my opinion, of course.


message 6: by Jessica (new)

Jessica Boardman (jessicacane34) Even then there's a line that shouldn't be stepped over. Using it in character development is fine and dandy, but it can still be overused.


message 7: by Kendall (new)

Kendall (kendallfurlong) | 7 comments
Lena said: Whether using first or third person narration, the book should be in the voice of the protagonist. if the protagonist would swear, the author should use the words the character would use. otherwise, the book isn't authentic.

Verisimilitude is more important than authenticity and it doesn't require the narration and protagonist have the same voice. It could even be argued stylistic difficulties could result from such commonality of voice. With today's limited 3rd person, point-of-view consistent with the subject character (who may or may not be the protagonist) is usually necessary, though for stylistic reasons rather than authenticity.


message 8: by Lena (new)

Lena | 24 comments I can see how an author could overdo it, but a well-placed expletive or two doesnt bother me. But everyone has their own opinion on this, the same as they do regarding sex scenes, violence, etc. I don't mind swearing, and I've even read a YA book peppered w/ F-bombs. Lots of classics have plenty of bad language, so I dont think it hurts a book overall. Then again, it probably depends on the book.


message 9: by Amy Eye (new)

Amy Eye | 98 comments I think that certain characters will have a tendency to cuss; however, I will put a book down and walk away from it if the language gets to be too much. It them seems to become used more for shock value than for content.

I don't mind when it is slipped in for emphasis or when it is 'in character' but overuse does lead a reader to believe the author is not capable of creating anything worth while to read and must resort to crude tactics.


message 10: by A.F. (new)

A.F. (scribe77) | 1773 comments Mod
I think it could depend on the type of book as well. In a noir or hard-boiled detective novel foul language would not seem out of place, and I could see it in certain sci-fi cyberpunk books.


message 11: by Leonard (new)

Leonard (leonardseet) | 13 comments Relating to AF's point, it depends on the readers or audience. For exemple, young adults would tolerate more foul language. So Lena's mention of a YA book makes sense. Some people are very much put off by language so it we're targeting those audience, we just have to be judicial.


message 12: by Charles (new)

Charles Harvey | 6 comments I'm glad I found this group and this post. I'm curious also about a character's foul language in a novel. I've just completed a NANOWRIMO book and my character is a serial killer with the foulest mouth. It may get toned down in the rewrite. What other books come to mind where characters are always swearing?


message 13: by A.F. (new)

A.F. (scribe77) | 1773 comments Mod
Charles wrote: "I'm glad I found this group and this post. I'm curious also about a character's foul language in a novel. I've just completed a NANOWRIMO book and my character is a serial killer with the foulest m..."

I know there was quite a bit of swearing in Robert Parker's Spenser detective novels (although mostly from secondary characters) and it didn't detract from the books at all.


message 14: by C.S. Splitter (new)

C.S. Splitter | 46 comments I know I have written characters who use words I never would. In one instance, I was in a groove and was two sentences past a certain word when I realized what I had written.

In thinking about changing it, I realized that the character said it, not me. And it was something he would have said naturally. As a matter of fact, it would have been strange if he had not used the word.

It just depends on the characters and the target audience. Inserting something for shock value is wrong as is "cleaning something up" when the character calls for foul language.

I hate seeing those things on TV and they pop out to me in books too.

Just my humble opinion.

Splitter


message 15: by [deleted user] (new)

Jessica, I agree with you. When I was at drama school, our teachers told us not to use foul language during our improvisations. They said it was lazy.

Their advice was to - 'express your character's feelings with the right physical actions.'

The same applies in books. If one character is furious, instead of swearing they could hurl something at the wall or across the room. So much more powerful than using fould language.


message 16: by Renee (new)

Renee (rjmiller) I agree with pretty much everything Lena's said here. The thing is, if you've created a vivid enough world, with dynamic characters and a kickass plot (oops, there's one there) then the profanity, if there is any, will blend into the story. This is a topic I love discussing because to me, profanity is a part of life. And I'm sorry, I get far more satisfaction out of an f-bomb than I do hurling something.

As for powerful, look at how people react to profanity in novels. This discussion actually proves a point. A well placed curse word can be very powerful. Does that mean the profanity should be used as commonly and casually as "the" or "and"? No. Absolutely not. But to avoid using shit when only shit will do also speaks to laziness and perhaps lack of education on the writer's part. It's called judgement. You know your story and you know your audience. So write to them. The rest? Well, if you can't handle reading a swear or four, you're not my audience.


message 17: by Richard (new)

Richard Phelan (richardphelan) | 5 comments I think it truely depends on the characters. I have written a YA novel that doesn't have a single cuss word in the entire 85,000. Like Charles, I have also written stories (short) about serial killers. And in that context my character thinks and talks in terms so foul and degrading that I was very uncomfortable writing the story, but I thought it appropriate (again, in the correct context).

Having said all that, I essentially agree with Jessica. I don't think it's right to throw cuss words in just to capture a mood. That is more effectively accomplished with some vivid descriptions.


message 18: by [deleted user] (new)

Swearing generally is an interesting subject. It provokes furious discussions and disgust. I don't like it, unless it's necessary, and it often is.

But no one objects to someone hitting someone or even murdering them.


message 19: by Renee (new)

Renee (rjmiller) Joanna wrote: "Swearing generally is an interesting subject. It provokes furious discussions and disgust. I don't like it, unless it's necessary, and it often is.

But no one objects to someone hitting someone or..."


And is it not a sad reflection on society that we would accept reading about a serial killer and the details of his actions, as long as he doesn't drop an f-bomb while he's strangling his victim?


message 20: by Brett (new)

Brett Talley | 23 comments I want my books to be as accessible as possible. I only use language that I think is necessary to be realistic. I read books all the time that use the f-bomb so much that it becomes like "he said"; I don't even see it anymore, and it loses all its effect.


message 21: by Graeme (new)

Graeme Reynolds (graemereynolds) | 6 comments Swearing is a natural part of language, and I think that if the characters would swear, then they should.

I did a search on my novel, and I think there were 143 f bombs in the text in total. But then, as its set in a working class, english town, that is how the characters would speak.

I've had people compliment me on how realistic the characters sounded. The only person to complain so far about the swearing was my mother :)


message 22: by Brett (new)

Brett Talley | 23 comments Yeah Graeme I don't think you overdid it at all (now that I have some time I am going to finish your book!). For me, one of the great compliments about That Which Should Not Be was a woman saying that she had read it with her thirteen year old. I don't know that they could have shared it if the language had been worse. Now, that book is set in the late 1800s, so it really wasn't that much of a problem.


message 23: by Renee (new)

Renee (rjmiller) I've never thought to do a search for f-bombs...


message 24: by Kat (new)

Kat (katzombie) Well Graeme, you couldn't exactly have them saying 'fudge' instead ;)


message 25: by Graeme (new)

Graeme Reynolds (graemereynolds) | 6 comments I know - plus there is a sort of deviant joy in writing a ten year old kid that swears like a dock worker :)


message 26: by Graeme (new)

Graeme Reynolds (graemereynolds) | 6 comments I'm glad you are enjoying the book, anyway, Brett. I look forward to hearing what you think.

I never thought about the lack of cursing in yours, because, as you say, the language was much more formal in the 1800's. Maybe you could have gotten away with it on the trapper character, but it would have sounded odd coming from the others.


message 27: by J. (new)

J. Bralick (jleighbralick) | 10 comments I know this thread hasn't been posted to lately, but I thought I'd jump in anyway! Personally, I don't swear. I just don't. Every once in a while a German scheiß will pop out, but only rarely. I don't like reading books where swearing is used as punctuation. Even though real people might talk that way, that doesn't make it necessary to make dialogue or narration a perfect copy of what we would see in reality. Art is as much a prism as a mirror.

To take a similar example, listen to how teens talk. But do you write the dialogue of a teenager like this:

"So we were like in the mall, you know, and Suze said something and I totally LOLed, and I was like, shut up! And she looked at me like, whatever, and oh em gee, this guy..."

Authentic? Maybe (God help us...) Readable? Barely. Enjoyable? Hardly.

One of the things that really bothered me about the Iron King, which I just read recently, was this overuse of swearing, not expressively, but just in casual narration, in the place of perfectly good non-swear words. I almost stopped reading it at several points because it was so aggravating. Too much is just lazy.

That said, I do have a few characters who will swear (mildly), and they do. But it doesn't happen often, and when it does you know there's something wrong.


message 28: by Sue (new)

Sue Merrell (suemerrell) | 26 comments Hi Leigh,
I was just looking up posts on this topic for an author talk I'm participating in this afternoon and saw your recent post. You are so right. Authors clean up the garbled way folks talk all the time, just to make it more readable. If a character curses a blue streak, and some do, then the author can describe the exchange rather than repeat every word. Some of my characters curse now and then, but my central character in Great News Town creates his own curse phrases like Peacock Piddle and Dingo Drizzle. Readers enjoy it so much that I'm doing a cursing contest for the next book where readers can submit their own creative curse words and if I use their suggestion, they get a free copy of the next book. I'm getting great response.


message 29: by Jason (new)

Jason (jasonh) Authenticity within context is important, but there are many creative ways to express realities of the world without stepping over the line of what you or your audience may find offensive. How you write about a subject reveals more about you than the subject itself. It also reveals how you want it to be perceived by the reader. You can be impactful and effectively address the harshest of subjects without betraying yourself or your readers. No matter how much we like to write within the character and romantisize that they "come to life" , the reality is that we are simply storytellers. You will have to live with being remembered (even if a small way) for what you wrote.


message 30: by Peg (new)

Peg (pegrobarchek) | 10 comments Interesting discussion, especially as my co-author and I were just debating this during the revision stage of a novel.

One of the sisters in this novel is in the news business and when she gets angry, her language is far from ladylike. I haven't done a search (although I will, thank you, Graeme) but she swears when it would be appropriate to the circumstances and her mood. Coming from a journalism background myself, I can't imagine a newspaper reporter who doesn't use profanity. It's hardly on every page, but there's probably something in every chapter where she appears because she's volatile and she's frankly a b**ch sometimes (and so much fun to write). If she didn't swear at times, I can't imagine her coming across as real.

Her sisters are more gentle souls and they don't swear. It wouldn't work for them.

In our current book, "In the Territory of Lies," one of the two main characters is a recovering alcoholic. Does she use profanity? You bet she does. The other is a college professor who wouldn't say "poop" if she had a mouthful.

The decision to use profanity, from my standpoint, is situational and is driven by character.

Great topic.


message 31: by Peg (new)

Peg (pegrobarchek) | 10 comments C.S. Splitter wrote: "I know I have written characters who use words I never would. In one instance, I was in a groove and was two sentences past a certain word when I realized what I had written.

In thinking about ch..."


Love the story about the character who was using language you wouldn't use yourself. If we start censoring our characters, we could end up with cardboard characters pretty quickly.


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