26 June 2007


I got into a discussion recently that really makes me wonder what some people are thinking. The discussion was over the use of profanity in writing.

I don't mean calling a penis a cock here. Cock is not one of the words you couldn't say on TV a decade ago...not that those make much sense in the first place. I remember watching a show where "damn" wasn't bleeped out, but "goddamn" was? Never mind...that's a subject for another post.

The subject started off with whether there is a reason to use excessive profanity in fiction writing. We're not talking memoirs here. We're talking a fiction book.

I'll admit that profanity doesn't bother me, though I think it's sometimes misused, thrown in so often that the reader becomes jaded, for instance. My contention is the following:

*Some parodies of inner-city or racial cultures demand the use of a certain amount of profanity that may seem excessive at first glance.
*Some characters, realistically portrayed, would demand the use of profanity that might seem excessive at first glance. Examples of this would be a foul-mouthed punk kid, sailors underway on a sub (trust me, I know what they can be like) or times when the character is TRYING to be offensive or shocking.
*Profanity can establish shock value in a scene. Insertion of a pretty foul curse from someone you don't expect to use it...or at a time you don't expect it to come out works wonders for catching attention that isn't accomplished if the character swears all of the time.
*Profanity should be used in moments of stress, as the majority of persons in that character's life station and situation would use it.
*The LANGUAGE you use must fit the CHARACTER you're presenting. If you are writing a character that wouldn't NATURALLY swear every other word, get over it and write the character realistically. There are times and places and characters that are simply not appropriate for a foul-mouthed exchange.

This is where I seem to lose some people. They honestly believe that it's a STYLE for some authors to just throw in profanity, willy nilly, because that's their voice.

No, that cannot be accurate in a storyline setting. As I said, you MUST be true to the characters you're writing. You must be true to the scene you're setting. If you really think that a writer is going to get away with having a businessperson character swearing every other word in the office without being fired for it and call it STYLE, I think it's a delusion of the grandest scale.

"Spicy style" or not, unless every character they are writing REQUIRES that sort of language usage...which (yes, THIS part is my own opinion) would make for an awfully boring book, full of characters without much to speak of in the way of unique voices, there is NO REASON to fall back on that. It's not a STYLE. What you're doing in the way of writing the book has to fit the individual characters you're writing. If you don't accept that, fine, but it's poor writing not to take character into account, every step of the way, and characters that are carbon copies of each other are unimaginitive.

For instance, in a single book of mine, I have two male characters from an alien planet. Fantasy, true, but... One is a guard. One is a prince. To say that the two of them speak in completely different ways is the understatement of the century. And, why shouldn't they? If they didn't, I'd think something was wrong. I'd hope you would, too.

Even if the two were raised in the SAME station in life, they should be unique. Think about the characters in The Outsiders, if you've read it, and consider how different they all are. When reading the book, it's not hard to separate Soda from Pony Boy, for instance. They are brothers, raised in the same house, but their voices are as unique as Johnny and Pony or Cherry and Pony are.

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