A to Z Challenge 2013

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

What The *$%#@...er....Heck Is Going On?

Forgive my lapse in propriety with the title. I usually refrain from foul language in writing (though I've been known to let a few fly in person from time to time - sorry, I was a soldier). But the title really is appropriate. Allow me to explain.

This all started amidst my NaNo writing. I have a MC who experiences many situations where it might be appropriate to cuss a little bit. I have as of yet refrained from letting him "let go" so to speak, mostly because I didn't want my writing to disintegrate into mindless ramblings with an occasional cuss word thrown in here and there.

Today, I stumbled on Scott's interesting post over at The Literary Lab and it has caused me to question this behavior. Am I being untrue to myself (and the MC) by muzzling him? Don't get me wrong; I'm not a fan of profanity for profanity's sake. One of my favorite authors (Stephen King) seems to dive headlong into the cussin' pool more and more these days, which I find irritating. This is not the impression I would like to leave with my readers.

I just don't know whether putting in an occasional heck or darn (or their more provane equivalents) will damage my story. Or should I stay true to how I "really" envision my MC and let him fling a curse here or there?

I guess I should mention that I already know my book is not destined for the YA genre. This is not a question of what is "appropriate" for my audience as far as genre goes. I guess I'm just holding back because I've seen how easily this slippery slope can become a downward torrent, and I don't want that to happen. So I pose the question to you, my followers. How do I resolve this problem? I could really use some advice, so please feel free to fill my comment box up.

Oh, and yes I am still forging forward on NaNo. For those keeping track, I'm somewhere above 17K at this point.


Lost Wanderer said...

I think it should strictly depend on your character. My characters swear. Some more than others, and some not at all, but for example in my NaNo novel, both my main characters are the type who would swear, and I see nothing wrong with that (must point out that I am quite prim and proper when it comes to swearing. Bloody hell is about as far as I go).

To continue with your comment about you being an ex-soldier. If I had a soldier in my story, I would make him swear. Not because every soldier does, but because most would. Given the situation they face, the crowd they hang out with, it would be very natural. Obviously if a priest or a teacher were to say same thing, they would sound much more offensive.

I agree that swearing shouldn't be for swearing's sake alone, but if your MC is in a stressful situation where most normal people of HIS personality would swear, then make him swear.

The Screaming Guppy said...

I would say let the muzzle off for the first draft. You can always trim it down or even remove it all later. But by seeing all the cussin' all over the place, you might have an easier time figuring out what places have the most impact, damnit.


Kat Harris said...

Don't cuss just for the sake of cussing, but you absolutely have to stay true to your character.

Good job on you word count. I hit just over 16,000 last night.

Dave to You said...

Hey..I'm still 'awordin' here. I really don't use much crusein'. My one character in NaNo (who is a professional type) used the F word twice in the same aparagraph about 14,000 words in. He was talking about the guy who killed his grandmother. I couldn't stop him. I'm good for a hell or damn now and then and I am not a prude by any means. I wrote a thing a while back about a swamp-water lagoon outpost in Nam and there was some language there. Had to be. Just write what what you hear and keep it real, even if you're just making it up. I think there is a big difference between vulgarity and some of the words we here and use every day. Some times you just gotta say...pass the beer nuts!

Dave to You said...

'hear and use'...'paragragh'...man there's a lot of pressure posting around you writer types...yikes. I got the beer nuts part right though. Gotta go up my word count....later Eric!

jjdebenedictis said...

I was just thinking about this today. My belief is: If it's a word, it's in my toolbox, i.e. I'm allowed to use it.

But like every other word, I have to use it in the correct way at the right moment.

As Mark Twain said, "The difference between the almost right word and the right word is the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning."

And sometimes the F-bomb is the right word.

Nisa said...

I know mine isn't a popular opinion, but I am personally sick of picking up otherwise great books only to have them riddled with offensive language. It is a pet peeve of mine. As far as staying true to a character, I don't know. This is why I write fantasy. I can make up crazy oaths and I don't have to worry about it, but I think there are plenty of ways to "say" something without saying it.

Jamie D. said...

I write a lot of characters who do things I don't do and don't like. A lot. The way I look at it is, it's not my story, it's theirs. And if they swear occasionally, then that's who they are, even if I personally don't care for their word choice. And honestly, if it ever got to a point I was writing a character who swore all the time, I'd probably drop him/her and start over. Just because.

I think that the fact that you stopped to think about it is important. And I think that makes you less likely to go overboard just for the sake of cussing, and only use foul language as appropriate and true for your character. So I dare say, between drafting and editing, you'll work it out just fine. By all means...if the word is necessary to your character, then use it.

Abby Annis said...

I've been thinking about this a lot as my MC in my NaNo is developing quite a potty mouth. And it is YA, but given the character's background and his current situation, it just feels right for him to talk that way. I figure, I'll just write it as I imagine him speaking now, and I'll probably end up editing most of them out later. It is a first draft after all.

Don't sweat it right now. You'll have plenty of time to do that while you're revising. :)

Travis Erwin said...

Good for you on the progress despite the bump in the road. I wrote 300o words tonight which matches my last months total.

lotusgirl said...

I'm not a big fan of profanity. I think it detracts from the flow of the writing and waters it down. That said, there are times when a strategically placed word can have a lot of impact and can communicate more than your character having a potty mouth. I think of Rhett Butler as he leaves Scarlett... "Frankly, my dear, I couldn't care less." Just doesn't have the same impact.

Glynis said...

I was ticking along quite happily when all of a sudden one of my characters swore,(cussed) at another. I was shocked but it worked and brought the scene alive. My family will be shocked when they read that I dared to use it, I can't wait to see their faces