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Swearing in writing.

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Aidan of the tavern, Feb 19, 2015.

  1. Good morning dear Scribes.

    Bad language is an interesting topic when it comes to fiction, on the one hand it can be a touchy subject for some, but can also be an effective tool for characterisation. Firstly as a reader does it make any difference to you if a book includes swearing? If used strategically I think it can be great for adding emphasis or shock value, or even just a human element to a character. As a writer do you use swearing in your work, and if so what is your criteria for what to use? Obviously much fantasy is full of mostly harmless curses like "by the gods!" and "[someone's] blood!", or if you really want to play it safe simply "she turned and cursed angrily". Do you ever make up swearwords? Generally in my work I include a few select curses from our world based on how well I feel they would work in the setting, for example my characters tend to say sh** and various insults beginning with B, but I never use the F word simply because I don't feel it would fit, maybe because its so popular today.
  2. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

    Swearing doesn't bother me at all.

    Yes, I use swear words if they fit the character and are relevant to the moment.

    I don't think I've ever made up swear words.

    I'll use modern swear words if they feel right. Some of those words have been around longer than you might think.
  3. Russ

    Russ Istar

    I think the taboo against swearwords in fiction is dropping away. I have no problem with characters swearing like a sailor (particularly if they are a sailor) as long as it fits the milieu.

    Researching foreign or historical curses can be a lot of fun.
  4. Fyle

    Fyle Inkling

    Swearing is a great tool to show personality and different mannerisms between characters.

    I have a notes on who swears a lot, a little and never.

    Plus, A Song of Ice and Fire has swear words so, thats a positive sign. The 15+ million people who bought it apparently didnt mind.

    Exellant Bilbo Baggins quote by the way, its like the best line ever that confuses you and makes sense all at the same time.
  5. Thanks Fyle :).

    I agree that it can do a lot for characterisation, I don't know if any of you have read Andrzej Sapkowski's work, but I think he does it really well. There's a wonderful line in Blood of Elves where one character (I think its Triss Merigold) kicks a stool into a door with an exclamation of "pox, plague, shit and leprosy!".
  6. KC Trae Becker

    KC Trae Becker Troubadour

    I feel that the age level you are writing for has to be taken into consideration. (middle grade, YA, adult)

    Fantasy does tend to reach all ages, but the primary target audience still has a big impact on word choice and how ideas and more mature issues are presented.
  7. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

    I'm using the F word once in my WiP - in a conversation/argument towards the end of the book. I feel that since I've mostly stayed away from anything like that for most of the story, it adds a little extra gravity to it when it eventually does show up.
  8. Tom

    Tom Istar

    I only use minor swear words, and only rarely, but that's only because most of my writing is targeted to a YA audience. I've written a few dark fantasy stories, though, and since they have a grittier, more mature style, I feel I have more free rein to include swearing.
  9. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

    I tend to paraphrase, e.g. "X cursed." I only use a swear stronger than "Hell" if I really want to emphasize and give force to what they're saying. (I consider it similar to my approach to violence--I reserve the real blood and pain for when I want an impact.)
  10. Laurence

    Laurence Inkling

    I'm a hobby writer so will include any stupid words I see fit. My story isn't particularly dark but I'm prone to a fair bit of swearing in real life and I think it enriches relationships - provided the reader is clued up on the private jokes beforehand.

    A good example of this would be having your protagonist calling the antagonist a word that he doesn't understand but the reader does.
    Aidan of the tavern likes this.
  11. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    I use swear words on a limited basis. I prefer not to...but it really depends on the character, the mood they're in, and whether or not its appropriate to what's happening in the scene. Irl its a habit I'm trying to break away from, and in my writing I would like to stay away from alienating readers with foul language. I don't mind swear words in the books I read unless they are excessive.

    One urban fantasy book comes to mind which had an insane amount of them (like, several swear words per paragraph at times) and was very vulgar. Now, had it moved the story along it wouldn't have bothered me but I felt it was written for shock value and felt out of place. I hated that book.

    Comparing it to other fantasy stories I've read with swear words here and there that didn't bother me at all, I'd say that overdoing it is possible and that's really up to the author to decide what's the line for him/her. Same goes for readers.
  12. Ruby

    Ruby Auror

    Hi Aidan of the tavern,
    I suppose it depends on who your readership is. I'm writing MG/YA so swearing is inappropriate. :eek:
  13. Saigonnus

    Saigonnus Auror

    As a teacher, I have to say in this day and age, most young adults swear like sailors, and most even know what the words mean... But I seriously doubt a book using the f-word in every other sentence would have much popularity among parents or publishers of the genre. For sake of decorum I would say you shouldn't include them for young adult readers.

    For adults or "Normal" fantasy or science fiction, I think it is a legitimate way for characters to express their emotional state or frustration with the situation they are in... Or just to get their point across. I have a short I have beeen working on about an ex-soldier thrown into a situation where he has to become the soldier again to accomplish his goals. He isn't particularly vulgar, but there are times when I believe it warranted. Like hiding behind a wall during a firefight and suddenly a grenade arcs over it and lands close by... The F word would certainly add emphasis to the situation as he scrambles to get out of range.

    If you don't want to use profanity but the character is particularly vulgar, then perhaps consider making up phrases that are "considered" to be vulgarities in your world, but are kind of silly in ours. Robert Jordan tended towards this with his whole "bleeding buttered onions" that singed Nynaeve's ears... Lol
    Laurence and Ruby like this.
  14. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    I'm with T.Allen.Smith on this one. I avoid certain obscenities because they feel modern to me. It's not the obscenity that bothers, it's the anachronism.

    My model for this is Patrick O'Brian, who does a masterful job of swearing. Specifically, he has cursing appropriate not only to the era, but also to the social standing of the person speaking, *and* appropriate to the situation. Officers swear differently than do common sailors, but even common sailors swear differently to each other than they would to, say, a well-born woman.

    GRRM, imo, does not do this so deftly.
    Laurence and Feo Takahari like this.
  15. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

    I say this a lot but it's all in the style and type of story you're telling. I wrote a urban fantasy with lost of F-bombs. When I write fantasy, I tend to make up phrases that equate to cursing.

    But there's no thing wrong with having F-bombs in fantasy. Scott Lynch used plenty of them in his Gentlemen Bastard series, and it's quite effective and humorous. The series deals with conmen and having them drop F-bombs and Sh!t feels very natural.
  16. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

    Or you can just use real ones. The protagonist of Fever 1793 shocks most of the people around her because she says "Dash it all" a lot.
  17. Snikt5

    Snikt5 Scribe

    I agree with everything that has been said. Profanity has its place if it fits the character speaking. I try not to use it too casually although my first book did have a minor character called "Ucking Alan," who was labelled that because of his excessive use of "F-word."

    Making up phrases helps create the world your character's live in as well. "By the Tri-moons" and "Gloom's sake" are frequent curse phrases in my book, whilst some regions use more specific phrases such as, "Roast placenta." (You will just have to read the book to find out why).

    I am no expert but I think the trick is not to overuse the made-up phrases and force them upon the reader. They should occur naturally and feel organically part of the world.
    Aidan of the tavern likes this.
  18. Yes fitting in is pretty much my approach. I have been trying to invent a substitute for the f-bomb to be a bit more world-specific, but its difficult to come up with one without sounding corny. I must read Patrick O'Brian, I have loads of his books on my shelf and haven't started them yet.
  19. Tom

    Tom Istar

    For the love of all that is good, please just don't make it "Fug." Norman Mailer tried that one. It didn't go well.
    Trick likes this.
  20. Saigonnus

    Saigonnus Auror

    Most of the words we use as profanity actually come from middle english, 15th and 16th century, perfect for the fantasy time-frame so to speak. I don't find it particularly anachronistic for that reason. I could see it being something we use here on earth, while on Aern it is something else. I never use it in my fantasy story at all but that doesn't mean it doesn't have a place in literature.

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