Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Behind-the-Scenes: Swearing Choice

When we turn on the TV or open a book these days, often we are greeted with at least one curse word. This isn't limited to media, either. It's almost impossible to avoid those pesky four letter words.

Since the goal of writing is to reflect reality (at least, that's my goal), it makes sense to include swearing in a book, right? Well, not to me.

Would you swear during an interview? At a wedding? While on the phone with a customer?

Swearing is generally seen as unprofessional. Why should books be any different?

In my own writing, I choose to omit all such words. When a moment arises where it doesn't make sense for a character to restrain themselves (and those moments do happen), I cheat. I use phrases such as 'he swore' or 'she let loose a curse word'. The reader gets the idea.

One final point: Depending on your target audience, a curse word can be a big turn off. I would be surprised if anyone was offended by a lack of them.


Benjamin H. said...

You make the point that swearing is unprofessional, so books should not have swearing. I agree with you somewhat. Unnecessary swearing is often a cop-out for authors trying to be gritty but not knowing how. However, authors are in the entertainment industry, and must consider their audience. Your target audience appreciates the absence of swear words. However, I would not begrudge someone writing a war story the use of swear words. If it made sense to me for a character to swear in something I wrote, I would probably include it. But I would be publishing for a difference audience than you.

Jansina said...

I see what you mean, and yes--the target audience and the type of book are certainly factors. I'm curious, though...if you were reading a war story and there was a lack of swear words, would you miss them? Would you think, 'Man, if only there were a swear word here.'? I'm just wondering.

Benjamin H. said...

I can't imagine wishing there were swear words in a book. And I have read some war stories without swearing that were excellent (especially when written from a more analytical and less personal level.) But many of the best war stories I have read, both fiction and nonfiction, contained swear words. However, every reader brings their own baggage to a story. Perhaps for you reading a war story the lack of swear words wouldn't effect the sense of realism. I don't at all mean this as a criticism. I think it is better for people not to swear. It adds nothing to the conversation and can quickly put up barriers between people. But for me, with 4 years in the military, I have experienced how soldiers talk, especially under pressure. If I read a book with soldiers, and they talked like the characters in Forgotten Memories, I would be dismissive of the authors knowledge of the military.

So, basically, I would not miss swear words themselves, but I also consider them a legitimate tool for an author to create atmosphere. And certain works would fall very flat without that tool (in my opinion.)

Jansina said...

Okay--that makes sense. So, for you the lack of swear words affects the realism, while for me--my type of books--(and, I believe, for most of my readers), having phrases such as 'he cursed' is enough to keep it realistic. Interesting perspective--thanks!

Benjamin H. said...

Exactly. ;)