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LROT
02-12-2011, 04:19 AM
In order to make my current WIP seem more real Ive decided to increase the vulgarity of many of the soldiers, jailors, army personnel etc. In my first WIP I think the common soldier was too honorable and righteous so I decided to make them more vulgar to be more realistic.
So basically how do I know when I've crossed the line and the drinking, sexing and fighting becomes to much? (Even though story is much more than just vice alone, I just find it interesting). I have my own personal radar that I consider to be pretty good but just wondering if you guys got any advice?

Mr Flibble
02-12-2011, 04:27 AM
Lawks, how subjective do you want to get?

GRRM has squelchy incest, other authors have gang rapes and all sorts, like the book I wasn't sure about getting put down cos piss was dribbling down POV's chin...(It was the tipping point if you know what I mean. Rest of the story was meh, and that just made me go yuk. Not my cuppa, thanks) many, may authors use naughty words (including me). Write what you need for the story, get betas who aren't too prudish and see what they say. Even so...remember, all subjective. We all have our 'ewwww' points.

Remember - one man's yummy meat in gravy is another man's 'I couldn't possibly, I'm a vegan'

LROT
02-12-2011, 04:33 AM
Lawks, how subjective do you want to get?

GRRM has squelchy incest, other authors have gang rapes and all sorts, like the book I wasn't sure about getting put down cos piss was dribbling down POV's chin...(It was the tipping point if you know what I mean. Rest of the story was meh, and that just made me go yuk. Not my cuppa, thanks) many, may authors use naughty words (including me). Write what you need for the story, get betas who aren't too prudish and see what they say. Even so...remember, all subjective. We all have our 'ewwww' points.

Remember - one man's yummy meat in gravy is another man's 'I couldn't possibly, I'm a vegan'

Thanks for the advice! Its funny you mention GRRM, he was the one who really inspired me to make my soldiers less than honorable. I think it the makes the story more interesting that way. Besides lets be honest most knights were basically thugs in armor and with swords.

muravyets
02-12-2011, 04:38 AM
Should you be worrying about hitting a vulgarity quota, or about making characters, even background characters, seem real? I think sometimes fantasy characters become archetypes or idols rather than people, and that's when you get the Pious Infant operating the trebuchet. Swing too far against that, however, and you end up with the Bad Seed manning the battlements. Neither extreme is realistic, in my opinion. A vulgar person can is a person first. A vulgar soldier is just a prop.

movieman
02-12-2011, 04:39 AM
If people start giving you strange looks after reading the story then it's probably too much :).

But historically the medieval period was pretty violent; I seem to remember Britain's murder rate in that time is estimated as about the same as the worst US inner city today.

Mr Flibble
02-12-2011, 04:42 AM
Glad it helped

A lot depends on a) the tone you're going for and b) the audience you're after.

I, for example, will totally fall in love with a realistic soldier who is trying to be noble, but failing. Or a sneaky, lovable rogue soldier, or just a normal grunt who swears a lot, if he's well-written and compelling in himself. In fact, if I find the POV compelling enough, I'll put up with almost anything, even squelchy incest and dribbling piss.

Your first task then might be this - worry less about realism re swearing etc and more about compelling characters ( if they are good enough, the realism will come through them being real/3d, yes?)

francist44
02-12-2011, 05:16 AM
Here's my 10 cents -inflation- on vulgarity:
Too little won't hurt much, too much can kill. It should also seem natural, and not like they're cursing just for the sake of the author.
The following aspect on this topic is just my take on the subject: If your WIP is a fantasy, and your characters are set in a world you created, using the F-words etc can take your reader out of your world real quick. Same goes for using parities; it was shark-like, he was another Hitler and so on. My fantasy is very much a world I created and thus, I only use few a vulgar words and those I made up. I only wanted to use a few, whereas too many new words would burden the reader with a new langue. BTW: ditching the parities makes for more work, but I think it's worth the efffort. His eyes widened when he saw those dreaded dual fins lacing through the water towards him. No shark word needed. That was just a quick example btw.

jmarkbyrnes
02-12-2011, 07:54 AM
LROT, have you ever read any of Glen Cook's novels? If not, you should read them. They do a great job of painting the soldiers as less than honorable by societal standards yet still honorable by their own standards. That kind of dynamic can make for good reading.

-papaholmz

heretic_scribe
02-12-2011, 08:24 AM
When I wrote Warlock's Wake, if a scene seemed a little much, I'd ask myself, "would this be too much for an R-rated movie?" if so, I would tone it down a little - most of the time ; )

Marian Perera
02-12-2011, 05:44 PM
The following aspect on this topic is just my take on the subject: If your WIP is a fantasy, and your characters are set in a world you created, using the F-words etc can take your reader out of your world real quick.

Providing a different take on the subject: GRRM's use of the F-word never made me feel as though I'd been removed from Westeros.

And in my novel, towards the end of the story, the antagonist asks the heroine if the hero fucked her. The impact of that would have been lost if I'd used a different (or made-up) word.

Anne Lyle
02-12-2011, 05:57 PM
Providing a different take on the subject: GRRM's use of the F-word never made me feel as though I'd been removed from Westeros.

True - though GRRM seems to be consciously modeling his world on medieval Europe. He even has "real" names like Jon, and ones that are only slightly changed: Eddard for "Edward", shortened to the historically appropriate "Ned".


And in my novel, towards the end of the story, the antagonist asks the heroine if the hero fucked her. The impact of that would have been lost if I'd used a different (or made-up) word.

Ha, yes, I do something very similar myself. A minor antagonist is trying to provoke the heroine (whom he thinks is a boy) into a fight, and I wanted the reader to believe she'd deck him in an instant, and to hell with the consequences!

Only f-word in the book, and nothing else would have worked, IMHO.

I also have a certain amount of (not very explicit) sex in the book, both straight and gay; likewise some brutal but not overly graphic violence. Elizabethan London was a sleazy, violent place, not unlike a modern inner city (only without the drugs). If I cleaned it up too much, it would seem unrealistic, like one of those 1950s historicals where everyone is dressed in clean, brightly-coloured clothes, even the peasants!

Miriel
02-12-2011, 07:31 PM
If you'd feel uncomfortable having your name on the cover, then it's too much. I just wanted to add two things to the conversation...

1) You can have stuff in the book and have it not be explicit. In Daniel Abraham's A Shadow of Summer there's a good deal of people sleeping around, plus a chunk of time spent in a brothel, but there aren't any sex scenes, explicit or not. It was gritty "realistic", and I found myself hating and liking everyone in that book...I'm not sure I'd read it again, because I wanted to be able to like someone, but I suppose that's a different topic. Had the scenes been explicit/present, I wouldn't have finished. I think he was really wise to let all of that happen off-screen, because I think it would have overwhelmed the story.

2) There are lots of ways to be vulgar other than swearing/violence/etc. I try to vary this in my mss because it's easy to fall back on specific things to show vulgarity. Humor, I think, can be a really good indicator. If the guards are chuckling about a recent hanging, or making prisoners stand on their heads and sing stupid songs because they can, those would be good indicators to me. Maybe you need to dig a little deeper to find the specific details that convey "bully" without utilizing the usual tropes/cliches.

glutton
02-12-2011, 09:40 PM
Same goes for using parities; it was shark-like

Would the word shark be out of place in a fantasy world though? Certainly not to the extent a reference to Hitler would be IMO... no more so than equine steeds being called "horses" (as is common) in a fantasy really.

Faide
02-12-2011, 10:24 PM
it was shark-like, he was another Hitler and so on.

The Hitler part I can agree with. The shark I cannot. If sharks exist in your world and your characters know what a shark is--maybe they even have seen sharks, or eaten shark-fin soup, or something, then why is it wrong calling something shark-like?

In The Lies of Locke Lamora, they had shark vs. female gladiator fights, and they also used the f-word a lot, yet I never found it off-putting.

LROT
02-12-2011, 11:33 PM
thanks for the input. My WIP is not really that vulgar to begin with, just some characters/scenes are. Im just playing with the idea for now and seeing what comes up.

Satchan
02-13-2011, 02:19 AM
In The Lies of Locke Lamora, they had shark vs. female gladiator fights, and they also used the f-word a lot, yet I never found it off-putting.

Yeah, I adored Lies, and I never found the language to throw me out of the world.

I'd say that if the language, violence, sex, etc. fits your story, then you shouldn't worry about it getting too vulgar. My only problem with that sort of thing is when it's obvious that the author was tossing it in just to toss it in and it doesn't fit the characters or situations. A soldier saying the f-word all the time makes perfect sense to me. A mild-mannered accountant talking to his boss? Not quite so much. ;)

jefferyborders
02-13-2011, 05:22 AM
When I wrote Warlock's Wake, if a scene seemed a little much, I'd ask myself, "would this be too much for an R-rated movie?" if so, I would tone it down a little - most of the time ; )

I agree, that is how I write my novels. I look at how wide of a range of audience do you want to catch, and then look at what is in the novel. You can be gritty without being vulgar.

Heidicvlach
02-13-2011, 12:11 PM
I'd consider vulgar content too much when it seems like it's only there for shock value. The vulgarity should be a natural extension of the characters and their world. If the soldiers tell a few dirty jokes to unwind after a tense day, yeah, that's believable. If they cuss when they're in pain, sure, lots of people do that. And if they're forcing themselves on a woman, it had better be because they have established negative character traits driving them to commit that act.

If you're worried about overdoing it (and if you're not sitting there trying to shoehorn swear words into, "Good morn to you, sir"), then you'll probably be fine. You could always say something like, "He growled an oath" to indicate stronger content without smacking the reader in the face with explicit words.

Marian Perera
02-13-2011, 03:05 PM
Would the word shark be out of place in a fantasy world though?

Taken to its logical extreme, this might result in "call a rabbit a smeerp" syndrome.

If there are rabbits in the fantasy world, it's best to call them rabbits. If, on the other hand, those creatures look like rabbits but are actually the sentient servants of a creature living deep beneath their warren, they can be called something different. But to do so for every common creature and object, to avoid referencing our world, would make the fantasy world near-impenetrable.

francist44
02-15-2011, 05:47 PM
Would the word shark be out of place in a fantasy world though? Certainly not to the extent a reference to Hitler would be IMO... no more so than equine steeds being called "horses" (as is common) in a fantasy really.

My creatures -for now I call then terrorfins- feed and act a lot like sharks, but do not look much like them. Since I convey what they are without using the shark word, why not? Perhaps I do take it bit far, trying to keep my reader in my world; but isn't that why poeple read fantasy novels, to escape the real world?

Reziac
02-15-2011, 07:22 PM
Taken to its logical extreme, this might result in "call a rabbit a smeerp" syndrome.

If there are rabbits in the fantasy world, it's best to call them rabbits. If, on the other hand, those creatures look like rabbits but are actually the sentient servants of a creature living deep beneath their warren, they can be called something different. But to do so for every common creature and object, to avoid referencing our world, would make the fantasy world near-impenetrable.

I have the "what do I call this damned critter?" issue myself. If my Epic were fantasy I'd likely just call 'em chickens and sheep to keep things all cozy-like, but it's SF, and it's not in Earth's universe, and they're not really chickens and sheep. Same bio-niche and general usefulness, but different critter. I have enough trouble with readers who want my people to behave exactly like Earth-humans; I don't want to reinforce that wrong notion by using Earth terminology for things that ain't Earth chickens and sheep. Yet I hate the distraction of smeerps. *sigh* So the trick has been to think up simple, usable names for the menagerie, and try to clue the reader with what's different when we see some critter. (Well, the few we do encounter for one reason or another, beings my MC is from the rural backbeyond.)

Plants were easier; I just added a descriptive to a normal word, so I have things like "dagger pines" and "wind-apples". But we drink wine, so we grow grapes.

I guess how it works is: if the word (critter, plant, or cussword) translates straight across into English, I use English; if it's a near-miss, I use the nearest equivalent and some added descriptive; if there's no close equivalent, then I make up a word.

Anne Lyle
02-15-2011, 10:40 PM
I don't think there's a problem inventing names for beasties if they're genuinely different, especially if your people aren't from Earth. Anne McCaffrey had her watchwhers (big alien reptiles used as guard "dogs") and wherries (other big alien reptiles used as draft/riding animals, IIRC) on Pern, and that never seemed odd because they clearly weren't Earth critters with the names changed.

If the humans in a book were near-future Earth colonists, OTOH, they probably would call alien critters by a combination of Earth names and made-up names. For example the bird you Americans call a "robin" is only distantly related to the European robin - but since there were none of the latter in the States, only a red-breasted thrush, the name got transferred.

Shuemais
02-18-2011, 07:47 AM
On the matter of vulgarity and coarse language, I like how King puts it: "As with all other aspects of fiction, the key to writing good dialogue is honesty. And if you are honest about the words coming out of your characters' mouths, you'll find that you've let yourself in for a fair amount of criticism... If you substitute "Oh sugar!" for "Oh shit!" because you're thinking about the Legion of Decency, you are breaking the unspoken contract that exists between writer and reader -- your promise to express the truth of how people act and talk through the medium of a made-up story." (On Writing, p. 185, 186)

On the matter of sex, I can't say as of yet, as none of my works have had such material yet. I think one might have that potential, but I'll have to see if the characters lead me there. These aren't saints we're writing about, for better or worse, and people are likely to want to "make the beast with two backs" when the urge comes. Whether or not you choose to include that scene in an explicit way is up to how true you feel it is to your story as a whole.

Anne Lyle
02-18-2011, 11:01 AM
On the matter of sex, I can't say as of yet, as none of my works have had such material yet. I think one might have that potential, but I'll have to see if the characters lead me there. These aren't saints we're writing about, for better or worse, and people are likely to want to "make the beast with two backs" when the urge comes. Whether or not you choose to include that scene in an explicit way is up to how true you feel it is to your story as a whole.

Exactly. I treat sex like any other aspect of the book - it gets as much detail in any given scene as its significance to the story merits, no more and no less. That could mean anything from "fade to black" to moderately explicit (probably nothing stronger, since I'm not writing steamy romance or erotica!), depending on whether a principal viewpoint character is involved and whether this is "routine" sex or an important emotional point in a relationship.

Euan H.
02-20-2011, 05:25 PM
The vulgarity should be a natural extension of the characters and their world.
I agree, but I think the world often gets forgotten in vulgarity/profanity in fantasy writing. In any language, swearing comes from bodily functions/body parts. But words like 'damn', 'blast' don't. And in other languages, swearing can come from a completely different value system. For example, in Thai, one of the worst things you can call a man is 'ai-heeya', which means monitor lizard. (The prefix 'ai' just about translates to 'fucking'). I was told when I lived there that monitor lizards are seen as being so bad because they crawl on their belly in the dirt, and in Buddhist belief, the parts of the body in closest contact with the earth are the dirtiest--not just physically but spiritually also.

I guess what I'm trying to say (and probably not succeeding very well) is that sure, if a character would curse, go ahead and have the character curse, but don't miss the chance to use curse words to show the culture as well as show something about the character.

Anyway, that's my 2c. :)

Mr Flibble
02-21-2011, 12:10 AM
I guess what I'm trying to say (and probably not succeeding very well) is that sure, if a character would curse, go ahead and have the character curse, but don't miss the chance to use curse words to show the culture as well as show something about the character.



It's a golden opportunity for sure. I like to mix and match a bit - some familiar and some pertinent to the world. If all the curses are world-building, it might get a bit old, you know? Depends on the world...and the curses.

Satchan
02-21-2011, 12:23 AM
I agree, but I think the world often gets forgotten in vulgarity/profanity in fantasy writing. In any language, swearing comes from bodily functions/body parts. But words like 'damn', 'blast' don't. And in other languages, swearing can come from a completely different value system. For example, in Thai, one of the worst things you can call a man is 'ai-heeya', which means monitor lizard. (The prefix 'ai' just about translates to 'fucking'). I was told when I lived there that monitor lizards are seen as being so bad because they crawl on their belly in the dirt, and in Buddhist belief, the parts of the body in closest contact with the earth are the dirtiest--not just physically but spiritually also.

I'm taking a translation class with a professor of Chinese at the moment, and apparently one of the worst insults in Chinese translates to 'turtle egg'. I don't know a whole lot about Chinese, so I'm not sure where the significance/offensiveness comes from...but I thought it was really interesting.

Euan H.
02-21-2011, 11:41 AM
apparently one of the worst insults in Chinese translates to 'turtle egg'.
That would add flavour to any stream of abuse. :)

Shuemais
02-21-2011, 01:25 PM
I'm taking a translation class with a professor of Chinese at the moment, and apparently one of the worst insults in Chinese translates to 'turtle egg'. I don't know a whole lot about Chinese, so I'm not sure where the significance/offensiveness comes from...but I thought it was really interesting.

You have to feel sorry for their zookeepers.

"Hey Bob! One of the turtles! It just laid a--"

"WHAT DID YOU CALL ME!?"

elfletcherauthor
02-21-2011, 03:35 PM
I've written two (unpublised) fantasy works one has my four protaganists time traveling and their language and attitude towards sex is very young adult. When you get stabbed, you say "Oh F*ck that hurt" Paula is a bit slutty on the serface and swears like a sailor, due to her upbringing as a carnie. My second novel is a seperate new world all its own and the worst it gets is "Fornicator of goats!" but both serve the same purpose to push the character forward by their standards.

Reziac
02-21-2011, 06:58 PM
That would add flavour to any stream of abuse. :)

Mmmm, fried abuse :D

MissZ
02-22-2011, 09:40 AM
Is it bad for me to admit that I am drawn to vulgar language? Well...I am. I like a character that drinks, swears, and screws (to be blunt) but still has an inner compass. Sometimes these traits are needed to show the personality of your chracter. On the other hand I don't want the sweet boy/girl next door to start droping the F-bomb just to a cuss or two. If it doen't fit don't wear it that's what I say. Now if the sweetie next door is a closet freak and has a secret life it's ok. So let your characters freak flag fly if that is what they would really do.

Morven
02-24-2011, 01:17 AM
Fairly frequently in fantasy we're operating under "translation convention"; it's part of the explicit or implicit deal that these people are not actually speaking English. It can work very well to simply translate language into things of equivalent strength in our world, at least where that doesn't break the worldbuilding. The worry is if you leave stuff as literal, it won't seem that bad to readers even if it is deeply offensive. This is even done in real-world historical fiction (e.g. the TV show "Deadwood") or in works that are fantasies but presented as alternate history (e.g. Mary Gentle's "Ash: A Secret History").

Most successful works seem to try and balance familiar things with world-specific things. Religious ones are a good candidate for the latter, because unless their religion is a dead-ringer for Christianity, our religious-based/blaspheming bad language won't work. So instead use it as worldbuilding to help explain their faith.