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Thread: UF How much swearing is too much?

  1. #1
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    UF How much swearing is too much?

    So I've started, as Brandon Sanderson would call it, discovery writing an Urban Fantasy where my MC is a recent college grad, and in about 3000 words has dropped the 'F' bomb at least 20 times. I don't know that it's too unrealistic, considering character and setting, but I'm worried that it may not exactly be readable dialogue. Which got me thinking about the question: How much swearing is too much?

    Realistically, I have friends in their mid-twenties (the age of my character) that use profanity the way other people use filler words. It's to the point they stutter if I challenge them to not swear when they speak. So anybody have any thoughts on guidelines for how often to pepper dialogue with profanity while still keeping the book readable?
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    MacAllister's Official Minion & Greeter AW Moderator Ari Meermans's Avatar
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    IMO, the judicious use of swearing in dialogue is fine for characterization. Other than that, only if it's necessary to the story and does not detract from the story goal.
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  3. #3
    practical experience, FTW stephenf's Avatar
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    Hi
    I personally never swear , and I find jarring when I hear or read it . It's not because I'm prudish , I just find it ugly. Some people do swear when they hit their thumb with a hammer or when having vigorous sex . To add expletives to make the scene more realistic , is reasonable. I have come across people , usually but not always young and slightly drunk, that will swear almost every other word . To replicate that in a story, word for word, could easily become tedious. The strength of swear words is in the fact most people don't use them too often.
    Last edited by stephenf; 12-14-2017 at 09:42 PM.

  4. #4
    is watching you via her avatar jjdebenedictis's Avatar
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    Just write the story; fixing the quirks of dialogue is something to defer to your editing stage. And if the f-bomb fits, then drop that f-bomb. (Storing unused f-bombs in your head is bad for your blood pressure.)
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  5. #5
    Great Old One CameronJohnston's Avatar
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    Personally I think I might find 20 of the same swear word in only 3000 words way too much, that it becomes overly noticeable, but of course it all depends on how you write it. Maybe try and mix it up with other words, or try and reduce it to 15 and see how it reads without the extra 5.
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    Lefties are always right. Southpaw's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jjdebenedictis View Post
    Just write the story; fixing the quirks of dialogue is something to defer to your editing stage. And if the f-bomb fits, then drop that f-bomb. (Storing unused f-bombs in your head is bad for your blood pressure.)



    I agree here. Don't stress too much about it. When you hit your first revision, you'll be able to tell if there are too many or not--and then write them right out.


    In general, as in just asking type of question it depends on the story and the audience. I don't mind swearing in books--they can be quite effective. However, I find the overuse to be tedious and uncreative---but for some characters it works. How's that for noncommittal?
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    Beastly Fido Roxxsmom's Avatar
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    I think the amount and type of swearing that "works" really depends on the story, the characters, the setting, the voice and so on. However, one thing to consider regarding complete realism in dialog: writers generally streamline and soften some of the more extreme mannerisms and habits associated with everyday speech. If you listen to how people really talk vs how they talk in novel dialog, novel dialog tends to be a lot more purposeful, less rambling, fewer trailed off sentences. All this is for the sake of smoothness and not having conversations that go on for pages and don't go anywhere that advance the story. In real life, people have pointless conversations all the time.

    For swearing, there's no taboo that I know of in UF, but having a character who swears as much on the pages as they do in real life might grate on many readers. Not necessarily because of disapproval of swearing--those readers exist, but they're likely not your target audience anyway. But because going overboard with realistic quirks and mannerisms in dialog can become repetitive and annoying. Some people do say "um" almost every sentence, for instance, but it's more intrusive to read than to hear. Maybe it's because it's harder to filter stuff when you're reading it. Same goes for people who drop swears in every sentence, I think.

    You can probably get that person's voice and personality across without using their verbal quirks as often as they might in real life.

    The best way to handle this, though, might be to write the first draft the way that feels right for this character. When you go back and reread it prior to revision, let it stew for a little while first, so you can read it with fresh eyes. Also try reading sections aloud. This can be great for allowing you to decide whether elements of that character's voice feels extreme or excessive or not.

    Another tactic (when the person swearing all the time isn't the narrating or viewpoint character) is to have the viewpoint pov provide a reaction or commentary.

    Something like: I'm no puritan, but even by my lax standards, Bob swears a lot. You get used to it after a while, but he's not the kind of person you bring home for the holidays if you have any relatives who are easily shocked.
    Last edited by Roxxsmom; 12-14-2017 at 11:52 PM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Southpaw View Post
    In general, as in just asking type of question it depends on the story and the audience. I don't mind swearing in books--they can be quite effective. However, I find the overuse to be tedious and uncreative---but for some characters it works. How's that for noncommittal?
    My normal genre is epic fantasy, which generally renders the question moot because I get to make up swear words used by the different races I create. This is my first foray into an urban fantasy for an adult audience. I figure if I'm blazing through a draft asking myself if I should try to tone it down, then potential readers may be asking the same thing.

    Honestly, it's more a question of what the commercial urban fantasy market will tolerate. Ideally, if it's a decent story when it's all finally told, it would be nice to have the ability to sell it. Once again, I'm getting the cart in front of the horse, but that's my own character flaw to deal with.
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  9. #9
    Lefties are always right. Southpaw's Avatar
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    I read a lot of UF and I don't see that much in them. I mean, yeah, it's there but it's used sparingly. The f-bomb is the most infrequent. I see a lot of damn and gods.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Southpaw View Post
    I read a lot of UF and I don't see that much in them. I mean, yeah, it's there but it's used sparingly. The f-bomb is the most infrequent. I see a lot of damn and gods.
    That's what I figured would be the case, which spurred the question. Will certainly edit some of it down in my first revision.

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  11. #11
    Willing to Learn MythMonger's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Roxxsmom View Post
    But because going overboard with realistic quirks and mannerisms in dialog can become repetitive and annoying. Some people do say "um" almost every sentence, for instance, but it's more intrusive to read than to hear. Maybe it's because it's harder to filter stuff when you're reading it. Same goes for people who drop swears in every sentence, I think.
    This.

    There's very little difference between "um"s and f-bombs if both are used too much.
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  12. #12
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    Swearing activates the amygdala, a region of the brain linked with panic and aggression. Therefore, it is a tool that should be used accordingly.

    https://harvardsciencereview.com/201...e-of-swearing/

    Genre, audience, and voice of character are all things to consider, too. Having a character who never swears, but then swears at the right moment can be extremely powerful.

    There are parallels between the tasteful use of dialect and swearing: you don't want to imitate real life dialogue exactly, you want to succinctly approximate it.

    I just find it ugly
    Mind you, I'm waving at everyone from inside the comfort of my X-rated, blood-soaked cave of grimdark over here but depending upon the parts of the human condition you choose to explore with your writing, ugliness is valid. It's a tool.

    Overuse of swearing dilutes its power when swearing becomes necessary.

    At my day job, I craft under magnifying glasses with sharp tweezers. Very, very expensive, sharp, hand-tested, perfectly balanced tweezers. The tips are always covered, I carry them in tubes. The best advice someone ever gave me was, "treat your tweezers like God." If they drop, the standard among professionals is to dive and catch them in your arm because you don't want them to hit the floor. If they strike flesh, you're left with something worse than a snakebite. It's impossible to perform well without perfect tweezers and they are intended as instruments of perfection. Even then, a perfect pair of tweezers isn't enough: you have to grip them a certain way or risk injury, you have to know when to apply more or less tension in your grip, you can't be off by more than a single degree in the angle you're using them, or failure is imminent.

    I consider swearing and tweezers both in my box of "sharp instruments that require proficiency and respect."

    I don't think any amount of swearing is too much when used effectively, but one out of place swear sounds weak if it's a filler for an otherwise more effective word.

  13. #13
    Ideas bounce around in my head Jason's Avatar
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    Interesting topic - I see a lot more swearing coming from the younger generations too as a whole, so if it fits the character, then by all means, it fits and write it that way. If people are offended by it, they'll stop reading it - no skin off your nose. Overall though (being an old fogey) in my mind, swearing has become much more prevalent, and as such, has lost the impact it used to have - and kids these days (in my opinion) just don't get that.

    Too much and it loses it's impact. If the character never swears, then drops a cuss word - major impact!

    It reminds me of Bill Cosby, before his fall from grace, known for actually keeping most of his bits clean and family friendly, had the following in one of his anecdotes:

    "I don't understand what it is that makes drugs so wonderful. So I asked a guy...I asked, 'What is it about drugs that makes them so wonderful?'
    He answered, 'Well, uh.... it intensifies your personality'
    So then I said, "Ok, well yes, but what if you're an asshole?"

    Hysterical, but partly so, because he'd never cussed before! It increased the power of it by a factor of ten by being less frequent than every other word...

    Just my take (as a former army guy, IT guy, and current telephony guy who is surrounded by F-bombs every day)...

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  14. #14
    Wielder of Shineyyyy Sharp Objects tiddlywinks's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Southpaw View Post
    I read a lot of UF and I don't see that much in them. I mean, yeah, it's there but it's used sparingly. The f-bomb is the most infrequent. I see a lot of damn and gods.
    +1 to Southpaw here. I, too, read a fair amount of UF and while there's nothing against cursing, you see things like f bombs more sparingly. I had to think about the right balance in one of my projects because I had a character who swore a goodly amount. Watch for when it becomes meaningless filler and you could better demonstrate your character's mood or emotions with something more visceral.
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    I don't mind reading curse words but it would jar me if every few sentences there were curse words. I don't think it's very necessary to use the actual word so frequently in writing (versus in a tv show or movie) and still convey a character who swears a lot. For example, you could write something like, "he swore softly to himself at the sight of so many dead bodies" and sprinkle in the curse word sparingly throughout the story so readers get a sense of the character's favorite curse word. It would, as previously stated, give the word the extra oomph when there is a situation or person who is particularly jarring to the character. Also, depending on your readership -say you may wish to publish the story internationally and/or translated in another language, the actual curse word your character use may not be one they are familiar with ...I can't necessarily think of a place where there isn't an equivalent to the word f*ck but you never know.

  16. #16
    Willing to Learn MythMonger's Avatar
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    Another alternative I thought of is to scale back on the f-bombs after you've established your character curses like a sailor.

    For example, by your own estimate you're dropping 20 f-bombs for every 3000 words. Now that the reader has their first impression, you could probably get away with, say, 2 f-bombs for every 3000 words. Or 2 for every 10000 or whatever.

    Otherwise, it would probably get old pretty fast. After wading through so many f-bombs, I'd probably be at the point where I'm thinking "we get it already!"
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  17. #17
    There's a stick up there Kjbartolotta's Avatar
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    I tend to use lots of profanity when writing anything contemporary, this is primarily meant to be funny and capture how inarticulate/tasteless/gross the characters are. Also, because my stuff is usually set in LA, and you can't go overboard if you're trying to represent how Angelinos actually talk. If I'm going that route, I try to make sure everyone has their own unique cursing style, as opposed to falling back on the same placeholder f-bombs.

    This is for funny. If I'm trying for anything serious or even semi-serious, I try to stay the heck away from profanity, even if I can justify it being there. With UF, I dunno, you run the risk of the characters sounding like they're overcompensating, or just kinda gooberish and immature. If you're aiming for this, or just willing to accept it, you might end up with some entertaining characters and dialogue.

    tl;dr, if you're shooting for funny, the more swears the better (to me). If you're shooting for serious, be more parsimonious. But, as everyone's saying, the best thing is to keep writing what you're writing and worry about it later.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kjbartolotta View Post
    I tend to use lots of profanity when writing anything contemporary, this is primarily meant to be funny and capture how inarticulate/tasteless/gross the characters are. Also, because my stuff is usually set in LA, and you can't go overboard if you're trying to represent how Angelinos actually talk. If I'm going that route, I try to make sure everyone has their own unique cursing style, as opposed to falling back on the same placeholder f-bombs.

    This is for funny. If I'm trying for anything serious or even semi-serious, I try to stay the heck away from profanity, even if I can justify it being there. With UF, I dunno, you run the risk of the characters sounding like they're overcompensating, or just kinda gooberish and immature. If you're aiming for this, or just willing to accept it, you might end up with some entertaining characters and dialogue.

    tl;dr, if you're shooting for funny, the more swears the better (to me). If you're shooting for serious, be more parsimonious. But, as everyone's saying, the best thing is to keep writing what you're writing and worry about it later.
    I think it's starting off to be funny, his sorcerer mentor is an old hippie, Tommy Chong, type of character with dialogue that includes the fillers 'man' and 'like' in excess. Somewhere in my writing there's a subconscious (I suppose it's conscious now that I've thought about it) urge to start the MC off with that immature voice in his dialogue and as he masters the magic, which causes him to be bi-polar, move to a more mature and less explosive, dialogue.

    There I go thinking about it again, I'll write it out the way it goes, and keep all of this in mind as I get into revision 1.

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    Bring me a knitting needle. Atalanta's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Justobuddies View Post
    I think it's starting off to be funny, his sorcerer mentor is an old hippie, Tommy Chong, type of character with dialogue that includes the fillers 'man' and 'like' in excess.
    I don't even like UF much and I would read that. If you keep it funny, swearing can add spice without ruining the dish.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Atalanta View Post
    I don't even like UF much and I would read that. If you keep it funny, swearing can add spice without ruining the dish.

    Looks like I just found a volunteer to beta read when its all out of my brain and on the page.
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    There's a stick up there Kjbartolotta's Avatar
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    [way to busy to beta but] The world needs more funny urban fantasy.

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    I read a lot of UF. There's definitely f-bombs, but maybe see if you can find a way to change it up a bit. Sometimes filler words you'd never think twice about in a spoken conversation have a way of jumping off the page as repetitive once we see them in print.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Hbooks View Post
    I read a lot of UF. There's definitely f-bombs, but maybe see if you can find a way to change it up a bit. Sometimes filler words you'd never think twice about in a spoken conversation have a way of jumping off the page as repetitive once we see them in print.
    This is exactly what I saw when I read the rough of my first two chapters. The dialogue would sound perfectly natural if I were talking as my character, just seemed like it could be bad writing when I saw all the swearing.
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  24. #24
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    Quote Originally Posted by Justobuddies View Post

    Looks like I just found a volunteer to beta read when its all out of my brain and on the page.
    I'm game.

    Quote Originally Posted by Kjbartolotta View Post
    The world needs more funny urban fantasy.
    +1. Tanya Huff is one of the few writers who could ever get me to read it. She's not a great writer, but her sense of humor was (usually) pitched just about perfectly.

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    Defy gravity. Metruis's Avatar
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    I intend on swearing as much as I would like in the first draft. In the second, then I will ask each f-bomb, "Do I need this?" Swearing loses impact if done too often; I've felt genuinely shocked by certain people swearing because of this. There's a tradeoff–do I need it for characterization? Or do I need it for the punch later? If it makes the character funny, and you don't need it later on, I'd swear as often as makes sense for the character in question to swear. Sounds funny to me.

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