Tolerance of Expletives in Novels

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Reziac

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I may not actually notice whether or not there's swearing. I will notice if the characters don't speak naturally, as themselves, or uses stilted artificials to "avoid" swearing.

If that $profane_archetype keeps a clean or euphemized tongue, or if that $sweetness_and_light_architype cusses a blue streak, it needs an in-character reason. We may not directly see it; it might be a byproduct of something else, or a social restriction, or too much soap in the mouth as a child, or...
 

CrastersBabies

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I may not actually notice whether or not there's swearing. I will notice if the characters don't speak naturally, as themselves, or uses stilted artificials to "avoid" swearing.

If that $profane_archetype keeps a clean or euphemized tongue, or if that $sweetness_and_light_architype cusses a blue streak, it needs an in-character reason. We may not directly see it; it might be a byproduct of something else, or a social restriction, or too much soap in the mouth as a child, or...

I like this.

Also, I can imagine reading:

David opened the safe, expecting to find his father's baseball collection. His hands trembled at the mere thought of it. Babe Ruth. Babe Ruth. That's all he could think about. The final number. The turn of the knob. And when David opened the door, the safe was empty.

"Darnit!" Dave said. "Gosh gee willy willikers!"

He grabbed a lamp and hurled it against the wall.

"DAG NABBIT!"

Then he overturned one of the nightstands.

"Poop! POOP! Coitus poop!"

(I might actually read that, though... maybe it was a bad example, LOL.)
 

quicklime

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i would read that, but expect it was a follow-up to Atlanta Nights.
 

Hoplite

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I like this.

Also, I can imagine reading:

David opened the safe, expecting to find his father's baseball collection. His hands trembled at the mere thought of it. Babe Ruth. Babe Ruth. That's all he could think about. The final number. The turn of the knob. And when David opened the door, the safe was empty.

"Darnit!" Dave said. "Gosh gee willy willikers!"

He grabbed a lamp and hurled it against the wall.

"DAG NABBIT!"

Then he overturned one of the nightstands.

"Poop! POOP! Coitus poop!"

(I might actually read that, though... maybe it was a bad example, LOL.)

i would read that, but expect it was a follow-up to Atlanta Nights.

I was thinking of Ned Flanders.
 

Marian Perera

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A couple of relevant blog posts :

K. J. Charles : Good Bad Language

My favorite part of this:

Just say, ‘He swore foully’ and allow the reader to use her imagination? Really? ‘He swore foully’, unsupported, has about as much effect as claiming, ‘He spoke brilliantly about Wordsworth’s poetry’...
And my post : Alienating Readers With Swears
 

Reziac

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Myrealana

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One of my favorite authors had no swearing in his books, and at the same time, TONS of swearing.

In David Eddings's books like The Belgariad and the Malloreon, someone would let loose with a string of explitives, which we do not hear, and then someone else would pop in with "My dear, you're going to make the sailors blush if you keep that up."

I love the way he did it. It just wouldn't have been as funny to show the actual swear words, and being a completely non-Earth fantasy setting, our swear words wouldn't have made sense anyway. Rather than make up fantasy curses or work with what we have, he just left it to the reader and let the other character's reactions tell us how to feel about it. It doesn't work in every setting, but it worked for him.

I also enjoy Harry Dresden's swears. Hells bells. Empty night. Stars and stones. He occasionally says something more traditional, but only when it's really called for.

"Oh shit. Hellhounds."
"Harry, you know how I feel about that kind of language."
"Sorry Michael. Oh shit. Heckhounds."
 
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Roxxsmom

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Yup they took a word for something a bit giggle inducing, and made a swear out of it, so it's funny AND sweary while bypassing the (at the time) watershed things on swearing. They always claimed it had nothing to do with smegma, but...really? Hahaha. Doubtful.

That's how to make up a swear.

I always assumed it referred to smegma. Otherwise, what was the shock value? Swear words are usually something that are at least mildly shocking (unless they're "granny swear" substitutes like "darn," or "shoot"). Hell , as an American, I wasn't even sure it wasn't a term they were actually using for real in the UK at that time.

It worked for me in the context of the show and characters.

I think swearing "code switches" (if this is an appropriate use of the concept) are interesting for those of us who move between worlds (and even circles of friends who have different standards). A lot of us who use dialogue enhancement in our daily life are fairly situational about with whom we use certain words.

I don't swear in front of my students, except maybe an occasional "oh my god," sort of thing. I actually will sub in "granny" words like "darn" without even thinking about it.

I'm very limited about doing it with co-workers too. Some of them will swear with certain colleagues, and some don't, and there are just some people I don't lapse into that kind of vernacular with. I did let an f-bomb slip in the staff lounge once, when I was really agitated about something, and one of my more religious colleagues was sitting right there. I could tell it bothered him, so I apologized.

The hard part is my brother. We grew up with a dad who swore creatively and abundantly, so moderate swearing (for the rest of us) has always been part of the familial lexicon. But now that he's a parent, he's decided he doesn't want to take the gift of creative cuss words out into the next generation. So we're not "allowed" to swear at his house.

Things slip out occasionally, and the kids go "Ooooohhhh!" with looks of mingled horror and delight on their faces. I suspect they'll survive the trauma.
 
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quicklime

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The hard part is my brother. We grew up with a dad who swore creatively and abundantly, so moderate swearing (for the rest of us) has always been part of the familial lexicon. But now that he's a parent, he's decided he doesn't want to take the gift of creative cuss words out into the next generation. So we're not "allowed" to swear at his house.

Things slip out occasionally, and the kids go "Ooooohhhh!" with looks of mingled horror and delight on their faces. I suspect they'll survive the trauma.


minor derail, but I always wondered if these people assumed their kids rode to school with bus-provided earmuffs, were given plugs for recess, etc......
 

NRoach

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minor derail, but I always wondered if these people assumed their kids rode to school with bus-provided earmuffs, were given plugs for recess, etc......

I'd imagine the idea is that children not seeing their parents act like that would make the kids feel like it was less acceptable generally, or at least introduce the fact that there's a difference in acceptable language in certain contexts.
 

Chumplet

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"Oh shit. Hellhounds."
"Harry, you know how I feel about that kind of language."
"Sorry Michael. Oh shit. Heckhounds."

Reminds me of Christmas Vacation:

Ruby Sue: Shittin' bricks.
Clark: You shouldn't use that word.
Ruby Sue: Sorry. Shittin' rocks.

My characters swear. Some are known for dropping the F-bomb. That's their charm. Some use words that are Forbidden in North America, but terms of endearment in the UK.

Beta readers have to be prepared for that stuff. If they're uncomfortable with it, choose someone else.

Heck, I sent explicit stuff TO MY DAD for critique. He never mentioned the swearing, despite the fact that the strongest curse he ever said in front of me as a child was, "Ruddy."
 

Chumplet

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I always told my kids to mind their swearing in front of strangers and grandparents, who might feel uncomfortable. However, a blue cloud hangs over our house when more sensitive individuals are not present.
 

Roxxsmom

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minor derail, but I always wondered if these people assumed their kids rode to school with bus-provided earmuffs, were given plugs for recess, etc......

To be fair, I don't think he or my SiL think their kids will never hear swearing out in the world. My SiL was a teacher for many years, and she thought South Park was hysterical (when it was first on, at least), because "that's how the kids really talk when they think grown ups aren't listening."

But I think they're hoping that by setting a "good" example at home, they're creating kids who are at least mindful about their use of such words later in life. I dunno. I see their point and try to respect their wishes when around the kiddos (it's not like I'm someone who sprinkles everyday speech with F bombs, but I'm surprised at some of the lesser words that get round eyed stares, like "crap," or "hell"). Still, I grew up around grown ups who swore, and I try to be pretty mindful in my life as an adult. It's hard to spend any time out in the world without learning that there are people who swear like the proverbial drunken sailors, and people who are bothered by it, and it's easier for everyone if you tone it down in public space.

A book is different, however, as the use of profanity is part of characterization (and that all important character voice). It also is a way of conveying emotion. As others have said, bending over backwards to avoid its portrayal in situations where it would occur comes of as unnatural. I suppose it's down to the kinds of stories and characters one wants to write, however.

I do scratch my head some over the people who are so sensitive about swearing (whether face to face or in a book) that anyone they hear dropping a cuss word ceases to exist as a good person. Or about those people who seem to think that swearing is something only low class, uneducated people do. Obviously, there are lots of very smart, educated, and decent people who swear/have sworn in their lives.

Such people do seem to have had very sheltered backgrounds, so some parents, at least, have managed to fit their kids with those special cuss-proof earmuffs before they sent them off to school each day.

Or maybe they home schooled?
 
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quicklime

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actually, I think they just managed to raise narrow-minded kids. I see the same things said here occasionally and you're right, nobody HAS to swear, but the notion it "is indicative of a shallow intellect and small vocabulary" suggests the folks who believe that have lived a rather myopic life.

I've seen Nobel winners swear like they were on shore leave....
 

Buffysquirrel

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So I'm wondering, what is your take on this? Do any of you guys use colorful language in your MS/novels? And if you don't, would you or have you read a book that does? Also, how much of a hinderance, sales wise, do you believe that puts on reaching the widest audience possible in either the SF or F community? The most popular books these days clearly seem to be YA, at least Hollywood thinks so.

I use the language that the story requires. So, yeah, sometimes my characters are 'colourful' (but rarely imaginative, bless them). The only argument I've seen against having characters who would swear, swear, that I think has any validity is that it may limit your readership. Some people are so controlly that they want even the pixel people not to swear. How much of a limit there'd be in SFF, I don't know.

ETA: I did sort-of do the equivalent of "he swore foully" in my WIP because, really, I can't think up imaginative swears for my characters.

I'd left the key in the door so she opened it, then swore, using words even I hadn't heard before. Creatively, too. The Virgin Mary wouldn't have enjoyed that at all.
 
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Marian Perera

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The only argument I've seen against having characters who would swear, swear, that I think has any validity is that it may limit your readership.

But doesn't that apply to every choice we make with our writing? Genre, heat level, violence, character flaws?

I've seen some very strong reactions against Stacia Kane's urban fantasy Downside series - not for the swears, but for the drug use. That's something which has no doubt limited her readership, but I'm glad she didn't allow this factor to deter submission or publication of the books.

I did sort-of do the equivalent of "he swore foully" in my WIP because, really, I can't think up imaginative swears for my characters.
It doesn't matter to me what other writers do with their work, but I get tired of arguments that go, "No one needs to include swears in fiction because there are better, cleaner alternatives! Like just saying, 'He swore'. Or if you want more emphasis, 'He swore foully'."
 

Buffysquirrel

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Same here, tho now that I know more about what's a curse in their society, I may go back and make 'em more specific.

*nods*

I took the opportunity to have the character make a wry observation. To me that's more important than detailing the language.
 

CrastersBabies

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actually, I think they just managed to raise narrow-minded kids. I see the same things said here occasionally and you're right, nobody HAS to swear, but the notion it "is indicative of a shallow intellect and small vocabulary" suggests the folks who believe that have lived a rather myopic life.

I've seen Nobel winners swear like they were on shore leave....

Yeah. I do so love the whole, "Smart people can come up with more colorful and clever curses instead of using naughty words."

I read crap like that, twirl my finger, and go open up my Kurt Vonnegut book that has a drawn picture of an asshole on page 7.
 

Squids

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It might be interesting if you defied stereotype and switched the two!

My Command Master Chief does not even say "damn." I also have a Senior Chief corpsman who was with the Marines for over 10 years that is trying to stop cursing. He says "frickin" a lot.

I, on the other hand, curse like...well, I curse a lot. :D
 

Reziac

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*nods*

I took the opportunity to have the character make a wry observation. To me that's more important than detailing the language.

Wry observations I can do. But I myself curse with a great lack of imagination, which I try not to inflict on my hapless characters. Their lives are hard enough without being allowed a few choice words.

Sometimes, tho, it's a matter of pacing. Compare:

He swore, and went to fetch a broom.

He said, "&%%^@#$," and went to fetch a broom.

The first is more all a single stream of action (with emphasis on fetching the broom), while the second halts, speaks, then finishes the action (with emphasis more on the swearing).
 
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Roxxsmom

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Well, some people might not read a story because of the swear words, but using that as a justification for omitting swearing is making the assumption that other readers might not be put off by the lack of swearing in a story where it would fit (or perhaps the assumption that the kinds of stories that have swearing in alienate certain readers only because of the bad words).

Not saying I look for a book with lots of bad words, but if something feels "off" about the dialog, narrative, or characterization, then it's going to decrease the likelihood of my getting into it.

I have trouble believing that fantasy writers like Scott Lynch, Joe Abercrombie, or George RR Martin would have more readers if their characters were subbing in gentler words for their f and s bombs, or if they were simply "swearing richly" instead of saying the words.
 
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thepicpic

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I have trouble believing that fantasy writers like Scott Lynch, Joe Abercrombie, or George RR Martin would have more readers if their characters were subbing in gentler words for their f and s bombs, or if they were simply "swearing richly" instead of saying the words.

It amuses me to think that someone would read Joe Abercrombie and be put off because of foul language, of all things. Foul characters, gore and general darkness? No, it's the swearing.