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Profanity -- Is one word better than another?


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#1 ScottieElisabeth

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Posted 30 January 2012 - 08:14 PM

My manuscript is YA urban fantasy. There is a decent amount of profanity, because I'm true to my teen MC.

I was wondering though, if it would make a difference if I changed f-bombs to tamer words (s-word, d-word, etc.)? Or is one just as bad as the other? I don't want to waste the time making the change if it doesn't make a difference, but I've found the it doesn't have to be an f-bomb, it can be tamer.

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#2 Whimsical_Werecat

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Posted 31 January 2012 - 04:36 AM

My personal opinion would be to tame it down, if the F-bomb is not necessary. I find the lesser swear words to be more, mmm, I don't know - I guess I find that they can still add all the necessary emotion to the dialogue and still be uncurbed, and yet keep it from becoming too brassy. Does that kinda make sense?

#3 mwsinclair

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Posted 31 January 2012 - 12:16 PM

Although I don't have a problem with the f-word in general in stories, if it's overused it's annoying and counter-productive. If it's used in moderation, it spices up the character. If it's used too often, however, it can be seen as lazy writing and reflect on the writer, which is obviously not what you're going for at all.



#4 TyUnglebower

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Posted 01 February 2012 - 04:11 PM

I don't know what the editorial standards are for Young Adult fiction. That is to say, do editors tend to prefer you not use such words? I'd consider that first and foremost.

But if editors of the genre in general don't care, I think then it is a matter of character. You have to ask yourself if the person speaking would be someone more likely to say one curse word over another. I agree with mwsinclair that the overuse of the f-bomb, or any word for that matter does run the risk of sounding lazy or uninspired. However, I would add that many real people, particularly teens, do use certain words like that over and over again in real life. And they sound uninspired and boring when they do it in real life as well. So ask yourself if perhaps any given character is in fact a bit lazy in the language department. If they are linguistically lazy then perhaps they are in fact f-bombing every other phrase. If not, perhaps they only use it sporadically, or never.

I also think the use of the f-bomb, or again any profanity in your fiction, can be made more potent, if say one character says it all the time, one says it only when angry, one never says it at all, and so on. That way, it isn't your writing, but the specific nature of any given character that is being displayed by the usage.

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#5 Julez

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Posted 06 February 2012 - 07:41 AM

I don’t think it matters that much if it’s true to the protagonist character. It all depends when and how it’s used. Just like a good comedian.

#6 Stumped

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Posted 07 February 2012 - 03:46 PM

I always try to tone my profanity down a bit, but in some cases swearing just suits both the character and the scene. Some readers will consider certain words worse than others. typically the F-word or any profanity that includes it in the word is seen as the worst, I would avoid using it if you could.

#7 mwsinclair

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Posted 07 February 2012 - 03:53 PM

Everything in F-ing moderation.

#8 Rowanwolf

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Posted 07 February 2012 - 04:22 PM

I thought BBC had a nice take on this in her blog... should be below if i did this right.

http://www.writerwri...-sometimes.html

#9 Tom Bradley

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Posted 08 February 2012 - 02:15 PM

When I wrote my recently-completed ms I sprinkled a decent amount of profanities throughout, especially from the mouths of two characters in particular. I didn't think much of it but a beta reader suggested I tone it down -- she said something to the effect that yes, we know these guys are foul-mouthed, but they don't have to be every time they open their pie holes. Reading through it with a more critical eye I found she was correct. I wound up not turning them into choirboys but I did delete plenty of gratuitous f-bombs and other colorful words. Cleaned it up a tad an actually the story moves along much better.

#10 Dan

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Posted 08 February 2012 - 02:26 PM

I vote for tamer. For me, too much profanity is a turn off. Not because I am a puritan or anything but because it seems like a crutch for the writer. It is a little easier to write a potty mouth character than one who is able to express themselves in other ways. Write in fewer f-bombs and hopefully you'll see the same thing. F-ing right.

#11 Tom Preece

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Posted 08 February 2012 - 05:35 PM

I've had a similar issue. First three chapters of my Ms are set in combat in Vietnam where historically there was only one adjective or adverb and it was the f word in both cases. You all may find that hard to believe, but I think it was much like speaking Chinese - it all depended on inflection.

There was no way I could get historical speech past even jaded readers. I settled for using it almost always in casual settings to suggest the truth - language fails you in situations of high stress when all you can think to do is assault the audience.

I agree it should be used to highlight character and conflict, but in the end you need to listen to the music in your head.

#12 ScottieElisabeth

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Posted 08 February 2012 - 09:20 PM

Thanks, everyone! I tamed the f-bombs as much as I could, but I had to stay true to my character. I've just decided to go with the "balance is key" idea and only drop the words when necessary. =]

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#13 anticipa

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Posted 08 February 2012 - 09:52 PM

Clippership had a fantastic post about this a while back on her blog! Basically, she said that using a curse excessively is just like using any other crutch word excessively. If you want a character to say "uh" all the time, be prepared for it to be a tic that'll turn off some readers. Same for "shit", etc.

I have this character in my current ms who desperately wants to seem and feel more grown-up than he is, so he curses a LOT to cover up his insecurities and fears. In my opinion, this actually is an instance where "excessive" cursing is necessary - but someone's going to bring it up with him later, so the reasoning will get addressed in the ms. I'm hoping it can stay, because it's a quirk I think fits him really well.

*shrug* In the end, it's all just personal opinion. I don't care about seeing a million f-bombs, as long as they're worked into the text instead of glaring out at me. But I'm sure some people would be like MMMGHHH UNNECESSARY CURSING GO AWAYYYY.

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#14 Pete Morin

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Posted 09 February 2012 - 07:59 AM

I suppose it's possible someone hasn't seen this eloquent essay on the F-word.
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#15 Tom Bradley

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Posted 09 February 2012 - 10:22 AM

Another thought: Consider the dialog Seth Rogen has used in every movie in which he's starred. Then, do the exact opposite.




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