Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The F Word. Really?

Once upon a time, when my friends and I had consumed much too much soda and consequently decided we were the most amusing people in the world and understood the secrets of the universe (seriously, what do they put in coke these days?), we got around to talk around people who really bugged us. Not specific people, just certain types of people. Topping the list were people who cussed for no apparent reason. You know, those people who, when a pencil point breaks, say, "Oh $*@#."

(Second on the list were people who, whenever someone curses would say, "Oh, you said the $*$#-word." Because a) yes, indeed, they did, we all heard, why do you feel compelled to repeat it? and b) yes, you git, and so did you. But those people are mostly besides the point. Except that I knew one and he bugged me.)

Luckily, such people, who cussed all the time and for no apparent reason, were relatively rare. Otherwise, I probably would have gotten in a lot of trouble in my past for slapping people silly. Because, sometimes it's just really hard to resist.

If you're wondering what inspired this little rant, well, a while ago I saw several blog posts about the use of the f-word in YA and cursing in general. There were a lot of good thoughts brought up, such as whether or not the word is appropriate in the context, whether using the f-word might be being edgy for the sake of being edgy, and what the swearing does to the size of one's audience.

Well, I admit, some of my characters in my contemporary works curse sometimes. That's for a couple reasons:
~Teens swear these days. It's true. It occurs. So, sometimes, it just feels like the way the character might have reacted, felt, or spoken.
~Sometimes, the situation calls for it. (You don't almost run someone down with your car and so, "oh my goodness." At least, I wouldn't. If I thought I'd almost killed someone with my vehicle, I'd have to be bleeped out. Unless my mother were in the car. No, maybe even if my mother were in the car.)
~Yes, some people are just like that. They curse. Even if I'd have wanted to slap them in real life, some people are the sort of people who will curse, just as other people are the sort that won't. So we have to let them do that.

Still, my characters don't swear all the time, and they don't chuck out the f-word, and they don't curse for no apparent reason. This is also for several good reasons:

~There's a time and a place for such language, and a large part of YA events occur in places that are not the time and place. Last I checked, most teens won't use the f-word or sundry other curses in the presents of a teacher or their parents or their boss. Situations may vary based on relationships involved, but a lot of people have some list of places where they can't/won't swear. Since those places probably include schools, houses, and work, that's a real limit to where a character in a YA can curse.

~It's annoying. This is probably a belief more related to my views, but I can't stand people whose vocabulary would entirely need to be bleeped out on the radio. I just want to slap them upside the head with my thesaurus and say, "Don't you know any other words?" Seriously, it gets old.

~Not everyone cusses. Some people don't. So, one can't just have every character swearing everything six ways to Sunday. It won't make sense from all of the characters. Also, it could alienate or discomfort readers who don't like a lot of cursing, or, in YA and MG, readers whose parents don't like a lot of cursing.

How do you feel about cursing in your writing? In other people's writing? In real life?


  1. Great post! I'm struggling with this right now. I've never had my characters use the f word, but I have several instances of mild profanity in my current MS. It just seems right.

  2. Well Dominique, I think I'd be bruised from all your slapping. I swear profoundly all the time. I don't know why, someone once said that people who curse all the time have a lot of deep-seeded anger. So I'll go with that, you haven't met my ex.

    As for my writing, in first drafts I let it fly. If I feel like dropping bomb after bomb I do. Then when I hit the revisions I take them out unless absolutely necessary. Of course, I don't write YA or MG so I wouldn't know about that genre.

  3. I personally don't swear, and don't like reading swearing. Ok, that was half true there. I don't usually swear. I would probably have to bleeped out if I almost killed some one too. It's just usually not part of my language.
    Personally, I feel like swearing in writing is usually just a cop out. Like, the author has the character swear instead of finding a better way to show their emotions. Yes, I know that sometimes it works best, but usually it seems to me that the author is just trying to sound edgy.
    I'm not sure if that makes sense, but my brain is on vacation right now. Great post!

  4. Good points. I'm not a big swearer but it is around us in society and I do think books should reflect society. So I agree - there's a time and a place!

  5. I write mystery/suspense for adults, so I don't have a problem using whatever language I deem necessary to complete the character I envision. I don't talk that way though. Don't get me wrong, I'll drop the f-bomb occassionally, but never casually or in mixed company.

  6. I don't use curse words often in my writing but sadly, they slip out more than I'd like in real life. I'm working on it. =[

  7. You've made some good points. I don't enjoy reading books with swearing. Though, I do like to see creative ways people use slang. I had to come up with slang for my new YA coming out in August. It was fun! I write inspirational fiction both YA and romantic suspense and, you've got it, I don't use swear words. It wouldn't fit the market I write for, nor would I be comfortable using it. Thanks for the interesting conversation.

  8. I hardly ever use it. My current WIP has one character who says a few choice words here and there but no F bombs. It just never feels right to me. I'm not against it. I'm just not that kind of writer.

  9. Susan -- If it feels right, I think you should go with it. You have to trust your internal voice.

    Piedmont -- Well, you're a nice woman, so maybe there wouldn't be quite so much slapping. Genre certainly has an effect on the amount of cursing one can get away with. At YA and MG, you certainly get away with a lot less. In adult, you have more options.

    vader -- No, that makes sense. I think, if the writer is only cussing to sound edgy, then it's not edgy, it's just poser-ish and annoying. Things need to be real or they just sound bad.

    Talli -- Thanks. Agree with you on all points.

    DL -- I agree, in adult genres, there is more room for "adult language." Thanks for weighing in.

    L.T. -- Well, cursing does occur. I think it's something we can all work on a little.

    Kathi -- Glad you enjoyed. Thanks for weighing in. Coming up with slang would certainly be interesting. It must be intriguing.

    KAH -- Fair enough. Choice words do occur, in life and in literature.