FREE KINDLE FOR PC

FREE KINDLE FOR PC
So you can read my books

Thursday, June 11, 2015

PROFANITY - DO YOU USE IT IN YOUR NOVELS?


Victor Standish lived on his own on mean, deadly streets  for seven years, 

meeting things that would have Navy Seals swearing like ...

well ... sailors.

By the time Samuel McCord met him, Victor's language was ... colorful.

Sam told Victor that profanity limited his vocabulary and a stunted grasp of words hobbled his mind ...

and his mind was all that stood between him and the Darkness.


Hannah Heath:

has an interesting post of profanity and gives rules to write it by.  Go check it out.  It's a good post.





So?

Obscenities.

What are we to do with them as writers?

Pretend they don't exist?

Scatter them willy-nilly throughout our novel?

F--- has become the duct tape of modern speech.


Without it some rap singers would be neutered.Look at some of the books out there. I have.

Where is the heart, the soul, the marrow in the bones?

Oddly enough, those things are often found in the profanity of said novel,

in how that profanity is used, and in who uses it when.


Profanity is much like spice in a meal. 

Too much blunts the taste of the meal ... or the novel.

Yet, take out the "real" in a novel, and you neuter Chekhov into the artificiality of Mansfield.

Better to drink water than near-beer.

Profanity lends a realism to novels.

Not that without it, novels cannot have the sense of the real.

In Dostoevsky, there is such a burning truth in the prose that it changes you even as you read it.

MY HITCH HIKER'S GUIDE TO PROFANITY :

A.) KNOW WHERE TO LOB THE GRENADE:

Never in the structure of the novel. Only in dialogue. And then only when unavoidable.

Even in first person? Yes. It's strange I know. But it is a rule like gravity.

Of course there are exceptions. 


According to the strict rules of aerodynamics, a bumble bee ought not to be able to fly.

It doesn't know any better, and so it zips along quite merrily on its buzzing, pollinating way.

Trust your instinct on first person narration and profanity.

 

B.) MOST SLANG HAS A SHORT SHELF LIFE:

It takes three years at the fastest
for your print book to be published. 

Don't use slang that may well go stale in that time.

Don't be worried about being timely:

use nice Anglo-Saxon words
that have stood the test of a thousand years.

You won't be sorry that you played it safe with swearing.

 

C.) YOU'RE NOT GEORGE CARLIN:

He wrote for shock ... and for reflection 


on why we are who we are and why we say what we do.

Don't be the little boy writing gross words on the wall to be smart.

One, you're not very smart if that is why you are doing it.

Two, even if you succeed, you have jarred your reader out of the flow of your story.

 

D.) THE PILOT ONLY EJECTS
WHEN HE IS ABOUT TO CRASH:

Remember:
the jet pilot only ejects from the cockpit when he is about to crash.

So don't crash your novel unless you're ending it.

Using profanity for shock value blunts very quickly.

Never use a swear word without first seeing if you can't replace it with another word.

Never make the waters choppy if you don't have to.

Then, there is the strange fact 


that some very common words bring us up short when we see them on the printed page.

Take "fart" for example. It just comes out oddly.

How often have you seen it in a novel you've recently read? Not often I bet.

Then, again ...

 

E.) QUEEN VICTORIA IS DEAD,
AND I DON'T FEEL SO WELL MYSELF:

Put fornicate, copulate, co-habit, or consummate in the mouth of anyone in your novel but a priest or nun,

and you will make your entire novel as plastic and false as a Barbie sitting next to a Ken.

 

F.) DON'T PUT A BLU-RAY INTO YOUR DVD PLAYER:

Each person in your novel should have his or her own style or voice.

Not everyone curses.

And not everyone curses in the same way or at the same rate.

My character, Sam McCord, uses profanity very little.

I explain it in the course of my novel.

Elu, his blood brother, uses none

and there is a valid reason
for that given in the course of events.

The street people of the French Quarter are another matter.



As I've written earlier

Victor Standish, the 14 year street gypsy, has a colorful vocabulary 

which he tries to prune
for the sake of his mentor, Samuel McCord.

 

F.) FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS
AND THE CASH REGISTER RINGS:

Fact of life #1:
Publishing is a business.
A shaky business at the moment.
No publisher wants to chase away customers.

Fact of life #2:
Profanity upsets some people.

So how to write about rough people without using their profanity? 

Hemingway did this in FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS:

 

“The man, Agustin, spoke so obscenely, coupling an obscenity to every noun as an adjective, using the same obscenity as a verb,

that Robert Jordan wondered if he could speak a straight sentence” ( Chapter 3).


 

This tells the reader that, yes, these people are rough and foul-mouthed; so, just take that as a given

and move on with the story.

Since that novel has never gone out of print, most readers must be comfortable with that.

G.) MARK TWAIN WAS RIGHT:


"Under certain circumstances, urgent circumstances,
desperate circumstances,
profanity provides a relief denied even to prayer."

"The idea that no gentleman ever swears is all wrong.

He can swear and still be a gentleman
if he does it
in a nice and benevolent and affectionate way."

 

"There ought to be a room in every house to swear in.
It's dangerous
 to have to repress an emotion like that."

In other words, when there is no other word which means exactly the same thing and gives the same effect, use the profanity.

 

H.) A LAST WORD FROM HEMINGWAY:

In a letter to his publisher and mentor, Maxwell Perkins,

Hemingway ended the letter about profanity with ...

"F-ck the whole business.
That's legal, isn't it?"
***

19 comments:

  1. For me, good old fashioned cuss words like damn and hell don't even count. But too many others are overused now when yes, they should only appear when absolutely necessary.

    I have George Carlin's album (you know, those old fashion wax disc things) with his routine "The Seven Words You Can't Say on Television," and it's hilarious, but then he was a master at deconstructing our societal norms and judgments. He was calmly conversational, not confrontational in his delivery.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, damn certainly seems mild these days -- and Hell only slightly stronger.

      As a statement of that, I have a wild wolf inhabited by a Celestial being in HER BONES ARE IN THE BADLANDS. Each time damn or Hell is about to be used, the wolf growls low for no mortal can damn anyone but him or herself.

      George Carlin was a genius. I'm currently reading his autobiography and from his childhood, you can see where his free-floating hostility came from. :-(

      Delete
  2. My characters curse when it's needed or when other people would let a curse word slip. I rarely use the F word unless I need make an impact. I hate it when characters drop F bombs in every sentence. It's annoying and uncalled for.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. As my Victor Standish says: "Sometimes 'Oh, fudge!' just doesn't cover it!

      Like you, F-Bombs bring me out of the story for some reason. :-)

      Delete
  3. I didn't need it in my fantasy novel, but it would have been so wrong to not use profanity in my sci-fi, since the antagonists are Russian mobsters. It simply wouldn't pass the test of reality if I didn't use it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I also use Russian mobsters in French Quarter Nocturne and Under A Voodoo Moon but used Russian and German swear words as I did in Her Bones Are In The Badlands -- that helped not to offend most readers -- except for my Russian and German ones!!

      Delete
  4. Virtually no profanity in my novels and short stories. Just the way I write. But that doesn't mean everyone shouldn't have them. Depends on their writing style and stories to tell and the characters used to tell them.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I try to make my novels all age friendly so I am very sparing with profanity. Victor uses Sfumato which is a painting style but sounds like what he wants to say!! And in Carnival of the Damned you learn why he called himself Puck in Avalon ... and yes, it is what you are thinking! :-)

      Delete
  5. I struggled with this in one of my novels. I had a character who struggled with life and swore a lot, but then when I made final edits and revisions, I cut it out or changed what he said. There is a Christian theme to the novel and I thought about the audience and what I wanted to expose the readers to. So, I wanted the novel to be authentic to real life, real struggles, the characters' true voices, but also wanted to think about kids (I'm a mom, so there's that. And a teacher, so there's that too.) and made a decision to tame down the profanity. Thanks so much for visiting my blog and commenting recently. Your words meant a lot. :) Christy

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I am still praying for you. As I said earlier, I am trying to write all-age friendly so I am "adaptive" with my swear words!

      Delete
  6. Didn't an old song say, 'it's only words' and one shouldn't be a censor. I stick with what's realistic, as an excess becomes tedious. It depends on the circumstances, but I'm not writing for a judgmental audience, I try to adhere to Hemingway's true words and use profanity to express emotions, mostly. A street kid like Victor has to fit in or you get picked on more. PS - hubs used to skateboard in his younger days before he got a car. . .Also will be doing the real move in July. . .a change will be good.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I will be praying for you in July. I will be shifting to the very late shift in mid-July so another worker can take a week-long vacation, Ugh!!! Hemingway seems to have the best approach. No surprise there, right?

      Delete
  7. Hey Roland! Great post! I just wanted to say thanks for linking over to my blog. And I loved your Hitchhiker's reference. Made my day. =)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm glad to point your way for my friends. Yes, we Hitchhiker fans have to stick together, right?

      Delete
  8. I don't object to language in what I read, unless it's over the top, of course. In my own books though, damn and ass are as crass as I get. I want my books to be accessible to younger people as well as adults. Yes, with the emphasis on military, my books should be more colorful. (I've even had a reviewer complain about that.) But I'm not going there.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Casablanca was an intrigue and war film but with no swear words, and I did not feel cheated. Robert Heinlein wrote military sci fi and little swear words, and he is a classic writer. Follow your instincts is what I say. :-)

      Delete
  9. 'Know where to lob the grenade!" Love it! :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The ghost of Mark Twain made me say it! :-)

      Delete