Monday, July 8, 2013

To swear or not to swear

Vulgar language can be a sticky subject.  If you swear, it may turn some people off.  If you don't, it may sound unrealistic--depending on the circumstances.

My very first novel--a deer hunting horror story--was about five guys who went off hunting together each November, and boy oh boy did they swear.  Fuck this and fuck that, with a few shits and goddamns thrown in for good measure.  And, of course, can't forget the (ironic) mother of all vulgarity: motherfucker.

By the time I had five novels under my belt, the amount of swearing went down.  Dramatically.  Why?  It wasn't that I was a prude.  I'm not.  I can use profanity like a sailor, and in many cases I'm not proud of it--especially when it's been pointed out.  But in my writing nowadays, I only put it in if it fits the circumstances.

When I edited Beholder's Eye, a thriller about a police investigator who's daughter is kidnapped by a serial killer, I noticed that when I have dialogue between the two main characters--both investigators for the Minneapolis PD--they don't swear very much.  Do they need to?  I decided not to.  I worked as a cop for roughly a dozen years, and trust me not all cops swear.  Some do.  And some do a lot!  But not all.

It has nothing to do with vulgarity lacking nobility--I believe this was a line taken from the movie Misery.  If it fits, put it in.  If it doesn't . . . then don't force it.

But, by God, if you really need a character to say "Fuck!" don't substitute "Fudge-muffin!" or, worse yet, "F%#@!"  You'll just make yourself look stupid.

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