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Monday, December 30, 2013

Do I Drop the F-Bomb?

MUSE MONDAY
Many years ago, in my first Creative Writing class, I wasn't wowed by one of the other students like the instructor was. I have to admit, he certainly was easy on the eyes. Watching him read his short stories was...pleasurable - his hair had that who-cares-I-look-like-this-when-I-wake casualness, he always had a two day growth beard, his jeans had just the right amount of holes. And all of this long before it was stylish. But listening to his stories - nah, not so impressive. He used a heavy sprinkling of four-letter words, dropping the F-bomb frequently. This seemed to impress the instructor. I've always felt there are so many more descriptive words in the English language that the use of profanity just isn't needed.

Nowadays, profanity is expected in all forms of art. I avoided using them for a long time. It wasn't that I hadn't heard those colorful words or that they made me uncomfortable. I grew up with a father that worked construction most of his life. I think the only men who swear more than construction workers are sailors. At least, the saying "swears like a sailor" must be an indication. Eventually, in the name of realistic dialogue, my own writing became laced with a few four-letter expletives. I write contemporary for the most part, and all you have to do is stand in a shopping mall near a group of high school students to get the feel for contemporary language. Luckily, I don't write teenagers. I've been able to sprinkle the realistic dialogue with everyday guttural words but avoid the F-bomb.

Where am I going with this? My current work in progress has a character that keeps threatening use of the avoided word. So far, I've held him at bay with the alternative word friggin'. My husband just read my rough draft. He's not a romance reader but when I write a romantic suspense, he always gives me good feedback. He knows how to help me beef up the suspense. Well, this time he says I'm half-stepping. The guy's a murderer and crass. He wouldn't pussyfoot with his swearing. Ah man...really?

If my bad guy doesn't come off bad in a realistic way, I'm sunk.

So what to do? I've sent off a letter to my editor for some direction. My critique partners are mixed on their opinions. I'll be starting revisions in the next week so I really need to make a decision and go for it. I don't think my publisher would want to see %$#& just because I have trouble putting the word to paper.

Would love to hear any and all opinions on my dilemma from a writer's point of view as well as a reader's feelings on the subject.

30 comments:

  1. If the character is that despicable...of course he will say it. Does not mean you have to use it all the time. Frank is correct, sometimes you have to step over the line for the sake of the story. We have all used that word!!

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  2. Personally, I don't use curse words in my writing. I also write suspense and will show how awful the villain is by his actions. If I need him to curse, I say he cursed or swore, but I don't use the words. This is how I get around it. I use to write super hot and use profanity, but decided against it.

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    1. Good to hear an opinion from a writer who did and now doesn't, Allyson. I guess I'd have to really look and see if my bad dude comes off that bad. I love writing dialogue and it's hard for me to not lapse into what I think a character would say if he jumped off the page and into the flesh. Thanks, Allyson.

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  3. I very rarely use any profanity in my books, suspense or otherwise. I think the worst word I used in Unwritten Rules was sonofabitch. Realistic or not, I really dislike reading the F-bomb as much as I dislike hearing it in real life. I'm sure I'm a throwback, but at least one reviewer said she appreciate the lack of profanity and no one has said my language needed to be grittier.

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    1. You may have something, Alison. It's so overdone nowadays. And good to hear a reviewers point of view.

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  4. A lot of swearing in books bugs me. I think you can get the point across with just a couple of instances. BUT, pussyfooting around with euphemisms makes me even more crazy. I honestly feel that if you write really "bad" guys, you have to be prepared to have them talk and act in character. Because I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one rolling my eyes when an author wimps out and writes the a murderer saying friggin'. In a hero, you can get away with it. Shows he has a little class to not be swearing, especially around the heroine. My two cents, and I feel your pain.

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    1. Half-stepping could be more of a problem than just leaving it out, Jannine. Hmmm...food for thought.

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  5. I haven't read the other replies yet, but...I think it depends on your audience. I agree that using the term too much waters it down in writing. It also tends to dumb down your character. It's like writing "gotta" in dialogue. Yeah, that's how we say it, but writing it that way says a lot about your character. For me, I'm relaxing my writing style a bit. I wrote an f-bomb in one of the WIP I finished a few months ago. The hero just dropped it into conversation. It was along the lines of "f-ed up," as opposed to a curse, and he apologized for dropping it and explained why he did, but making him say "screwed up" or "messed up" didn't suit how my hero was feeling in that moment. The F-bomb fit the purpose. My last WIP, though, is spicier, and it's peppered with F-bombs. But again, it fits the characters and the story. So, I say ask yourself what truly fits your character and the story. An fbomb here and there may very well offend some people, but you know, you can't please everybody. In the end, I say you have to be to true to your characters. If he wants to drop it, let him. I think it'll make your characterization stronger.

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    1. Very good points, Joanne. I so want to be true to the character. I knew I was half-stepping with friggin'. The guy is in his early twenties and crude. But... so I'm rethinking it. The other thing I have to consider is the publisher I plan to market it to. Some have lines they don't want crossed. That can tie a writer's hands - which I don't like. Thanks for the input. And by the way gonna and the likes drives me bonkers when reading.

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  6. If the f bomb is appropriate for the moment, go with it. Are you going to offend someone? Most definitely, but we can't please everyone. Be true to your characters.

    By the way, I lost a whole 'star' because my character used 'effing' instead of the full spelled out f word. A whole star for that and yet she raved about loving the story. Star ratings based on using the f word or not. So go figure. lol I personally felt my character wouldn't have used any stronger language even though he was pissed. The use of 'effing' was pretty darn explicit for him. Like I said, you just can't please everyone. :)

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    1. Oh jeez. No you can't please them all. I'm not particularly concerned about offending people. I guess it's more my hangup with how I started out writing. Now - trying to keep it real which requires a shift in my thinking. Thanks, Karen.

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  7. If the use of the word is okay with your publisher, then I agree with your husband. A guy wouldn't pussy foot, unless his character is restrained not to use it because he is at work, or church, or at dinner with his mother. His not using also shows character. And because he doesn't use it when he does, then the reader will be slammed in that moment with how truly upset he is. However, on the printed page, less is more. So if he is a guy who uses the word a lot, it will quickly become annoying to the reader, which in turn will make your character annoying, and if that's what you want, then okay. Have fun. Interesting question.

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  8. I try to avoid the "f-bomb" but do use other profanity. However, if I had a young, crude villain, that man would drop the "f" word without a blink - and I'd use it in the book. I understand the need to show the redeemable side of villains, but many readers want to see the worst side of their characters - language included - so that when the bad guy is caught, the reader has a higher level of satisfaction. It's your call - I suggest you use, but not overuse the profanity. It's a fine line - good luck!

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    1. Oh it is a fine line, Ashantay. But I rather agree with go all the way with a character so as not to cheat the reader.

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  9. Stay true to your character. My ex mother-in-law was a tiny, almost fragile looking woman who swore like a sailor. After one visit my then kindergartner got in trouble for repeating some of the things she said at school. (Parochial school too).

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  10. I understand your dilemma, and you are receiving some great advice from actual authors. My two cents would be, sometimes it's necessary as Frank has said to accurately portray a character; however, too much of it grows very tiring very quickly. At least, that's how I feel when I'm reading a book with too many expletives. Maybe it's a generational thing, but too much definitely turns me off.

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    1. Thanks for your two cents, Karen. I agree it can certainly be overdone. And as far as the generational thing - for sure. But my books aren't geared to young adults so I should be mindful of that.

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  11. You've already received a lot of great comments. If your killer is a crude axe-murderer, then yes, a lot of f-words. If, on the other hand, he intends to be charming to lure his victim closer, than a lack of profanity works in his favor. I think it depends on the situation and the person. Having said that, lol, I remember running into a 16-year old girl who swore every other word. She swore worse than Soldiers I knew who returned from a mission and were telling me of IEDs going off in their faces.

    Stan
    (SS Hampton, Sr.)

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    1. Yep, Stan. Like Karen said. I think it is a generational thing anymore. And the situation and the personality of the killer.

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  12. You've got a lot of varied advice. All of it good. Basically, most everyone is saying the same thing: be true to your character. This you'll have to decide. If you decide to drop it, I wouldn't do it more than twice and in very tense moments. Then read the scene out loud. I find I over-pepper with "hell" and "damn" when I read it out loud to myself. You might find, when hearing the f-bomb, that it works for that scene...or that it doesn't. But I agree with so many commenters here. It's a word easily overdone and can negate what you hope to achieve. Like hot sauce, f-bombs are best used sparingly, if it's in that person's character to use it.

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  13. I think if you feel as though you *have* to use it, that's a good reason not to. Of course, since I don't like it much, and hate when it's overused, maybe I'm looking for a reason NOT to use it.

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    1. LOL, Liz. The fact I threw in some half-stepping friggin's makes me wonder. I'll know for sure when I do my first time complete read through.

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  14. I have the same problem, Brenda. I hate the F*bomb and don't use it in my own speech, but I have one or two characters in a para series that seem to fling it when stressed. What to do? Will readers even read a paranormal w/o cursing and sex? I don't write either as a rule, though I do use the occasional, casual "bad" word in my contemporary books. What should you do? I'll be reading what others have to say to you. Good luck. I know you'll find the answer you need.

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    1. Yep, Calisa, with some genres it is almost expected. So like I told Liz, once I do the complete read through, I'll know in my gut what I need to do.

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  15. Great question and a very timely post, Brenda, since I'm struggling with a character who insists on dropping the F-bomb. I've never used it in my writing, but in his peer group it's a common expression. As usual, the authors here have offered some great advice. Mine? If he's gritty and crude, the word fits but doesn't need to be overused. Placed strategically, once or twice will make the point and help you avoid the charge of sidestepping. Other instances can be worked in other ways once you've painted the picture for your readers.

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    1. So right, Mac. I'm anxious to get into my revising and see how it works for him...and me!

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