Foul Language and Fiction

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The above reference should serve as a disclaimer about the nature of tonight’s musings on writing. While it does perfectly illustrate my point, it also should warn you that if you consider yourself easily offended, faint of heart, or overly sensitive to “bad words”, you might want to stop reading now, because you’re going to see them, a lot. Although, I have to add, purely in an analytical context.

No? You’re good? Okay, moving on.

I’m currently in the process of rewriting “Camp Ferguson”, and I’ve come across a bit of a moral/ethical quandary. For those of you who aren’t familiar, “Camp Ferguson” is to be the first in a series of novels that features college-age wizards pulling pranks, cracking jokes, and generally causing chaos at a government-sponsored boot camp for magic-users in the U.S. As such, the books are mostly aiming for a young adult to mature audience, and unlike the “Harry Potter” series, I like to pride myself on their relative realism in their depiction of government, relationship to the “real” world, and most importantly, their characters. I don’t mean to disparage J.K. Rowling at all; I just had to do something to set myself apart.

In any case, it’s the character part of this equation, and more specifically the language part of it, that’s hanging me up. Here’s a bit of real talk for a second: I’m 24 years old. Most of the people I know and am friends with are around that age. And we curse. A lot. Sorry, but it’s true. It’s just the way things are when you’re young, I guess, and language continues to evolve, for better or worse, all the time. My main issue is not whether or not to have my characters use curse words in their dialogue, because I think having them do so is an extremely effective way to portray them as realistic, and somewhat humorous, adolescents. It’s really how deep I should go down the rabbit hole on this one. Stephen King, one of my writing idols, makes frequent and liberal use of all kinds of foul language in his books. And you know what? It’s pretty funny a lot of the time, and other times it just helps to convey the sense of horror, creepiness, and menace that some of his works entail. But I also don’t want to alienate a huge swath of potential readers with something I could easily change or do without.

To do this, I’m going to break down my thought process for the most common cuss words I can think of, and show where I draw the line and where I don’t. Then maybe you all can tell me if I’m totally off my rocker or what.

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D*mn–Honestly, I’m not sure why I’m even censoring this one. It’s become so commonly accepted that it’s hardly even a cuss word anymore. Hell, it’s even used as a funny catchphrase a lot of the time (Ooh, I said the “H” word too! Yawn.). Even when you add the religious bent with “God d*mn it,” it still doesn’t mean a lot. This is one I’m pretty comfortable with overall.

*ss–This is a step up, but still, not really uncomfortable. It’s usually combined with something else, like “*sshole” or “*sshat” and so forth. Pretty low-key as far as I’m concerned. It’s sometimes even used as a loving term of endearment in some more twisted works of fiction. Don’t laugh, it’s true. I don’t have a problem with this either.

D*ck and d**chebag–Okay, these are more specific to the male anatomy and things relating to it, and surprisingly, I’ve had some people caution me against them, despite the fact that I think they’re even less derogatory than the first two on my list. I’ve used these both quite a bit in “Camp Ferguson” so far, but if anyone can give me a really good argument about how they’re too offensive to put in, I guess I might listen.

B*tch–Ah, here we go. The feminine cuss words. This is where I start to have a problem. I know some people treat this word like it’s no big deal. Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t like it. Even when guys are making fun of each other for being wusses or whatever, it’s not nice. And when it’s said to a woman in my presence, I really have an issue with it. I won’t even talk about the totally unmentionable “C” word, which is so beyond the pale I won’t dignify it with a full mention. I’m steering way clear of both in my writing thus far.

Sh*t–Here’s the lesser of the two “big daddy” cuss words. It’s funny to me how this one is slowly becoming more and more accepted in the mainstream and losing some of its power. Shows like “The League” and “It’s Always Sunny” throw it out all the time without even getting bleeped, and there was a whole episode of “South Park” that explores how many times they’re allowed to say it uncensored on TV. Despite this, it’s a little too hardcore for me, so I’ve been using it incredibly sparingly, and then only when combined with something else, like “bullsh*t”, which I think helps dilute it a little.

F*ck–And here we have it, the “F-Bomb”. I think I speak for a lot of people when I say that despite the fact that I say this, a lot, it’s not a nice word to say. It even sort of leaves a bad taste in the mouth afterward. It’s usually used as a sort of trump card in entertainment, and only comes out as part of a lengthy climax tirade or as a one off exclamation of ultimate confusion and frustration: “What the f*ck?!?!” You know what I’m talking about. So far, I’ve refused to drop it in any of my works because I think it sort of crosses the line into outright, blatant vulgarity. But again, if someone can make a really convincing argument for why it needs to be in my writing, I’m willing to listen.

You may notice that I have a teeny bit of a double standard when it comes to what’s okay and what’s not in language. I won’t deny it. I’m human, I have faults, and this is just the way I personally feel. I won’t apologize for it either, but I’m open to other points of view. If you think any or all of these words are valid to use in my writing, or fiction in general, or even if you don’t, I’d love to hear your point of view.

So until next time…

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