In Defense Of Swearwords

If any of you were to meet me on the street, or in a professional setting of any kind, you would never be able to guess this, but I have a really dirty mouth.  I’m fond of saying that my monsters got their advanced vocabularies from me.  That includes some four letter words we try not to say in front of Grandma anymore.  Unless the Steelers are playing, then we are reminded that my mother in law was actually a sailor.

I cannot stand to hear someone say that swearwords show a level of ignorance in a person.  I am an intelligent, professional person with a wide vocabulary who sometimes thinks that fuck is the right word for the given situation.

I’m not here to tell you that you should start swearing in your everyday life.  I’ve found that swearing is like smoking; people who do it are offended by people who don’t, and people who don’t are grossed out by people who do.  I don’t smoke, though, that’s disgusting.

I am, however, here to make the point that maybe your characters should swear.  Here’s why.

It’s honest

It is not realistic for every one of your characters to have clean mouths all of the time, because that’s not how the world works.  It’s full of people swearing at other drivers, their spouses, their bosses, strangers on the bus.  Not everyone swears, and not everyone swears all the time.  But lots of people do, and if none of your characters do, it’s not going to feel as real.

It tells us about your character

Whether or not someone choses to swear does tell us things about that person.  But you can do so much more with it than that.  When someone chooses to swear is often far more telling.  For instance, someone who swears but has the good sense to not do it in front of the boss is a far different person than the one who doesn’t.  Likewise, the character that never swears, but then tells someone to go f*%& themselves is telling us a lot.

It can help set a scene

If you have a scene in church, or an office, or a child’s birthday party, there isn’t going to be a lot of swearing.  But there are a lot of places that can be more flexible.  Take, for instance, an ER.  If your mc is walking into the ER and she hears “Son of a bitch!” well, you know it’s an ER with a problem.  People don’t generally swear for mellow, pastel feelings.  I always say that it’s a strong word to convey a strong emotion.  Use that.

Our language is so versatile.  It’s colorful, it can be very subtle or very direct.  Don’t limit yourself by declaring certain words out of bounds.

Book Review, Nightblade

A few months ago, I started reading indie books to review.  I really love the whole concept, you know?  Self publishing, being like an indie band, selling copies of books out of our trunks.  Still flat broke but with some die hard fans.  I mean, how cool would that be?

For the longest time, I’ve wanted to start posting reviews of books I read.  Lots of things have prevented that.  Time constraints were a big issue, of course.  I just don’t have enough time to read as much as I want.  And I read a lot that isn’t indie, of course.

Then there were the books themselves.  I really didn’t want to write a review of an indie book that I really hated.  That seemed cruel.

But then!  I just finished an indie book that I truly enjoyed.  Then I read some traditionally published stories that I wanted to share with you all, too.  So I’m going to start reviewing books on Paper Beats World.  My hope is that I’ll be able to do two a month, and I really hope a lot of them will be indie books.  But I make no promises.

Anyway, the indie book that changed my mind is called NightBlade, by Garrett Robinson.  It is the subject of Paper Beats World’s very first book review.

This was a really fast paced fantasy story about a girl named Loren.  She’s a pretty miserable young woman.  Her parents are horrible to her, seeing her only for what she can do for them.  But she’s got little more than a fantasy of being a thief to sustain her until a mage stumbles into her village, tailed by lawmen.

Now,the book isn’t without it’s flaws.  The secondary characters like the father and village boy who’s in love with Lauren are pretty one dimensional.  Other characters, like Lauren herself, aren’t though.  While I do question her desire to actually run off with some stranger, she’s interesting.

All in all, I liked Nightblade.  It was a fun read, even if it didn’t do more than that.

Said Is Not Dead!

I’ve been seeing this phrase around the internet recently, and I’ve got to tell you, it’s pissing me off.  “Said is dead.”  Have you seen this?  I really hope that it’s just a trend, and it dies a merciless death soon.

Said is a simple word.  He said, she said, they said.  I like simple words when I’m writing, and I’m not alone.  Steven King and I might not agree on outlines or how many sex scenes a horror story needs, but we do agree on this.  At least according to his book On Writing, which should be on every indie author’s reading list.

I understand that there are a lot of reasons people want to use more complex words, especially in transition.  You might think they’re boring, or that maybe your line of dialog wasn’t clear, so it needs a little help.  Maybe you just want to show off how smart you are.  Here, though, are five reasons why you should reconsider.

You should always use the right word for the situation

For example, the word very. (This is about all simple words, not just said)  I hate the word very when used in description.  The sun was not very bright.  It was blistering, it was sparkling.  He had never seen a brighter sun.  The writer who uses very in description is being lazy.  They are half assing it.

But, your characters should be free to use very whenever they please, so long as the dialog rings true for them.  If “the sun is very bright today,” sounds like what your character would say, then let her say it.  The same goes for any simple word.

If a simple word will do, it’s probably best to just use it

Especially if it was the first word that came to mind.  That is most likely to be the most natural, and most comfortable word.  Which means that it’s less likely to jar the reader.  If I read a line with the word pejorative, for instance, that’s jarring.  I know what it means, but negative would have worked just as well.  Now I’ve got the chant from that Simpson’s episode where Homer is accused of pinching the baby sitter’s bottom because she had candy stuck to her.  Totally great episode, but now I’m not thinking about your story anymore.  Complex words, when not needed, confuse laymen and distract word nerds.

Using complex words doesn’t mean you’re talking down to your readers

The New York Times is written to a fifth grade reading level.  Let’s just start with that.  So if such a well known big name newspaper is aiming there, you shouldn’t feel bad at all about writing to a similar level.  But always remember that simple words do not equal a simple thought.  Think of Steinbeck, author of such books as Of Mice And Men and Grapes Of Wrath.  Do you consider those books condescending?  Me either, yet the language is the very simplest.

If you’re writing for kids, don’t listen to me

I have a pretty impressive vocabulary, because I watch Simpsons and read Calvin and Hobbs.  I am not making that up.  My monsters are even better than I was at their age, because they read Calvin and Hobbs and Series of Unfortunate Events.  I love children writers who use great stories to teach difficult words.

I, however, am not writing for kids, so I really do not care to expand my audience’s vocabulary.  I would settle for teaching people to use the words they already know better.

Finally, the number one reason to use simple words

Your job as a fiction writer is to tell a story.  Your job as a non fiction writer is to convey information in an entertaining way.  Whatever words you chose should help you do that, not distract from it.  Just use said, and tell the damn story.

A Website.

Up ↑