Thursday, March 20, 2008

Warning: strong language

I've recently seen reference to "the f-bomb" on Critique Circle Forums. I made me think about strong language and what we choose to censor.

When I told my mother I had edited my first draft of a story for her to read, taking out "all the 'f' words", she said, "If I worried about that I wouldn't read anything these days." Yet she hates strong language in conversation.

What puzzles me is the inconsistency. Sometimes on television a character will say "fuck" and it's allowed to be broadcast. Yet a recent trailer for The Colour of Magic had the word "bastard" censored, which to me is a less strong word. Americans seem to use the word "asshole" a lot but to bowdlerise profanity. In the UK, most people see "damn", "hell" and "bitch" as not swearing at all.

I have a high tolerance for strong language but I worry that I will offend other people. In writing fiction, the trick seems to be to write in the voice of one of the characters and use the language he or she would use. Nick Hornby uses this to good effect in A Long Way Down, where the characters each have their own voice and the choice between "fuck" and "f-" depends on which character is currently narrating.

Maybe I want it to be simple when it isn't. What do you think?


Jessi said...

Honey, if you've been writing long at all, you know that writing is far from "simple." The act of getting it down on paper/screen may be, but the fine tuning is pure craziness and even the rules that you thought were there, aren't really, because there are a million exceptions. I think curse words are definitely a matter of context and they can be used to really expand on a character's personality...or they can ruin it. And the funny part is, it's all up to you as the writer, hehe. :P

Robin S. said...

It's funny, I have the same question - and it's an important one for me- since in the first few pages of my novel, a twelve year old boy is telling a ten year old girl a story/anecdote about a kid down the street, and the entire anecdote is built around a 'nasty' word, and this anecdote is central to the theme of my novel.

What's even funnier about seeing your topic today- and this is a kind of cool serendipity - is that about a little while ago I sent a Q & A to Evil Editor about this.

It should be interesting to see the answer, don't you think?

My opinion is - is it belongs there (the 'nasty' word), then it needs to be there. If it's icing on an otherwise boring cake, then probably not.

And hey Gina, I don't have a blog, but I'm on Chris Eldin's a lot - hers is abenchpress.blopspot, I think, and if you go on and visit, she'll set up a link to you. I think you'd like Chris's topics, and I think she'd like yours as well.

fairyhedgehog said...

jessi - thanks a lot! I really would like things to be simple and now you've destroyed my last remaining illusion.

robin - thanks for the link to it does look like an interesting blog. I'll maybe see you there as well as at Evil Editor's place. Where I shall be looking out for your Q & A.

I'm sure I've seen your story somewhere. Would it have been on Critique Circle, or maybe Miss Snark?

Robin S. said...


EE's answer is up on his blog- crazy funnt, as usual, but the answer (I think?!) is in there, re: his opinion.

Robin S. said...

Oh, sorry- and I forgot to answer your question- no the only place I post my story secens and openings is on EE's blog, other than one time, on Chris's.

I'll stop 'talking' now, other than to say - I love Britain. i'm there quiyte a bit, as my husband is a Brit, and my daughter is in school there.

fairyhedgehog said...

It's very funny. I get the impression that the answer is: context is all, and even if a word is necessary be prepared to remove it if it means the book will sell.

His version is much funnier. I love his take on Britishisms. I've never heard the phrase 'wankcheese'. I take it that 'wanker' isn't an insult in the States?

Robin S. said...

No, I hadn't heard it until I met my husband, and he referred to this blowhard of a guy as a wanker.

I laughed so hard when I found out.
Also love 'bugger off'.

fairyhedgehog said...

Now I hadn't heard of 'blowhard'.

We're back to the GB Shaw quote, aren't we, about two nations separated by a common language.

The differences are fun, it will be a pity if we all end up the same.

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