Thursday, September 04, 2008

A Question About the F-Word

"When angry count four; when very angry, swear." ~ Mark Twain

First question: How do you feel about profanity in writing? In the novel I'm working on now, the hero swears every now and again - mostly to show that he's sort of a slacker, a little insensitive, not a great guy at the start...but that's why his change is dramatic later in the novel. One of my readers was offended by the language (specifically, the word "Christ" used twice on the first page, and the f'-word later in the first chapter). She thought it was likely people would put the book down upon reading the first few pages, and I'd be alienating an entire group of people who might otherwise enjoy the story.

Now, the villainous character in One Night in Memphis swears quite a lot, especially as the novel goes on and the danger/conflict heighten. He, of course, isn't a likable guy, and so maybe those language choices are slightly more appropriate or acceptable.

What do you think? Does profanity in dialogue bother you? Does the genre/character/plotline matter at all? Do you have a certain tolerance for it, or none at all?


Maria Zannini said...

If it's appropriate for the character, I don't mind at all. As long as it doesn't dominate the page to where readers notice the swearing more than the story.

The only place I prefer not to see a lot of expletives are on blogs.

We generally curb our cussing in public, and a blog is a very public place, even though it seems only our friends read it.

Marianne Arkins said...

Here's what I've found: People are less turned off by swearing than by using the Lord's name in vain.

Yes, really.

If it's in character, and not gratuitous, I'm okay with it. But honestly, I prefer not to read it just because it does stick out to me. And, yeah, you will lose more readers by including it than you will gain.

Tough choice.

Amy said...

It all comes down to character. Sometimes, a chilling villain doesn't swear (Hannibal Lecter), and a hero swears like crazy (Will Hunting).

The language is merely a facet of characterization, not the entire picture.

It's a tough line as a writer, but you have to do what feels right to YOU and is within to scope of the story when writing.

Dru said...

It depends on the character but too much swearing can destroy a story.

Liza said...

If it goes with the character, it doesn't bother me too much, as long as it isn't too excessive. I have to agree that I can accept swearing over having someone take the Lord's name in vain.

windycindy said...

In the movies, I really dislike when it seems that almost half of the dialog is swearing. It is not the words that man have said are cursing, it is that I wonder why a better script couldn't have been written. Personally, I would not enjoy it. Cindi

Chad Aaron Sayban said...

The most important thing is that it fits the character and it fits the story. Just throwing in profanity for 'shock value' doesn't work, but if you are writing for adults, about adults, who are under supposedly the most stressful moments of their lives and they don't curse at all, that is probably going to ring hallow to most modern readers. In the end, if you feel it belongs, write it! You can't please every reader no matter what you do, so stay true to the story.

Liz said...

Great question. I have a high tolerance if its within character. Especially if the F word is between 2 guys. This is how they talk. (I eavesdrop alot).
And think who actually made that comment to you.

Yo said...

As long as it works for the characters, you can keep it. And it's not every other word. As far as the Lord's name, I think as long as it is not every other word you could get away with it - occassionally and in realistic situations that you could see a character saying it. But, I know a few people who might be put off by it.

The Blonde Duck said...

I don't think a little is a big deal. I only get offended when it's just F-this, F-that, for no reason.