The Missing Dwarven Phaser is a group blog contributed to by members of the Write Time Writers Group in suburban Chicago, IL. Members write mystery, suspense, fantasy and science fiction (hence the name.) We look forward to sharing our unique writing perspectives, thoughts, and opinions with you.
Monday, February 10, 2014
Holy F@^#ing S#!?
I have been in some discussions about the use of swear words in writing. There are authors who love them in general, others who use them as just an extension of some of their characters’ personalities, and some authors are limited (usually by genre) as to how many and which words they can use.
Swears words are just like any other word in the English language. They have power when it is given to them. When it comes down to it, swear words are really just words that show a degree of emotion.
A swear word compared to its non-offensive counterparts operate in the same manner ‘good’ and ‘amazing’ compare to each other. If someone uses the word ‘darn’, in most cases, they aren’t usually that upset about something. Now if that person were to use ‘damn’ instead, then it would be understood that the person had a stronger connection to that thing. So there is a time and place to use them. A swear word should really be used in situations where it could actually be left out and still have the sentence make sense (when used as an adjective/adverb). If it’s used as a noun, it gets trickier to test if it was used appropriately. It’s more dependent on the context in this situation. For instance, the phrase ‘That’s bullshit’ would have to be tested by replacing ‘bullshit’ with words like ‘crap’, similar to the same test as ‘darn’. All in all, swear words should be used when they portray the appropriate emotion, with the exception of it being a characteristic of a character that does not use them at appropriate times.
There have been stories which use profanity in them that are completely clashing to the motif of the book. I have read books in which halfway through a swear word was used. While it fit the appropriate reaction to the event for the character, it created a dissonance in the book. The character was a noble of a city set in a medieval locale and he went off swearing up a storm. Up to this point, no profanity had been used in the book and even the main characters, who were assassins, didn’t use such language. So to go from no use what so ever to four f-bombs in a row was very distracting and caused me to lose my flow. The scene had such a disruptive effect that I put the book down.
Often the problem of using them for the portrayal of a character’s personality is the overuse of them. A character that drops an ‘f’ bomb every other word or tries to use it in every part of speech that is possible, can become annoying to a reader. The repeated use can, but doesn’t always, create a jarring effect and ends up ‘breaking up the illusion’ of the book. Similar to typos and plot holes, when a jarring effect happens, it can cause the reader to break their flow. If a reader’s flow is disrupted, it detracts from their reading experience. This often causes them to lower their opinion of the book and possibly go as far as to stop reading it, if it has happened on multiple occasions.
The other consequence of overuse is the loss of meaning in a word. In an episode of a TV show several characters confronted another character about his use of the word ‘divine’. They pointed out that ‘not everything can be ‘divine’’. If people use swear words too much, they eventually degrade the meaning of the word to the level of their less obtrusive brethren. Which is, of course, simply no good. ‘Darn it’ should be used in a sense of disappointment, while ‘Damn it’ should be used when one seeks to call forth the wrath of the gods down upon their intended target to have it smitten into the nether.
I also believe that swear words are something that should not be used by children, not until they understand the word’s true meanings. Of my experiences with children who use swear words, I’ve noticed that they use the words as filler words or simply adjectives. Because it’s seen as ‘cool’ to use the words around their peers, children use them without knowing what they are actually saying, which of course leads to the misuse of the words. No person should have to suffer through that.
The use of profanity in literature has its purposes but should, above all, be used with consideration. It can be used tactfully to enhance a character or situation in a book. But if used without thoughtfulness, profanity can really deteriorate the quality of a book.