Musings on writing, lessons learned by an aspiring professional, book reviews, movie reviews, an occasional t.v. show review, and unashamed opinion.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Will you please just cuss already?

So, I have a bit of a rant I need to get out. I've talked about it before, but never in a post dedicated solely to the subject. Here it is: I'm sick of... nay, I loathe fake swearing in adult fiction. I hate it in YA, too, but I understand a little why it is a good idea to use there. But in stories for adults? There's no excuse. I don't care if it's more polite, more diplomatic, even more creative because it falsely gives readers a sense that they're in another world. Please, authors, stop doing it. It is plain dumb.

Now that I've got that out, let me take a step back. I need it to be clear that I'm not a fan of gratuitous language. I'm not a fan of gratuitous anything. I think that all things in fiction ought to be taken in good measure. So no, I don't want F words all over the page, or disrespectful terms for human anatomy every other paragraph. What I do want is for characters to feel real. This is the most important thing for me in fiction. In fact, it's the reason I read--to get inside another person's head, to see what they see, and feel what they feel. If I happen to be in a soldier's head, or a thief's, I want the experience to be truthful to that individual. This means when they cuss they need to cuss!

What about fantastical worlds, or futuristic worlds where language and terms differ from ours? This is the big question, really. Does it pull readers deeper into your world if you have made-up swear words? I submit that it does not. In fact, it detracts from said world rather glaringly. Why? Because it feels FALSE!

Fiction is a bunch of lies strung together into a story. Stories by their very nature are untrue. Even the ones that are based on truth. Parts are always either exaggerated for effect, remembered wrong, or purposefully skewed to make the teller look better. If we wanted just the facts we'd be labeling them as reports, rather than stories. All this is true, right? *everyone nods in agreement, or rolls eyes in exasperation* So what's the deal with fake swearing being bad? If fiction is false, and fake swearing is ridiculously false because it's... well, fake, then who cares? Shouldn't everything be fine and dandy? No, is the correct answer--in case you were wondering. It's not okay, because a story ought to be told in a way that the lie at its heart is forgotten. The best stories are the ones people believe in. The best stories are the ones that seem real. And so, please, please, please, just frick'n cuss already. (Best to keep the blog clean, I think... but if this were one of my novels, boy--I'd be drowning this post in obscenities!)

You know you want to. You know it'll feel good. You know it'll make your story feel more real because made-up swear words just sound dumb... no matter how cool you think they are. Words are power. They are meant to cause specific reactions. A reader's reaction (mine, anyway) falls completely flat when fake words are substituted in place of real ones. This destroys any credibility in a character or scene. Just stop.

Comments? Favorite naughty words you like to use? (Kidding, don't tell me.)

That's all.


  1. This is funny and timely. I just wrote a story whose protagonist was a tough cop. My first draft was full of what my mom used to call "potty mouth" talk. I did go back and tame it (although not with pretend words) but I also kept a few choice words. It's definitely a delicate balance of being realistic without being distracting.

  2. What I have hated though is a book I read having every character in the book saying the f word. Even an 11 year old girl. I don't think that is necessary

  3. Is Fetch an okay word to use? haha kidding:) I guess if you are reading a book and it is using too many swear words then they should just stop reading and vice versa for "fake swearing":) I really think it is more up to what the writer is comfortable writing. Those that don't swear in books probably think swearing is bad in real life.

  4. I've been noticing, in some books where there is swearing, good authors will occasionally throw out a, "He cursed under his breath." It implies swearing and gives the benefit without actually doing it.

    I think this is a great technique when used in conjunction with 'naughty' words, because it prevents the book's language from tipping into the over-use of swearing.