| Monday, November 30, 2009
I'm back after two (yes, two!) Thanksgiving meals thanks to the SO's various family units. As for what I'm thankful for... well, I may have to do an entry on that sometime in December. At the moment, I'm thankful that SO is bopping his head and singing along to Lady GaGa, because that shiz is hilarious.

I decided to put my NaNo project on ice for a few days while I just vegged and recovered, so I haven't written a word since I verified and won (WOOHOOIROCK). It feels a little weird. I plan on getting back into it starting tomorrow. I'm aiming to finish the thing by Christmas. *fingers crossed*

I had a loose idea of what I wanted to write about today, and lo and behold, while wading through my backlog of blogs, I found that The Blood-Red Pencil had already touched on the subject I was thinking about - swearing in literature. I know, random. It was just one of those things that got stuck in my head and I ended up thinking about quite a bit over the last few days.

I have sort of a weird relationship with profanity. Growing up in my household, dropping an f-bomb could result in a two-week grounding and the possibility of revoked Trick-or-Treating privileges. Seriously. I was raised to view profanity as something not only incredibly rude, but also low-brow. Of course, eventually I grew up and got over it only to discover that my parents were great big hypocrites who cursed on a regular basis once my brother and I were "old enough." These days, several swears get plenty of play in my verbal rotation, and I've (mostly) gotten over my mental block.

Yet, part of the block still exists. I can't help but find myself in situations in which I find that a person's use of profanity really detracts from what they're trying to say and, yes, makes me turn my nose up a little. It's a tricky beast, especially in literature. There are certainly instances in which it fits - such as the dialogue of a character that has a serious potty-mouth, or even to show an intense emotional outburst from a character that's normally very proper and you're trying to show that they're REALLY upset. In other instances, such as non-fiction where you're attempting to build a logical argument, it can really throw off your whole stance to toss in profanity, even if it fits with your personal voice. Some people, like myself, tend to be turned off to a person's argument when they start swearing at me.

I'm definitely not anti-swearing. Swearing is completely realistic for everyday conversation, and many people are totally fine with it. Others are easily offended and will always find it distasteful. It's only fitting that both sorts of people will be writing and reading literature, and characters will reflect it. Depending on the characters we write, swearing might be more or less appropriate. Military officer? Might swear a lot. My Apostolic Christian traditionalist grandmother? Can't even say "fart."

In fiction, there's no doubt that sometimes profanity just reads hollow and off-color, like it's being used purely for shock factor, and that's a poor way to use it. Not only is it weak, but it's totally obvious. I can almost always tell when an author is uncomfortable with swearing, because the swearing in their work feels really stilted and not natural to the dialogue/narration. This seems to plague certain "adult" fiction books I've read, and some YA, as well. It almost feels like the author thinks their characters should swear, so they throw it in at really awkward points. I suppose the easy solution here is: if you're uncomfortable with profanity, you probably should avoid using it in your work. It shows. It's fine that your characters don't swear - not everyone does.

On the flip side of the coin, there is the fact that no matter what you do, no matter how appropriate it might be that some (or all) of your characters use profanity, there are going to be people offended by it. There will be people who refuse to read a book because it contains cursing. What can you do about this? Well... nothing, really. Not unless you want to censor your book.

How does this stretch to YA? Well, teenagers swear. But not all of them, and not as much as you might imagine, depending on the teen. I personally am trying to avoid using profanity as a way to "connect" with teens, because that crap won't work. It's like when I finally turned 18 and suddenly my parents were okay with swearing around me, and seemed to think they could connect with me more by saying "shit" once in a while. Awkward.

In a nutshell, I suppose I'm going with the idea that profanity is fine as long as it flows naturally, and you're not throwing it in because you think it should be there. It definitely shouldn't be used because you're aiming for the "cool" factor. And if it's really difficult for it to come to you naturally, you're probably better off sticking with vocabulary that does come naturally. It's akin to vocabulary in general - we're supposed to stick to the vocabulary we know and are comfortable with for the most natural-sounding writing. If you're breaking out the thesaurus every other paragraph, readers can tell - most often because you use inappropriate words in inappropriate places.


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