Friday, August 10, 2012
Swearing in Stories
I'm not going to use or allude to any curse words in this post, in case you were wondering. :P
I just finished reading Arthur Miller's classic play "Death of a Salesman." It was an interesting story and the dialogue was great...when it was not peppered with foul language. Okay, yes, I know Arthur Miller lived during a time when that language was the norm. But lets be real, don't we live that way now? I am a Christian and my entire family are Christians, so we don't say anything worse than "stupid" around here. Even then we usually get told not to say that. All of my good friends are raised the same way, so I never hear language from them. On top of it all, I'm homeschooled so I don't hear it in school. But I know that many families hear that and speak like that daily.
Last November, I was fourteen and was looking into doing the National Novel Writing Month for the first time. Since I was older than thirteen, I had to choose between the adult site and the young adult site. The young adult site allows you to set your own word count goal and any amount. But you can only be on the site until you are seventeen, then you have to go to the adult site.
I was leaning towards the adult site. The adult site also allows you to set your word count goal, but it had to be over 50,000 words. I also assumed that I would learn more writing techniques and get better tips from the adult site. But then I read that the adult site allows swearing and "mature" content. The young adult site did not allow swearing and you had to keep all conversation rated G. Needless to say I opted for the young adult site and I had a blast.
But even there, I saw a discussion about swearing in novels in one of the high school forums. Even though I like debating, I know better than to join a forum debate. So I read through it, and I have to admit, both sides had some valid points.
One side was arguing that swearing is needed in certain genres to make it more realistic. They also said that it is a good way to show emotions and to portray character.
The other side said that it is a lazy way to avoid thinking of something better for your characters to say. They also said that it is more respectful to your readers to leave bad words out of a novel.
They both have good points. Curse words do display emotion sometimes, but other times its just white noise. They do make certain genres seem more realistic, but I often feel uncomfortable when reading a book with ugly language because I am never sure how far they will go with it.
I thought about this for awhile. I already knew I did not want to put any bad words in any novel I wrote, and its not just because, in the words of the illustrious Candace Flynn, I would be so busted. The Bible clearly says not to use ugly language. (Ephesians 4:29, Ephesians 5:4, Proverbs 4:24)
But sometimes, I have characters that will crop up where it would make sense for them to swear. In "Ember Flame" Hail Frost, one of the main characters, is an extremely tormented person. He has done a lot of terrible things and even though he is trying to change he never feels like he is good enough. On the outside, he seems cold and sure of himself. When he gets angry, he does not say much. He gets quiet and grim. It would make sense for him to swear every now and then. Its a way to get rid of some anger.
I settled for throwing in "He swore" and "He cursed" every now and then. When I am reading a book and I see that, I don't typically substitute my own curse word. Actually, my brain just kind of glosses over it. Its just words. I still get the idea that the character is angry, but I don't get exactly what he said. Plus, "Ember Flame" is a fantasy novel with a totally different world than the real one. Maybe curse words in Holdinus are different than curse words here. I don't know. That's not typically something I put in my outline for a story. ;)
I'm sure there are some people who will substitute their own words for "He swore." But that's not really my problem. If they already know the words then there is nothing I can do about it. Some people might think I'm too conservative about the whole thing, while others might think I push it too far. That's okay. I have prayed about it and I feel like its okay for me. I'm sure God lays down different standards for different people. Plus, my parents are good with how I write so I don't really feel a need to change.
Sorry for the super long post. I just wanted to get my thoughts straight on this. :)