Tuesday, January 20, 2009

How Do you Feel About Cursing Characters?

A new member of my critique group sent an email asking me and another older member if she would offend if she used the “f” word in the story she was writing.

I wrote back and told her that I’d both read and heard the word before and if it fit the character by all means use it.

However, I also told her that I don’t use that word or other curse or guttural words in my books–though I do write things like, “he spit out a slew of curse words.” I confess to using the word “crap” though. Why I think that’s more acceptable, I don’t know, except that I’ve been known to say it myself at times.

When I first started writing, my mom was reading my manuscripts, and I held back with the “bad” words because I knew my mom would be unhappy reading them. Of course I left the romantic sex scenes in, which she commented about–but didn’t seem to mind.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, I read books that have such words in them–however, I notice the books I like best don’t seem to need curse words and the characterizations don’t suffer because of it.

I’ve read some books that would have worked just fine without having the curse words sprinkled liberally on every page. Feel the same way about some movies.

Getting back to the critique group, have to laugh because I forget how old I am and I’m sure that’s why the young woman felt she needed to ask.

Let me know how you feel about your characters and what they have to say.



Mark Troy said...

I just wrote a scene in which a young journalist uses the f word in almost every sentence and my other character, a tough guy, asks her it. She explains that she has to be tough in her business to get respect. My tough guy, who doesn't use the word, lectures her on respect, which is the purpose of the scene. It wouldn't work without her language, but the language gets very tedious. I'm not satisfied with it at this point. It's not easy salting dialogue with salty language.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I think it's like comedy - the best comedians do not need to cuss to be funny!

I understand that's how a lot of people speak, but not everyone. I do not read book with that kind of lauguage nor do I write them. Yes, I allow 'crap' and a couple other minor words, depending on the character, but for the most part I just use more appropriate & accepted language. I think we hear the language enough elsewhere!

So it's nice to hear another author say she doesn't use cussing either, Morgan!

L. Diane Wolfe

Anonymous said...

Mmm - with me it's all about balance and temperance. I agree in most cases scenes and characters can be written as "believable" without using liberal doses of F & S & B-bombs, also the N-bomb & other racial epithets. But in some cases it's just not plausible to have say, a ghetto Hispanic drug dealer say, "Gee, I really wish you'd give me my money" to the heroin addict he's about to behead if he doesn't pay up.

I read books with curse words in them and as long as it's not overdone and just for the sake of sensationalism I'm OK with it. And I've used a few well-placed cuss words in my own books, even thought they are in the Spiritual/inspirational genre. And I've never been accused of being a potty mouth. I'm just keeping it real.

Ann Parker said...

A very interesting topic. I'm okay with cursing in books . . . provided it fits the character and doesn't feel "forced." Every other word is a bit much, although I've seen it carried off (usually in books of a more "humorous" bent).
I'll admit that my characters cuss (in dialogue and in thought) on occasion. Depending, again, on the character.

F. M. Meredith, author said...

Great comments. Thanks guys.

Just listened to President Obama's speech--praying that he can do what he plans.


Dana Fredsti said...

It all depends on the book and the character. I don't use heavy-duty profanity a lot in my writing (I'm not counting the erotic romances, but my characters STILL don't swear very much!) and think the worst word I used in MFH was S*$t once. Partly 'cause my mom read it and I have the Mom filter going. I nearly walked out in the first five minutes of CASINO after I started counting how many times Joe Pesci dropped an F bomb.

Morgan Mandel said...

I use such words for emphasis, usually by the bad guy. Using them too much makes them less powerful.

Morgan Mandel

Heath said...

Interesting topic. I'm not sure I believe in the idea of "bad words"-- there are just some things that people say, and if we pretend otherwise we aren't really being honest. For myself, I rarely have the central character cursing (I suppose it does make one sound ignorant, all that incessant swearing), but the people he meets, well. If they are the type, they are the type. It's not for me to censor the character. Remember, it's not YOU as the writer who's swearing, it's that f***er you're writing about!