She's in the dictionary next to "dour."
Thanks to Lee for inspiring this post, with his comment yesterday:
I wonder sometimes -- am I writing myself into a difficult corner? 1) I hate using profanity and write dialogue that feels real to me, but without foul language 2) I tend to write about themes of morality and redemption 3) I often write about subject matter that is tough and often dark, like drugs, crime, people who are very confused and involved in bad things. Is there a genre that allows me to effectively take these routes and be marketable to any particular audience? Why is profanity so prevalent in much modern writing and especially screen plays? I find it to be a disturbing trend.
Now, we've already talked a little about bad behavior and telling the truth and showing authentic consequences in fiction (with some mention of author responsibility) on this blog, but I think the issues deserve a little more attention from another angle.
- Do you think there are/should be any taboos in fiction?
- Do you have any personal taboos when crafting your own writing?
- Do you think authors have any moral responsibilities to represent "taboo" or "hot" subject matter in a particular way? Does this apply to all authors, or only to authors who target certain demographics, such as YA authors?
- If you do limit your writing according to these taboos (e.g. no profanity), how do you accomplish this while still remaining authentic, since it is unlikely that every character you write about will have the same moral standards as you?
Lee, to directly answer your questions, I think profanity is reflected in modern writing because it's prevalent in real life. And I think it's more pronounced in screen writing because everything is more pronounced in movies. Bigger explosions! Bigger boobs! Bigger everything! Give the audience some entertainment for their $9.50!
As a trend, I'm not personally disturbed by it. I generally don't give a $^!# about profanity, and there have been times in my life when I've used profanity like it's &*@%-ing punctuation. (Insert lawyer joke here.) I'm aware that overuse of profanity makes me sound less erudite and less well-educated, and since the birth of our daughter we've made an effort to make our household sound less like an episode of Deadwood. But sometimes... often... profanity is just colorful enough to convey precisely what I seek to convey.
Interestingly, I went out of my way to avoid profanity in my first novel, because I needed swearwords to have much greater power than they do in (my) ordinary life. If the reader gets more than 3/4 of the way through a novel without seeing a single f-bomb, the author will probably get some decent impact out of the word's careful, intentional, and only use at that late stage.
And anyway, my main character just isn't the swearing type.
I asked an author friend how he handled curses in his writing, and he told me that he just writes it as it comes to him, and then he edits out as many as he possibly can, which still leaves quite a few, but the manuscript at that point no longer reads like an Eddie Murphy routine. Perhaps, Lee, you would end up doing the reverse... writing dialogue as it comes to you, and then putting curses in only where you simply can't avoid it, for character authenticity. (Or maybe you can just say "He swore." I'm on the other side of the fence on this one, so I'm sure the commenters will have better advice for you.)
A final note on swearwords: I think that profanity on the page is much like the use of language like "um, ah, well..." It reads very differently from how it sounds in real life, and authors ignore this dichotomy at their own peril. for example, I can say "um" five times in a single sentence in casual conversation and not necessarily sound like an inarticulate, hesitant moron (depending on speed and context) but you better believe that it will look that way if transcribed directly to the page. (Note again how this can result in a difference in the use of profanity among fiction writers and screen writers.)
As to the broader discussion... do I think there are any taboos in fiction? No. Not for what I read, and not for what I write.
Do I think authors have a moral responsibility when portraying "hot" or "sensitive" subjects? I'm not sure, but I think that it may be a moot question because entanglement between morals and fiction is nearly unavoidable. Why do we write? Those who want to shock or titillate are going to go to extremes in these areas, and it's intentional. Those who want to tell a story with a message are also going to be thoughtful in their approach. Even people who simply want to present a little light entertainment are going to be careful, because it won't be "light" for certain people if it crosses too many taboo lines, and it won't be entertaining enough for others if it completely avoids all subjects of controversy. We're always going to be thinking of our ideal audience when writing, even if we don't realize it, and our beliefs about what is right, wrong, or unimportant in this world will inevitably come through.
Wow. Sorry this was so long-winded. I now pass the baton to you: