To fuck or not to fuck? A writer’s dilemma with swearing.

Bollocks or bother? Shit or sugar? Fuck or flipping heck? As I writer, one thing I grapple with is bad language. I am confused as to whether it is ok for my characters to swear or for them to be censored to appease conservative literacy circles.

I have spoken to many ‘authorities’ on this subject and opinion seems to be consistent. Avoid bad language in your book. If there is a risk it may offend someone, leave it out. Don’t take the chance.

What bollocks. As a writer, I am observing life. The real conversations people have every day. Do you say: ‘Oh, silly sausages’, when you stub your toe? ‘Dash it,’ when someone cuts you up? Like hell you do. And if you do, you’d probably be more comfortable with a nice bit of Catherine Cookson than anything I will ever publish. And isn’t that the point. Does a writer write for the whole world, or just those receptive to his/her style and genre? I know for sure, my writing will not appeal to anyone offended by the word shit. So, should I heed all advice so readily espoused, and delete all those naughty words?

There is a strong argument that I should. After all, it is a sad fact that publishers are now taking fewer risks and anything that may slightly rock a reader’s boat, may be a step too far. Furthermore, publishers are only keen to take on work which is tried and tested. They know it pays. Nothing particularly challenging and nothing uncharted please. Just see how many second-rate vampire love stories have been published since the publication of the Twilight series. And now, we have masses of pages dedicated to S&M following the unfathomable success of 50 Shades.

I concede, removing all the ‘fucks’ and ‘shits’ in a manuscript, will probably grant you a wider audience, but where does that leave your integrity as a writer?As writers, I believe, our work should always be honest. Indeed, all art must be, otherwise, why are we bothering.

Whilst we’re on the subject, why are swear words so offensive in the first place. Many say, it demonstrates a lack of vocabulary. Usually, people who say this, have a very limited vocabulary. Can anyone out there, offer one reason why we shouldn’t use the word ‘fuck?’ I am not being deliberately antagonistic here, I do genuinely want to know if someone can put forth a legitimate reason for not swearing. Other than, ‘well, you just shouldn’t.’ Or, ‘your nan doesn’t like it.’

Don’t get me wrong. My writing is not littered with expletives. There’s no: ‘It was one fuck of a dark and stormy night.’ I think we should only employ ‘bad’ (who says it’s bad anyway?) language when the moment calls for it. My characters swear when they are arguing; When they are upset and when they stub their toes. As most humans do. I imagine even the Queen calls Philip a selfish twat when he hogs the duvet in bed.

So, I will continue to present my characters honestly and if one happens to shout: ‘Oh, get fucked Bob,’ so be it. Anyway, don’t just listen to me, here’s Stephen King’s take on it:

“There are a lot of would-be censors out there, and although they may have different agendas, they all want basically the same thing: for you to see the world they see….or to at least shut up about what we do see that’s different. They are agents of the status quo. Not necessarily bad guys, but dangerous guys if you happen to believe in intellectual freedom.”

Fucking bravo, Stephen.

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4 thoughts on “To fuck or not to fuck? A writer’s dilemma with swearing.

  1. Personally I like to follow in the footsteps of Thomas the tank engine with”bust my buffers” or Gordon’s “oh the indignity” but are you writing a children’s book? No, I didn’t think so, so I would say be true to life and true to your characters. If one of them would swear and it adds to the text then fine doesn’t mean that every other word is going to be f’s or c’s. Now off you go and turn the air blue you silly sausage! Xx

  2. As always it has to be true to the individual character, so its fine for one person to say “bust my buffers” whilst the other responds “get fucked, you ridiculous twat” 🙂
    My take is include it all in a first draft, then selectively remove some as you rewrite, so you aren’t being lazy, and maximise the impact when you do use them.

    Anyway it reminds me of Billy Connoly on stage, talking about swearing, and how people say it is due to a limited vocabulary.
    “Nonsense,” says Billy, “I know thousands of words, and FUCK is still my favourite one.”

    You an’t argue with the Big Yin and Stephen King.
    Well, you can, but you’ll cop for a mouthful of foul language, if not a heed-but 🙂

    Paul

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