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Author Topic: To be profane or not to be...  (Read 7199 times)
Geoff_N
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« on: March 07, 2007, 02:26:30 PM »

Some of you know I have a sci fi short story in the March critique section called Gravity's Tears. It is set in Canada so I have asked two Canadian readers for their feedback. They helped me out with some useful stuff about the exact location I used - the fact that coyotes are often seen on that highway at night and not rats as in my original. They both love the story and would buy the mag if and when. But they are not writers and you lot will hack it to bits.

What I am intriqued with is the use of swear words in the story. In a sci fi novel of mine I had the British words bloody and bugger. A US writer who read it for me, urged me to change those to fuck. He seemed really pleased the result and brayed about how strong and gritty it made the character. I had to agree even though I found it initially difficult because, unlike my wife, I don't swear at all. But now I have my characters fucking all over the place! So I had no trouble having a main character in Gravity's Tears using fuck whenever he felt frustrated or angry.

But one of the Canadian readers doesn't like the F word and feels I should use another expletive. I laughed but then turned to the current issues of the market mags I'm aiming at: Asimov & Fantasy & Science Fiction. Not a single swear word in either. So I turned to the online Manuscript Guidelines for those mags. They don't mention words we can't use. I hope someone here reads my Gravity's Tears and let me know what they think. Do I take the risk of leaving in the fucks or do I tone it down and maybe by doing so, soften the character?

Geoff
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« Reply #1 on: March 07, 2007, 02:56:00 PM »

That's a good question, Geoff. Everyone is different so you're likely to get just as many who are offended by the F word as those that understand the need for it's use. As you know, Donna and I are both Canadian and we both swear like pissed off sailors, eh, but that's just us. I think that it should depend more on what your character is like than what the readership is used to seeing. Maybe the fact that so many submissions don't have any swearing is a sign of lack of creativity or courage by those writers? Are they afraid to upset the establishement? Are they afraid they won't get published if they use swearing. In my own experience I would say yes and yes. I have a character that swears in my novel, but being the chickenshit that I am, I also have another character that is rather offended by the swearing, thereby giving the offended reader and ally. I don't know if it's needed or not, but it seems more real and true to life. It gives both opinions someone to side with.
Good luck, I know you'll do the right fuckin' thing, eh.
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« Reply #2 on: March 07, 2007, 03:00:34 PM »

Go with the norm for the market, Geoff - if neither have swearing in the stories you've read, it's a pretty good indication that the eds frown upon it, I would say. I'm often surprised by the number of people who are offended by swearing and don't want to hear it or read it, and I'd say there are more people who would get upset by swearwords than there are folks who would object to the lack of them. For that reason I would always err on the side of caution, if I was you.

I've read your story, but haven't yet got around to critiquing it. Sorry about that. This session seems to be going very slowly, for some reason - I had expected quite a few more participants, too. Oh well.
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« Reply #3 on: March 08, 2007, 03:18:41 PM »

I wouldn't worry about it for your intended markets.  SF mags that sell to adult audiences have been publishing stories with strong language for decades.  The only advice I can give you is (in two parts):

Make sure it's fitting for the characters and the situations.

Possibly consider varying the bad-word choice.  The biggest complaint (other than the words are "bad") that I see regarding storng language is that it gets monotonous.

Other than that, go to it, and good luck.
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Geoff_N
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« Reply #4 on: March 08, 2007, 03:39:03 PM »

Thanks, Patrick.

It is very tempting to send it in, after the Cafe Doom crits have been absorbed into it, with the swearing.

I don't think I've overdone it, but you make a good point about repetitive same word swearing. Having said that, in my sheltered-life experience, folk who swear a lot tend to use the same word. When I were a lad, I worked my student vacations in a Sheffield (UK) park. One of the keepers said Fuck or fucking at least once in every sentence. (now I wonder if he had Tourette's Syndrome though I don't think it had been invented then)  He meant no offence, and probably didn't know he was doing it - like a writer using adverbs.

Anyway, mabe you can judge for yourself if I've overcooked the swearcookie by reading Gravity's Tears in this month's Crit weeks!

Geoff
« Last Edit: March 08, 2007, 03:41:46 PM by Geoff_N » Logged

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« Reply #5 on: March 08, 2007, 08:00:23 PM »

That's why I mentioned the second one as a possibility.  Maybe you want the character to swear monotonously (and in your example, potentially unconsciously).
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« Reply #6 on: March 09, 2007, 03:52:01 AM »

But then there's the issue of how truly realistic you want your dialogue - personally I reckon it would be a good character trait for a novel length story, but it's probably a more risky stategy for a short story, especially given the market it's heading for. If it was up to me, I would spend some time on a different kind of character development instead. Get some movement into the relationship - I'll explain more about what I mean in my crit.
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« Reply #7 on: March 09, 2007, 09:14:02 AM »

While dialogue does have more to do than merely reflect conversation, my feeling is that's a good place to start.  I suppose my feelings about profanity and obscenity in fiction (technically we're talking about the latter) stem from my approach to writing--and my approach may be why I'm having the difficulties I am with markets.  I write the stories as they are, the characters as they speak and act; I worry about markets after I've gotten as much of the story right as I can.  I don't do "theme" stories (in the sense of themed issues of magazines) because I can't force a specific story to happen.  Of course, writing without any market(s) in mind might be leading me to write unmarketable stories.

I think the relevant thing for this story, with the markets you have in mind for it, is this:  If you have a character hit his thumb with a hammer, it's not really necessary (from the markets' POV) to have him say "Oh, sugar!"
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Robert M. Blevins
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« Reply #8 on: March 11, 2007, 12:14:49 AM »

I try to look at profanity in writing this way:

The moment you insert the 'F' word...the work automatically becomes 'R' rated, and could cut out some of the market as far as readers. Also, it's overused everywhere already, and I sometimes view it as a convenient dodge as opposed to thinking up a better word.

In the U.S. the word 'bloody' in work by British authors is no longer considered profanity. You hear it all the time, even in films without other profanity. 'Bugger' is a bit tougher, because in America the connotation there more refers to anal sex...so it doesn't work too well in the US. In fact, US readers hate it because of the connotation.

I probably don't use the 'F' word only because so many other writers have done it already. It's become kind of passe.

NOTE: In the AB title 'The River That Saved Me' there are several VERY R-to-X rated sex scenes. Karin B never used the F word in any of the scenes, but they are pretty hot scenes, nevertheless.

I suppose if I had a character in a book that was an 'F' type of guy...a MAIN character...I might use the word. But for minor characters, no.  I try to avoid it as I would avoid inserting any overused word. I mean...it's been done SO MUCH.  In reality, the 'F' word just doesn't have the old shock value anymore. Profanity reached it's peak back in the 70's when Linda Blair used it in 'The Exorcist'. After that, the whole profanity thing went downhill.  It has almost become a pleonasm. (lol)

It's all about the character. though. Here's a test: When the reader reads the passage, do they think about the passage only and keep reading, or do they notice the insertion of the 'F' word and pause on it, if only for a moment?

If it is the latter, take out the word.

Remember...distractions are bad. Flow is good. If the word passes the 'flow' test, then okay. If it makes the reader hesitate, not okay.  cool
« Last Edit: March 11, 2007, 04:27:57 AM by Robert M. Blevins » Logged

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