Profanity in writing or why I love people like Scott Lynch and Jeff Somers

Somebody pointed me towards the archives of Scott Lynch’s writing blog and LJ yesterday (thank you, Sira!) and since then I’ve been doing my favorite ‘early time of day’ thing: wasting away a good ol’ work morning browsing blogs of utmost hilarity and writerly awesomeness. What can I say? Not an overly busy day at work despite my boss’ occasional fuckwittery resulting in me having to re-send dozens of checks…

Anyway, amidst all that I find something that brightened up my morning.

There’s a great deal of swearing in this novel; I made a point of using “fuck” and “shit” within the first few pages, to give fair warning to anyone whose sensibilities might be inclined against it. I myself am not particularly averse to “vulgar” languge; swearing is just another component of the whole colorful panoply of language that makes reading and writing fun. Our curses are an informative component of our culture and our character. One of the things I enjoy the most about Patrick O’Brian, for example, is that when one of his characters says “fuck,” he says it in a way that seems right for the early 19th century; it always strikes me as a very naturalistic use of a term that was quite native to the time rather than an intrusion of the sensibilities and phrasing of the late 20th century. I have no illusions that I’ve been as subtle or successful in my own work, but very few characters “swear a mighty oath” in TLOLL.

I don’t believe in abstracting violence to the point that it’s “comfortable.” I’m certainly not inclined to abstract the bloody dialogue, save when the editor says “Nobody but your own mother and the members of assorted biker gangs are going to read this, and the biker gangs are going to be deeply offended.”

For the handful of readers who’s had a peak or two at excerpts of the second draft might have noticed that I’m rather affectionate towards the usage of profanity, including all it’s lovely f-compounds. A while ago someone pointed out that it might be wise to put a little note in advance before submitting those chapters for critique saying that there is a lot of bad language, sexual content and violence to come so that young readers or people who have a problem with those issues won’t be offended.

Honestly? I never much cared for such sentiments, but for the sake of the good ol’ peace I gave in and put my little NB there to make sure nobody dies of mortification reading Damian use lots of dirty words and him and Ares engaging in oh so dirty sodomy (for some reason this word still cracks me up, thanks to Elizabeth Bear 😉 ).

Anyway, as far as I’m concerned, you’re totally free not to read any of Light if the writing and the issues I’m bringing up is against your taste or personal conviction. I’d call you a jerk, but I’ll at least make an effort at not getting personal about it 😉

However, fact is that if Light ever makes it to the real of publishing, the time for NB’s etc is definitely over. You, dear reader will just have to deal with it. Luckily enough you only need to read the first several pages to get a taste of the general tone of the books, because I did pretty much the same thing that Scott points out in his LJ: using ‘fuck’ and ‘shit’ and all their little pet minions in wild abandon – as long as it’s in character. In the end, it’s not so much to use it for the sake of letting people know that there is a lot of profanity in this book, but rather it serves some sort of characterization.

Damian curses much more frequently than Ares for example. They also use different words (mostly). I mean let’s face it, cursing is part of our day-to-day communication, even though some of us are pretty damn good at repressing violent verbal deteriorations, cursing is as much a means of making yourself understood as any other form of communication. Of course we also use it as a form of distinction between higher and lower class language and that’s more or less what happens in Light.

Most of my main characters live in the slums of a city that makes surviving your teens pretty hard and it’s just not the place for pretty niceties and the high speech used in the Empire. That and most of your average street rats really hate ’em royals’ guts. So yeah, profanity and bluntness is pretty much the way to go in lower city speek.

Again, I’m not saying: yes, go ahead and make all your characters curse enough to make any sailor blush, but if it’s something that would be natural for your character to do – go right ahead.

P.S.: This reminds me of talking to a my used bookstore guy the other day about the very same topic and he pointed me to all those used books he had to throw away because people notoriously kept scribbling out or using massive amounts of white-out on every damn curse word they could possibly find.

That and that one person who stubbornly refused to read an apparently utterly clean book, just because the first line in it was  “Damn you”.

For fuck’s sake, people. You need help.

Or a life.

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