Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Writing Profanity

Adapted from a Drabblecast forum post I made in April.

In writing, anything that counts as a crutch is a bad thing when used as a crutch. “F#%&ing angry” is just plain bad writing. It’s weak in all the ways that matter in written form. “Boiling mad” would be just as weak.

It passes up the opportunity to describe what that anger looks like, what it feels like, and what effect it has on the characters viewing it. It robs the real emotional impact of the statement for a shock factor which doesn’t play for people who don’t notice swearing.

So, eliminate all profanity, right? No.

Tightening prose is good, but in-dialogue swearing shouldn’t need justification in excess of what justifies weak salt words like “however,” “particularly,” and “that.”

Pulp Fiction is a great illustration. There’s quite a bit of swearing. It’s not excessive unless you eschew all swearing and the movie wouldn’t have been improved by removing swearing or by adding it. It’s a perfect balance.

The fine line is between what sounds realistic and what works from a story perspective. It takes me thirty-five to forty minutes drive home from work every day. If you wrote the a day in the life of Ignatius, you’d leave that out unless something drastic and interesting happened on that commute. It’s not realistic, but realism is like butter. You put the butter on the bread, not crumbs of bread on butter.

Sailors, vikings, and Ignatiuses may swear continuously, but I’ll have a hard time following a story that has that much swearing in it.

In summation: moderation.

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