Tips from the Masters #3 – Sometimes Swearing is Good. Real Good.

So, I should just be pretty straight and let you know that this post will contain more “fucks” then I probably give about purple unicorns, so if the offenso-meter in your head is going off, it’s probably time to skip this post…or comment below if you so choose, because I’m all about two sides to every story. So with that let’s begin…

There are no shortages of fantastic quotes on writing out there from, well…the world’s greatest writers. We’ve already covered Hemingway and Kerouac and have now arrived at our third of five in the series on tips from the Masters.

This time we delve into one of the most brilliant men to put pen to paper (and he could also give Burt Reynolds a run for his money for the most brilliantly mustachioed man you be the judge.)

What I speak of is not only one, but two quotes from this man which until this day sparks impassioned debates in writer’s groups everywhere– to swear or not to swear.

“Under certain circumstances, profanity provides a relief denied even to prayer.” Mark Twain

Yup. I’ll buy it. Consider Then Yours I Shall Be, a short story I recently wrote where our heroine has to hurl herself into a rolling boil of a lake-storm to save the hero (who at this point is still a complete stranger — oh and she totally has no idea what the fuck she’s doing) I may have just proven my point with the last sentence but here goes a sentence, sans blue language:

“Help!” the same voice cut through the again like a knife, sharp and solid. This time the plea was unmistakable.

“Crap!” Heather shouted as the first fat drops began to spatter on the ground.

“Ahoooy!” It came again, the sound drawn out on the wind like a howl.

“Snap!” Heather cried as she fumbled through the disorienting fog and felt her way down the winding path to the beach. She figured one summer as a pool lifeguard did not qualify her for large-water rescue and she reached in her pocket for her phone, which she found empty. She glanced back where her phone sat dry in the house, and rushed onward, cursing.

 

Yah, pretty much lacks some gusto doesn’t it? Further to that it pretty much tells us nothing about our character’s personality. Let’s try again:

“Help!” the same voice cut through the again like a knife, sharp and solid. This time the plea was unmistakable.

“Shit!” Heather cried as the first fat drops began to spatter on the ground.

“Ahoooy!” It came again, the sound drawn out on the wind like a howl.

“Double Shit!” she fumbled through the disorienting fog and felt her way down the winding path to the beach. She figured one summer as a pool lifeguard did not qualify her for large-water rescue and she reached in her pocket for her phone, which she found empty. She glanced back where her phone sat dry in the house, and rushed onward, cursing.

 

In certain situations a well placed curse can speak volumes without bogging the story down with ill-placed swear words which an author thinks will make them look like a bad-ass.

Okay so shit isn’t exactly the holy grail of swear words but for the timid character who’s put out of her element it works. Some might read it and be offended, others may wish a more colorful word was used, but in the end the words have to match the character. Trying to ram words that just don’t work will result in flat characters that no one gets to root for, which brings me to my final Mark Twain quote:

“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” – Mark Twain

 

So what about you? Readers? Fellow Writers? Do you have a line? Where is is drawn? Do you think foul language hurts a character or helps with their authenticity?

Get talking, keep reading and we’ll see you in a few weeks. Not sure who our master will be yet, but given the last three I think I’ll tip the scale and make sure she has boobs this time.

M.

 

4 comments on “Tips from the Masters #3 – Sometimes Swearing is Good. Real Good.

  1. Okay, so yeah, I cuss in my stories. But my biggest thing is it has to match the character. For instance, my current WIP hero grew up an orphan passed from foster home to foster home. He has enough tattoos to make you drool and a lip ring. You can bet, he cusses like a sailor. My heroine on the other hand, grew up (mostly) very rich, went to all the most upper class schools and her mom was a stickler for appearances. You guessed it, she doesn’t cuss. Which the hero finds funny btw. Stereotypical a lil yes…but unless my heroine is a rebel, which she isn’t, then she would cuss just to piss her family off.

    In the end…its all the characters, baby. 🙂

  2. I don’t swear so I don’t like to use curses – that said, I understand circumstance and character plays a large part in whether or not they should appear. A story will fall flat if a villain calls my heroine a stupid poop-head instead of a bitch … or my hero yells darn, instead of Damn!, when something bad happens.
    I like to save them so that when I do use them, they have the right impact.

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