Stop the fucking swearing

I confess. I swear. And secretly, I like to. One time, when I bumped my toe, I even swore so vigourously, my grandma chased me with holy water. And simple observation proves I’m not the only one. Actually a lot of people swear a lot.

For that reason sometimes I let a bit (or a lot) of cursing and swearing slip into my writing. And every time I throw all that foul-mouthing out again in the rewrites. Not because I fear the wrath of heaven. Not because I fear to alienate a part of my potential audience. I cut it because it makes the writing weaker.

Imagine a scene like this: A dimly lit warehouse. A guy is tied to a chair. There’s blood on his face. Bent over him is a giant of a man. The giant bends over a wooden table next to them and pounds right through it with his fist. Then he turns to the tied up man again and says:

a) Now, do you want to see what I can do to your fucking skull?

b) Now, do you want to see what I can do to your skull?

In my opinion option b) is stronger. It’s even more threatening than version a). Because it’s stripped of anything unnecessary. I also suppose version a) invites to yell, whereas version b) would be spoken with more poise.

The most important point of dialogue is not to mimic the real world. It’s about having the maximal effect on its audience.

I also get the feeling a lot of aspiring writers use a lot of swearing in their writing as a substitute for finding a real voice for their characters. Or they use it as an easy way to be “controversial”. But seriously, it’s been done. It has even been done in the previous century. Saying fuck, hell or pussy is not going to shock anyone anymore. Well, maybe my grandma. But trust me, she’s not the audience that’s going to make you rich and famous.

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21 thoughts on “Stop the fucking swearing

  1. I agree the latter is stronger. I read eye with an angry tone, but I read b with a more sinister tone, ala Hannibal Lecter. I think the most threatening villains are the ones who aren’t even angry as they describe in grotesque detail what they plain to do to their villains.

  2. this is exactly my process– the first draft is always riddled with cursing– it’s my natural monologue– i have the mouth of a sailor when unfiltered. But– when i go back i always realize the impact that is lost when I leave the profanity in… Thanks for the like on my blog– and your thoughts on writing. Good stuff.

  3. We have run out of shocking words- words that are so disgusting, so full of imapct, that they bring you up short. “Fuck” means nothing any more ( especially on Twitter)- “shit” is now a sloppy, portmanteau word which means less than nothing. We have lost our taboo words- and those words were either (a) physical – “cock” ” shit” or (b) religious- bloody , (by Our lady). The expression of shock in ” Oh My God !” has been reduced to ” OMG!” tweeted by some adolescent schoolgirl. We need our shock words- the ones we’ve got are worn out.

  4. You bring up a brilliant point. I’ve never thought of it that way. I’ve just generated a profanity report for a script I’m working on at the moment. 8 instances where I’ve been to profane. Think I might take the approach where I edit them out later.

    • Well, thanks. Like I said, I don’t think profanity should be out of the question, but in my experience, it usually weakens a line. But for instance Quentin Tarantino obviously disagrees. 🙂

      • What I should have mentioned in my last post is I’m only 8 pages through the script. That’s a profanity a minute. I think it’s probably way too excessive. Like another poster has suggested, just getting the story punched out and then going back is probably the way to go.

      • Yeah, you may have a point there. 🙂 I guess you just have to find out what works best for you. I like to take my time to write every scene and I reread and rewrite everything I’ve written a dozen times before I get to the end. But that way, when I do (finally) finish my first draft, I don’t need any gigantic rewrites anymore. Do you already have your whole plot in your head?

      • I’m experimenting with different ways with writing at the moment. Right now, I have the skeleton of a story outlined. It’s an ensemble character screenplay, so the stories are relatively basic. What I’m trying to do with this one is write as I go along, while still having that knowledge of where I need to get to. I know how it ends… Now I just got to find a way of getting there. It’s an interesting way of writing. Rather than having a path to strictly follow, I’m discovering things and thinking of new ideas as I write. I’m not a big fan of planning. I don’t get things done, that way.

      • From what I gathered here on WordPress, a lot of people get stuck in the planning fase. Whatever gets you to actually write, is the right approach, I’d say.

  5. Where i live swearing is an integral part of everyday speech and I genuinely don’t notice it half the time – in fact when the swearing stops, in an anger situation, then you’re in real trouble. Couldn’t agree more. Great post.

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