Choose Wisely

I go round-and-round with myself on the whole language issue in books. Because of the following, contradictory statements:
  • I don't use many bad words. And in real life, I don't like to hear other people use bad words.
  • I don't mind bad words in movies, as long as it's believable. And I don't mind bad words in books, as long as it's believable.
And by believable, I mean kept to a minimum and true to the character. I don't expect a book to be bad-word-free. But I do expect it to respect it.

I'm going through Those Who Trespass right now and considering the bad words I threw in. The first half has almost none, because I was on a quest to write the book without them. The second half has a decent amount, including one use of the f-word. My dad makes a weird face every time I tell him that.

I've been pulling bad words out of the MS. They're all marked, so I scroll through and consider:
  1. Would that word be in that character's vocabulary?
  2. And even if it is, would they actually use it in this situation?
  3. Is this the best way it could be written, with the most emotional impact possible {as opposed to getting an equal amount of impact without language}?
  4. Does it actually assist the emotional impact of the scene {as opposed to just shock for shock's sake}?
And if I answer yes, it stays. I've definitely lessened the bad word count by doing this, though it's not down to zero. But here is a rule that, in my experience, is true to every bad word in film or literature:
The number of bad words is directly proportionate to the emotional impact each one has.
I'm not sure I could do that mathematically, I just know that the f-word means a lot more in The Hate List than in District 9. And one of highlights of a writer's life is creating emotional impact. Therefore I choose wisely.


    Stina said...

    Great post!

    I write YA and do include swearing. The guys in my novels tend to swear more than the girls. But no matter who is swearing, I try to keep it to those moments where I want to show emotion. It gets the point easily across. Though like you said, if you abuse the words, the emotional impact is greatly diminished.

    Nikki Jefford said...

    Awesome! I just followed Stina Lindenblatt's link to your post. I blogged about this topic earlier in the week.

    Expletives don't bother me... unless I hear kids saying them. I dunno - turn off to me.

    I didn't realize I'd used so many in YA manuscript so I'm editing a lot out unless older characters (like 22) say them.

    Glad to see others tackling this topic!

    Mia Hayson said...

    I love this post!

    You're so right. I mean, um, in my novels there are some expletives but, still, you're right. I like to think about their appropriateness a lot.

    There have actually been psychological studies into swearing and it's interesting to know that the same holds true in real life. Swearing tends to mean MORE to people who rarely use those words and, thus, when they do the words have a larger affect.