RARA-AVIS: Re; Language

From: Kevin Burton Smith ( kvnsmith@thrillingdetective.com)
Date: 25 Mar 2005

On Mar 25, 2005, at 3:25 AM, Charlie wrote:

> Weighing in late as usual...
> I can only speak for myself, but I really think self-censoring is a
> bogus thing to do. You're a writer - you create lots of characters
> and make them talk. Being a writer, you're omnipotent, so you get to
> say "Hey, none of you characters can curse. No bad language at all.
> I'll consider "fug yeah", and maybe "short, gutteral verb, followed
> by 'you'". But nothing else. Got that? And if I find any of you
> swearing behind my back, I'll kick your short, gutteral asses!"
> So you've created these fictional people, and now you're imposing
> your own sense of modesty on them. How true are your characters now?
> How real can they be, with that constraint?

Sorry, Charlie, but this is fiction, it's not "real."

Real life doesn't have to be believable or full of great dialogue. Fiction does. If writers wrote the way most people actually speak, nobody would bother reading. Imagine reading pages and pages of "So, yeah, uh, fuck, uh, yeah, so I was going to uh whatsisname, oh yeah fucking Christ, Bobby's place on, er, uh -- you gonna finish that? -- so, er, yeah and I, oh yeah... this cocksucker Bobby, I went to his place and... "

A person in real life may curse a blue streak, but reading it can grow pretty tiresome pretty quick (unless that's the point, of course).

A few "fucks," like any word, can go a long way. But obvious overuse of any word, particularly one that already carries a lot of weight, has the potential to annoy readers. Even if in real life "fuck" may indeed account for fifty per cent of some cardboard toughie's vocabulary, it's not necessary to proportionally fill your fictional cardboard toughie's dialogue with it. As I said before, this ain't real life -- it's fiction.

A good writer is always editing himself, tailoring his work for his or her readers, trying to tell the story he wants to tell without losing his audience. It's part of the creative process, this distilling reality and re-presenting it as fiction. A writer who only writes for himself is almost surely going to get the audience he desires.

And a writer who is always whining "but it happened in real life" to justify some complete leap in logic or some excess or another, is probably not going to gather much of an audience either.

> And getting sideways of the issue a bit... We're crime readers and
> writers, right? We read and write about people who kill, steal,
> torture, maim, defraud, assault, rape, jay walk, etc... Pardon me for
> being controversial, but I think those guys and gals may well indulge
> in ripe lingo at times. Bad actions, bad language - which is more
> acceptable? Is "I'll cut your balls off" more acceptable than "I'll
> cut your fucking balls off"?

Without knowing anything about the character speaking, it's hard to tell. But adding "fucking" doesn't add much to the dialogue in this case, as far as I can see. And don't worry about being controversial -- you're not.

This is an old argument.


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This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 25 Mar 2005 EST