Tuesday, May 31, 2011

What If My Character Wants to Curse?

More work on my novel/story/tale/manuscript today.

I wanted to post my best sentence, but it contains profanity, kind of. It isn't anything hard core, but it isn't "crap" or "shoot," either. I am using it literally and not as a curse word-like how one would describe a female dog versus a rude, classless woman. Okay, so I want to use the word "bastard"-to describe something metaphorically. Here it is:

"I'm sorry, my friend, but if this is what I have created, then a bastard I must make of it."

It's not being used as an insult, but as a perfectly fitting description. So does that count? I don't know whether I should censor that.

Should all my characters adhere to the same standards I do? I don't want to write anything crude, vulgar, or offensive, but my characters aren't really going to Mia Maids on Wednesday night, either. I've accommodated my desire to not have my characters take the Lord's name in vain by using other exclamations like "Oh my navy beans!" or "Oh heavens!" But other times, I really want my heroine let off some steam with a good (bad), old-fashioned "D***it!" or "Bloody hell!" (which isn't bad because I'm not British, right?) Because my main character is a little bit saucy, and she's human. And I have no qualms about including other material in which she shoots someone, is dishonest, disrespects her mother, thinks unkindly about her annoying cousin, and commits a whole variety of other sins. Why is this different? Thoughts?

I love this quote: "Profanity is the attempt of a lazy and feeble mind to express itself forcefully." So is it me that is lazy and feeble? Or my character? Or both?

I also love this talk.

Really, a part of me-the greater part-doesn't feel comfortable including profanity. I lean towards thinking that the cheekiness value added by some mild swearing just wouldn't be worth it. I imagine my Young Women's president reading it and I feel mortified. I guess that's my answer?

Something to think about ...

Mother, your thoughts would be appreciated.


  1. I have been reading Brandon Sanderson's books (thanks to Louis). He has a "bastard" and "bloody hell" and his taking the Lord's name in vain takes the form of "Lord Ruler" (the character's name.) So, where is the line? And how close to you want to get to it? And do you want your LDS readers to cringe when they read something in your novel? (Especially Paula? And what about your little brothers?) I think your use of the word "bastard" above is perfectly fine; what exactly is the definition of profanity? I'm glad you are sensitive to this...

  2. I am trying to post

  3. and i did, but i am still nameless. alas

  4. now you thought all of these cool people were commenting on your blog, when in reality it was just our retardo aunt. =(

  5. I have thought a lot about this, and I'm not sure I have any useful insights, but I think part of the balance is being true to the character you are creating. Would it be an honest piece if everyone in the world you are creating speaks in gosh-darns, or is it more honest to include a curse every now and then? I am a very moral person and I try to do good, but I am not going to deny that a "shit" slips out every now and then. And honestly, I think that really contributes to the makeup of me as a character. But definitely be mindful of what you are trying to convey about your character by including them using profanity?

  6. Thanks for your input, guys!

    Mom-I think you are right. I know I'm bothered when I read books by LDS authors that use profanity.

    Aunt Becca-I really like your thoughts. I agree that I definitely don't want to ever use the big ones, and I should decide on a standard for the less scandalous ones.

    Amanda-I think you have a point. If I have a character that is likely to swear-he'll swear, but I think I can do it without spelling it out. I wonder if "he swore" or "he spewed a string of profanity" or something like that would work?

  7. I'm way offended by profanity in books. It makes it very likely that I will put down the book. I think there are lots of ways to develop a character, and profanity is only one of them.

  8. I haven't read others' comments, so I'm sorry if I repeat anything.

    This is a great question. I think it depends on what you really want to accomplish with your writing. I don't know exactly what stories I will produce in the future, but I know right now that they're probably not the kind a stereotypical Molly Mormon would want to read—not because they will all definitely include offensive material, but because my purpose isn't to write Chicken Soup for the Soul stories. My purpose is to explore/analyze the complexities of the human experience through a variety of characters. While I don't personally use or approve of profanity, I'm not writing about myself when I write fiction.

    That said, I don't think it's impossible to represent rough characters without profanity. I do think it will take lots of work/balance to make it believable, however. But I think that since profanity does bother you a lot, you'll be that much more motivated to learn how to embody a character without using it.

    Also, another thought—we all have a different relationship with the Spirit when it comes to art (and no that is not code for "better" or "worse"). President Eyring told a story once about a time when one of the other apostles recommended a movie to him and his wife—which they left within the first five minutes. The Spirit can be our guide in the way we both create and consume art.

    Love you!

  9. Sorry, I don't know if my meaning was clear in that Pres. Eyring anecdote. Basically, Pres. Eyring's message was that he would not judge his fellow apostle's recommendation because he trusted him to be following the Spirit. At the same time, however, he trusted his OWN relationship with the Spirit and used that—rather than his colleague's—to make his decision about what he would and would not view/read/listen to, etc.

  10. And one more comment and then I'll be quiet—I just love the picture you chose to go with this post. You couldn't have picked a more perfect one.


Comments make my day.