Posted by In: Writing 5 Comments

-Parental $#@&%$# Advisory-


Is there any greater awareness of the use of expletives for a writer, than when that writer’s mother reads his or her work for the first time? My narrative voice isn’t peppered with dirty words, but there are characters in my head, more real to me than most of you, who are proper foul mouths. Sure, I could replace the bad words with Christian placeholders like “shoot,” “darn,” “heck,” “fudge,” and “fiddlesticks,” but I don’t want to write books where everyone talks like Ned Flanders from the Simpsons.

I’ve read my fair share of Christian fiction and one thing that holds it back is it’s distinct lack of expletives. There’s always that one angry unbeliever who, when presented with the gospel of Jesus Christ, launches into some PG version of a sad and angry diatribe about all the ways God hurt his feelings. Those of us that don’t exist in a Christian soaked, 50’s wonderland know exactly how that response would go in the real world: Fuck and off.

Growing up in Texas you learn to appreciate the fine art of swearing. The lesser cuss words—”hell,” “damn,” “ass,” “bastard,” “son-of-a-bitch,” and sometimes “shit”—are used as if they’re the most necessary of adjectives, verbs, and interjections.

“You tell that son-of-a-bitch to get his ass to work or there’ll be hell to pay!”

“That old bastard’s a few fries short of a happy meal.”

“If that damn dog shits in my yard one more time, I’m gonna skin his ass alive!”

I work at a middle school where 12-14 year-olds are just discovering the freedom of unfettered language. I can’t walk down the hall without hearing “fuck this” and “fuck that” and “fuck him or her” in both English and Spanish. Sometimes I go back to my office, brain throbbing and infected by the words themselves, and catch myself thinking things like, “This fucking person can shove that fucking thing up their fucking ass.”

How can I be expected to write believable characters without these gems of the English language? Mark Twain thought the word “very” was it’s own form of profanity and suggested replacing it with “damn.” Maybe he was on to something. Dialogue void of expletives can make for some damn unrealistic characters.

Twain also said this:

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


Comments: 5

  • Mark Dostert
    6 years ago

    Ah, yes, Mr. Twain and diction–word choice! I also love his quote, which I share with my students, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is like the difference between the lightening and the lightening bug.” And Twain all but sounds like Hemingway with his aversion to ‘very’!

    • Ches
      6 years ago

      I slightly misrepresented what he said for dramatic effect. He went on to say that if you substitute “very” with “damn,” your editor will remove all instances and then your writing will be just right. Ever since I read that, I’ve had an aversion to the word ‘”very,” but I still find it creeps in.

      The rest of this post should get me into trouble. Am I too old to be sent into the yard to cut a switch for myself?

  • N. E. White
    6 years ago

    Great Mark Twain quote. I’ll have to use that sometime.

    By the way, what did your mom say?

    • Ches
      6 years ago

      She hasn’t seen it, as far as I know. I don’t think she reads my blog. 🙂

  • Mike Fuller Author
    6 years ago

    A “very” nice lady read my first (crime/detective) novel and told me, “My they do have potty mouths.” I write about cops and that’s the way they talk. Before the book sold I considered taming down the language but it wouldn’t be real anymore if I did. I use profanity where it fits in the story and I’m comfortable with that. My historical novel I’m editing now has little profanity, it did not help the story move along. But watch out, the next crime novel will have lots of f ing and s ing to spice up the dialogue.

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