Friday, February 10, 2006

Times when only a swear word will do

There are moments when "shucks darn" doesn't quite cut it.

And "fiddlesticks" falls far short of expressing how we truly feel.

I think it would be safe to say that there are times in the lives of each of us when our cheeks are burning, when we're seething with rage, when only a swear word seems appropriate.

Let me post the question: At the moment in time when that wheel fell off, do you think the driver was thinking, "Gee, that's too bad"?

More like "J-s-- Fcukin' C----t I'm gonna die!"

We humans are communicative creatures. We express ourselves physically, by flipping the bird, shooting darts with our eyes, smacking someone on the head...whatever. When we have those moments of crisis, the words that usually come out aren't nice.

So, would it be better for the parachutist to say, "Oh dear" if he said it with the same force and emotion as "fuck me"?

I ask because this is a contentious topic for writers. I recall at Harrogate last year, on the Sex and Violence panel, Mark Billingham talking about how people didn't complain about the murder or nature of the crime in the book, but they would write letters protesting the use of swear words.

This was something I struggled with during the early writing. I had two characters who, essentially, never swore. Boy it was hard for those two to express some things!

But generally speaking, I think that if you're writing police procedurals like I usually do, swear words are part of the package. It's part of the stress of the job. Things just come out that wouldn't necessarily come out in other circumstances.

Cops are, after all, only human. And those words say a lot.

I listen to radio traffic from emergency response teams. Anyone with a scanner can pick up police calls and sometimes, first responder action. I happen to know one of the people who responds to such calls around here, and I can hear those calls while I'm typing at my desk. One day, this reasonably mild-mannered, lay pastor for a local church was cursing over the radio. It was a stressful call, someone wasn't pulling their weight, he lost patience.

It happens. Anyone called out to clean a little bit of brain off the local highway might get a wee bit tense and let some colourful words slip.

And they can be forgiven for it.

Personally, I think the anti-cursing motto is a bit out of touch with reality. If you sit in bus stations or on commuter trains, walk through school hallways or get a drink in a coffee shop, the reality is you're going to hear people swearing. All the time. And for trivial things.

So is it really fair to expect our fictional cops - who we readers want to follow proper police procedure, to be believable in all other aspects of their portrayal - to smile and be polite when they're handling the stress of their jobs?

I don't think so. Our characters have to be real, first and foremost. Warts, flaws, cuss words and all.

Warning! Joke may contain four-letter words!
Two alligators were sitting in the swamp talking. The smaller one turned to the bigger one and said, "I cain't unnerstand how you kin be so much bigger 'n me. We're the same age, we was the same size as  kids. I just don't get it."

"Well," said the big 'gator, What you been eatin' boy?"

"Politicians, same as you," replied the small 'gator.

"Hmm. Well, where do y'all catch 'em?"

"Down 'tother side of the swamp near the parkin' lot by the capitol."
"Same here. Hmm. How do you catch 'em?"
"Well, I crawls up under one of them Lexus and wait fer one to unlock  the car door. Then I jump out, grab 'em on the leg, shake the shit out of 'em, and eat 'em!"
"Ah!" says the big alligator, "I think I see your problem. You ain't gettin' any real nourishment. See, by the time you get done shakin' the shit out of a Politician, there ain't nothin' left but an asshole and a briefcase!


R.J. Baker said...

No lawyers in the mix?

Sandra Ruttan said...

With the lawyer there's an asshole, a briefcase and a TAG Heuer. Or rolex.

John R. said...

More like "J-s-- Fcukin' C----t I'm gonna die!"

I refuse to believe that anyone is actually capable of thinking in hyphens.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Bleepity bleepin' blankhole.

Boy Kim said...

Sometimes only a swear word will do.

It's definitely a case of them lending themselves to the tone and emphasis that's required to express one's feelings.

Even when spoken in a whisper, they convey perfectly.

Bernita said...

Judicious use enhances it -for me anyway.
Sometimes you can't deliver the required emphasis any other way.
Archer, for example ( he's on my blogline) had a short awhile ago where the court/lawyers/clerks all suddenly realize they need a disposition from a woman dying in hospital. In the mad rush of discovery/finding a taxi/traffic jams etc., he had various characters saying "fuckfuckfuck". Not my favourite word in real life but it worked perfectly. I was lost in admiration.
So what the hell, leterip.

Sandra Ruttan said...

I'm glad to see people agreeing. I've actually seen people go onto author forums and condemn the swearing in books. No complaint about the murder/mutilation/torture - just the swear words.

And thanks for the story referral Bernita! I'll have to track that down.

Erik Ivan James said...

Use whatever words fit the scene!

S. R. Hatcher said...

Characters in novels should raise their own voices, speak for themselves, be full-fledged. Every person you talk to uses language in their own way so I don't see why it should be any different in a novel.

The only time it really bothers me is if swearing in dialogue is too repetitive -- then it becomes tiresome.

By the way-like the photos.

M. G. Tarquini said...

What S.R. said.

JA Konrath said...

Great fucking post!

Sandra Ruttan said...

Fuck you very much!

(Glad you like the photos. I should have put below the last one, 'There are times when only "Oh Shit!" will do!")

Dana Y. T. Lin said...

Love the photos.

And once again, I'm so freakin' grateful my mom doesn't speak English, so my characters can swear all they want!

Gabriele C. said...

Roflol, that joke's too fucking good.

I admit, it took me some time got get used to the casual use of the f-word in the Endlish language. In German, it's a really bad one. And I still think it can be overdone if a characters uses it in every sentence. But there are cases, where it works.

Like when you drop something heavy on your foot. Or tell someone to fuck off - though my Romans might say mentulam caco in that case. :-)

Bonnie Calhoun said...

I sometimes think it but I don't dare say it! Christian publishers really frown on that.

I even clean up some of my funnier jokes to retell a matter of fact, I love this joke and I'm going to swipe it for a post. I'll give you a shout-out for it, but it will be cleaned up. I don't need to have my Pastor or church family in appaplectic seizures!

Sandra Ruttan said...

I know what you mean Bonnie! One of my friends, who is a missionary, wanted to read one of my ms's and I said to her, "Mona, I write about unsaved people."

She said, "I ----ing well know that."

I almost died!

Bonnie Calhoun said...

ROFLOL....LOL...I hear that! I'm usually only aroung saved people and when I'm in a group setting that isn't them, it sometimes shocks me to hear cuss words.

On the blogs, I've learned that there are several places I peek into first before jumping into the conversation!

BC (before Christ) I used to cuss like a stormtrooper, it's still in there, I just repress it...LOL

Sandra Ruttan said...

Oh, too funny!

What a laugh!!!

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Weeeeee!!!I got my own catagory!!! Cool...I forgot to give you this link for Stuff On My Cat...the pictures are hysterical...I think the sites being worked on so it may be down right now!

Sandra Ruttan said...

Thanks - I'll check that out!