Monday, April 27, 2009

Appropriate Speech

When the Reconstructed Man gave me the Chambers Dictionary for Christmas, it came with a free six-month subscription to Chambers Reference Online (dictionary and thesaurus). Now, while I am more than partial to a spot of page flicking, my copy of Chambers weighs 2.5kg and I don't always have it with me, so I just love this resource.

The lovely people at Chambers, obviously being modern folk, also have their own blog, Clishmaclaver, and recently, they published this post.

In it, Ian Brookes discusses the place of profanities in the dictionary and in everyday language, and the very narrow line between causing offence or not. He also touches on swearing by fictional characters, and how in some cases "...the swearing is integral to the situation and appropriate to the characters..."

Now, this is related to a problem I'd been having with my baddie. Whenever I read through his dialogue I felt it just wasn't convincing; he sounded too educated, too middle class. Now, many people don't like swearing, and I know so much of the advice on the subject warns writers away from it, but once I started introducing a few obscenities into his speech, he came across as much more plausible. I mean, a man of his calibre just wouldn't say, "Well, I'm afraid we'll have to agree to disagree on that, old chap." He'd say, "Fuck you."

Do your characters swear? Does it bother you?

ADDENDUM: And there was me thinking, 'I'm sure I'll get away with using a screen-shot of the Chambers site for my post illustration; no one from there is ever gonna visit my blog." Only took them a few hours... thanks for the tweet guys! You can follow their twittering @ChambersOnline!


L-Plate Author said...

Sorry, I had to delete the post above because I put your name on it!

My characters swear and for a time I struggled with it. But you're right, it does give them depth and background. When I wrote women's fiction, there was the odd swear word but now my books are based on a notorious social housing estate, I was told by my mum that I needed more swearing to make it come alive! But I do limit it to the absolute minimum.

I do find it uncomfortable but as most people use expletives as part of day to day life, including me I am embarrassed to say, I don't think it becomes too hard to read.

Hope that helps.

Bernadette said...

If your character would swear, then you need to have them swear.

However, in the same way that you wouldn't include all the umms and errs that people say in real life in your dialogue, you don't need to include every swear word they would say, and some of it can be referred to/described rather than on the page in dialogue.

Do whatever feels right for you and your character and what you are comfortable with.

Queenie said...

My womag characters occasionally say 'drat' or 'bother'. Some of the characters in my novel use the odd curse word, where that seems appropriate. It doesn't bother me, probably because I do too.

SueG said...

Yea, mine swear, but only when necessary. It seems more forceful then. But if a character has to swear then he/she has to swear, eh? They're only human, after all :-)

liz fenwick said...

In A Cornish House, Serena - the 15 year old - swears a lot. In the first draft i let it rip and then on editing I cut out about half. What I wanted to acheived was a realistic sense of an agry teen - not to put my reader off - so I cut. the effect is still there but less of it....

Jumbly Girl said...

My characters swear a bit, but only when I think it's necessary. I read a novel recently with a teenager in it and she just swore constantly and it really annoyed me, I thought there was probably better ways of getting her character across. Like Bernadette says you wouldn't include all the ummms and errs so why include all the f***s.

I love Chambers Dic! When your free subscrip runs out you could see if you can access Credo - an online ref resource that lots of libraries subscribe too and whihch you can access at home via them. It doesn't have all the articles etc but it does have the dictionary

Calistro said...

There's definitely swearing in "Heaven Can Wait" but, hopefully, I've only included it where it has maximum impact. i.e a "Fuccccckkk!" when everything has gone horribly, terribly wrong.

Like any other literary device if you overuse swearing its impact can be reduced so I've tried to use it sparingly (I hope...might have to have a flick through to check).

Captain Black said...

I have swearing in my stories, but only if it's necessary and adds realism. Over-the-top swearing just for shock value (to the reader) is something that we ought to have grown out of by the time we reach our teens, or earlier.

A bit off-topic but...
Is the author of this blog supposed to be a secret identity? I did not think that was the case. If so, then bloggers (such as L-Plate Author) should know a few things they might not be aware of:

* Deleting a comment will remove it from display, but anyone subscribed to the article will still receive an e-mail containing the deleted comment.
* Postings (articles) that had revealing mistakes but were then later edited, will still have the original text sent out via RSS and Atom feeds.
* This blog author's name is in the URL (web address) for the blog!

I'll butt-out now.

Leigh said...

S'okay, L-Plate, my name's not a secret. Funny that it was your mum who suggested more swearing. I like that!

Bernadette - Yes, that's a good point. It's easy to go overboard in an attempt to make dialogue authentic.

Queenie - You don't, do you? I suppose you're gonna say you don't drink next, too... Be careful, if you cut out the other as well, you might live to be a hundred. Oh, but how likely is that? ;-)

Sue - Exactly!

Liz - Another good point. I've been talking with my pal Jane about it this morning; she is one who would put a book down if it contained too much swearing before she had become hooked. It's all about finding the balance.

Jumbly - Yes, just like people in real life are irritating if they swear a lot, even if one isn't offended! Ha! When my free Chambers sub runs out, I'm gonna pay for it!

Calistro - It must be the topic of conversation, but I read your last sentence as "...might have to have a fuck through to check..." Ermmm :-D

Thanks, Captain. We're all right with that one now. Re. swearing. Yes, you're right about people growing out of shock-tactic-swearing... unless, of course, they haven't!


I truly think swearing is in very bad taste and MUST be avoided at all times.

Stop fecking about.

Your word verification thingy is LARDSLAB. What a great new word.

"Bogoff you 'ecking lardslab" ;-) TFx

trousers said...

As a side note, I sat in a pub in Edinburgh a couple of months ago, in a little annexe called Clishmaclaver Corner (as opposed to Compost Corner). I was intrigued by this since I had no idea who or what Clishmaclaver was, until I returned home and looked it up, at which point it all made sense.

Still haven't checked out the etymology but your post may well spur me on to do so.

Now I'm not a writer of fiction, but the characters in my head swear all the time ;o)

Lane said...

One of my characters swears a bit but nothing too graphic and not often. If you're creating 'real' people, then the dialogue has got to be a reflection of real language but distilled somewhat to give the illusion of real speech. Does that make sense?

As for me, I never swear:-)

You twitter? I did not know that:-)

DJ Kirkby said...

Strangely mine don't swear often ...which is a bit odd considering how often I do! And no it doesn't bother me when they do swear.

HelenMHunt said...

Mine don't swear in the first draft but I may reconsider that in the rewrite. I do use the occasional expletive myself - ahem - but I think I'm so conditioned to writing in womag mode that it doesn't come naturally to me when writing.

HelenMHunt said...

Also very relieved to hear your name isn't a secret :)

Debs said...

I have the odd expletive in my novels. In fact I have to admit that they swear less than I tend to. I don't have a problem with writing it, but agree that too much is unnecessary.

Troy said...

I think you should cut out the swearing and stick to realistic dialogue such as:
"Oh I say, you nearly caused an accident between our two vehicles"
"I actually fanatically support Norwich butI have no problems, even when rather typsy, with you supporting Ipswich".

claire p said...

Mine swear when they need to and I don't have a problem with it, or with reading it. Mind you I went to a comprehencive in Northampton and my dad worked on building sites, then I went to agricultural college and mixed with the young farmer set, so I kind of grew up with bad language!!!

Karen said...

Like sex scenes, I'm hopeless at writing expletives but I've no objection to reading them - or even saying them (but don't tell the children!) I wrote a character saying sh*t today and went red. Like I said, hopeless :o)

L-Plate Author said...

Leigh, I had a mad panic as soon as I had posted it and immediately deleted it. Then I remembered your fab word counter and then looked on the NR site...

It is funny that my mum wants more swearing in it (and more violence!). At least I don't have to think about her reading it and wondering if she will be embarrassed...x

Leigh said...

TF - Go and wash your mouth out NOW!

Trousers - Scots, apparently. I guess you're probably okay with the profane, then ;-)

Lane - I do indeed twitter, which you do know, as you do follow, and have answered tweets about Quavers. Perhaps you had your head in a wine glass at the time... :-D

DJ - You swear? I hadn't noticed. Ooops!

Helen - Ah, maybe that's why you're having such a problem with PF... all that effing and blinding!

Debs - Yes, just like in real life! A few carefully placed profanities is usually all that's needed.

Troy - That's how mine used to read!

Claire - Ah, the salt of the earth... eh?

Karen - That's so funny!

L-Plate - !

BT said...

I swear quite a bit! I don't mind it in books, when it's appropriate. Some people swear all the time, if that's who they are, then so be it. I'm sure you'll work out a happy medium.

Mervat said...

I have copied your word counter. Thank you. Now that I have shown public commitment, I may shake off further procrastination!

Your blog looks very interesting. I shall add you to my blog roll as well.

Leigh Russell said...

I read an extract of my new book at a writers' group recently. The concensus was that a certain character would use the 'F' word. I wasn't altogether comfortable with this (even though I've been known to use it myself). "My mother's going to read my book," I protested. This made everyone laugh - including me. "You're not writing for your mother," my kind critic replied, when he'd recovered sufficiently from his mirth to speak. So my book now includes the 'F' word - in dialogue only. I agree with L-Plate author. I don't know why it's embarrassing, but it is. It doesn't help that I'm a teacher and I don't tolerate 'that sort of language' from pupils.

I hope you'll visit my blog if you enjoy crime fiction. You're welcome to join in my Virtual Book Launch - or even better, come along to one of the author talks or signings I'm booked for over the summer. YOo'll find a schedule of my appearances on my blog.

Tam said...

There's a smattering of extremely mild swear words in my novel but only those appropriate to teens (although I've heard the most appalling language coming from some of them) but it's generally based on what I can imagine my own teen saying, and she doesn't swear at all (in front of me!). So, we have 'arse' a couple of times but that's about it. In the chicklit novel I'm halfway through, there are occasional swear words but try to keep them down as they're more effective that way.

Lily Sheehan said...

my main character swears occasionally but only when she needs to. I dont have any characters that swear a lot but it really doesn't bother me as long as it is absolutely necessary for the character.

Leigh said...

BT - I think you're right. Anything's okay, as long as it's appropriate.

Hi Mervat! - Hope the creeping pixels are just reward for all your hard work!

Leigh - Hi. Thanks for dropping by.

Tam - I was told to f-off by a two-year-old once, so it's not surprising they're accomplished swearers by teenagehood!

Lily - That's the key, isn't it? If it's absolutely necessary for the character.