Saturday, April 2, 2011

A Fear of Offending

There is a voice inside my head telling me not to write this post. Maybe I shouldn't do it. People will find out more about me than I want them to. Good people. People that I like and some that I even look up to. What will they think? Ah, the writer's dilemma, you say. How much to reveal?

Some would say I shouldn't worry what people think of me. They would say you can't live your life to suit others. Sounds reasonable enough, right? It sure does to me.

On the other hand, others might say that it does matter what people think of me. They might say that I have an influence on others (as does each person) for good or ill and that it would be better to have a good influence on others than bad. This too sounds reasonable.

Which brings me back to the voice inside my head telling me not to write this post.

But I will. I will because this is a writing blog and the topic is more than merely relevant.

So here goes:

I swear. A lot. No really. It's my favorite vice. I'm not proud of it. And I'd like to stop. But apparently not enough to actually stop. This comes through in some of the characters I write and frankly in my favorite characters. Why? Because I relate to them the most. For me, as a budding novelist, to write fiction with characters I could not relate to would be boring. Maybe this attests to my relative inexperience with fiction writing. I don't know. If I'm still going strong twenty, thirty years from now perhaps my imagination will be such that my characters are not as much an extension of my personality and other personalities I know.

That said, my dilemma seems to be whether or not to allow my characters' true colors shine through. If I do, my writing feels truer, but I may offend. If I don't, my writing is sacrificed, for the sake of my friends--or so it would seem. What do you think? Speak up, one and all.


David R. Matteri said...

Hi, Chris

I believe using profanity in dialogue is perfectly fine. A writer's job is to write as honestly as he or she can, and as long as the dialogue is true to the character, they can be as raunchy as they want. Writers tend to offend people no matter what they do, so I wouldn't sweat it.

Here's a link to an article I think you might find interesting:

Chris Hunt said...

Appreciate your comment, David. And thanks for the link. I've just read it and the author makes many valid points.

Anonymous said...

I love profanity. No, seriously. It gives a raw truth to the narrative. It's one of the most efficient way of conveying emotion through a character.

BUT. (You knew it was coming.)

Too much swearing is a turn-off. I mean, I love swearing but if I pick up a book (or watch a movie) where every other word is 'fuck'... I'm think to myself 'this sucks.' I don't know what it is about too much swearing, and I don't know where that invisible line is of too much and just enough... but it's definitely there somewhere. There's swearing to enrich the writing, and then there's swearing because you don't know how else to express yourself.

As long as it's done to enrich rather than as a crutch, it's a great tool.

Elisa said...

In my opinion, only very little is okay. I want a book I can recommend to friends. If there's too much bad language, I can't recommend it -- I have some conservative friends who will begin to wonder about my taste. When recommending a book, it's almost like you've put a little bit of yourself out there. Having offensive language won't impress my friends. So in turn, I won't recommend it.

Chris Hunt said...

It's one of the most efficient way of conveying emotion through a character.

Agreed. Somehow saying "dagnabbit" just won't convey. Unless your going for comedy or some such.

Bridget said...

I agree with Elisa. Also, bad language is a spectrum. Some profanity offends me more than others. I have come to appreciate a well placed damn or hell. I think there can occasionally be a time for the usage of s*** (see The Book Thief for good examples). Beyond that, I'm not able to tolerate much.

I love how YA lit gets around this (sometimes) by using phrases like, "She swore under her breath." Obviously that would get old after a while, though.

Gretchen Galway said...

No shit! I love swearing!

After holding my tongue for 10+ years (became a mother), it's all pouring out of me lately. My husband is alarmed. The neighbor kids told their parents.

Swearing never offends me. I've put down books where the character thinks "shoot" or "gosh". Who sanitizes their thoughts that way? Do you? Fuck no!

(Anyway, Chris--visiting your blog for the first time. See you around!)

Meghan Ward said...

We probably all swear more than we should. As hard as I try not to swear in front of my kids, I've said "shit" and "god fucking dammit" several times in front of my toddler, and I'm just thankful he hasn't picked them up yet.

In fiction, I'd keep it to a minimum. I don't know where this quote came from: "It's one of the most efficient way of conveying emotion through a character," but I'd say it's one of the laziest ways of conveying emotion through a character - not that I don't do it myself from time to time.