Monday, January 16, 2012

Swearing is Good... Sometimes

So, here's the thing - I'm not a fan of casual swearing. I know that might be a surprise coming from someone who has an interview series on her blog called the SHIT. And trust me, RC Lewis will tell you I'm not averse to dropping the f bomb when necessary, so please no one read this and think, "Oh no, I used a four letter word in an email to her one time, she thinks I'm an idiot."

Trust me, I don't. I know some idiots, and you're probably not one of them.

What I dislike is casual swearing, dialogue laced with four letter words contrived to display the character's laissez-faire attitude towards the status quo, the villian's familiarity with gutter tongue, or the inherent toughness of your MC. Here's what you're really doing: Showing that you as a writer have to rely on an over-used group of four letter words to convey intensity.

How to be intense without swearing? I advise watching Breaking Bad in it's entirety, but for a quick example, this clip from Season 3 will do:


L.H. Thomson said...

Good post Mindy!

I actually took an f-bomb out of my detective series yesterday for precisely this reason. There's still the odd curse word, framed as part of the natural language of some of the characters, but it wasn't necessary in this one case.

Yvonne Osborne said...

Well, I can't listen to it right now cause the hubby is still sleeping. Slacker. But I'll come back. I agree, dropping the F-bomb when necessary relieves stress in a non-violent way. Though that isn't really swearing, just a vulgarity that can make you feel really good! There is a fine line between casual swearing and intense swearing, something a writer needs to be aware of.

Tyson said...

I don't swear very often.

I swear even less in my writing.

There is nothing better than a well-timed 'fuck', but it needs to make sense. Ideally, we want the word to have an impact, which it can't have when saturated with other curses.

Mindy McGinnis said...

L.H. - Absolutely! The f-bomb makes an appearance in one of my YA's... I think just the one time. And it's necessary.

Yvonne - Definitely. I reserve the f-bomb for pinched fingers and banging my head on doors. Because yeah... sometimes, it's the only thing that works.

Tyson - Thanks for the follow! Agreed completely. If we toss out "fuck" here there and everywhere, it has as much weight as "the." And btw, there *is* nothing better than a well timed fuck. HA. I had to giggle.

Jenny Phresh said...

Perhaps my 8-year-old son (whose short story for school was alarmingly lousy with the f-bomb) needs to read this! (See

Melodie Wright said...

Great example.
My issue with frequent swearing is it often shows off the writer's lack of imagination or vocabulary. I'm fine with the occasional F-bomb (and certainly drop enough of them while I'm driving) but I love to hear creative/unusual swear words!

Ed DeCaria said...

Hmm, this post is right up my alley.

As I think "South Park" has spent the last 15 years trying to prove, kids swear. A lot. I like that the taboo on swearing in works for kids -- especially YA -- has been largely lifted.

I agree with the notion that swearing isn't always the most effective way to deliver your message -- whether that means the funniest, the most dramatic, the most heart-wrenching, or whatever. Jerry Seinfeld, who famously delivered stand-up sans swearing, called out comedians who relied on curse-laden punchlines as being lazy and for (paraphrasing by 5-year-old memory) not thinking their material all the way through.

That always stuck with me. Even if I would like to drop a bomb or two on my readers from time to time, I won't do so unless I've thought it all the way through and determined that swearing is actually the BEST way to deliver the line. It rarely is.

Great post.


Bethany C. said...

I LOVE Breaking Bad! Such a great show! (Can you believe Jesse is the same kid from Big Love--Mormon's gone bad, eh?! HA!)

I'm with you--swearing can be essential for a character but all depth and oomph are lost in the over-kill.

Mindy McGinnis said...

Jenny - Yeah! I remember that post!! Well, we all have our strong points, right? ;)

Melodie - Agreed. I think a lack of vocabulary is a great point.

Ed - Yup. Kids do swear. A lot. Yet what works in delivery doesn't always work on the page. Finding an alternative is sometimes hard, but you're right - it's usually better.

Bethany - YES! Breaking Bad! And tell me, is Gus not the most alarming and evil villain you've ever met, yet, I don't believe he swore once on his whole run....

A.M.Supinger said...

OMG. I've never seen Breaking Bad, but that clip was an advertisement, a warning and a sprinkle of crack all rolled into one. How can I not watch it now???

Mindy McGinnis said...

A.M. - That's only the tip of the iceberg, baby!