Sunday, January 8, 2012
Watch your @$%* Language: Sevastian Winters on Cussing in Fiction
I get in trouble from the language police entirely too often in a land where people have supposedly bled and died to give me the right to express myself. As an author, it irks me to no end. Just this afternoon (as I write this) I was debating with another author who found my novel Wolf's Rise graphically violent and laced with too much “profanity” for her tight-ass taste (Yup. Gonna' be that sort of post!).
I replied “No author worth their salt will ever be offended by language. Language is the tool we wield to ply our craft and it must, if nothing else, be real.”
I’m not one to mince words.
She replied, “Any author worth their salt wouldn’t feel it necessary to use the f-word so much. But yes, I know it was your characters speaking. And that’s fine, I get it, some people swear! However, most people around me don’t, henceforth, it’s just as real to not have swearing characters.”
Grammar nightmare aside, who is right?
Um... I am, of course. Why else would I be writing this? Duh!
Here's the thing.... and there is just no getting around it: Characters, just like real people, have the inalienable right to be themselves. Ours is to show their truth… not to judge it, or shape it.
For writers, (or if you, like me, prefer “Very Much Gooder Authors”) the answer about whether or not characters cuss, has nothing to do with culture, religion, nor personal experiences within a usual environment. My stories don't take place in the confines of my usual environment.
The only valid answer to whether or not an author's characters cuss, is attached wholly to the fundamental truth that the characters have the inalienable right to be themselves. Period.
Omniscient, uninvolved narrators should never cuss, or for that matter, use poor grammar, but characters... well that's another thing entirely. If you want to know whether or not your character cusses, ask the character!
Without exception, every character in a story, just like every person on the planet, has a unique relationship with language. I have a nine year old and a twelve year old. My nine year old will boldly say “I didn't know that.” My twelve year old, on the other hand would never stoop so low. Her favorite phrase is “no one told me that.” It seems a subtle difference, but to the eye of a trained author, that difference is everything.
Characters don't just cuss or not cuss. If they don't cuss, we have to ask them more. Why don't they cuss? What words do they use instead? Are there any exceptions? If they do cuss, we want to know more. What is their favorite cuss word? Are they good at cussing? Bad at cussing? Do they cuss a lot? A little? Under what circumstances? Who do they curb their cussing for? Their kids? Old people? Nobody? A Priest? Why?
Bringing a character to life with words requires attention to these sorts of details. And if we who write their stories, fail in our duty to chronicle them as they are, the result of respecting them enough to ask, and then to allow them the freedom to speak and act autonomously, as is their inalienable right, we will never succeed in our efforts to create indelible characters that lead to the author's holy grail: Immortality.
See? I told you I was right! Thanks for reading. Alisha, thanks for having me!
(P.S. If you like adrenaline pumping, visceral stories with believable characters, chest-pounding action, and guts so real you can smell them, my military thriller, Wolf's Rise is for you. Lace up your running shoes! It's time to run with the big dogs!)