Today I want to talk in a very general way about using swear words and violent, sexual or horrific content in my fiction. I’m not pursuing any particular agenda, the topic is just something that’s crossed my mind recently.
But first! Yosemite Sam…
You won’t often find me swearing in my daily life, certainly not in front of kids or in my professional life. It’s not like I don’t know those words. I put myself through a lot of college working with truckers and laborers at construction sites. Some of those folks used swear words like they were punctuation.
I’m fine with that.
There are very few words that I find individually offensive. It is the intent behind the use of a word and the context in which words are used that may become hateful or harmful. You don’t have to curse to cause harm with words.
My choice on how I speak is a personal one and driven by how I wish to be perceived. It’s a question of comfort for me. But that’s my life and what I want out of it doesn’t necessarily parallel the preferences of characters in my written fiction.
Cravings, for instance, is full of mobsters and monsters. I think it’s reasonable to expect a certain amount of rough language from those characters. To write them as I envisioned them, I needed them to speak in a way that I would not.
The science fiction book that I’m writing right now, Somnus, is chock-full of smugglers and corporate sharks, betrayal and vengeance. But there won’t be a single swear word in it. Those characters don’t need to swear. The world is not our own and who’s to say what the common vernacular of a fantastical future is?
The next book I have planned is a political novel set in the 1930s. The language will be rough and, while not explicitly descriptive, the sexual content will be implicit and lewd.
So, should I be concerned about the perception of my readers and anyone they might speak to about my books? Should I be worried that a family member might read my stuff and be shocked or disappointed with me? If I write violent or adult scenes, will that reflect poorly on my professional life? Or on my family and co-workers?
I don’t think so. Not most of the time, anyway. We’re talking fiction here. The stories I tell aren’t autobiographical. I’m not writing a memoir, I’m spinnin’ yarns.
It does cross my mind, though. Somnus gets really dark in places. I’m pretty sure a tale of redemption would seem fairly flat without first getting grim. If I can pull it off the way that I want to, it’ll be fairly powerful. I just have to write some very not nice things.
Anyway, that’s crossed my mind a time or two recently. Let me know in the comments if you have similar thoughts or personal experiences with reactions to the content of your fiction.