Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Swear Words in Urban Fantasy / Paranormal Romance Books?

I just checked my reviews today and saw a new one came in addressing swear words. The reader writes,

"I like that you told a great story and you didn't have to use curse words. Thank you for that."

This isn't the first time I've received a comment like this and I love that readers are communicating their thoughts on this issue. However, it wasn't really a goal of mine when I wrote the book to produce a curse word clean story. I'm not pro or con swear words. I'm fine with them when they fit the story. Interestingly, my book actually does contain swear words, but they are rather mild and infrequent.

The Light Who Shines is a cross-genre book that spans Urban Fantasy, Paranormal Romance, and Mystery. The first two genres are known to be proliferated with swear words. When I first drafted my main character profile for Bluebell Kildare, I decided that she only said soft swear words, as this fit her personality. She says things like, "Holy cow!" "Holy smokes!" and "cripes!" That is just her way. She grew up in an orphanage associated with a Catholic church so hard swears are not comfortable for her.

One of the detectives she works with is Catholic and his expletives are things like, "Jesus Christ!" and "Jesus, Mother Mary, and Joseph!" He doesn't swear a lot because his image is important to him and he likes to be seen as cultured. One of my editors felt that the religious cusses would actually be disliked more than the non-religious hard swear words, but I haven't received any negative feedback on it. I should clarify that this is not in anyway a religious book, even though the various religions of the characters shape their actions and thinking.

The other main character, Jack Tanner, does say more common swear words, but not often and usually not in the presence of ladies. He's a five hundred year old Vampire and a bit old fashioned that way. He has been known to say, "Crap!" "Shit!" and may even say, "Fuck!" in future books, though he hasn't yet.

So, while I didn't set out to create a book purged of swear words, it ended up being fairly clean based on the personality of the main characters. I was pleasantly surprised with all the comments I've gotten from readers who have been hungry for a great action book in these genres that has cleaner language.

How do I feel about swearing in books that I read?

Naturally, I've read a considerable amount of Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance to be able to write in those genres. I recall being turned off by a few where the main character cussed all the time and it seemed unnecessarily ugly. But other times characters will belt out the harder curse words during times of danger, pain, or when emotions run high and I'm fine with that. I'm also fine with no swear words.

When I first released my book, one of the negative comments I received was that I had too many exclamation marks. I took this to heart and removed almost all of them during my revision. I left them at only the highest points of emotion in the story. I think all those exclamation marks tired people out.

Similarly, I think hard swear words do the same thing. In my opinion, too many is too many. You risk losing potency.

Still, even though I know that many of my readers don't care for the hard swear words, I think others would be fine with them in any quantity. I think some people feel that if the book doesn't have sufficient hard language it's more of a young adult book, even though the official definition of young adult has nothing to do with swear words.

So, in light of all of these questions, I'd created a poll. The results of the poll are available here:

http://svy.mk/1Pe2ljF

I'd love to hear your comments!

Lilo

24 comments:

  1. Weirdly - I'm not a great fan of swearing personally - it's a yes for me, Lilo. I think that swearing in context can enhance the authenticity of the book as long as it's not overused. Let's take an extreme example of a scene where a wild animal pounces on an unsuspecting victim and takes a chunk out of their arm. I'd say there'd be no holds barred for any of the language that might be used and it would be laughable in certain circumstances if swear words were avoided. I imagine that Very disciplined individuals and perhaps a sweet old lady or two might not curse in these circumstances but I'd be willing to bet that almost anyone else will and their character traits will determine the type of words they use.

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    1. Thanks for your comment Louise. When I was a teenager and young adult I swore quite a bit. But when my daughter was little, I did my best not to swear around her. One time though, when I stubbed my toe on a door and broke it, I squatted down in agony and said several swear words under my breath. I couldn't help the swear words from flowing out of my mouth, but I was able to control the volume. I thought that was interesting.

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  2. I am ok with swear words and curse like a sailor but it's not necessary to fill a story with them.

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  3. Hmm, this is a bit of a complicated question. I think if a character fits the type to swear a lot then go for it, but if your character is a pretty in pink princess I seriously don't see them dropping the F-bomb on a regular basis. I swear so realistically, swearing doesn't bother me. I do think some of the more vulgar words are too much.Like some others said, if it flows into the story cool, but if it makes up 60% of your dialogue you need to rethink it.

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    1. What words to you consider to be too vulgar? Fuck, Cunt, Cock, Slut, Mother-Fucking Asshole. Those words?

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    2. I'd just say the c word an other derogatory terms like that. Cock is no biggie.

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  4. I'm not a huge fan of swearing, though think it's acceptable in certain situations - I curse like a sailor when I stub my toe, for example. But there's no reason why swear words should appear in the final draft of a story; they're the kinds of things that may slip out during the first draft, but shouldn't make it in to the final draft. I tolerate them, but would be much happier if they were kept out of the books. You can imply that someone is swearing without using the words, after all. People managed to do this just fine before. Why can't they now?

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    1. Victoria, this is an interesting spin. So you don't mind if the characters are implied to swear, but you don't want to see the actual swear words? Such as, "A string of vile curses escaped her lips." That would be okay in a book for you, but not "God damn mother-fucking asshole?" (Sorry for the vile swear words, but it was necessary for demonstration.)

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  5. I agree. Characters need to be realistic. You want real reactions so the readee connects with them as if were real people with true reactions.
    I have a rock'n'roll romance. The story takes place in a dive bar for the most part. No dagnabits were used in the making of the book.
    Blue and Jack felt like real people. I wanted to hang out with them while reading the story (well I lie. I wanted to lock them in a closer with oysters, spanish fly, and Mr. White being piped in through the bottom opening of the door) but having their language with curse words made it authentic.

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  6. These are some really interesting comments. Please keep them coming!

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  7. I have no problem with swear words as long as they're not over used and they fit the character and the circumstances.

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  8. I'm very much pro authenticity when it comes to swearing in books. If it's appropriate to the moment, and in keeping with the personality of the character, then most definitely leave the swearing in place. However, I think Victoria does have a point that sometimes we put the words in place where we could allude to it instead.

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    1. Yes, Victoria brought up an idea I hadn't considered before. There are ways to simply say that your character is swearing without them actually swearing.

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  9. I find that a complete lack of swear words does feel like Y/A fiction. If a character would swear in real life, then why not in the book (say a guy is shot.. what would he say IRL? Ouch?) I do however agree that it is not necessary to always write out the exact words, and that too much swearing is annoying - say if all the characters in a book swear all the time - it's just not very realistic.
    Swearing can sometimes be a fun addition to a book - like pirate-talk or when old vampires use out of date swear words.

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    1. Rikke, Do you consider a book with words like "shit, crap, damn, God damn it" to be enough to make you not feel like it is Y/A fiction?

      What if those words are said, but the main character says softer expletives like "Holy cow!, Holy smokes! Cripes!" Does that feel like Y/A even when other characters are saying somewhat harder words like those mentioned first?

      I wish I'd thought of out-of-date swear words for my old Vampire before I wrote book 1. Brilliant idea.

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  10. Interesting post, Lilo. I've always been a great "defender" of so-called swearing. However, when it's used in books excessively or where it doesn't ring true in a conversation, I roll my eyes a bit. I liken it to female stand-up comediennes who use swearing to get a laugh. Not funny IMO, just a misguided attempt to compete with their male counterparts perhaps. I swear a fair bit when I'm talking, but I also strongly dislike and don't use the "c" word. I guess many of us have been conditioned to automatically react to swearing as if it's wrong or "dirty". Having said that, though, just look at movies, and TV in particular. Not so long ago it was completely taboo to hear the "stronger'" swear words in a TV programme. Now, it's pretty much par for the course, making me wonder what all the fuss was about. But, of course, societal standards are not static and this issue is no exception. One thing that really makes me cross is the use of the word "clean" when describing books that contain no sex and/or swearing. That, to me at least, implies that sex in particular is tainted/sinful/wrong/etc., which it isn't and shouldn't be (notwithstanding non-consensual, exploitative and any involvement of children and the vulnerable). Another eye-rolling response occurs when different levels are assigned to swear words: soft, strong, etc. To me, they're all just words and just like other language, can be construed differently by individuals, again partly I believe, due to our conditioning, but obviously also due to our individual personalities and nurturing experiences when young. I'm not really sure why I dislike the "c" word so much other than it has always had negative connotations and I don't like the "sound" of it, totally despite its meaning. Sorry, I'm a bit of a radical LOL!

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    1. I have to say that technically you are correct. There is no such thing as clean / dirty and there is no real delineation between soft and hard curse words. I totally agree. They are just labels / categories that people apply to help people understand the situation. But it is all relative and based on opinion. :) However, since I must be concerned with my market's opinions and I have to communicate with them, using these labels is the easiest way to do it. :)

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    2. To further expand on that, one person's idea of "clean" might be my idea of "boring." I was reading a romance recently that had a big romantic build-up to the wedding night. They went to bed and then they woke up. If it had been a real book (and not on my computer) I would have thrown it at the wall. What? I invested two hours in the book already and you have skipped the best part? Where is the sex? I immediately stopped reading the clean book and went to pick another one out.

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    3. Sorry, Lilo, I wasn't meaning to have a go at you personally! I'm totally with you regarding the need to use certain terms to explain one's view and to be considerate of others. Yes, definitely clean can = boring! That book sounded like a big tease LOL! Leaving what happened up to readers' imaginations is one thing but sometimes we like to leave the imagining up to someone else. Kind of like where a cooked breakfast always tastes nicer when someone else cooks it for you :)

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    4. I wish authors who wrote "clean" books would mark them as such, so that when I go looking for a romance, I know to avoid them. :) (wink)

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I'd love to hear your comments!