Friday, January 4, 2013

Swearing: Vulgar or Free Expression?

  I've been told I sometimes have an "unladylike" tendency toward adult language (I attribute this to being a hockey fan and befriending too many dudes in my teenage years), but I thought I had gotten better at censoring myself that it was not as widely known now as it once was, but as I edit a story I wrote just two years ago, it's quite clear I must have been a sailor in another life.
    The editing is going well, but I'm starting to realize that I may have pushed through it too quickly when I was writing it. It seems to be missing some things that will add some depth, so I've made some notes to add some more character development, and even a little bit more plot development, to clarify a few things and make the story more complete.
    One thing I've noticed, however, in addition to having rushed through the first draft a bit, is that when I write strong women, they often become a little vulgar. They adopt some more male personality or behavior traits in order to compete or keep pace with the men they are constantly surrounded by. I don't have a problem with the concept--I swear, I spend time with people who swear, and I think it's perfectly acceptable for women to swear as long as it's not over the top (e.g. every other word).
    Looking at it from a reader's perspective though, the average reader, and potentially the type of reader who might pick up a story like mine, some of my character's swearing might be a little over the top. It's not excessive and I don't think it's especially vulgar, but in some cases, it goes beyond what a woman might say among her female friends and ventures into the realm of how she would express the same sentiment or tell the same story among a bunch of male friends.
    Again, I don't find it especially problematic, it is after all how I would probably tell the story to just about anyone, but I think it might turn some readers off. Not to say my hypothetical readers are necessarily prudes or old-fashioned, but it just might be off the mark from what they would expect, and that in itself can be a turn-off.
    So, I have cleaned it up a bit. Not to the point that it isn't my character or my writing style anymore, but I do get a little Tarantino when I write dialogue sometimes, particularly if it's during a heated exchange in a scene.
    Still, to my mind, swearing is a part of modern vernacular. The English language would not really be the English language today without the innuendo, curse words, and vulgarities it has spawned over the years, and while some are just there to be insulting or ugly, others have actually helped us express ourselves in new ways.
Sticks and stones. 

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