Sunday, February 5, 2012

Vulgarity

When is it okay in writing to use swear words and offensive language?  I’m not sure I have an answer to this.  I do like a good cuss word.  I like the humorous ones where the person has been particularly inventive.  I like the scene and time appropriate ones. 

However, I just read a short story to critique for my Fiction Writing class.  The author used a lot of swear words and offensive language in the story.  First I felt that it was more for affect than for advancing the story.  It seemed contrived and forced in order to evoke a dislike for a character that didn’t need to be disliked. 

Is it okay to use words like faggot, queer, cunt, whore and so on?  I think it is if you are using them in the right way.  Authors have to remember that these words create a visceral response in most readers so they need to be used cautiously.  They generate a response and you don’t want the response to be too negative. 

I know that boys talk smack to each other but at the same time are readers going to be receptive to it.  In a story about boys of a certain age, you are going to have some of this derogatory language.  As you tell the story though there are mechanisms that can be used instead of the actual words in order to get the point across.

As I read this story, I found myself going between annoyed by his repetition of the vulgarity (very offensive) and his lack of inventiveness to tell the story.  Now I have to write a critique and try to be gentle when I tell him the words were ineffective and in all likelihood lost the audience.

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