Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Profanity In Writing

Warning. This is a post about profane language.  It happens. People use bad language, the  Third Commandment notwithstanding, and I accept it. I don't approve, but I realize it happens.

It happens in politics (behind closed doors, usually, unless someone leaks those conversations). It also happens in sports (and an open mike can pick up some words and expressions that are truly shocking). It happens at the store. I love what Tim Allen said once in his show, Last Man Standing. It's something to the effect that we honor the birth of God's Son at Christmas, then take His name in vain when someone sneaks into the parking place we were headed for. It happens.

What we say can stick around for a long time--forever, if they're captured on video. But (and this is my point) the words authors write are also permanent. We're responsible for what we say, and authors are also responsible for what they write.

Most of the books on my "read it again and again" bookshelf have absolutely nothing in them I'd mind my mother, wife, or daughter reading.  Sometimes I have to skip over a passage or two in others, but by and large I prefer those that can be read without censorship. What about you?

When writing, I try to take my cue from Louis L'Amour. I don't read a lot of westerns, but many people do, and enjoy this man's novels. I appreciate what he said about profanity in writing. What do you think? (You may need to click on the picture to enlarge it enough to read the words.)

Tweet with a single click. "Does writing that includes profanity cover for a lack of skill?"

For those who care (and even if you don't), my interview is up at The Suspense Zone today.


EM Griffith said...

Many modern, mainstream authors will throw profanity, graphic sex and "progressive" subject matter into their books; my hunch is that they believe those things sell, and their editors do, too. It's possible some modern, mainstream readers like to find that on the pages. I'm not one of those readers. I like to pass some good books on for my sister or mother or friends to read. I'd never pass a book like that on. It isn't so much as the author is lazy, it's just that they're more concerned with appearing "hip" (or hoping to sell movie rights, perhaps) than writing a good, clean novel. IMHO.

Richard Mabry said...

Elise, you're right, of course. I hear the excuse all the time about, "But that's the way people talk." Maybe, but a talented writer can imply without being specific, and I've read lots who do it and do it well. Thanks for your comment.

Susan Johnson said...

That is one of the reasons I read Christian fiction. I don't have to worry about what I read. I know it is going to be clean and uplifting.

Richard Mabry said...

Susan, I was asked years ago, as part of an interview, to define Christian fiction. Among other things, I said that it was written from a Christian worldview. Not satisfied with that, the interviewer asked what made that different. I said, "It doesn't contain anything you'd mind your wife, mother, or daughter reading." Later, I decided I should have said, "...anyone else..."--not just this group. Thanks for your comment.

Patricia Bradley said...

I think it's much harder to write without using profanity. At least scenes that general market writers would usually put their favorite 4-letter word in...or longer. I've heard writers justify using profanity as it is the 'real' world. Personally, that's one reason I read--to get away from the 'real' world.

But you can show grit or how vile a villain is without profanity. Harder? yes. But well worth it.

Richard Mabry said...

You're right, Patricia. As Louis L'Amour is supposed to have said, the use of profanity is a cover-up for lack of talent. The real writer doesn't have to use it, he/she chooses to. Thanks for your comment.

GrandaddyA said...

Richard, thanks for this post. I am very careful about what I read. I try to avoid books with foul language because I know that reading filthy language makes it very likely that those words will hang around inside my head much longer than it takes me to read them. I agree with Louis L'Amour about a lack of skill on the part of authors who feel they must use bad language and other highly questionable content to sell books. I might be accused of leading a sheltered life but if that's what it takes to keep my mind from dwelling on filth, that's what I will do.

Richard Mabry said...

Edward, your rationale is valid. When I was with baseball players each day, I had to watch myself lest some of the things they routinely say (words my mother and wife wouldn't like) would slip into my own conversation. Thanks for your comment.