Let’s Talk Process: The Magic “Eff” Bomb
And it is magic.
But I’ll start at the beginning.
I have a confession: I am the reason for the little red “E” on the podcast.
Yes. It’s me. The chick, not the dude.
I know, I know. But I have an adorable, nerd “Hello, Kitty” profile picture, right?
Lies. All lies.
Well, probably not if you listen to the podcast. Seriously, go ahead and count sometime. I think the worst I’ve ever provoked Luke into was a single “shit” and he was, in that case, repeating something back to me I’d already said.
Why do I curse so much? Admittedly, I like it. It’s fun. People talk about “mouthfeel” with food but it’s also an element of speech. You’ll notice I say “fuck” more than “shit” because I like the way my tongue curls around the letters and my throat vibrates with the hard consonants.
I am also a passionate person. I am especially passionate about what I’m reading and writing. These two things take up the majority of my free time and I don’t have much of that, so I’d better be passionate. You’ll notice I’m far less likely to curse when discussing a media topic than I am when discussing a book; TV and movies don’t absorb me or toy with my emotions, thrill me the same way words do. They certainly don’t have the power to disappoint the way a book does (yes, I’m looking at you endings of both The Sparrow and Children of God, mumble mumble mumble fuck). For me, when I feel that passionately about something, only a special word will do.
I am not Howard Stern. I don’t curse for shock value; that would be a sate of a good and holy word. Like using antidisestablishmentarianism if there were something more succinct. A good curse isn’t for flash; it’s for emphasis. If you do it too much, or at the wrong time, it loses its power. Uttered without thought or filter, it becomes an inane series of letters no one cares about. Not all of your characters should run around screaming, “fucknuts” at the top of their lungs. That would be silly.
But it is your right to let fly when the time is perfect and the mood set. No matter who your character is. No matter who YOU (the author) are.
Clearly, I have some fucking strong feelings on this topic.
I’ll fucking tell you.
Back when I was a mere fledgling — not at writing per se, but at finishing and actually being potentially decent — I took a novel writing class. I was living in free-spirited Portland, OR. The class was a good mix of genders, ethnicities, ages, etc etc.
My first big critique returned a lot of helpful, insightful comments, most of which I have used and a few I still have tucked into a mental file (if I can find it in that mess) for later. There was one gent, however, who offered this completely unhelpful tidbit: “There’s too much cursing. Nice girls shouldn’t curse so much.”
He made it quite clear that this wasn’t just a commentary on my writing — it was a commentary on me.
He told me I was a bad writer and a bad person because the characters in my book, male and female, and in this particular case sci-fi soldiers, cursed.
I should probably have told him to, “fuck off,” or “go fuck,” himself. You may be surprised to hear that I, of all people, did not do so. Because it would have been inappropriate in a group setting wherein people were voicing their opinions of my work. I won’t claim I was free of the desire to do so, because dude was a douchenozzle, but I didn’t.
I know the limits.
That said, a choice to curse does not make me a bad person. I am someone who has chosen to allow a certain subset of some standard, and some creative, euphemisms, pepper my vocabulary and diction. Discriminately. I don’t yell them in front of my kids (unless I’m bleeding profusely); I don’t (usually) yell them at public sporting events; I don’t say it to patients who say it to me; I didn’t even say it that time a bottle of sirracha fell off the fridge hit me on the head, then shattered on my feet (have you ever gotten a lungful of that stuff?).
I do curse when I feel strongly about something. My characters curse when they feel strongly about something. I curse when it’s very important someone pay attention to what I’m saying. Shockingly, same with my characters!
You are not a bad person if you curse. Even if you do curse indiscriminately.. Provided you’re not using said word as a threat, which is never okay. I won’t judge you and no one else should either. Okay, maybe if you’re a teacher in front of a class of third graders or at the park surrounded by kids. Then, I’ll totally judge you. You are not a bad writer if your characters curse. Curses are words and words are tools and there’s no reason not to use them. But you wouldn’t use a hammer to change a lightbulb, right?
If you’re sitting on the bus someday and then person across from you (reading your book of course) utters a quiet, “fuck me,” you’re doing it right.
So sayeth I. What sayeth you?