Saturday, 29 June 2013

May Contain Abusive Language

One of the most common questions I’m asked by newbie writers is whether or not to use sexual swear words in their fiction.

I didn’t give this much thought pre-publication, but I have since learned that lots of people do care about the use of this sort of language. It seems a bizarre double standard that you can portray any number of violent acts without comment, but have your character use the F word and you will receive all kinds of opprobrium. (I have all these big words in my head. Got to use them sometime.)

My first lesson on this was when I was doing an event with Alex Gray and Craig Robertson last year in Dundee. A lady approached us at the signing table after the event and said she only had enough money to buy one of our books and to help her decide, she needed to know if we used swear words in our books.

My thought was, that’s me screwed and I pointed to Alex.

A mate of mine, Tony Black had a review on Amazon where the “reviewer” said that as a Christian she really objected to the foul language used by the characters. Presumably, as a Christian she didn’t mind the violence that befell the characters, because she didn’t mention any of that. Then she went on to question whether our fine officers in blue would use such language.

Re-arrange this sentence, missus.  Get to out you need more.

In any case who am I to say that you should get over it? I’m not the arbiter of all that is fine and wholesome and acceptable. But neither are they.

So, why does this language offend so much?  It’s just words, innit? Why does that syllable crash on to peoples’ ears with such impact? Words are a writer’s tool. Every word we use while communicating is part of that tool-kit and has a place in writing surely? It’s part of writer’s contract with the reader that you display with honesty the interaction between humans.  If a certain character would speak like that in the real world then by fuck, he’s going to speak like that in my book.

I remember meeting my agent for the first time. She was a small, polite lady of a certain age.  A gentlelady, if I can use the term. We were in a restaurant in an art gallery. We had been talking for about ten minutes when she pointed to a part of the text and said, “There’s too much fucking.”

I nearly spat out my mineral water.

She wasn’t referring to it as an action. (That would be a totally different book.) She was talking about my characters’ use of the word.  So we decided that it was fine if it was a verbal tic for McBain, but that the other characters should desist, in the main, so that people didn’t think that it was all me. Thing is, I don’t tend to swear much in everyday life, it’s just that when I started to write Blood Tears the swearie words flowed. What’s that all about?

I reckon it was because I was going through a divorce at the time. ‘Nuff said.

Anywho, the follow up is out now details  HERE– and my feeling – not that I’ve done a f-word count – is that there’s less of it this time around. Maybe I’m a lot calmer now? The ex and I are good pals. AND  in the book that comes out next spring only contains one f-bomb.

So, aspiring writers? Your question to swear or not to swear?  Fucked if I know.