Monday, 13 April 2015

Explicit language in writing

Dear all,

This is a follow up to my previous blog post about using accents ( as in the same story I also used explicit language for the first time and I was incredibly nervous about it. Don’t worry; there won’t be any swearing in this post.

I am a novice writer and new issues seem to be creeping up on me regularly this year as I produce more works after my year abroad. As I put the finishing touches to my last two short story ebooks the issue of swearing became quite a problem for me. The main reason in short, was that I doubted myself and wondered if I was doing it just for the sake of it rather than it being an essential element of the characters. I asked myself several times: Should I take them out or replace them with less vulgar language?


Both stories I consider to be contemporary dramas and fall into the realist category. Although they are fictional and not based on any one single person or event, I wanted to portray the stories in a truthful fashion without the use of any fantastical elements. Does that alone justify the use of explicit language?

Offense for Offense’s sake

I’ve read so many books that contain swearing and it has never bothered me at all. It’s only when it came time to swear myself that I noticed how easy it is to misuse it. I am not going to include any quotes or references in this post as who am I to judge anybody’s work but it is sometime very obvious when explicit language is thrown in to make the scene or the person really jump out at you and it doesn’t always work. It can come across as false and a clear attempt by the writer to shoehorn in a shock. For me, it can lessen the appreciation of the work because you become aware of the writer’s intentions. When it works well however, it can be extremely powerful and moving. So how do you know when you have got the balance right?

If you are ever feeling at a loss for just that right turn of phrase...
I will give you an example of where I was easily found out. A person who read my latest story noticed how that after I used a racially explicit swearword I then explained myself (through the narrator of course) or, perhaps, attempted to justify myself by using up an entire paragraph to give background to the person who used the word. It seemed blatantly obvious to the reader that I was afraid of just letting the word and the situation speak for itself and looking back it seems blatantly obvious to me too. The fear I had was that I would somehow be judged myself, my own personality would be looked at in light of the characters I had created and the language they had used. I didn’t realise I had that much fear in me.

It’s been an important lesson for me as everything I have always believed in requires you to be truthful and honest. They are some of the key words you will hear in any discussion on art or the artist. You will also hear the word belief too. If you believe in yourself and what you do, and you are truthful to your belief (and have a bit of ambition and hard work inside of you) then you should not shy away from what you want to present to the world. That doesn’t mean you won’t be afraid, I think it is entirely natural to be afraid, but for my part I just didn’t realise I would be afraid of this. I thought I would face fear when presenting my views on the world through the situations I put my characters in; but in fact, simply presenting these characters is fear inducing enough.

The most important question I have asked myself is what exactly am I afraid of?  Did I use that paragraph to shout out to the reader, ‘I am not a racist! See, look I have explained myself!’ or did I use that paragraph because I was afraid my writing wasn’t good enough and in fact I was shouting, ‘I am not very good at writing yet so please don’t think I’m rubbish because I can’t communicate my ideas well!’ I know the answer is the second. I think that the bigger fear is trying hard to create a realistic depiction of society but succeeding only in churning out caricatures and stereotypes.

Swear swear swear swear swear swear swear swear swear... swear

I am not worried about the use of violence and swearing in literature (and I am not worried about it in all art forms for that matter but that argument is for another time) and some of the most imaginative and capturing prose deals with graphic imagery and whether it be William Shakespeare or Stephen King you can be totally drawn into horrifying situations, but if you use it badly… well, you just look like an amateurish wally.

As a side note, I don’t like swearing in open platforms without warning (for instance, this blog, YouTube, Facebook, etc.) as I would like all of my sites accessible to all ages and I think it is only fair and responsible to let people know what to expect. I included in my product descriptions (of my recent ebooks) that the stories contained swearing and explicit language for that very reason.

Keep putting the middle finger up

The point is (and isn’t this true with everything) you have to keep going. As long as you are aware of your weaknesses or your fears then you can do something to address them. If I didn’t feel any hesitation on this topic then I would be blind to its failures and I’d never improve. I have no doubt that many of my future stories will have the need for strong language and I won’t shy away from it but I will try and be braver and let the characters speak for themselves without the need for ‘safety’ exposition. Part of the joy of writing is the constant improvement and the chance to push boundaries and challenge yourself; this is just one example I will work on.

Take care all,


P.S: If you haven't read/watched Game of Thrones then you are missing out on some of the greatest use of swearing ever recorded! You don't need to go any further to see explicit language at its best.

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