*This blog contains some salty “sailor” language. Reader discretion is advised!
I am having a hard time deciding whether or not to use some more profane langauge in my stories. I’m a retired U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer, so I am no stranger to swearing. But to be honest, I didn’t start using the “f-bomb” until I joined the Navy. Even when I started writing the Forever Avalon series, I didn’t include a lot of profanity in it (except for the occasional damn or Hell) because I wanted my kids to be able to read it.
But now, my kids are all grown up and I’m wondering if I should give a shit and let the old sailor out and pump up the volume. It seems more mainstream, but does it go against who I am as a writer? More importantly, does it help me tell my story?
I have found that, as I got older, I tolerate swearing even less. When my family gets together, I find myself reprimanding my kids when they swear, even though I’ve used those same words myself. I’m turning into my father as we speak… Never thought that would happen. But the strange thing is, I’m comfortable with it in my stories.
I don’t think it’s a matter of being mainstream, but rather is part of the story. I’m currently working through a new novel, The Last Magus. As this story developed, it was more graphic, in both language and sex. This isn’t a story about a family, like Forever Avalon, but a man coming into his own. It seemed the right thing to do, and it flowed naturally as I wrote it. I mean, what’s wrong with a goblin swearing like a New York gangster?
It may be something I don’t use as much as I use to, but profanity is a part of everyday life. I don’t want to distract from people reading my novels, but I also don’t want to change it if it doesn’t seem right.
When I’m writing dialogue, it has to flow as if the conversation is actually happening. A great example for me is The Sopranos TV series. Believe it or not, the producers made a video of every single swear word spoken in the series. It was 27 minutes of non-stop profanity. Yet, in his ow home, Tony didn’t tolerate that kind of language from his kids. I think that illustrates the kind of balance I’m looking for.
There has to be a balanced approach, not a constant stream of profanity-laden diatribe for the sake of being “out there” for all to see. Usually, profanity involves an emotional response or outburst. But, don’t use it for the sake of using it.
I like to think of war movies, past and present, as an example of that. I remember those old John Wayne movies where he would throw out the occasional damn or hell but nothing more. Move it up to today’s war movies where they swear worse than Tony Soprano. Is that accurate? Who can say, but like I said, the balance is between those two extremes.
Let’s not go full George Carlin “7 words you can’t say on television” on it unless that’s your target audience. Be true to you, and your story, just don’t fuck it up.
Mark Piggott is the author of the Forever Avalon book series. Forever Avalon is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook at Amazon. The Dark Tides is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and iUniverse publishing. The Outlander War, Book Three of the Forever Avalon series is coming soon from Austin Macauley Publishing.