Many writers worry about putting swear words in their writing. For one reason or another, I’ve had several people tell me that they want to keep curse words out of characters’ dialogue. I believe in using profanity, but only when it’s needed. Cursing works well if it’s done correctly. Check out these tips for writing swear words without going overboard.
Moderation is Key
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone say, “I enjoyed reading the book, but there was too much profanity. It was distracting.” When it comes to using swears, a little goes a long way. When every other word sounds like sailor speak, you’ve ventured into dangerous territory. Try to use profanity only when it feels absolutely necessary.
Diction Reveals Character
The words that your characters use say a great deal about them. If a character would swear, let him swear; if not, you shouldn’t force it. In one of my short stories, a woman preaches against profanity and disciplines her son whenever he uses “off-limits words.” However, when the woman finds out that her husband is missing in action, she is so shocked that she curses: “You’re shitting me… what the hell does ‘missing’ mean?” In this example, the shift in diction shows the woman’s inner turmoil.
Consider Your Audience
You should probably steer clear of using foul language if you’re writing a novel for the Christian fiction market. Likewise, if you’re writing YA, make sure you’re aware of profanity guidelines. For example, words like f***, g*d***, c***, and m*****f***** are hot-button swears that a lot of YA publishers would prefer not to see. Also, just so we’re clear, Go the F*** to Sleep, is not actually a children’s book (though it is hilarious).
When in Doubt, Take It Out
If you don’t get the warm fuzzies reading something you’ve written, make some cuts. Most likely, your work won’t suffer if you take out some bad words.
You’re more than welcome to use profanity in your writing. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. The key is making sure you don’t use them excessively. Keep these ideas in mind the next time you write swearing and you should be good to go.
How do you feel about reading profanity? What about writing it?
Afraid your swearing will scare off readers? Writer @thecollegenov has some advice about profanity. (Click to tweet)
Photo credit: Pedro Ribeiro Simões on FlickrI see a lot of mistakes in writing when it comes to dialogue.Since I’ve worked hard to improve the dialogue in my pieces, it’s easy for me to spot exchanges that don’t work in other people’s projects. For one reason or another, they just don’t gel. The writing doesn’t flow like actual conversation.Luckily, there are several ways to keep dialogue from falling flat.One of the quickest ways to improve your dialogue is to cut back on your usage of the characters’ names.What do I mean?Consider the following:
“Sarah,” Brad said, “don’t you think this is a good idea?”
“No, Brad,” Sarah said.
“Why not, Sarah?”
“Because, Brad, we’re both married. Besides, Brad, we’re first cousins. Think of the inbred children.”While this example isn’t the best, it’s clear that the dialogue sounds terrible (inbred children aside). It’s unnatural. In real life, people don’t refer to each other by name if they’re addressing each other. When they do, it’s usually out of anger or because they’re speaking about something that is of the utmost importance.Here’s the same exchange with most of the characters’ names cut out (the ones left in are left for emphasis):
“Sarah,” Brad said, “don’t you think this is a good idea?”
“No,” Sarah said.
“Because, Brad, we’re both married. Besides, we’re first cousins. Think of the inbred children.”If you’re looking for a quick way to improve your dialogue, cut out characters’ names in places where they don’t add value.What do you think of this advice? Would you like to see more writing quick tips?Tweet tweet:.@brianawrites shares a quick tip for improving dialogue. (Click to tweet)
I love Pinterest for visual inspiration, but I saw something on there the other day that made me angry. I was searching through the “writing” tag, and saw a graphic with alternative to “said.” This list included words like “screamed,” “called,” “shouted,” “whispered,” and several others.
At the top of the graphic were the words, “SAID IS DEAD.”
And I got frustrated.
I don’t know what other people have told you, but to me, there is nothing more distracting when I’m reading a piece than seeing a dialogue tag other than “said.” It calls too much attention to itself. As a writer, you want your dialogue to stand out more than your attributive tags. You want the reader to skip right over them.
That’s why “said” is perfect.
It waits in the wings, sneaks onstage wearing all black, and does some heavy lifting without intruding. It’s the stage hand of the written word. Why in the world would you want to kill that?
As Stephen King writes, “All I ask is that you do as well as you can, and remember that, while to write adverbs is human, to write he said or she said is divine.”
Don’t even get me started on adverbs.
How do you feel about using tags other than said?
Click to tweet: Why @thecollegenov thinks said isn’t dead. http://wp.me/p2FPLe-Er
- Bad dialogue is hard on the eyes and even harder on the ears. It’s as painful to read as it would be spoken aloud, and it doesn’t make anyone happy. There are so many problems with bad dialogue—it can be stilted, stuffy, formal, verbose, jarring, and even offensive. If you want to keep your characters from sounding fake, consider these tips.
As you can see, writing good dialogue boils down to listening to the way that people actually sound when they talk to each other. Once you’ve got the gist of everyday speech, then the rest should be a piece of cake.What do you think? What problems do you experience with dialogue?
- Read a lot. To write good dialogue, you need to read good dialogue. The most memorable characters are memorable in part because they’re so realistic. Good dialogue helps flesh out otherwise boring or one-dimensional characters, so chances are, the more you read books with interesting characters, the better your own dialogue skills will become.
- Eavesdrop. Go out in public. Sit on a park bench or in a coffee shop and listen to the conversations all around you. And really listen to people when they talk to you, instead of only hearing them speaking. If you want to take it a step further, record the conversations with a tape recorder or a notebook. That way, you can play it back or read it later when you’re looking for inspiration.
- Read dialogue aloud. More often than not, most dialogue issues can be discovered just through speaking aloud what you’ve put down on the page. If you feel strange reading your own work, try typing the words into a text-to-speech generator, or convince your friends to join you. Make it a game by assigning parts as though you’re rehearsing a play.