My friend and yours, Jack Bludis, said this:

"I don't think 'reality' necessarily lends to make a book *seem* more authentic. It may just make it less readable."

Bloody brilliant, innit?

The occasion was a discussion about profanity in books, specifically hard boiled and 'noir' books, going on over on the DorothyL list. Some writers think that if a character would use the f-word in every sentence, then they have a responsibility to faithfully record every instance of the f-word. Others feel that too much of a good thing is too much of a good thing, and argue temperance. Just because the character would do it, doesn't mean we have to write it down. Of course, the discussion digressed rapidly into name-calling, with some people stating that a talented writer would be able to write the book without the profanity, while others - likely those whose books contain the profanity - got their knickers in a twist because they felt they and their books were being disparaged.

So what do you think? As a writer, do you think it's important to faithfully write down every bad word your character uses? Can euphemisms and substitutions be just as effective, or do you find them presumptious and condescending? And, as a reader, do the use of bad words, or the lack thereof, bother you one way or the other when reading a book?

Inquiring minds want to know!

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Comment by Jennie Bentley/Bente Gallagher on June 18, 2007 at 6:50am
Thanks for sharing, Iain! My thoughts exactly. (And Jack's too, IIRC.) Good points, all.
Comment by Iain Rowan on June 18, 2007 at 6:46am
If I started reading a novel which contained euphemisms or substitutions instead of swear words, I doubt I'd reach the end of the first chapter. Every time one came along, it would jar me out of the story, and that takes away half the pleasure of reading, for me. Also, it's a little like the asterisking out of swear w**ds, which always puzzles me: you can see perfectly well what it is, and the asterisks just draw attention to it.

There also seems to me something odd about the notion that you might not want character X to swear, because it's unseemly, when character X is cheerfully bludgeoning, thieving, stabbing or molesting through the rest of the novel.

It is possible to overdo it with swearing, but my view on that is purely aesthetic: you can overdo it with ums and aahs or regional dialect or verbal twitches or anything else which spoils one of the best magic tricks of all: convincing your reader that your dialogue is just how people talk, when usually it isn't.

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