Tuesday, October 16, 2007


I was contemplating a blog entry on swearing when an article from Writer's Digest on the topic came into my inbox. I love that there is an article on this topic. I had been thinking about swear words in writing, but being an isolated writer, I often think that the things I think about are topics only mused about in my own little writer bubble (the one that happens to be perched on my shoulders). I happen to believe that as an active parent (kids still in the house), I think differently about curse words that a non-parenting writer. I also think that as a writer, I think about curse words differently than non-writing parents. (Maybe I am wrong, but I'm alone here in the bubble.)

I believe in the power of words. I believe that words mean something whether it is a vow, a pledge to meet at a certain time, or a throwaway compliment. I do swear on occasion. Not often. I've heard my parents swear--even less often. It kind of shocked me the first time. Much as it shocked me the first time I heard one of my kids use the s word in the proper context--a bad Uno play.

This is how we deal with swearing at our house. I tell my kids two things. First, I tell them that the act of swearing happens when a weak mind is trying to assert itself strongly. You simply don't have the time to form articulate phrases to emphasize how you feel. For example, I used the preferred Uno game cuss when I knocked over a quart of paint at a friend's house. My son was there. He understood that my mind was weak at that moment. The other thing I tell my kids is that swearing is a negative expression, and negative expressions draw negative energy to a situation. I've told my kids these two things and also told them it was up to them to decide to use words appropriately and to accept consequences if they use them inapproproately--a swear word at school, for example. I actually think this is a good way to approach swearing. Children of friends of mine, in whose houses swearing is outlawed, tend to point out and count the swear words in movies--making them larger than life. My kids don't do that.

As a writer, I don't use swear words often. I used to wonder if it made me seem prudish or motherly. I'm always pushing to be seen as a writer, not as a female writer, so I was afraid that an absence of swear words would seem too ladylike. When I was in the musical Li'l Abner in 6th grade, my lines (not a great number) had to be changed for the audience. Hell to heck. God to gosh. We weren't even allowed those words in the home where I grew up. Rats and sugar were the only acceptable explitives. Growing up in that environment made me question if it was the norm in middle America households or if I got dealt the quaint card. Maybe, by adding some colorful language, I was headging all bets, but I did ask myself some questions while writing my frist novel.

1. What is my character's stance on swearing?

2. Is there a time in the story where they go against their stance. (If so, the swear word should stick out from the story.) Why do they leave their comfort zone? (Usually this is the point.)

The Writer's Digest article raised another point that I hadn't thought about--and that is the reader. Who is your target audience, and what kind of language do they expect in a book? I admit that I only really considered my audience when I read a passage of my book aloud in my hometown. I hadn't really thought about my reader's comfort level before that point. In the end, in this world of HBO Orignial series and movies on demand, I don't think I crossed any lines. But here in the bubble, I just dotted a question mark.


Brian A. Klems said...

Thanks for the mention. :-)

Brian A. Klems

Jill Althouse-Wood said...

No problem, Brian. As a writer and artist, I love to grease the web! That's how we all get our name out there.