Thursday, June 12, 2008

Can you catch arthritis from a keyboard?

The typing has jumped ahead and I finished the second notebook today. I'm looking forward to a very quiet weekend this weekend to make a significant dent in the third and final notebook. After that I have to redo my first chapter (in which I'll combine chapters 1-3 and thus get into the action sooner) and rework two other chapters I was unhappy with. After that I can do my first full read through/edit.

I was reading a book and I was suddenly struck by a thought regarding profanity in writing. I'm a fan of profanity. I like curse words and frankly I don't think we have enough of them. I'm also not shy about using them in my own writing when appropriate, but that's where I'm having an issue: when is it appropriate?

For me, I feel like if a character would say it, then go for it. For instance, if I was a character in a novel and in that novel I happened to be driving in rush hour traffic, I'd be inventing new ways to call someone a soiled douche like there was no tomorrow. So for me, swearing, a little or a HUGE amount is totally okay, so long as it's something the character would say.

My issue comes when the narrator uses profanity and the narrator isn't the first person. A first person narrator is still a character in the story, but what about a third person? Here's the quote that got me started, "It had acquired a name, Spatters, that reflected the desultory randomness of its outlines: the whole stinking shantytown seemed to have dribbled like shit from the sky."

I'm not offended by the word, I think I'm offended by the laziness exhibited by the author who resorted to a profanity. I mean I get it, maybe it's the author's way of trying to desensitize the audience to words like shit, but my generation is used to words like shit,and in my opinion shit carries no more weight than doody. Shit is also not overly descriptive. If the author was trying to make the point that the shantytown was haphazard and a ripe mess, there are other words for shit that could have served better and been far more descriptive. Diarrhea for example would have certainly evoked a lurid image (and would have worked especially well for a town with a name like Spatters).

Maybe I'm missing something, maybe I'm being overly sensitive, maybe I'm too old-fashioned. I guess I just sort of think that my job as a writer is to describe things, to give my readers as many tools as I possibly can so that they can really get into my work. Sometimes I can get too descriptive, but hey, that's what I do. But in a third person narrative, I just think that profanity should only be coming out of the mouths of the characters.


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Keep it clean, keep it classy, and jokes are always appreciated.