Dialogue revisited – cussing

I love Ursula K. Le Guin.  I haven’t read anything by her in ages.  (I fully intend to rectify the situation when I’m home in a few weeks and can buy books for less than $20 a pop.  Americans do not realize how good they have it.  Do you know how many countries there are where finding a book to buy is a challenge?  And where finding one you can afford is even harder?)  Anyway.  I stumbled across her blog a few days ago and have been devouring the entries ever since.

And fortunately I just figured out how to link to the individual posts, so you’re going to get a smattering of UKL posts over the next few days or weeks (depending on my mood and inspirations).

Which to start with?  The one that made me laugh uncontrollably (perhaps even out loud) or the one that had me copying and pasting into my quotes file?  First, her latest one, which I won’t comment on further, but truly enjoyed: A Modest Proposal: Vegempathy.

(I love her wickedly subtle sense of humor.)

Maybe, we’ll go with the funny one first.  I’m still processing the other one.  So, READ THIS: Would You Please Fucking Stop, because anything I say below is not going to do justice to her entry.

I hope she won’t mind my quoting the intro paragraph:

“I keep reading books and seeing movies where nobody can fucking say anything except fuck, unless they say shit. I mean they don’t seem to have any adjective to describe fucking except fucking even when they’re fucking fucking. And shit is what they say when they’re fucked. When shit happens, they say shit, or oh shit, or oh shit we’re fucked. The imagination involved is staggering. I mean, literally.”

What follows that introduction is a very intelligent and often funny discussion on how we seem to have devolved to using two swear words: shit and fuck.  I loved this post, as much for how it was written as for what she’s saying.  (Read it.)

So, adding my own personal spin…On one of the writers’ forums I read, I’ve seen a few discussions about making dialogue “realistic” by adding curse words.  You know, “I’m writing about cops, I have to include the f word every third word, because that’s how cops talk.”  Same comments for people writing about the military.

And, yeah, I’ve known a few guys who came back from active service who dropped a lot of f bombs the first week or two back before they cleaned it up once more, so I can imagine that there’s a fair amount of cursing that happens when guys are getting shot at in the desert.

But this gets back to the difference between telling a good story and telling a realistic story.  I’ve mentioned before that I like to read Brad Thor’s books.  The main character is always off fighting terrorists and dealing with really bad people and yet I can’t remember any cussing in his books.  If it’s there, it’s there just enough to set the tone, but not to interfere with telling a good story.

There’s another author who writes similar books who I read on rare occasions when I’m at the airport and can’t find anything else to buy.  The reason I don’t like to read this second author is because I find him somewhat offensive.  I don’t have a book of his here, but I’m pretty sure he uses more expletives in his books.  (He also gets a little too into the “message” sometimes and forgets to deliver the story.)  His books may be more realistic, but they end up alienate potential readers like me.

Maybe some readers need to hear ever “fuck” and “damn” and “shit” for it to be a good story.  But in the same way that an author shouldn’t include every “uh,” “um,” “ah,” “well,” false start, and hesitation in dialogue, I don’t think all those cuss words are necessary.  Sure, include a few so we know this is the type of character to cuss, but don’t beat your readers over the head with it.  Let the story shine through.

About M. H. Lee

M.H. Lee is a speculative fiction writer currently residing in Colorado whose stories are sometimes dark, sometimes funny, sometimes darkly funny, but hopefully always thought-provoking and entertaining.
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