There are things that will be said below that some may find a little too distasteful to enjoy, so here is the obligatory warning that you may want to bail and find something else to read today. I have no suggestions for you this morning: just like NATO troops stuck in Poland at the beginning of the game Twilight 2000, you’re on your own.
The other day I posted a link to the blog of Chuck Wendig, Terrible Minds. Chuck is a writer, and a damn good one. He is famous for his, “25 Things–” posts where he’ll give you twenty-five reasons why . . . well, fill in the blanks. As I said, Chuck is a writer, a damn good one, but in the course of his writing, Chuck can get a little profane. It’s his style. I’m used to it, as I grew into my teens reading New Wave science fiction, and you couldn’t swing a cat without hitting a f-bomb or a sex scene.
That’s not always the case with everyone, and there was one person who posted in the Facebook comment, “I’d love to share this, but there’s too much swearing. A true wordsmith doesn’t need to talk like that; it’s lazy writing.” Yes, I’ve heard this one before; I even had the same rap laid on me after my 4 May, 2011, blog post, simple because I said something along the lines of “Shit got real,” and a few other things.
First off, lets look at the definition of the word, “wordsmith”. Here you go: 1. A fluent and prolific writer, especially one who writes professionally. 2. An expert on words. 3. (Literary & Literary Critical Terms) A person skilled in using words. 4. An expert in the use of words, esp. a professional writer. Okay, then. That’s pretty much Chuck to a “T”. Professional writer; expert on words; person skilled in using words, especially a professional writer.
So where does it say they can’t swear?
One of the writers I’ve followed most of my life–one of the writers whose words I grew up admiring–is Harlan Ellison. While opinions vary wildly about his personal life, as a writer there were few who could match him story for story. He used to write about writing, and I tried to take to heart the things he said. He also swore a lot, but there was a reason for that.
One of the things he stated was, and I’m paraphrasing, “I’m a fan of the King’s English, and one must adhere to those rules when writing. I’m also a fan of the People’s English, and if you want to make your characters believable, you must capture they way they speak perfectly.” In other words, if you want your characters to sound like, you know, real people, you need to have them speak the way a real person speak. If they are a “good” person, then they’ll probably be somewhat circumspect in their dictation. If not, there may be a good chance they’re gonna swear like a son of a bitch.
It’s hardly lazy writer, either. Seriously. Try to write a story where you have a character who swears, who throws around “fuck you” like they’re picking lint from their jacket, and construct their dialog in a way that they don’t sound like a six-year old who’s just discovered the word “shit”. If you’re not a person who’s been exposed to this manor of speakings–or you don’t have a potty mouth like me–then you’re going to find writing believable dialog for someone like that difficult. And before you say, “I’d never write anything like that,” sit down a make a list of, say, twenty-five professions that your characters might possess at some point in a story. I can tell you, without looking at your list, there’ll probably be a third of the jobs on that list that’ll have characters who find themselves clutching the foreheads at some point and mumbling, “Fuck this job.” Trust me; I’ve probably had that job.
Watch Glengarry Glen Ross and marvel at the construction of Mamet’s dialog. Watch the “Coffee is for closers” monologue, and listen not to the words, but the emotion and feelings behind the words. When Blake turns on Dave Moss and yells, “Fuck you! That’s my name!”, his disdain for Moss couldn’t be more evident, and it becomes the set up for him to really put Moss in his place. Then take Trainspotting, and watch how the foul-mouthed Scottish junkies and roughens (who are played by Obi-Wan Kenobi, Dr. Nicholas Rush, Moaning Myrtle, and the voice of Merida) are able to express themselves so eloquently. I mean, “The Scottish are shite!” is pure bloody poetry.
Then go watch any movie where someone say fuck and shit every minute, where the thought is, “Ooooh, edgy!”, and you’re right back to the six-year old who’s now discovered “bastard” and is going to use it every thirty seconds.
Think it’s lazy writing? Go ahead: write up some paragraphs with people swearing. You can send them to me. I’ll tell you what I think.
And I won’t even swear back at you.