Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep. Musings from someone who sees stories everywhere.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Verbal aggression and 'strong' language

People have always used expletives and foul language in certain situations. I see a a rising trend among people in Western societies to use such words anywhere and everywhere. The editor of a literary journal is compling an international dictionary of verbal abuse. When he sent his list of words and phrases to me, I was first amused, then uncomfortable.

Overuse of strong expletives tends to annoy and upset me. It may be 'cool' or 'fun' upto a point. But foul language tends to lose its impact if used indiscriminately and frequently. They become just a lot of words used, IMHO, by people who lack imagination and frankly dont care about expressing themselves more appropriately and effectively. They don't make much sense and seem to me like so much jargon or gibberish.

If certain individuals choose to pepper their speech with dirty words, we as writers do not need to emulate them blindly. We can and should use our discretiton and explore more creative avenues for expressing ourselves. A writer can use gutter language when it fits a fictional character or situation. We need not avoid real issues and be coy. But I don't see much point in using vulgar words and phrases everywhere, certainly not as a statement of literary style. That purpose would be better served by the immense power of the understatement, by imaginative and innovative use of metaphors etc. That is the way we can show our creativity, not just by repeating a stream of hackneyed, overused bad words.

I also see that I could write a (hopefully) sensible post without using a single 'cuss' and I also see that I had to think harder instead of blindly using words that, by overuse, have become trite and banal.

1 comment:

Bob Sanchez said...

Hi Moni,
I'm enjoying your blog. Profanity in fiction is an interesting issue, and I certainly understand your aversion to it. My dad was quite the cusser, I'm afraid, and it took a while for me to learn that crude language is not the norm among people I like and respect. Someone on the IWW recently commented that to write in a teenager's point of view without using a bunch of profanity is dishonest, because that's how they speak in real life. That's simply not true, in my opinion. However a real person actually speaks, a writer has a separate set of obligations as a storyteller. If it's important to show a character swearing, you can quote the person once. For my part, I've made a basic decision that if I'm writing a story about good guys vs. bad guys, only my bad guys swear, and then I have them do it only once or twice in the entire novel. The reader knows perfectly well that if a character says "blankety-blank" once, well, that's the type of person he is, and probably says it a lot more "off-stage." Still, it's all a writer needs to peg the person.