Cursing?! Jinkies!

No, not on this blog.  I don’t give a shit about that.  I curse when I speak, so that’s how I write my personal blog.  I try to keep it to a minimum in my own books, and I never curse in mixed company, but we’re all friends here, right?  No?  Ahh, fuck it.

How does one curse in a work of epic fantasy?  It’s not so much a question about whether it bothers you to read it, that’s an entirely different issue.  I agree that it should be excluded from MG and YA books or any book you expect to be read by a younger audience.  Or, at the very least, limited.  Like a PG-13 movie, maybe you’re allowed one, nonsexual F-word per script.

I’m not talking about whether you like it or not.  I’m talking about HOW do you do it?  If you want your fantasy setting to sound gritty, or even real, you need some good, salty cursing in there.  So, how do you make your setting sound gritty?  Common curse words or expletives in medieval times would have been more like, “you lousy peasant!” or “ill-bred malcontent!”

While I’m sure those would have earned you a sword in your gut in those days (everyone carried a sword, right?), they sound more like a children’s book now.  Like the haughty prince calling Aladdin a “worthless street rat”.  Ooh, take that, Aladdin.  You’re not going to come off as gritty with writing like that.  You’ll probably be laughed at.  Especially by younger readers, the crowd whose sensitive ears you’re trying to protect.

The preferred method seems to be the modern usage of words.  It differs from author to author, but nothing says gritty like giving a fuck now and again.  Which is probably a lot older than most people think.  What about words like bitch?  It dates from c.1400 as a term of contempt for women.  “Son of a bitch” comes in around c.1700 or so, but the word bitching, as in, “stop bitching about all the cursing in this post” didn’t come around until the 1940’s.  I have seen all of them used.

You can make up your own words or misappropriate words as your own.  I love that Derek Prior uses “shogging”  (and derivatives: “shog”, “shogger”, “shog off”) as his catchall curse in his Nameless Dwarf series.  It’s fun and non-offensive.  You know, for kids!  Joss Whedon used Chinese curse words in his canceled-but-never-forgotten series, “Firefly.”  I think that’s a pretty good answer if you can come up with something that doesn’t sound stupid.  Probably not going to come off as gritty though.

No, if you want true grit, you have to go for the real deal.  Jinkies simply won’t suffice when you need an “Oh, shit!”

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To Share Is Human

Something came up recently while working on my second book that I wanted to talk about. In fantasy (and even more in Sci-Fi), a lot of time and effort go into building these fantastic worlds. We love to create our little worlds from coast to coast and every troll-infested swamp in between and then share all of those reams and reams of details with the readers. Readers want to know all those little details and minutiae you’ve spent years (hours?) working on, right?

But there be dragons here. How much is too much? I’m sure that as I get better as a writer (God, please, let me get better) I’ll come to learn where that line is. But for now, this being only my second book, I struggle with it. Where have I passed the point of sharing information needed for the plot and into Tolkienland? Sorry, I meant Martintown.  You know what I mean.

Tolkien and Martin. Two great writers by nearly everyone’s standards, my own included. And they share the shit out of everything! Tolkien had the decency to shovel it off into the Silmarillion so that he didn’t have to gum up the already-lumbering plot of The Lord of the Rings, but he still left plenty in the books to drag on about. Martin just doesn’t care and slaps it out 1,000 pages at a time.

Before you take to the internets with your comment card, please note I’m not comparing myself to either of these great men. I will never be that good. Which is why I feel perfectly qualified to critique both of them.

It comes down to personal taste. Some people love every detail a writer will share about their world. Others just want to get on to the next big showdown. Neither is wrong, it’s just an opinion. But as a writer, can you satisfy both? Can you write a book that imparts all of that detail but doesn’t drag?

I don’t know. That’s what I’m struggling with now in book 2. How do I share some of these cool things I’ve dreamed up without dragging down the pacing? They’re not particularly relevant to the plot, but they’re still kind of cool. I’m doing that thing I criticize others for doing. *sigh* Writing is hard.

As a reader, I probably fall into the “less is less” camp. I want to be immersed in the world, but I also want to skip past all the crap that’s not important and get to the action. Typical man. In my case, I just skim over the parts that aren’t that interesting and keep reading ’til I hit the next quotation mark or the next big action scene.

As a reader, what do you want? As a (totally new) writer, I have no clue. I don’t expect my books (or any book) to appeal to everyone. Doesn’t mean I don’t want to try though.