I just finished the first two books in Joe Abercrombie’s Book of Law series. Not only were these fantastic (these were the books that I WISHED I would’ve written) but they got me thinking about something. Swearing. Or I should say…they returned me to thinking about this issue because of my writing.
Traditional Fantasy (Jordan, Tolkein, Feist) has no swearing. They might make something up (God’s Spit, Fire and Ashes) or something just as ridiculous. This always annoyed me. God’s Spit? WTF does that mean? Fire and Ashes? Really, that’s a curse?
Then, there’s TV which has invented swear words (Battlestar, Farscape) simply because they CANNOT swear on TV. So they went and made words up. At first, I found it almost comical, but once you buy into the world, it seems to really work.
Then, along comes the new generation of writers (Mieville, Lynche, Abercrombie) and, ummm, they swear. A lot. I’m talking f-bombs, c-bombs (yes, THAT c-bomb).
I’m curious in relation to my writing. Modern day fantasy (the Nameless) — no problem. That’s an easy call. Swearing. But for my other fantasy series (Curse of the Black Swan, Secret of Folloman Finn) it is a medieval world, with a film noir slant (there’s that genre again) so it never felt right that there wasn’t swearing. But at the same time, I didn’t want to alienate anyone.
The swearing issue is a funny one. Whether my characters use real world swearing isn’t going to change my chances of publication.
So I quickly went online to see what others thought of swearing. Most times, not using swearing produces no effect at all. No one really cares either way. But swearing CAN produce a huge backlash. The people who hate it, really hate it. Some argue that it takes them out of the fantasy tradition.
Still not really sure what to do. Luckily, it’s just a few words here and there — so I can always add them in (or delete them) with a few key strokes.
I came up with another solution (though not quite sure I’m satisfied with it). While researching this topic, I found something called the The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue. Beautiful. Allows me to use such words as Buck Fitch, Bobber, Houk, Shyst…most you can tell what they do. They have a certain authenticity to them since, well, they used to be swear words.