Monday, November 9, 2009

Profanity in Fiction - Radioactive Topic

There are people who object to profanity on religious or personal grounds.  For such people, no amount of profanity is acceptable, and that is appropriate.  We all have our opinions about what we enjoy, and if swearing isn't it, then by all means avoid it.  And I say this knowing that means some folks will avoid my work, since some of my fiction includes characters using profanity.

Still, I would like to venture that treating profanity in literature as a bomb is unlikely to make it go away, or make its usage any more skillful.  As with any difficult topic, we need to be willing to engage in meaningful discourse about it if we want our opinions to be heard.  Here is a post from two years ago on Grasping for the Wind that deals with stickiness of the issue pretty well, even though the writer is obviously uncomfortable with the topic (as a Christian, he generally does not approve of swearing in literature).  I do not agree with all of his opinions, but applaud his evenhanded discussion.

My preference is to work towards great fiction writing for everyone, readers and writers alike, and profanity is a part of the landscape in which I operate.  As I said last post, I think when swearing is dealt with well, it adds to the work.  It helps to tell the story, and makes you think about the themes within the story in a more robust and authentic manner.

I mentioned last post that I was reading a thread where many young people were posting about their novels in progress.  Several of them commented that their parents wanted to read their stories (which is great, of course), but because of that they were going to be forced to generate 'cleaned up' versions just for them.  I felt sad about that.  That some young writers can't share what they are really writing for fear of getting in trouble or lectured.  It seems to me that reviewing a young person's creative writing would be an excellent way to bring up some of these issues in a positive way.

For example:  Why use such language, and when?  In what ways does it accurately reflect our society, and in what ways is it misleading?  What are the risks and trade-offs of using profanity in writing, or in life in general?  It might also be a means to get some young people to read more classic authors, say Hemingway, for the express purpose of seeing how these issues have been dealt with in other literature.  To write is to give yourself a gift, and to share it takes great courage.  I hope they aren't put off by the difficulties all writers face, and continue to write.

On the morrow, then

No comments: