Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A Strategic Use of Swearing or What the F@#$?!

Profanity is an important tool in any artist’s tool belt. Whether it’s movies, games, novels, or plays, dirty language needs to be carefully considered. Some authors abstain from swearing because they feel it’s juvenile. Others swear every other word to feel natural. I am neither arguing for the use of swearing or arguing against it, but merely suggesting a smart way of considering whether or not you should.

And before we go any further: Ass, Fuck, Bitch, Bastard, Cunt, Damn, Hell, Balls, Meekrab.

To curse or to hold your tongue

In some instances, it makes dialogue feel more natural and situations feel more realistic. Why? Because in real life, we curse all the time. When we stub our pinky toe on the corner of the coffee table, when we just realize our significant other has his or tongue down another’s throat, when we get hit by a blue shell while playing Mario Cart, we swear. A lot. But as discussed below, it doesn’t mean every other word should use a swear.

But then, there are a lot of instances where swearing isn’t needed at all, and the writing still looks realistic and full of life. If you’re writing something from the past(1800’s, 1920’s, middle ages), it’s more realistic if you don’t swear(also consider the curses of the time. There was a time when Zounds! was synonymous with damn). I would go so far as to recommend not swearing if you’re just starting out, or at least trying a pg script first; finding new ways to express, “Fuck!” will make you a better writer.

Why is it so bad?

Why is swearing such a big deal? Why did we feel so dirty exclaiming, “Crud!” when we were kids? Swearing is a forbidden language.

Why do we do it?

But why do we swear in the first place? Because, first, we want to insult someone or curse the situation but we’re too flustered or frustrated to express what we’re feeling with the right words or come up with something more hyperbolic. It’s much easier to say “Fuck you Asshole!” than to say, “Sir, that was completely unprofessional. Your use of language concerning my weight and dietary habits was completely out of line, and I think you a buffoon for doing so. You are a horrible human being, and I wish you the worst torment imaginable for such actions.”

Second, we’re so angry we want to use a word, or string of words, that we feel would do harm to the person or thing causing us pain. “You stupid fuck-monkey!” Yeah, that’s right, you called him a fuck-monkey. He’ll think twice about getting your coffee order wrong now.

How to use it for comedic value

This can be hard. There is no straight “swear” or “don’t swear” rule in comedy. The basic rule is to do what the audience is least expecting. Sometimes it’s incredibly funny to hear children swear at certain occasions because it’s the opposite of what you’d expect a child to say.

Other times, a grown man who swears like a drunken Sailor on Crack might have his next words be, “Oh my dear lord!” because that would be the least likely thing to come out of his mouth. It has that effect of the character experiencing something so incredible, it’s beyond regular swearing capacity.

It’s best to use it where it will have the most impact. If you have a character that swears like a sailor, juxtapose him with characters that never utter a dirty word, or cringe at his foul mouth. Your curse might burst from the mouth of a character that has been holding it in the entire adventure waiting for the wrong moment to explode. Or perhaps it’s used wrong on purpose by characters that aren’t worldly enough to have smarter language.

How to not use swearing

Swearing is not a meaningful character trait. Yes, I’m looking at you Gears of War. Your characters do not look full and rich if all they have going for them is putting “fuck” and “shit” five times in every sentence. It doesn’t look smart or realistic, just lazy. Especially if ALL of the character swear the exact amount and in the same way.

Best use of swearing

The best use of swearing is when you get the idea of swearing, the feel of swearing, without actually using a swear at all. Fantastic Mr. Fox did a wonderful job of this by implanting the word “cuss” in place of every swear word that would have been there.” “Are you cussing at me?” “Don’t cuss at me!” What the cuss is going on?!” This is a great way of expressing the feel of a forbidden word. Another good example is from Mystery Team where the main characters are juvenile, so to them, shouting, “Gumballs!” and “Chinese Checkers!” are the worst curses they can muster.

I hope this fucking helps in your god forsaken piece of shit script!

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