Jump to content

The Green Test For Dropping The F-Bomb


Recommended Posts

I've seen the F-word rise in such common usage to the point where even good and Godly people think nothing of it. It does nothing for me, I'm more offended by attacks against character than the lazy use of a mindless emphasis word, but I don't care for it and I can't think of a single instance where its inclusion makes the story better. 
 

Quote

 

David Farland's Writing Tips: The "Green" Test for Dropping the "F" Bomb

Today's writing tip is offered by Jan Nerenberg. 

 

Recently I edited a manuscript and noted the overuse of the “f” word. The writer questioned why the use of the "f" bomb was offensive, after all he stated, it's common usage. Personal preference aside (I personally don't like it) but as an editor, mentor, and fellow-writer I considered his statement/feelings/reasoning and decided I needed to look deeper into why I felt this way.

 

The "f" word, originally shocking, describes sexual intercourse in a vulgar or lewd light. An expletive, it was disallowed in the Oxford English Dictionary in the Nineteenth Century as unseemly within polite conversation, but its use dates back to the Fifteenth Century, again connoting sexual congress.  

 

My line of reasoning dates to an old adage - “Profanity is the effort of a weak mind, trying to express itself forcibly”. (Note: From Paul Holdscraft, Cyclopedia of Bible Illustrations (1947) [snippet]:1078. Profanity defined.)https://english.stackexchange.com/

 

But “Why?” my writer friend asked again, is it still considered in this light if it is in common usage in the Twenty-First century?

 

I fell back to my standard answer and likened its use to the addition of a teaspoon versus a cup of salt added to a savory stew. One enhances and the other sickens. But the best explanation was yet to come as I continued to search for a deeper meaning and better answer.

 

During another discussion, another friend suggested a simple experiment. Within a given manuscript, replace the “f” word with another word, like “green”. I laughed at the simplicity and finally understood why I didn’t like the word beyond its vulgar connotations. The overuse of the word is simply lazy writing. It doesn’t let the reader into the story. It is not graded and/or descriptive in context. It has lost meaning and is in danger of becoming a non-word.

 

“It was a f---ing sky.” – Leaves one to wonder – Gray, overcast, threatening, blue, cloudless, ominous, cheerful, filled with Hitchcock’s birds or a single soaring swallow … you get the drift. Even the sentence, “It was a green sky” gives more sensory input than the first.

 

An accomplished writer wants the reader to experience their story. However, when “F” is used to denote mood, show situation, predict outcome, bemoan failure, and declare expletive, the reader wonders what is really happening. Sadly, the nondescript “F” closes the gate and leaves the reader merely curious about what delights live in the garden on the other side of the fence.

 

My conclusion: Use it if you must but try the “green” test and see where you can deepen your story, sentence structure, and your reader’s overall enjoyment.

___

Dave's note: The F-bomb is like body odor, if you use the word a lot, you might not notice it, but everyone around you can't help but notice.

Anne McCaffrey, author of the Dragonriders of Pern series, once put it to me this way: "Many readers are very sensitive to the F-bomb. If you put out a hit book and get a million readers, I estimate that about 1/3 of them will put the book down and stop reading once they tire of the profanity. 

"A new writer can't afford that. Losing that many readers will not only cripple your career, it will mean that you lost them perhaps for many, many books. Think of it: three hundred thousand fans over 20 books is a loss of six million sales. If those are hardcover books, you're talking about $5 in lost revenue per book--perhaps $30 million over those twenty books."

 

 

  • Like 2
Link to post
Share on other sites
  • Replies 66
  • Created
  • Last Reply

Top Posters In This Topic

Top Posters In This Topic

Popular Posts

According to a friend, arguing requires a lot of thought. Swearing requires none at all.    

I'm sorry but I highly disagree. Kids do learn them at home even when they are small. If you've never heard or read the comments of others especially about political arguments, you've never heard/seen

One great thing about old movies (or old music, or old anything, I guess...)   In any given year, the creative "stuff" produced will contain a lot that's just poorly done, plenty that's medi

I agree, I have always thought that the use of such words is an indication of lazy approach to people expressing themselves properly, a limited vocabulary or both. Some people end up doing it without even thinking because it has become a habit in their speech or they are around other people who use the word so much it rubs off on them and they start using it the same way and don't even realize they say it anymore. It is a common thing amongst normal Australians.

 

I wrote a scene to get feedback on and I didn't use a whole swear word, but just the first letter before another character interrupted them. After reading it later, I thought that even the suggestion was unneeded and I could convey the sentiment through action rather than conversation. 

Edited by Amosathar
Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, Johne said:

I've seen the F-word rise in such common usage to the point where even good and Godly people think nothing of it. It does nothing for me, I'm more offended by attacks against character than the lazy use of a mindless emphasis word, but I don't care for it and I can't think of a single instance where its inclusion makes the story better. 

 

If you've worked with computers as long as I have, you'd understand why...

 

 

😀

  • Like 1
  • Haha 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

On a serious note: I find that I throw in one curse word in every story.  Never used the F-bomb, though, and I find it's inclusion both distracting and cheap.

 

Some people justify it because it is "realistic."  There are lots of other words in the English language.

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites
10 minutes ago, Jeff Potts said:

Some people justify it because it is "realistic." 

If we can justify things just because it's realiatic, then we can justify a very boring story where people repeat themselves often, say "um" after every other word, blabber on for hours about nothing important, interrupt each other all the time... The list goes on.

Besides, if it's not improving the conversion, perhaps instead of instilling it as "normal" we can encourage de-normalizing it (I'm sure there's a better term for that... I'm too lazy to figure one out 😜 ).

 

I've heard the idea that it's lazy, but I like how the "green test" goes into more detail.

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm really not offended by profanity.  Blasphemy, a little.  Swearing no.  I often feel like our hyper offence by swearing creates a bit of a worship of sex and to a lesser extent poo.

 

That said, I do agree that it is lazy.  However, that is part of why it's realistic.  The average person isn't going to spring into a poetry about how much it hurts to hit their finger with a hammer.  They'll just say a simple swear.  Hopefully they'll also learn how to use a hammer, but I'm not so sure of that.  So what is the problem with admitting that people act like well people?
 

Of course, I do think it's worth while remembering that not all stories are about average people.  If you decide to let characters swear, it would be silly to make every character swear.  A lot of people don't swear for a variety of reasons including offence, pride in wanting appear better than swearers and fear of punishment.  A lot of people do swear for a variety of reasons including wanting to cause offence, apathy in creating a better way to express themselves and resenting unjust punishment.  There is also the aforementioned feeling that swearing simply has no reason to be offensive.

 

I've seen a lot of people say that they don't understand why some swear words are swear words.  I understand that f--k and c--k are hangovers from the puritans wanting us to have a better sex ethic.  I have noticed no correlation between quality of sex ethic and amount that people swear.  I don't understand why s--t is offensive.  In the case of the sexual ones I can at least see that at one stage that could be about keeping the knowledge of sex away from kids but I don't know anyone who is unaware of the fact that poo exists.  Not that literally shouting sex in the presence of children after hitting your hands with a hammer is will make them aware of what sex is.  It's just the best theory I have for why this has continued for so long.  In the case of blasphemy, most people will understand that saying God's name lazily makes a mockery of prayer.  That said, it does annoy me when I say that a politician is damned and people say that I shouldn't use that word.  If a politician makes damnable policies they are damned.  They is no if or buts around that.  Damned means 'sent to hell'.  I'm not going to censor that because it has been agreed to be a swear word.  There is only one kind of swearing that I've seen mostly agreed on are slurs like the n word because there are people who are given less rights due to the malice behind such words.  Of course there are those who say that treating those words like swear words merely gives those words more power without tackling the power structures behind them.  That said, I don't really feel like I have the knowledge of the word to use it to disempower those who use the word for evil.

 

As writers the decision to swear or not does not need to be lazily done.  There is a lot of research that can be done and commentary that you can make.  I've really only given a sample of my thoughts.

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites
3 hours ago, quackingpenguin said:

 

I've seen a lot of people say that they don't understand why some swear words are swear words

Well, I'm really not wanting a debate, but just a few thoughts.

 

At one point in life, I worked a landscaping job, and I was the only female, and they knew I am Christian. The fellows rarely cursed around me, and when they did they apologized.

I never said anything. I never gave them so much as a dirty look.

They policed themselves.

 

Secondly, many are still reluctant to curse on front of kids, and it's still shocking to here such words come from a small mouth.

 

Granted, this isn't universally true, but it's interesting that we generally still try to protect the innocent from cursing. Maybe that's a clue.

 

Food for thought, but otherwise, I leave that issue between God and the individual.

 

Concerning the writing bit, I pull a YA novel trick and put something like "he cursed", "swore under his breath", or the character is interrupted as Amosathar mentioned. I can still get some of the intent without using the actual word that way. I've seen others on cw use a word or two in their writing but it's generally light and rare.

10 hours ago, Johne said:

The overuse of the word is simply lazy writing. It doesn’t let the reader into the story. It is not graded and/or descriptive in context. It has lost meaning and is in danger of becoming a non-word

Yes.

 

 

Link to post
Share on other sites

SW has a good point.

 

In principle, I agree that use of the F-bomb word or any other swear word is lazy writing.   However, there is a valid argument that if you are writing about certain cultures or people where using foul language is intrinsic to their way of being, it would be odd not to use it. i.e The Godfather series.  Try imagining some scenes in that rewritten with the language tided up. Not going to work.

 

It is not just swearing.   Attitudes can be offensive too.  In one book of mine I had two racist thugs come into a student union and insult a black student. The scene ended up with the m/c taking them outside. It was a difficult scene to write, but necessary for the story.  It took me some time to write it in a way so that the reader would understand what was going on without writing the offensive insult or any bad language

 

I would always aim to use alternative wording, but sometimes it may be justifiable, hopefully the reader will appreciate the appropriate use within the context of the story.

  • Like 2
Link to post
Share on other sites

    Here's something I wonder about.  Certain writings are advertised with the warning, "Containing 'Adult Language'", which is a definition of "Dirty Words."

   What I wonder about this, is that the people who use dirty words the most are school kids, not adults.  The kids also don't learn those words at home, they learn them from the other kids at school.

    In some of my own writings, which I wouldn't post here on christianwriters.com, I do sometimes use the F-word, but not as a curse word.  I use it to describe the actual act.

    In one scene, there is a very frustrated high school girls, who can just never get a date.

    She thinks, "F-ing is just a word that I say, not an act that I do."    

     

Link to post
Share on other sites

Personally, I don't like using mince oaths or curse words in my writings, and I especially don't like it when I read writings with curse words in them.

58 minutes ago, RockyMtn Gal said:

Secondly, many are still reluctant to curse on front of kids, and it's still shocking to here such words come from a small mouth.

 

Granted, this isn't universally true, but it's interesting that we generally still try to protect the innocent from cursing. Maybe that's a clue.

 

I can agree with that. There's a little boy whom I've babysat (and on occasion still do babysit) who has parents that would say curse words off the hook. His mom got better at refraining from saying them, but his dad would use them over the phone or while he just talked. It got to the point where the kid's said two curse words twice or thrice around us.

So sometimes parents aren't aware of it and/or don't care if their kids hear them. That's just sad though.

1 hour ago, RockyMtn Gal said:

Concerning the writing bit, I pull a YA novel trick and put something like "he cursed", "swore under his breath", or the character is interrupted as Amosathar mentioned. I can still get some of the intent without using the actual word that way. I've seen others on cw use a word or two in their writing but it's generally light and rare.

I do that with my stories too. That's how I step away from having to use the word. I don't know where I picked that trick up; probably saw it from other stories somewhere.

 

But in regards to this main post here, I still don't see why people would use the "f" word in their writings. Or the "s" one. Or the "a" one. Or any other ones that are considered curse words. But if they do it, that's between them and God, and that's that. Personally, I've thought about using one or two "lesser" curse words, but I can't bring myself to do it. So I just don't.

  • Like 2
Link to post
Share on other sites
16 minutes ago, William D'Andrea said:

In one scene, there is a very frustrated high school girls, who can just never get a date.

    She thinks, "F-ing is just a word that I say, not an act that I do."    

     

 

Good line @William D'Andrea  That is great example of what I was talking about.  It perfectly legit use of the F-word in that context. 

 

 

Link to post
Share on other sites
30 minutes ago, William D'Andrea said:

In one scene, there is a very frustrated high school girls, who can just never get a date.

    She thinks, "F-ing is just a word that I say, not an act that I do."

 

This is a thoughtful use for characterization, and it wouldn't bother me in that context. The vast majority of F-bomb uses is simple emphasis, and as such, I'd strip it out as extraneous language which adds nothing and cuts away a significant portion of your potential audience.

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites
17 minutes ago, William D'Andrea said:

What I wonder about this, is that the people who use dirty words the most are school kids, not adults. The kids also don't learn those words at home, they learn them from the other kids at school.

 

I'm sorry but I highly disagree. Kids do learn them at home even when they are small. If you've never heard or read the comments of others especially about political arguments, you've never heard/seen the profanity that spills out of the mouths of adults.

 

All swearing is disgusting to me, especially when God or Jesus are included. If a movie starts out with foul language, I turn it off. I would never read a book with it either. I'm sure this will sound silly to some of you but I have a sensitive spirit/soul, which I try to keep "clean." I stay away from things that make me feel dirty. I want to live a holy life and please the Lord. Okay. End of personal homily. Back to discussion. 🥴🙃

  • Like 4
Link to post
Share on other sites
4 minutes ago, lynnmosher said:

I'm sorry but I highly disagree.

      I apologize Lynn.  You are one classy lady who I consider a friend, and would never want to offend.

      You are correct.  Foul language is everywhere, so we can't blame it all on the parents.  The best we can do is just watch our own mouths, and speak unto others as we would have them speak unto us. 

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

I've found in real life that a potent use of profanity is to never use it... almost.

 

We're all different, but profanity to me is just sounds: audible signals to represent a concept, sometimes well and sometimes poorly. It does not bother me, but we all decide if we'll find better ways to express ourselves.

 

I'd had people I've worked with use profanity all the time, but apologize to me when they used it in my presence (and I'm a guy...) and i just shrugged it off and said I'd heard worse.

 

Yet this gave profanity real power... for me. Over the course of my entire career, I used it literally only a few times. It was well thought out, in a situation where something was really amiss, and some real intense emphasis was called for. In one emphatic statement, containing one well chosen salty word... it was like I hurled a thunderbolt.

 

Eyes opened wide, there was a stunned silence, there may have been a quiet mutter from across the room to the effect, "Wow! Wes is really @#$%-ed!" Whatever i said after that got attention, and it made a difference. (The follow-up comments have to be well thought out, too)  I don't recommend this for everyone, but if you use it exactly right, it may be the closest you can come to a superpower.

 

 

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites
46 minutes ago, lynnmosher said:

All swearing is disgusting to me, especially when God or Jesus are included. If a movie starts out with foul language, I turn it off. I would never read a book with it either. I'm sure this will sound silly to some of you but I have a sensitive spirit/soul, which I try to keep "clean." I stay away from things that make me feel dirty. I want to live a holy life and please the Lord. Okay. End of personal homily. Back to discussion.

Amen to that, @lynnmosher!  I am very much the same way, and have for several years now become increasingly sensitive to profanity within books and movies.  Not sure if I've really talked about it much on this site, but I am a huge fan of classic movies (1930's and '40's specifically) and one of the major things I appreciate is the fact that there were restrictions against using foul language.  These old movies are clean and enjoyable, and many of them show a markedly reverent God-conciousness.  (A big part of it was the adopting of the Hays Code in 1934, a pet subject of mine that I have studied and could go on and on about.  😂)

Link to post
Share on other sites

One great thing about old movies (or old music, or old anything, I guess...)

 

In any given year, the creative "stuff" produced will contain a lot that's just poorly done, plenty that's mediocre, and maybe 5% that's exceptional. That means we have to make an effort to find any "good" stuff produced recently. But if we look back over the decades and decades of what's been done in the past, there are lots of years-worth of 5% exceptional stuff to draw from.

 

I'm guessin' that they produced tons of miserable drek back then, too, but we never see any of it; it's forgotten. What we see is all the years and years worth of 5% excellence that's not forgotten. Over the decades, it piles up.

  • Like 3
Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Restore formatting

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

We have placed cookies on your device to help make this website better. You can adjust your cookie settings, otherwise we'll assume you're okay to continue.