I have been thinking about swearing in fiction, especially sf and fantasy. Sooner or later, if I'm writing something of sufficient length, I have to decide on how much to swear, and how to swear.

- If you curse a lot, it tends to give the story a air of grittiness, which is fine... except that most of what I write isn't all that gritty. It's really more to do with tropes in fiction than reality - I swear a lot in real life, and I live a very quiet and genteel existence by fictional standards. But if I open a book and it sounds like an episode of The Sopranos, it does give me a sense of what sort of story the book is going to tell.

- If you don't curse at all, generally it's unnoticeable that you aren't cursing.

- If you only curse a little, each instance is noticeable and jarring, which can provide useful effects.

- BUT, some characters are not in-character if they don't swear.

And then there's the whole problem of non-realistic or even historical settings.

The problem with swearing is that it both conveys meaning and a jolt of emotion - anger, shock, fear, pain, the intent to shock or intimidate, or the sense that this is a character for whom or milieu in which swearing is casual.

(Meaning: it wouldn't be bad to call someone a cocksucker if there wasn't the idea floating around that sucking cock is bad and/or gay, and that being gay is bad.)

In non-contemporary settings, it can be incredibly tough to get across both meaning and emotion, because for readers, the emotion is tied very closely into the actual words they're familiar with.

Deadwood used completely anachronistic modern cursing because the real historical curses (which were mostly based on blasphemy, IIRC) "made the characters sound like Yosemite Sam." So they went for a completely non-realistic mode of speech which they felt more accurately reflected the shock of grittiness that the historical "dod-gasted" (or whatever) would have conveyed at the time. I'm not sure that was the only possible choice, but I think it was a perfectly reasonable one.

BSG's "frack" was probably the best sf TV curse, because it sounds so similar to "fuck" that it ends up invisibly conveying its intended meaning. If it had been a novel, they probably would have just said "fuck."

Invented sf curse words tend to not work for me at all in novels, as I generally wonder why the hell they didn't just use real ones and be done with it. Especially if they have no inherent meaning, but are just sounds like "Grod!" or "Vulp!" Those are guaranteed, at least to me, to both pull me out of the story by making me register just how contrived they are, and to sound silly.

On the other hand, words with meaning can convey a lot about a culture: "Shards!" actually did say something about Pernese culture. What it didn't do was convey the impact of a real curse. To me, those always tend to sound a bit quaint.

Thoughts? Arguments? %#%^%!!?
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