Monday, April 08, 2013

Why I don't swear in my books

I don't swear in real life. Seriously.

Well, okay, there was this one time when my 18-month-old daughter was seriously hurt, and we had to take her to the ER and I was frantic. We had to get our oldest daughter from a party and figure out where to send her and her four year old brother (You don't want that many children in the ER). I was going to go to the ER and my husband was going to arrange for the other kids, and then we couldn't find the car keys, (Little children carry them off) and then one car's battery was dead. And right when we finally had overcome all of those things and were ready to go, my husband said, "Just a minute, I need to go to the bathroom first."

I snapped. For a reason that is still not clear to me, a string of swearwords issued forth from my mouth. I didn't even know they were there. They all just came out in between the words: "They have bathrooms at the ER!!! Now get in the car!!!"

Not too long ago I said something to my now teenage son about how I never swear, and he said, "You did once. You swore that time you went to the Emergency Room."

I was surprised he remembered that all these years later.

That's probably how swear words should be. If you use them, they're so rare people will remember them decades later.

I've heard people use the F-bomb so many times in a sentence, it was a noun, adjective, and verb. I always wonder what those people do when they're really mad. I mean, what is left to say? "I double-dog F-bomb you!" or "F-bomb times infinity!"

I've seen the same problem in books. If you have a character swear all the time, it loses potency, and at least to me, comes off crass.

My problem as an author is that I sometimes have characters who would swear in given situations. I still don't include swearwords. (I have used the word h word--don't want to write it here, lest my blog be blocked by some filters--but only to describe the actual place, which I don't consider swearing. Although some younger kids don't seem to realize this difference. I was a Sunday School teacher for 8-year-olds once and had to refer to it as that-place-the-devil-lives because otherwise they gasped every time I said the word. And yes, I did try to explain the difference between swearing and naming a location, but they never seemed to grasp this finer point.)

Anyway, I can't have my characters swear for one simple reason. At my house I long ago instituted the rule that anyone who swears will have to pay five dollars.

I have over a million books in print. I am not that wealthy. I will have to continue to be swear-free.






20 comments:

Megan said...

Thank you! I have been appalled at the YA books I have read in the last two months that are full of swearing. I understand that it might be "realistic" for some characters but really don't need or want to read it. I love authors who find a way to imply "he swore" rather than filling in all the blanks.

Teresa said...

Thank you for this. It saddens me that it's become acceptable to say certain things, so much so that it's almost impossible to overhear a passing conversation without swearing. I appreciate that there are still books out there that I can read without worrying about it.

Tiana Smith said...

I wholeheartedly agree with you. I see more and more swearing in YA books these days and it's starting to grate on my nerves. Usually, it's weak writing. With a little bit more effort they could have gone around it, but they chose the easy route. Yay for authors like you :)

Julie Wright said...

so glad to hear this. I *do* swear in real life. I swear a lot. But I've never been able to swear in a book. I've almost don it a couple times, but then always skipped the swear and left it out. I just want one thing in my life to be pure, I guess.
The end result of me not swewaring in my writing is that I've ended up with stronger, more potent writing. I think the cursing device in literature is awfully lazy. It's like the writer thinks to themselves, "Hey, I need to prove this kid is mad. I know! I'll have him swear!" Rather than really show the character is mad, they resort to laziness.
It's the same thing with the writer who tries to show that two characters love each other so they throw them into a tumble in bed. You can sleep with anyone and not love them. Love is something else entirely. It's a lazy writer who doesn't get this. Bravo for working at your craft. I've read (and own) all your books and am a devoted fan.

Middle-aged Mormon Man said...

You are awesome.

Susan said...

As a reader and as the mother of young readers, I appreciate your staunch refusal to use swear words in your books. I know yours are always safe to recommend to readers young and old and I can't say that about many authors!

Dena BooksforKids said...

To be honest, the fact that you don't swear in your books (and the fact that they are clean, funny, and just plain awesome) is one of the biggest reasons I love them. I love that you can create suspense, anger, humor, and romance all without curse words or inappropriate behavior. I feel completely comfortable recommending your books to other moms because I don't have to worry about anything questionable showing up in them! So THANK YOU for creating your books the way you do!

Janette Rallison said...

Thanks for your support, guys! It really means a lot to me. I listen to a lot of audio books and the swearing always makes me wince. I don't ever want to do that to anyone else.

Sierra said...

And this is why you're one of my favorite authors :) I swore some, when I was younger...I didn't know it was a bad word and by then I had gotten into a habit. Oops. But I really don't like swearing, although I can understand in certain situations it just kinda happens. Plus it's kinda I dunno, uncouth? That's how I feel :P And in a book it can get sooo annoying. I agree about the word-used-as-a-place-not-the-acutal-word-used-as-a-cuss-word-and-yeah. It's great to read a book where I don't have to worry about the language :) Thank you!

Akilah said...

I don't swear in real life either. True story. Sometimes I'll call someone the a-word, but only when it's deserved.

Shiralea said...

Hurray, Hurray for authors who write clean books! I have a teen daughter and we never feel weird about recommending your books to anyone who will listen...and we know a lot of readers who appreciate it!

Janette Rallison said...

I'm glad there are still some readers out there that are like-minded! Thanks Sierra, Akilah, and Shiralea!

Sage said...

While I'm at the library, I check for profanity before taking them out. Let's just say I could have read a lot of books. I'm glad that I found your books since it's really hard to find non-cursing books nowadays.

Georgia said...

I just read two more Janette Rallison books (back-to-back!). I so appreciate the humor of your characters. They feel so real. I think I should be able to go visit them and see how things have been since the end of the story. Even with all that reality, swearing has never been necessary. Thank you for making it that way!

Janette Rallison said...

Sage, If there's swearing on the first couple of pages, I don't read the book. A lot of authors don't put it in until well into the story, though. Ugh. Then you've got to guess how much more swearing there will be. Adult action books seem to be the worse.

Georgia, glad you liked them!

Totally Mom said...

As a junior high librarian, I'm very glad to have your books that I can recommend to any of my students and I love them, too! Audiobooks are one of my favorite mediums. Maybe every author should hear his or her book via audio style before they are published. I was so disappointed by a new book. Loved the story, but the language was just too much and not necessary. Not a single rave review mentioned it. I'm actually ok with a little language when it truly fits.

Kelsi Rose said...

I teach primary and on Easter we ran into the "a" word as an animal. My class is 9/10 so I hope they got that that animal and anatomy is different, and not to use the word in general.

I should be use to awkward conversations with parents though. For the Christmas lesson I used every synonym for virgin I could think of all to bank stares. I finally told them that a virgin was someone who had not had sex. Yeah, I heard about that one the next week.

Jessica Scott said...

Oh thank you so much for this! As a rehabilitated potty-mouth, I have definitely seen the err of my ways. It's not classy and your 3 year old son just may decide to repeat your ugly language in church. As far as writing it, does it really get the point across more than a low key "dang"? I mean look at "Gone with the Wind". The best movie of all time and it had one cuss word in it! And it was really used to emphasize how over Scarlett Rhett really was!

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