I’m a high school freshman girl. Most of the people who read my writing, especially the works I don’t post on this blog, are my family. Since I started this blog, a lot of family friends–adults–have started to read my stories, things I usually keep under wraps or only show my friends.
And nearly all of them have the same comment:
“Why do you curse so much?”
“You don’t need to use those curse words.”
It’s not like I blame them. Most of these people have watched me grow up. Of course it’s weird for them to read my writing and see f-bombs.
But here’s the thing:
Not at school, of course (not with adults around anyway). Not at family gatherings (usually). But with my friends? At home? Hell yeah.
(This doesn’t mean that I curse during class discussions or feel comfortable–most of the time–with cursing at specific people or that I’m going to go to a speech and debate competition and use “shit” in my arguments. I know how to turn it off. Most people do. But if I stub my toe, all bets are off. And I think that’s a part of human psychology that should be embraced by authors, not shied away from.)
And the people around me curse. I’ve heard teachers say “shit” and “bitch.” My family curses (a lot). My friends have perfected chain-cursing, in which you string together lots of expletives with semi-violent threats of bodily harm to express how exactly you’re feeling about pretty much anything: the weather (which is always too hot or too cold), homework, tests, teachers, lack of sleep, group projects, jerks, bad music, loud noises, or people throwing food. The random people I pass during passing periods all have their sailor’s licences in expletive dropping. People curse when they text. People curse online.
(Again, I don’t mean to promote or condone cursing. But if I’m writing a story about people, especially people today, they’re going to curse, because that’s what the world looks like right now…and pretty much since the invention of curse words, back then in the stone ages.)
So when I go to write a story, I don’t shy away from curse words. They are a natural part of life for me. And my current writing goals are to write things that feel real to me.
When I went to write my novel, Devil May Care, my goal was to capture high school. I feel that I’m in a unique position, as an actual student, not an adult trying to remember what it was like, or an adult preaching about what it should be, or an adult basing it off of High School Musical and Mean Girls. I go to it everyday. It’s the epitome of real life for me. And my novel, though it is paranormal, takes place in a very normal high school environment. So for my project, I decided I would challenge myself to make my portrayal of high school as accurate as possible. Which meant crowded banks of lockers and getting elbowed in the head during passing periods and…cursing.
A message to every parent that tries to keep their child from cursing and thinks they can keep their child from being exposed to it: give up. I hear a dozen perverted, sexual, explicit, and expletive-ridden conversations on my way from first period to second. It happens. It’s a part of my reality.
I’m not going to hide from that when I go to write. There will be cursing. There will be innuendos and conversations you wish I don’t understand. With Devil May Care, I decided I was going to write high school the way it actually is, not the way adults want it to be. I’m not going to replace fuck with eff, bitch with bee-with-and-itch, damn with darn, crap with crud, shit with shizz, goddamn with GD, what the fuck with WTF. No one talks like that. (I have ONE friend who literally never cusses. I love her for it. But she’s a MAJOR anomaly. She is the outlier to end all outliers.)
Even in DMC, where my main character refuses to curse out loud, she curses in her mind (and as the story progresses…that changes, but hey, character development!). The characters around her curse. When I wrote a side character named Xia–a short, dyed-black-hair, ears-pierced-til-the-end-of-time BAMF–I let her curse like a goddamn sailor. In the first pages with her, I actually found myself going back to her dialogues and adding in curse words, because it was so unrealistic for her to not curse. (I was in the habit of avoid f-bomb campaigns with my old project, the more middle grade After We Waited for Ever. I successfully trained that out of myself with DMC.) It became a part of her diction and syntax. I knew what curse words she favored, how she used them for emphasis, how she built rhythm into her rants with them. Her cursing habit helped me understand her character and made her come alive for me. It was also a clear way her influence could rub off on Rose, as curse words gradually slipped into her used-to-be-clean dialogue.
I have an entire, annotate-able motif in DMC about all the different ways my main character is called a bitch. It is actually one of my favorite parts about the book, adding in beautiful juxtapositions and characterizations that would be lost if I didn’t feel comfortable dropping the word.
And in the series I post here, Hell and Styx, I curse. Hell is a badass gatekeeper of eternal punishment with serious unresolved emotional issues and a pessimistic, cynical view of the universe. Styx is a bored teenager who has to put up with Hell until the end of time. Neither of them have adult supervision at any time and share their purgatory with a ton of dead people. Do either of those characters sound like people who would shy away from cursing? Who would censor themselves when they went on a I-hate-the-goddamn-universe rant?
Not even sort of.
I want to write real stories. I’m trying to push myself to make even my paranormal stories read like real life.
For me, that means cursing. I don’t do it for no reason. Every expletive I use adds something to the characterization or plot development. They give insight into how the character works. The goody-two-shoes says fuck? Some serious shit hit the fan. The new character curses every two words? You immediately understand what this person is like. The person who usually only curses in their mind curses out loud? They’re under stress. Someone who has only cursed once in the book starts yelling and hurls curse words like spittle? They’re seriously angry.
Maybe you say a more advanced author would find another way to get these facts across. But I like my way. It’s real. It’s efficient.
So there. That’s why I curse in my writing. Maybe it makes you uncomfortable. That’s fine, really. But don’t chide me for it. People curse. Which means my characters curse. Until we live in a world where I can walk through the quad at lunch without hearing about how much of a “fucking awesome weekend” someone had or my friends can walk home without being told they have “fine asses,” I’m not censoring my writing. These are my stories.