Monday, May 3, 2010

Bad Language

Ever so often in writing circles, the question of foul language comes up. The argument for its use is usually something along the lines of truth in dialog. A former military man who has planted a bomb in a building and finds out it didn’t go off is going to have a few choice words to say. I understand that point of view, but I would like to argue that foul language is not only unnecessary in fiction but the removal of that crud language creates better stories.

I’ve been watching the old Alfred Hitchcock Presents show from the 1950s. One of the things I’ve noticed is the excellent quality of many of the villains. Many of these villains are not unrefined people who would throw cuss words our carelessly, but they are people who give much thought to their choice of words as well as how they commit their crime. Like the politicians who sometimes get caught with an open mike, we know that these characters may not always speak so well, but they must keep the tongue in check. As the Bible tells us, the tongue is very difficult to control, so when a character in a story is able to control his tongue we see his strength in other things as well.

It is easy to reveal a character’s frustration by dropping some word bomb or another, but by doing so we are also tempted to allow the story to rest on that one word. If we instead remove that word and write the story to reveal that frustration in other ways we strengthen the story by bringing the reader along for the ride. But if we let the story rest on that single word we risk the reader either being offended and being blinded to the rest of the story or the reader may skip the word and miss the frustration completely.