Monday, April 29, 2013

Writing 101: The F-Bomb

The F word is considered, in American society, to be the worst of the worst of words. It's so salty, movies and TV shows that contain it come with special warnings. Books don't come with when is it okay to drop the f-bomb on the page?

For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge

The letters FUCK were once scrawled on prison cells of those who were incarcerated for sexual misconduct. Adulterers, fornicators, anyone who maybe showed too much ankle -- don't laugh, it used to be a serious crime.

And so, the F bomb was born. For centuries, it would continue to be associated with sex and with the unspeakable. It continues to be provocative, so much so that saying it just twice in any movie will guarantee an R rating.

Authors might use it way more than that on just one page of a book. And some readers are always going to hate it. So when is it okay to use? And beyond that, when should you be using it?

At the top of the post, I specifically referenced American culture. This is because the F bomb isn't much of a bomb in other cultures. Irish authors are known for it. The saltiest, swearingest author I ever read is an Irish Catholic priest -- no shit. F bombs everywhere. His books are largely about love, and sometimes spirituality. Actual angels may appear as characters. And he swears constantly.

His books are not considered to be offensive, and he's won awards. It's because hes smart about it. When you want ti use the F bomb, use your head first.

  • Non-adult genres: Clearly this is not a word to be used in children's books. It may appear in YA books, and quite often does, but it's dicey. If you sprinkle it in here and there for realism's sake, that's one thing. If it's appearing in every single paragraph, parents are going to get riled up about it.
  • Adult genres: Even when you're writing books for adults, you can't get too liberal with your F-bombs. Mystery books and romances rarely contain the word, for example. Mysteries are provocative when it comes to crimes and crime scenes, but usually you won't find a lot of sexual activity or swearing in them. Romances are supposed to be about love, and a whole lot of F-bombs is just going to distract from the story.
  • Setting: No matter what genre you're writing, in there are times when the F-bomb is simply appropriate to a certain setting or character. Certain characters are often given salty language to display some aspect of their personality -- a tendency toward aggressiveness, for example. It may also appear because of a certain setting. An attractive female lawyer walking down a cell block is highly likely to hear a few F-bombs during the course of the journey. Sometimes, F-bombs are expected and the scene may even demand it. 
  • Make a point: And like all words, the F-bomb serves an important purpose. It's a storytelling device, just like any other word. When used correctly, it can make a very strong point or bring a certain flavor to a scene. Remember how it all plays out in the movie A Christmas Story? When you use the F-bomb extremely sparingly, it stands out and it makes a strong point. Use it well, and readers will see the necessity and importance in the word.

The F-bomb is provocative, and it's been used as a provocative word for centuries because it does work. Be smart when you drop it into your books. Make sure every F-bomb has a purpose, illustrates a point and paints the scene. Otherwise, it's gratuitous...and readers do not like gratuitous swearing. Choose all of your words with care, especially this one.

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