Writers are getting more foul-mouthed
The recent Guardian article on the increasing rates of foul language in literature got me thinking about my own use of the f-word and its derivatives.
I checked my f-quotient in my last three novels and – yes, my language is getting fouler with every book, rising from a demure 0.012 f*cks per hundred words in my first novel to 0.031 f*cks per 100 in Cairo Mon Amour, my latest.
Highly skilled at cursing
Confession time: I spent my early years on a council estate just outside London, and I Iearned to handle the f-word like an East End fishmonger. Later I became part of the Australian intelligentsia, and honed my skills so that I could out-f*ck any Professor of English Literature in the room.
But why do I use f*ck in my novels?
Here are the results drawn from the 26 f*cks in Cairo Mon Amour:
- Sometimes I use it to locate a character on the British class scale:
Bellamy said, “If we’re right about this we’re finished when those f*ckers from Ealing work out that they’ve put us together.”
“How come you talk like a barrow boy sometimes? I remember that from Shemlan. It’s quite a turn on, you know!”
2. Here’s a similar example, where I contrast the restrained and courteous Pierre with a thug:
“It’s a .22 calibre model 70,” he grunted. “Israeli military issue. Good quality. Liberated from the enemy. Probably used to shoot some poor Egyptian f*cker. Haha!”
“Take it back,” Pierre hissed.
3. And here’s Pierre learning to swear in English:
“Well, sort of gallop like f*cking hell. We’re being shot at.”
4. In this example my Soviet diplomat Zlotnik is supposed to be speaking in Russian, and the f*ck is a translation of the common Russian curse:
“Where’s that f*ck-your-mother Englishwoman gone?” Zlotnik rarely cursed. It had all unravelled, all gone to shit. He sank into the sofa.
5. In this last example, I have a bunch of American diplomats fleeing Egypt on ship. There has been a stream of f*cks as they lose their cool. Here’s the last one:
As the Cynthia’s engines groaned rheumatically into life, an American in a suit and a baseball cap pointed at the Soviet ship and shouted, “Look, they’re unloading f*cking missiles!”
I’m actually very pleased with my self-diagnosis: Every example has been strategically selected. There’s not a gratuitous f*ck in the book. Obviously, I was well trained!
Let me know what you think!
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7 thoughts on “Going easy on the f-word in fiction”
Ooops, I just counted 86 f-bombs in my latest manuscript of 95,000 words. In my defence, my villains are largely military lowlifes who resort to foul language at the drop of a handgun.
My righteous hero, Ryan Kaine, rarely swears and then only in his head.
Horses for courses I suppose. Although, on reflection, I might dial back a little on the swearing. 🙂
That’s pretty high but if it’s to differentiate characters it could work. I think it’s such a poetic and powerful word that it’s a shame to dilute its effect.
You make a good point, but only two of my characters use it, and they are the villains. 🙂
I’ve seen a similar trend in my own books, applied for character realism and impact. While I try to go easy on the cuss words, sometimes “fudge” instead of the “eff-bomb” just won’t work! 😉
I’ve found the solution in the dystopian novel I’m writing , where my hero has taught himself English from the New Testament and A Midsummer Nights Dream so he’s stuck with things like ‘Ye vipers’.
Teehee, love it.