Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Words We Use

I read an article heading the other day about cussing in your writing. I've always had a fairly low opinion of using cuss words in average dialogue, but I am a writer now, and I know that some people do talk like that. I do avoid the hugely colorful examples, I'd prefer to get on with the story rather than try to make my reader translate what this one guy is trying to say, or not say, as the case may be.

I will put in the occasional cuss word, but for the most part, I write in worlds and times and societies where such language is either nonexistent or not very classy, which it isn't in any world, if you ask me. Webster went to great lengths to write a dictionary; some of these people should take a look at it once in a while, they might actually be able to get their point across better. Okay so now you know how I feel about cussing, and it has nothing to do with religion; it's just stupid. Rant over. Please accept my apologies.

No, my writing is not all lilly white, but I strive for my words to be as invisible as possible so the story can come through, and whenever your reader has to stop and try to figure out what someone said or what is happening, that effort has failed.

There's another aspect of this. Accent. There's the southern accent, the New York accent, the northern accent, the Texas accent. Those are the ones I can think of in this country, and then there's the foreign accents of people coming to this country from wherever around the world. And of course, if you have an extra-global society, there's that accent too. Spelling these accents can be very distracting. My advice would be to keep it simple. Too many tweaks on the spelling, and once again your words are getting in the way of your story. In reality, most foreigners probably speak better than the average American.

Spelling isn't the only cue to a different language foundation. Sentence structure is a biggie.

“If no mistake have you made, yet losing you are … a different game you should play”
 Yoda is probably the most famous of those who twisted sentence structure. If you've ever studied any other language, that is much closer to the norm; ours would seem twisted by comparison.

So, how do you show where your character comes from, or do you bother? For me, most of the time, it's one of those get-to-know bits of information that's introduced somewhere along the line. I seldom use accent spelling, though I might use dropped endings replaced by an apostrophe most of the time. Most of the poor or low class people in my books have little education and so talk like their parents did, and probably for generations before that, but they would never dare to be so rude as to cuss openly shy of what might come out if they smashed a thumb with a hammer. There's always those kinds of incidents to watch out for. I've nothing against a little spice now and then.



William Kendall said...

I write in the world of spies and terrorists, so it's an international cast of characters. Some of that involves their language, some of it involves choosing names that are very specific to place.

I do use the occasional curse word, but where it makes sense. Too many people pepper every single sentence with curse words, and I've always thought that comes from a lack of imagination.

Willow Drake said...

I don't use curse words in my writing because I don't really use them in life. I guess I have been in polite society or worked around children too long. I find it disturbing to be around people who curse all the time and wouldn't enjoy reading it either.

Now as far as accents in writing. I find nothing more annoying as a reader. Case in point, the True Blood books. I tried to read one and nearly gave up and even though the characters were interesting trying to read the heavy handed written version of a Bayou accent was more than I could take. One can mention an accent and I have a broad enough experience and creative enough mind, that I can fill it in myself when reading.