I don’t like to swear in my writing. Partially because I mostly write for young audiences, but even when I’m writing for adults, it just seems a little… unimaginative.
People use swear words so much to describe everything and just punctuate sentences, so they actually add very little interesting colour.
This tendancy of mine drives some of my writing group colleagues to distraction: “Just fucking say ‘fuck’! It’s a perfectly good word. All this weird ‘cat’s testicles’ bollocks is distracting and laughable,” they say. Well, one of them does.
But there are a few reasons I persist.
One is that there is a good precedent, in the form of Battlestar Galactica (the new version). This excellent series replaces all instances of the word ‘fuck’ with the word ‘frack’. This is a stroke of genius, because the new word contains all the linguistic features that make the original satisying to expel from the mouth.
It has the pressure filled ‘F’ which which allows you to force your teeth against the back of your lower lip, a physical sensation that captures the speaker’s frustration. Then it has the ‘ck’ sound at the end, a lovely hard crack of a sound that comes from the back of the mouth and feels like a smack, like a small audio bit of violence.
In Battlestar, the word feels totally natural. You know what it’s replacing and you get the sense of the emotion behind it without the distraction of if they had replaced it with something like ‘fiddlesticks’ or ‘lash’ (to coin a random selection of letters without the same physicality as above).
The obvious advantage is that Battlestar makers can truthfully say that there is no swearing in their series, which no doubt opens many doors that would otherwise be slammed shut.
The second reason I wanted to use replacements was for comic effect and character building. I was inspired by Debra from Dexter, who is known for her imaginative potty mouth. Her colourful expletives add layers to her character and are often also genuinely funny.
Admittedly, the writers didn’t avoid standard swear words, as I have done, but cast them in new contexts.
Whether my experiment is a good idea or a terrible one will probably remain unresolved even if the novel in question miraculously makes it onto the bestseller list. I suspect (and enjoy believing) that it will be a crowd splitter and that like in the writing group now, some people will hate it and cite it as the only thing that ruins an otherwise great read, while others will adore it as an imaginative unique aspect that makes the novel stand out.
Even if the only person in the second group is me.