Emmie Mears
SFF. Queer AF.

Sex, Vulgarity, and Violence (Part Two)

    Home  /  Blog  /  Sex, Vulgarity, and Violence (Part Two)

Sex, Vulgarity, and Violence (Part Two) Image

Sex, Vulgarity, and Violence (Part Two)

Yesterday’s post focused on the first of the Big Three, but it ran away with me all the way to 1,308 words, so I figured at that point that it might behoove me to split the monster into two parts. Like 2/3 of a Hydra.

I’ve already typed out some diatribe on vulgarity in writing, but I’ll reiterate the main point here. People swear. Fairly often and in public. They swear when they drop their puppy onto the floor (hopefully by accident). They swear when they hit their funny bone. They swear at the guy who just swerved into their lane. When they bite their tongues. When their team fumbles a hike. When they’re trying to make a point. When they’re happy. When they’re upset. When they’re elated. I could go on and on, but the point here, people, is that people swear all the fucking time. I’m not saying litter your novel with expletives, nor am I saying that it’s particularly attractive to drop f-bombs every time you don’t feel like picking up that spoon that fell on the floor. However, if you’re going to leave them out, please-oh-please-oh-please do not substitute them with some ridiculous word that no one would ever say without having a gun to their head (probably not even then).

Example:

“You think you can just do that to me and get away with it, witch?” Big Tommy screamed in impotent rage, knuckles white where he grasped the revolver against his leg.
Susie’s veneer of calm refused to waver as she stared at her husband. “Dang it, Tommy. I’d put that thing down before you shoot your pee-pee off.” Not that she’d be broken up about it — he liked it more than she did, though after what she’d seen last night she knew she was in the minority in this town.
“You fricking cat! Don’t tell me what to do!” The gun went off with  a sharp report, and Tommy shrieked.
Susie stepped over Big Tommy’s spreading pool of blood as he writhed on the floor. “Hush now. You’re going to wake the neighbors.” With a flicker of disdain, her foot made contact with his head. Tommy’s howls cut off  as his eyes rolled back.
As she pulled open the red front door, Susie looked back once. “And for the record, I never boinked him.”

That little scene demonstrates some rather absurd dialogue. Whoever these people are, we know a few things. One, they have a gun. Two, emotions are clearly running high — Tommy is incensed. Three, Susie isn’t really fazed by Tommy shooting himself in the crotch or by the screaming and blood that follows. Four, something is keeping Tommy from aiming the gun at Susie instead of pressing it against his leg (which really isn’t the smartest move). While I don’t know who these two characters are, they volunteered for this little role-playing object lesson, so I couldn’t really begrudge them the spotlight, right? They have potty mouths. Something tremendous has transpired in their lives that has brought them here, to this grisly place, and I can’t really think of any good, convincing reason for those two people to edit their language. Here’s what they’re really saying:

“You think you can just do that to me and get away with it, bitch?” Big Tommy screamed in impotent rage, knuckles white where he grasped the revolver against his leg.
Susie’s veneer of calm refused to waver as she stared at her husband. “Godammit, Tommy. I’d put that thing down before you shoot your fucking cock off.” Not that she’d be broken up about it — he liked it more than she did, though after what she’d seen last night she knew she was in the minority in this town.
“You fucking cunt! Don’t tell me what to do!” The gun went off with  a sharp report, and Tommy shrieked.
Susie stepped over Big Tommy’s spreading pool of blood as he writhed on the floor. “Hush now. You’re going to wake the neighbors.” With a flicker of disdain, her foot made contact with his head. Tommy’s howls cut off  as his eyes rolled back.
As she pulled open the red front door, Susie looked back once. “And for the record, I never fucked him.”

Which scene seems more convincing? I can’t think of the last time I heard an actual human being call someone a witch when they meant bitch. As for the c-word and the multiple f-bombs, people say those words when they’re hacked off. And Tommy and Susie are in a very intense scenario. (They’re certainly not sitting around eating scones and tea, that’s for sure.)

The issue of vulgarity for me is tied up with honesty. Be honest about how people speak when they’re upset or ecstatic. Not everyone swears all the time, and your characters don’t have to — but if you’re writing a scene like that where people are calling names and shooting genitals, expect someone to use stronger language than “Oh, drat.” If you are dead set on avoiding R-rated language, there are ways around it that don’t make your characters sound like the Westboro Baptist Church’s idea of how normal people talk.

Let’s get messy! When I was a kid, I adored horror  books. I read as many Fear Street books as I could get my paws on. I did read Goosebumps, but I mostly stuck to the more adult Fear Street even as a little second and third grader, because they were scarier. Better. They gave me delicious chills and surprisingly few nightmares. R.L. Stine was never afraid to get graphic. There is a bit of imagery that I recall from those books which has never left my mind. It’s the image of rotting purple flesh. It stuck there, and it made its putrid little place with all the other frightening, disgusting, creepy things I read as a child.

If you write horror or urban fantasy or any of the speculative fiction genres, chances are they’re going to get violent. You know your story best, so you can decide how graphic you want to get, but if your tale consists of vampires, there better be blood. If you write sci-fi and your characters shoot guns that fire bursts of heat, I expect at some point to smell sizzling flesh or feel arm hairs curl in on themselves from a blast that came too close.

If you’re writing about corpses, walking or not, we should smell the rot. See the decay. Writing is four dimensional — it’s not show and tell, it’s all show. They call it telling a story, but really you’re building a world so someone can experience the story. Anyone can say that the corpse was gross. But…

The corpse’s flesh had decomposed, sagging off yellow bones to melt into the concrete below. The detective gagged at the stench, which tickled his nose, a puff of sweetness mixed with acid death. Black blood in a large dried pool cracked at the edges, and the body’s fingers were tight claws against the floor.
“Any ID on the guy?” The detective didn’t want to get close enough to look for a wallet.
“Thomas Bolchek. Alias Big Tommy. Married, but the wife was found down at the lake with a kitchen knife between her ribs two days ago. This guy’s been dead a lot longer.” The uniform’s eyes looked ready to join Big Tommy’s corpse on the floor, along with the contents of his stomach.
“Get some air, kid.”

Description doesn’t have a stomach as weak as that green little uniformed officer in the paragraph above. Description doesn’t shy away from gore and decay. Like sex and vulgarity, you as the writer have control over the role violence and graphic death play in your story. You know your story, and you know your audience — so be true to what you’re showing them, and they won’t be able to put your book down. The point is to not be afraid to say what you need to say. Never censor your book before it hits the shelves; there are plenty of people out there who will do that job for you, and you can just ignore them when they do, or send them a severed chicken’s foot in a box to let them know what you think of their opinion.

So have fun. Get messy. Get naughty. Tell the truth about your characters and your story and watch it come to life. (Or die a gruesome death, whichever you’re going for.) 🙂

I wish you monsters.

 

Like this post? Subscribe to get more in your inbox!

Author | Emmie Comments | 1 Date | September 19, 2011

comments

You Can’t Say That On Television « Emmie Mears

[…] of some debate. I’ve discussed the subject in depth before, which you can read here and here if you feel so […]

July 9, 2012 | 4:58 pm

Comments are closed.

  • Love this? Buy Emmie a Coffee. Mmm, coffee.

  • Newsletter of Newsiness Gets You A Free Ebook

    Want to be kept in the loop?

    * indicates required
    Email Format
  • Support My World-Making!

    Love my work or just want to support me directly? Come to my Patreon! You'll get all sorts of goodies in return!
  • SHRIKE: THE MASKED SONGBIRD (New Release!)

    Available in ebook. Trade paperback coming soon!
  • STORM IN A TEACUP (Book One of the Ayala Storme Series)

    Available in trade paperback and ebook.
  • Follow me on Twitter!

  • Show Your Like

  • Emmie on Goodreads

    What I'll Be Reading in 2014

    The Tombs of Atuan
    0 of 5 stars
    tagged: to-read and 2014-reading-list
    Mistborn: The Final Empire
    0 of 5 stars
    tagged: to-read and 2014-reading-list
    The Blade Itself
    0 of 5 stars
    tagged: to-read and 2014-reading-list
    Elantris
    0 of 5 stars
    tagged: to-read and 2014-reading-list
    Girl With a Pearl Earring
    0 of 5 stars
    tagged: to-read and 2014-reading-list
    Magic Bites
    0 of 5 stars
    tagged: to-read and 2014-reading-list
    Gone Girl
    0 of 5 stars
    tagged: to-read and 2014-reading-list
    Claim Me
    0 of 5 stars
    tagged: to-read and 2014-reading-list
    Shaman's Crossing
    0 of 5 stars
    tagged: currently-reading and 2014-reading-list
    The Selkie Spell
    0 of 5 stars
    tagged: to-read and 2014-reading-list

    goodreads.com
  • Emmie on Pinterest

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers