Michael Young stops by the blog today to talk about Psuedo-swearing in lieu of actual profanity. Michael (known as Michael D Young as a writer) is a graduate of Brigham Young University and Western Governor’s University with degrees in German Teaching, Music, and Instructional Design. Though he grew up traveling the world with his military father, he now lives in Utah with his wife, Jen, and his two sons. Michael enjoys acting in community theater, playing and writing music and spending time with his family. He played for several years with the handbell choir Bells on Temple Square and is now a member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
He is the author of the novels in The Canticle Kingdom Series, The Last Archangel Series, and the Chess Quest Series. His also authors several web serials through BigWorldNetwork.com. He publishes anthologies for charity in his Advent Anthologies series. He has also had work featured in various online and print magazines such as Bards and Sages Quarterly, Mindflights, Meridian, The New Era, Allegory, and Ensign. He has also won honorable mention three times in the Writers of the Future contest. Outside of these weighty accomplishments, he’s also just a really nice guy. You can check out all this books here.
Without further ado, here’s his contribution to the blog today-
The Art of Pseudo Swearing
By: Michael D Young
I’ll admit it—I hate to swear. I’ve a fear of four-letter words, and I’m proud of it. I’m a firm believer that as the Dowager Countess of Downton Abbey put it “Vulgarity is no substitute for wit.” There’s the obvious way to have your characters swear in your books: call in the usual suspects. But that’s the path of least resistance. When you are writing a fantasy novel, for example, you have the unspoken understanding that the characters whose lives you are chronicling are not actually speaking English (or whatever language you write in). You are only recording it in a language the reader will understand. By putting a little more effort into your “swearing”, you are creating an additional layer of world building that will help lend authenticity to your tale.
Consider two alternatives:
Type One: Religious Swearing
The first type of swearing has to deal with your characters being blasphemous. For example, many swearwords in Canadian French have to do with saying words used in a religious setting such as “tabernacle”, “chalice”, “baptism” or “wafer”. Part of this came perhaps as a backlash against the historical dominance of the Catholic Church in the region. You know, I can’t really this catching on in English. “What the wafer are you doing? I’m walkin’ here!”
What this means for your characters will vary depending on what your societies hold sacred. Most of the time, religious people hold certain words as being holy, and so using this sacred words in a profane setting allows them to be used for shock value. Do some real digging here to figure out what would be the most logical choices, and how these choices might vary between characters who have different religious or spiritual backgrounds. One man’s swearing is another man’s party conversation.
I see this done to some degree in Robert Jordan’s writing, where characters simply exclaim “Light!” or some variation on that. For many of his characters, “light” symbolizes the overarching good force in their universe and so invoking it, especially in a negative context, provides the juxtaposition that gets across the speaker’s displeasure.
Type Two: Barrier Swearing
I call this type of swearing “barrier swearing”, but it is has people invoke things that get in their way. Ask yourself, “What bothers people in my world the most?” This is the kind of swearing I see favored often by Brandon Sanderson. For example, in his Mistborn series, the magic system is based on metals. Thus, the word “rust” or “rusts” becomes a term of displeasure. In his Stormlight Archive series, he uses references to the massive storms that plague that world as a way to swear.
Especially if you are building a fantasy or science fiction world, ask yourself what the most bothersome things that most people encounter will be and mold their colorful language from that.
In the end, it also depends on your publisher and editor about how much you can get away with pseudo swearing. I’ve encountered some publishers who insist on “clean” books, while others who will insert more language into your manuscript. This happened to James Dashner, author of “The Maze Runner”, whose original manuscript contained little profanity.
In the end, look at your characters’ language not as something to bludgeon the reader with, but something that reveals personality, paints the world they live in, all working toward the end of immersing the reader in the most engaging experience possible.
I invite you to devour my latest offering, an epic fantasy called, “The Hunger”.
Here’s a bit of what its is about:
“A new, epic fantasy series full of magic and intrigue.
Feed your Hunger.
In a distant, war-torn land, every man, woman and child must either consume the magical substance known as Sustenance or succumb to the Hunger. Those who succumb develop deformities and face exile — or even death.
The scholar Azil wants nothing more than to lead a tranquil life and beat back the Hunger. But when a mysterious assassin tries to kill Azil, and a stranger shows up at his door challenging him to join her on a quest, he embarks on a dangerous journey to steal the sacred gems of Sustenance guarded in a forbidden fortress. To get there, Azil must venture through a land of floating cities, ravenous mage wraiths, ax-wielding warriors, and bloodthirsty bandits.
But with the sacred gems of Sustenance come volatile magic — magic so strange and dangerous, that the prophecies foretell it could usher in a golden age, or turn its wielder into the darkest of villains.”
If you would like to learn more about it, you can visit my Amazon page here: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B003HCB8AE