On the train, on the way to meet her in Birmingham, I got a text “I am in the OCEAN”. She meant, of course, that she was in the ODEON (she’d not taken a detour to the Sea Life Centre). Ah, the joys of predictive text.
Anyway, what I’m leading to with this rather long preamble, is to say that, much as I enjoyed the film (good job because I’ve already committed to go and see it again this week), there was an awful lot of SWEARING!
Ooh, listen to me, Mary Whitehouse BUT, as it was a Tuesday morning, the cinema was almost empty but the few people who were in there were, like my mum, on the whole, older ladies, who’d gone out to have a nice time with a friend. The references to sex weren’t a problem (and hopefully they didn’t understand some of the cruder ones) but all those ‘f’ words really started to grate.
And during the childbirth scene (hopefully this isn’t too much of a spoiler), when someone suggests to Bridget that she remembers her yoga and she yells “**** yoga!” what should have been quite a funny line just fell flat because, quite frankly, we’d heard it all before. Have the writers (Helen Fielding, Dan Mazer and Emma Thompson) never heard of ‘less is more’?
So, for the fun of it (and because I’ve never, in over 500 posts, mentioned this before), here are my tips (or anti-tips, perhaps?) for using ‘bad language’ in your writing:
* Bear in mind that language is a living, organic thing. Words that were considered offensive say, ten years ago, may be perfectly acceptable now – and vice versa.
* You have no idea which words will offend which readers. Everyone’s different. I remember we read The Cuckoo’s Calling – the first Robert Galbraith novel – in my book club. It contains some pretty earthy language (as do the others in the series) and for one of the (female) members of the group it was all too much. It was all she could focus on during our discussions and had, in fact, caused her to put the book down, unfinished, after only a few chapters.
* If you’re writing for the womags (women’s magazines), I’d say swearing, in any form, however mild, is a no-no. Why? Because it may offend too many readers. You could probably get away with a ‘Blast!’ or a ‘Heck!’possibly even a ‘damn’ or two but nothing stronger.
* If it’s essential to your character that he/she swears, then do you have to use the word? Could you put, instead ‘he swore’ or ‘he cursed’ and let the reader decide for themselves what words might have been uttered? It doesn’t have quite the same impact but there’s no chance of offending anyone that way.
* Maybe it’s just me, but if I read, say, a competition entry and it’s full of swear words, it really turns me off (it feels like the author’s ‘showing off’). But perhaps it depends on your characters and setting. As Irvine Welsh, author of Trainspotting (and the acknowledged ‘Master of Cuss Words’) says, “I use swear words differently from other writers. People speak that way; it would be pretentious not to use four-letter words while writing about the kind of people I write about.”
Most of us swear (when I’m driving I sometimes sound like I’ve got Tourettes), so perhaps (womags excepted) it’s not realistic to leave swearing out of our characters’ speech. What d’you think?