Is a Lack of Profanity in Fiction a Sign of Weak Writing?

Earlier today, I had an experience in one of my Creative Writing classes that I have chosen to share. It was in playwriting class, and it was my turn to be workshopped. While the majority of the class took no notice to the fact that my play had zero profanity in it (rude words yes, profanity no), one student felt it was odd that my play’s cast swore none of the time at all. To be honest, she even seemed bothered by it. So, I’ve chosen to use this experience as a means to talk about profanity in fiction.

Is it poor writing when your fiction has little to no profanity?

I don’t think so. I can only speak for myself, but the worst words I’ll use are “crap,” “heck,” and “darn.” That’s verbally, though. Occasionally, I’ll slip a real dirty one in there, but I’d be lying if I said that’s how I talk in real life. My mouth is as clean as a whistle. But that being said, I don’t think it’s a poor choice of diction to exclude certain words when you’re writing fiction or some other form of Creative Writing. I think often times, people rely far too much on profanity to get the point across.

The point is simple. If you choose to include characters that cuss, make sure every word out of their mouth counts. Too much of that stuff can reflect poorly on you as a writer. And please, don’t be so narrow-minded that you catch yourself thinking that a lack of profanity is weak writing. It’s frankly a stupid mindset, and there are plenty of writers out there (myself included) that don’t generally use language like that in their books. I won’t judge if you do it, but for Zeus’s sake, make sure every word counts.

If you like what you see, don’t forget to reblog and follow. See you guys next time.

–N.L., 2017

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Description for Non-Characters

In the real world, we see things. It could be anything: cars, houses, trees, the sun, the moon, birds in the sky, or dogs on the ground. For us writers, it is imperative to find a way to describe those things.

This is different than describing characters, since eye color/hair color and slightly less important features cannot be used to describe the thing. For example, a car is not a person. It has a color to its paint job, which is similar to eye/hair color, but it goes far deeper than that. What is the make and model of the car? What kind of tires are on the car? Are there dents on the frame?

You get what I’m saying? The point is, there are a lot of things to point out if you’re going to do your job properly. The most important thing to remember, however, is that there is a such thing as too much description. The car example may work if it’s from the POV of someone who knows about cars, but that same person may not be as savvy on the various sub-genres of fantasy fiction.

A book lover would know those things like the back of their hand, but a car salesman would go in and see books about magic, knights, wizards, and elves, while a book lover knows there’s a lot more to it than that.

In a nutshell, your POV character (or your narrator) will describe things to the reader as they know things. Always keep that in mind.

If you like what you see, don’t forget to reblog and follow. See you guys next time.

–N.L., 2017

Dialogue

Everyone has a unique voice, whether you be from Boston in the U.S. or Ireland in the U.K., but how can a writer use this fact to make dialogue that is unique from character to character? Well, there are lots of components to this, which will inevitably have to be covered in future posts,  but at its most basic level, dialogue stems from how people talk.

If you want to write realistic dialogue, it is important to note that there are three major components to speech: phenology, morphology, and syntax. Phenology is basically how people pronounce certain words, morphology is the choice of one word over another that basically means the same thing, and syntax is all about overall word choice.

For example, if someone says “worsher” as opposed to “washer,” you’ll know this is an example of phenology where they’re talking about a washing machine. Different people pronounce these words differently depending on their geography. Morphology works similarly in that you’ll say something different depending on where you live, except you’ll use a different word as opposed to the same word that’s pronounced differently. Fireflies are a good example of this. Where I live in the south, firefly is the accepted word, but in other places firebugs or lightning bugs are just as acceptable. Syntax is a little more complex, but it’s self-explanatory, so I won’t go any further on that.

The point is, we’re all going to talk differently, and it’s your job as a writer to convey that in how your characters talk. Geography is very important in the real world, because different kinds of people settle in different places, and therefore different accents and even dialects develop. If you want to create realistic dialogue, even in fantasy, these are all things to keep in mind.

If you like what you see, don’t forget to reblog and follow. See you guys next time.

–N.L., 2017

Active vs. Passive Voice

Have you ever read a book, a paragraph, or even a sentence that you thought was far too wordy for its own good? The truth is, there are a lot of culprits when it comes to poor writing, but one of the more common ones is their overuse of passive voice. Passive voice is far less engaging, after all, than active, and no amount of excuses is going to change that.

Below are two versions of a sentence:

  1. A cake should have been made.
  2. I should have made a cake.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the second one is more engaging, but in some cases, it also takes fewer words to write in active voice. Here’s a couple more sentences:

  1. The car was stolen by Robert, using a fake key.
  2. Robert stole the car with a fake key.

As you can see, the second sentence takes two less words and five less syllables. This can go a long way when it comes to making your fiction flow better in the eyes of your readers. Something I’ve noticed is that there are two major culprits when it comes to passive voice: helping verbs and prepositions. Neither of those are bad to use, but pay attention to what you’re doing when you do. If your prose sounds better without them, don’t use them. And remember, the best way to tell if it sounds good is to read your work aloud.

Also remember that passive voice takes your reader away from the action. You want the subject of your sentence doing the action itself. Saying “The arrow was shot at Dave” is not as effective as “Josh shot Dave with the arrow.”

If you like what you see, don’t forget to reblog and follow. See you guys next time.

–N.L., 2017