$%&@* cuss words

December 7, 2015

This article was originally sent as a private email to my subscribers. If you would like to receive content like this every two weeks instead of whenever I decide to release one publicly, sign up here. The original email has been edited, because why the $%@# not.

I’ve gotten a lot of feedback from readers on Wage Slave Rebellion. While feedback comes in many stripes, I’ve found that most criticism falls into two categories, based on my reaction:

  1. There’s the thoughtful criticism that makes me go, “Hmm. I’m not sure about that, but it’s worthy of consideration.” Occasionally it even rings true, and I know I made a mistake.
  2. Then there are the complaints about shit I’m not going to change. For example, I get frequent complaints about my character’s unusual names, but that was a deliberate decision. These I ignore.

I recently got some feedback about the cursing in WSR. This reader said that the characters’ cussing didn’t add anything to the story, and in fact, took something away. They said that I might have a wider audience if I didn’t include it.

Let me explain why my characters cuss, and why that’s not going to change.

Mazik, Gavi, and Raedren start off the series as twenty-something working stiffs who spend a great deal of time in a bar, drinking heavily. They’re frustrated and/or bored with their jobs, they all spent time in the Houkian military, and they live in a world that’s dangerous, unforgiving, and doesn’t much value human life. They get in fights, they get in trouble, and they generally try to get away with things without getting caught.

Tell me: Do these not sound like the kind of people who would cuss to you?

It has never been about whether cussing adds to the story. It’s about authenticity. If a character would cuss, they should cuss. No—they must. It’s about staying true to the characters. If Mazik spent the book saying “Pumpernickel!” or “Sugar!”, many would have rightly turned up their noses, for it would have clashed with his personality as I’ve portrayed it. Each character’s language is, in a very real way, not under my control. They have lives of their own, and they can say whatever they damn well please.

Now, there was a time I considered bleeping my cuss words, though it was mostly because I was watching a lot of Epic Meal Time at the time, and the noise they use to bleep their cursing always made me laugh. But that, too, would have felt inauthentic, because without the funny bleeping sound, it would have read like censorship. (And I half think I was only considering it for short-sighted, “audience widening” reasons anyway.) I’d rather just let them say the damn words and not make a big deal out of it.

So yes, cussing doesn’t add anything to the story, except for authenticity, which is far more important to me than a few overly-sensitive readers. I’d probably just end up pissing them off anyway, so fuck it.

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By Stephen W. Gee

Author of Wage Slave Rebellion, Freelance Heroics, and about two good blog posts out of a hundred.

2 Comments

  1. Reply

    kushiead

    While I don’t disagree with you on the fact that many people in that lifestyle would cuss, I’d like to point out that some would not. Some would not on sheer principle and distaste for cussing. Maybe their parents drilled it into them not to and it stuck with them today. Maybe their deity requires them not to. Maybe they just plain think that cussing is a sign f a weak vocabulary and makes them look stupid so they try to find other words to express their distaste and anger.

    In short, I think there is valid backstory you could put into the characters that prevented them from such. But in the end they are your characters and you decide their back story. I enjoyed WSR very much, cussing and all. But I think you should consider that not everyone feels the same about things even if they’ve grown up in a similar environment. It may make for more rounded characters in other works you write.

    1. Reply

      Stephen W. Gee

      Oh, but of course. I said that they all cuss, and they’re all willing to, but 80% of the cussing comes from Mazik, and most of the rest is Gavi. Raedren hardly curses (if ever) … though he also talks a lot less, since he’s a listener whereas Mazik is a talker. Though it’s also in his nature to not be as crass as Mazik is. It makes the few times he does cuss a lot more impactful.

      I left some nuance in there. It just so happens that Mazik (in particular) isn’t the kind of guy who would avoid cursing, so he doesn’t.

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