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Decisions, Decisions by Christie Cluett

Featuring the accompanying post:

Winning A Competition With Swearing In Your Story - What Are Your F%&king Chances?

Quick links on this page:

Introduction, by Chris Fielden

'Decisions, Decisions' is a short story by Christie Cluett. It was published by Magic Oxygen Publishing after being shortlisted in the Magic Oxygen Literary Prize. There were over 800 submissions the year Christie entered. 10 stories made it into the anthology.

Magic Oxygen

Magic Oxygen present a unique incentive to submit to their competition. In addition to offering generous cash prizes, they plant a tree for every entry received and supply the entrant with coordinates to it, should they want to visit it. At the time of writing, they have planted a Word Forest that's 11 times the size of Wembley Stadium. It's a great initiative.

Christie's story contains quite a lot of swearing. This is a subject matter I'm often asked about.

  • Is it OK to use swearing in stories?
  • When is it gratuitous?
  • When is it acceptable?

I think the use of profanity is subjective. However, when it's used to build character, rather than shock the reader, it can be very effective.

Christie has written about why she chose to use profanity in the story. She met some of the judges at the Magic Oxygen prize giving event, and has talked about those experiences too.

If you'd like to write for my blog, please check out my submission guidelines.

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Swear Jar

Decisions, Decisions

by Christie Cluett

Lola was biting her fingernails with gusto, wishing she knew what to do. She was standing outside, looking at the rain. She gripped her umbrella as she stared at the covered bus-stop only feet away. Bus or walk? She pushed the left earphone deeper into her ear and wished she was back in her office. Outside was chaotic with decisions waiting to be made. Bus or walk? She was tapping her leg with a jittery finger. Bus or walk? It shouldn’t be this difficult.

She looked up from no-man’s land as the bus came around the corner. This was it, the moment to decide, but ‘what if’s’ were keeping her stuck to the floor.

What if the bus crashes, what if a drunk breathes on me, what if I fall in love with the bus driver, then we get married and have kids that I can’t love and fall into the arms of a passing stranger, who turns out to be a brother I never knew I had?

What if I walk and then catch the flu, then pneumonia? What if I’m pulled into the park and raped, or not raped? What if I get lost? What if I’m struck by lightning and get super-powers and all the responsibility that goes with them?

Decide, she screamed at herself, which didn’t help. The music in her ears was reaching a crescendo and her heart-rate with it. She told herself to calm down; took a deep breath and made a decision. Bus. She hurried over to the stop, her flimsy shoes splashing through puddles. As she stepped onto the bus, she smiled. Decision made. She reached into her bag for her purse but then the edges of her vision dimmed.

Damn it, she thought, as her periphery turned completely to black. She’d made the wrong decision. As the world went completely dark, and she began to fall, Lola wished she’d just walked.

*

“What the flying pig fuck, was that?” Harold. His face was close to purple again.

Lola was sat in a plastic office chair in front of Harold’s desk. The two furry green cubicle walls enclosed a small square, which was repeated ad infinitum across the floor of the massive building she was now in. This was the life counselling offices and it seemed her life counsellor wasn’t happy... again.

Harold was tall and looked too thin to be carrying the right quote of internal organs. He wore a moustache like he was hiding a secret, although it wasn’t thick enough to be hiding anything of consequence. His bony finger was jabbing in Lola’s direction.

“How hard is it, really, to not completely make such a shitting fuck-up of a mess of your own life? The bus?” Harold’s voice had peaked at a loud squeak. “The bus?”

“It was raining,” Lola said, prising the now silent earphones out of her ears.

“Right, right. It was raining,” Harold was nodding but not in a positive way. “Just because it’s raining doesn’t mean you can do what you like. Sorry for stabbing that horse your honour, but it was raining. Sorry for murdering my entire family, but it was raining. Sorry for pushing the red button and wiping out of all humanity but it was raining.”

Lola looked at her feet, and wondered how it had gone wrong again. Harold stopped glaring at her for a moment and stood up. He continued to mutter as he turned his attention to the monitor behind the desk. A large screen took up most of the space with a horizontal slot next to it and a few small buttons.

“Desmond?” Harold voice was suddenly much softer.

Oh god.

The screen lit up from its background dim to reveal the words ‘Destiny Monitoring Device’.

“Hello Harold.” Desmond’s voice was female, soft and warm. The sound of it made Harold put a hand against the wall for support, which wobbled slightly under his weight.

He cleared his throat. “Desmond, can we have the results please?”

The screen changed once more to show Lola getting onto the bus. Time didn’t stop but continued forward. Lola watched and listened as Desmond, in her feminine tones, relayed what happened. “Lola gets on the number 70 bus and returns home. The next day the bus arrives as she’s leaving the house so she gets on. This continues until she takes the bus wherever she goes, whether it is raining or the weather is clement. She never walks anywhere. She puts on weight until she is overweight. Then she is obese. Then she is clinically obese. She eventually becomes depressed and embarrassed by her weight. She has to leave her job. Too embarrassed to go outside, she dies alone in her house at the age of 51. The local council have to get a crane to remove her corpse from the bedroom.” Desmond’s gentle tone gave the description a distinctly ominous feel. When it finished there was a faint whirring sound in the silence that remained.

Harold shouted into it. “Do you want to die alone, Lola? Do you?”

“No,” she said.

“Then don’t get the shitting bus, you imbecile,” Harold said, picking up a pen. “Where’s your book?”

Lola took the book with the word LIFE on the front out of her bag. It was a bit crumpled, which made her feel like even more of a failure. Harold flipped to a new page and uncapped his pen. He scribbled something down with a furious scratch and passed it back.

“Read it,” he said.

“11th May. Don’t get the shitting bus,” she read in a monotone, wishing Harold would fuck off and die.

“OK. Try not to make such a mess or I’ll come and do the fucking job properly for you. How hard can it be getting the life and times of bloody Lola Gallagher right?” Harold pressed Desmond’s button and the conversation was over.

*

Lola was standing outside, looking at the rain gush down from above. She gripped her umbrella as she stared at the covered bus-stop only feet away. Putting the umbrella up she stepped straight in a puddle that soaked her left sock and realised she didn’t understand life at all.

An hour later she reached her front door. It should only have taken 45 minutes but the decision whether or not to take the path through the park or to stop off at the supermarket had caused her significant trouble. Her mother had signed her up for life counselling services last month, but she wasn’t sure it was helping.

Lola sat down on the sofa, thinking this was probably a safe activity, and tried to relax. She considered the book on the coffee table that she was having difficulty getting into, or the pile of work she should probably read, or the TV that was sitting blank and quiet in front of her. Instead she stood up and went to look in the fridge. She was wondering whether cheese and peanut butter was an adequate meal when the doorbell rang. She looked at her watch and a shot of adrenalin punched her in the heart. 6:30pm on a Tuesday could only mean one thing.

Lola ran upstairs to her bedroom. Standing in front of the mirror she tried to make a quick assessment of her face. With no time for major reconstructive surgery she settled for a smear of lipstick, which she immediately wiped off. She pulled her hair back into a clip but then removed it when the doorbell rang again. She dithered for a moment or two more and then went to answer the door.

“Fish?” the man at the door said.

Lola’s heart jumped in her chest and she wondered what to say. Make it good. “Oh, hello,” she said, hoping to sound surprised and nonchalant, if that was even possible.

“Fish?” the man said again and Lola tried not to look at his forearms as he raised the white box of ice up slightly.

“Oh, fish. Well, what kind have you got?” She put a hand on her hip and then removed it instantly.

“Uh, halibut, cod, the rainbow trout’s alright, seabass...”

As the man continued Lola made a decision in her head. I won’t buy any fish. Lola didn’t like fish. She didn’t like the smell, nor the taste or the texture, but the amount of fish in her freezer had reached a critical stage. I won’t buy any more fish.

“So,” the fish-man said, “do you want any fish?”

Lola briefly thought that she should go and get her LIFE book, but then her mind froze.

“God, I love fish,” she said. “I’ll have the lot.”

The fish-man nodded just before the world went dark.

Goddamn it.

*

She opened her eyes and Harold was staring at her, with a look that meant to harm.

“What the fuck? What the shitting fuck? Fish again? Get out the book,” Harold said in apoplectic rage. “Get it out.”

Lola didn’t want to but she couldn’t help but do what she was told. That’s what got her here in the first place. A decision made by her over-bearing mother and now she was stuck in this cubicle, getting life lessons from the angriest man she’d ever met. Life was great. She pulled the book out and put it on the desk.

“Page 3,” Harold said, his voice at a simmering boil.

She turned the pages, knowing what was coming.

“Read it out,” he said. “Nice and loud.”

“Don’t buy any more fucking fish from the mother fucking fish man,” Lola said slowly.

“Do we have to go over this again?” Harold turned. “Desmond.”

The screen brightened. “Hello Harold,” the soft voice said.

Harold reached out a hand towards the screen for a second before dropping his hand. “Show her again, Jan... Desmond,” he said.

The screen changed but Lola didn’t bother looking. She’d heard it before. It always ended up with her fat, dying alone and being winched out of her house as a crowd with gaping mouths watched. She wondered if it wasn’t all inevitable anyway. She might as well eat the Kit-Kat in the bottom of her bag anyway.

As Desmond breathed her way through the scenario of Lola’s lonely death, Lola watched Harold watch the screen with glazed over eyes. He wasn’t paying any more attention than she was, but was just listening to the tone of Desmond’s voice. When the computer stopped, Harold turned slowly to face her, his expression confused for a moment like he’d forgotten where he’d placed something.

“You don’t know how good you’ve got it,” he said, in the most even tone she’d ever heard him use. “Knowing what’s around the corner, being able to stop it. You don’t know how lucky you are...”

Lola didn’t know what to say. “Sorry,” was what came out.

“Sorry? Sorry? Stop being sorry and take control of your life. The fish-man is never going to ask you out. What’s the plan, princess? Wait in your dismal little house and hope he’ll climb up your fucking hair, Rapunzel, with a fish under his arm? No. He’s not going to ask out the weird fucking fish lady who buys enough fish to supply a fucking fish restaurant every month, is he? No. Stop fucking it up.” Harold waved a hand at her in dismissal and she shut her eyes, wondering if she’d ever get it right.

*

Lola was standing outside, looking at the rain gush down from above. She opened the umbrella and stepped out, into a puddle that soaked her left sock. She didn’t walk through the park but walked the long way, fast, pumping her arms with purpose. She stopped at the supermarket and bought green things and carbohydrates that would release their sugars slowly. She chose brown over white and fresh over frozen. By the time she got home it was 7 o’clock and the fish-man had probably been and gone.

Lola put the carrier bags on the kitchen table and sighed. She turned the radio on for some company while she put the shopping away. When she’d finished she looked into the fridge, full of healthy food, and felt sure her life was on track now. She stood there for a while. The amount of food, the number of possible meals she could make, was making it difficult to make a decision.

Should I save the salmon for another day? What if I fancy chicken tomorrow? Do I like broad beans? What does couscous even go with?

A while later Lola sat down to a plate of chicken and couscous, accompanied by the far-off drone of a faceless DJ on the radio. She ate slowly, with a slight smile that was taped to her face. When she finished she washed up her plate, cutlery and frying pan, not letting it sit in the sink like a normal person, and then sat down to watch whatever was on TV. She got up a couple of times to jog on the spot for a minute, before sitting back down.

At 11 o’clock she turned off the TV and stood up. She locked the front door and went up to the bathroom to brush her teeth. She spent an extra minute, carefully brushing away from the gums, and even remembered to floss. Turning the light off in her bedroom and the upstairs hall, she went back downstairs. She plumped up the cushions, shook out the blanket and lay down on the sofa. She closed her eyes and the world went black.

*

“What the fuck are you doing? Watching you manage your life is like watching a dog try and juggle, a fucking retarded dog at that. Why are you sleeping on the sofa, like a fucking drunken hobo?”

“I thought if I slept downstairs then I wouldn’t have to be winched out of the upstairs.” She realised how ridiculous this sounded, but was still pretty happy with the decision.

“What? Sometimes it’s a wonder I haven’t stabbed myself to death with my paperclips. Do you think them dragging your bloated corpse out of the front door is any more of a success, sunshine?”

I don’t know what to do. Lola felt like crying, but then he would have won, LIFE would have won.

Fuck you and fuck Desmond. You’re always telling me I’m wrong but you can’t ever tell me what’s right; which way to turn, what road to take, or what to eat for fucking dinner, because neither you nor your stupid computer with her stupid voice know. You don’t have any more of an idea than I do.

“What am I doing? Who fucking knows? Most of the time I’ll be halfway through the day before I’ve fully realised I managed to make it out of bed, and by then it seems too late to congratulate myself, but at least I’m fucking trying. You, you’re stuck in this building, in this tiny little cubicle talking to a computer, who is using your dead wife’s voice.”

Harold’s shade of purple faded a little, his face frozen.

“Did you think I didn’t know?  I’m not the only one failing at life, am I? OK, so I might not be able to make the right decision most of the time. I admit that forgetting to put underwear on was a particular low point last week, but at least I’m out there, trying. You’ve just given up. I’d rather die fat, winched out of my house, than die in here with you and your depressing memories.”

Harold’s face had dropped and was almost a normal colour. His hands fell to his sides and he sat down heavily in his chair opposite her. He was silent, looking at the floor.

Shit. I’ve broken Harold. “Harold...”

He interrupted her. “Janet and I were only married three months before the accident. I heard her voice first, before I’d even seen her face, and I fell in love with her then.

“She was just driving home from work one evening. It was a Wednesday in June and she decided to go a different way home than normal. I don’t know why. I’ll never know. Someone swerved to avoid a child and behind them Janet drove into a tree. If she hadn’t decided to drive a different way, she’d still be here. Now I only have her voice, even if it is used by a computer called Desmond. It’s fucking better than nothing, isn’t it?”

“I don’t know if it is,” Lola said, sitting down herself. “Perhaps it’s time to stop worrying about other people’s decisions and go and make some mistakes of your own.”

Harold didn’t look up.

“I can’t do this anymore,” Lola said. “I have to just do the best I can, without worrying if that bite of cheese is going to lead to my ultimate doom. Harold? Perhaps you should do the same.”

Harold stood up and turned away. He pressed one hand to the screen and said, “Desmond?”

Lola looked away, closing her eyes.

*

Lola was standing outside, looking at the rain gush down from above. She looked at the umbrella in her hand and then at the covered bus-stop only feet away.

Fuck this. It’s fucking raining.

She ran to the stop and waited under the shelter, hugging herself with a little smile on her face. The bus stopped and she climbed aboard, thinking about what she could do with her evening, the endless possibilities. She walked down the aisle of the bus, but then stopped suddenly next to a seat halfway down.

“Hello Lola,” Harold said, his moustache twitching.

“Hello Harold,” she said. Lola sat down next to him and they both stared straight ahead.

“What are we going to do now?” Lola asked, watching the houses pass by outside.

“Fuck knows,” Harold said.

THE END

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Christie Cluett's Biography

Christie Cluett

Christie writes humorous fiction about odd people in normal situations, which are mainly based on the lovely loons that she calls friends (whether they like it or not) or oddballs that pop into her head and march about like they own the place.

She's co-founder of Stokes Croft Writers and has been short-listed by the Magic Oxygen Literary Prize, Writers' Forum Short Story Competition & published by Mash Stories. She is also one of the regular judges of the ‘To Hull and Back’ Humorous Short Story Competition.

Christie is currently in the final editing stages of her first novel, a humorous literary book about an odd man’s struggle to be normal. In the meantime she's getting the stories in her head onto paper in the form of short stories. You can learn more on Christie's website.

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Winning A Competition With Swearing In Your Story - What Are Your F%&king Chances?

Is your language offensive? Well, it depends who you are talking to, doesn’t it? I wouldn’t drop the c-bomb in front of my mum because her idea of rude is looking up ‘boob’ in the dictionary when she was at school, and well, she’s my mum. I do however tend to use slightly stronger words than boob amongst friends and acquaintances, but I probably wouldn’t if I was trying to impress someone. Then, I would be likely to just keep winking until they got the message.

So if you are trying to make a good impression with a story, i.e. impress judges and win a competition, then should you include swear words? The common sense answer and the one that first jumps to mind is, “Sure, as long as it’s justified,” but from my experience the truth is a little more complicated than that.

Swearing

The Story of a Story

I wrote ‘Decisions, Decisions’ based on the idea of needing a life counsellor and the ‘what if’ of the ability to stop your life as you were about to make a stupid decision. The first draft was a little flat but came alive when I thought more about the counsellor’s personality and motivation. Making him angry at bad decisions and missed opportunities gave the story depth, a satisfying ending and his colourful swearing a funny tilt, or so I thought.

Now, I admit it, I find swearing funny. Not in every context. Not if used in anger, in my face with pointing fingers. Then I’d be likely to just cry. But a good placed swear word can turn many a phrase into something gloriously funny. However, not everyone is of this opinion, as I soon found out.

As with all my stories, once they are in some semblance of readability I’ll turn to my trusty writers’ group for an honest blast of critique. They didn’t disappoint and the results were really interesting.

The first comment was (and I’m paraphrasing), “I didn’t like it. There was far too much swearing and I didn’t get the ending.”

The negative voice in my head was triumphant, suspecting it was shit, however it was soon proved wrong with the next. “I loved it. Don’t change anything.” I got these two critiques one after the other, which is likely why I remember it so well. The rest of the comments lingered somewhere around the positive end of the spectrum, but it was the negative that gave me pause for thought.

Divide & Conquer

Now, I think that a story that can divide people is one that shouldn’t be messed with. I want my writing to evoke emotions and feelings and I’d rather some people loved it and others hated it, than no one had feelings either way. “Meh,” is failure for me.

My advice? Get a group of people around you, who you can trust to give you their honest opinion, an opinion that you respect. Make sure that group is diverse of age, background, taste and writing style so that you receive a range of opinions, which you can listen to or ignore as you choose. However, if they are all saying the same thing, then they are probably right and that sentence/paragraph/character/ending needs rethinking.

Anyway, heartened by the polarising I submitted ‘Decisions, Decisions’ to the Magic Oxygen Short Story Award. Before I did, I read it through again, considered the swearing, but was happy that it was within keeping with the story and it would be a very different beast if I took it out.

I submitted and then I forgot. I like to forget that I’ve even entered competitions, so that my ego isn’t bruised when I don’t hear anything back. So I was surprised and delighted to discover I’d made the short list for Magic Oxygen. Perhaps proof that swearing won’t hinder you in competitions, or perhaps not…

So Close, Yet So Far?

Pleased as punch, I attended the announcement of the Magic Oxygen Award. Now, let’s get the mystery out of the way… I didn’t win. I didn’t come second or third, but I still made the short list.

What can we conclude from this? Not much on its own. There will be many reasons I didn’t win, but ultimately it would have come down to the judges liking other stories better than mine. That’s the name of the game, but after the announcement, talking to some of the judges I got a little bit more insight.

Two of them sought me out to tell me how much they liked my story, a nice nicety, but one said something interesting, along the lines of, “That much swearing did make me think.” The anonymous judge didn’t completely finish their thought and being me, I didn’t ask, but I think I got what she meant. Could you have a winning story that had the potential to offend people? Could you risk having a winning story that represented your competition and you as judge with something as definitively divisive as rampant swearing?

I’m not saying I would have won if there hadn’t been swearing. I’m just saying that it’s possibly something they considered alongside a lot of other factors.

The Final Judgement

Is swearing worth it if you are trying to win a short story competition? This is where the answer likely gets a little annoying: it depends. It depends if you are writing a story specifically for a competition and the only purpose of that story is to win that competition, then I’d say, don’t, as there is a chance that swear words could put off one judge and knock you off that top spot, or not even get you into contention. Just a chance.

If, however, you’ve written a story that includes swearing because it’s integral to character and you are confident it enhances the story, then stick to your guns. You should win a competition with your writing, not what you think a judge wants to read. That’s just what I bloody think anyway.

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Big Thanks To Christie

I'd like to say a big thank you to Christie for sharing her experiences on my blog.

If you found this helpful, you might like my book, 'How to Write a Short Story, Get Published & Make Money'. It contains an entire section on the use of swearing and profanity, using one of my published horror stories as a case study. The competition judge that published the story has also contributed to the book, talking about her feelings on the use of swearing in stories.

If you have had a short story published and would like to share your experiences with my readers, please review my submission guidelines.

How to Write a Short Story book ad

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Comments:

Your comments:

Nick S
Great story, Christie, and well done for getting it shortlisted. I thought it deserved more.

I think you're right about swearing - in life and in stories; it's funny depending on the audience. I once found the c-word hilariously funny when a beggar near a cash machine asked me, softly, and very politely, if I might possibly have some spare change to give him now that I had 'replenished my wallet'. When I said no, he let it rip loudly and explosively, and made me laugh rather than intimidated me. Anyway, it was right for your character.

Whether it's wise to put it in a competition entry, I'm not sure - I must confess I've omitted swearing from stories when entering them for competitions, and have in some cases decided they can manage without it.  I can't imagine Harold without it. In the end you have to stick to your guns and write the story in the best way that suits it.

Christie C
Hi Nick, thanks for the nice words and glad you think it worked for that character.

I agree it's a difficult decision (Decisions Decisions, ha!... sorry), to include swearing for a competition - hence the post, I suppose.

I guess I make the decision on whether I want to change something I like, with swearing in it, to something without just to win a competition.

Warren Y
Should You Use Swearing in Short Stories? That question seems to require the answer - either YES or NO. Personally I don't think a yes means that every writer should necessarily include swearing. And by the same token I don't think a writer necessarily has to exclude swearing - if the character he has created is the type of individual who wallows in that kind of dialogue. But can you imagine Billy Graham for instance actually including profanity in his writing? I can't. I have no hesitation using alternatives for instance, "... that sunburnt son of a rooster stole my car keys..." I think there's ways of getting around it. A good writer can colour a person's character just about any way without using the offensive stuff. And that's good if he can do it! If a writer thinks its necessary to include profanity perhaps he or she will win the acceptance of an editor who himself may use a lot of profanity or on the other hand it might cheeze the guy right off. Best to stick to the good stuff - we sure have a hell of a lot of good alternatives!

Do you remember most of the GOOD old movies had a general code of ethics? Now just about anything goes. The closest we ever came to hearing coarse language erupt in the so-called good old days - even in combat movies, was hell. "That was one hell of a bombardment, Johnny." Aw you can still get around it Chris without spilling the beans all over the place...

Chris Fielden
Hi Warren. I agree with what you’re saying. I think nowadays swearing has become less shocking as people seem to be exposed to it more. Maybe it’s more socially acceptable? I don’t know really.

Personally, I only use profanity in stories where I think it’s appropriate to build character. Having a coarse, intimidating character use words like ‘blimey’ and ‘heck’ could detract from the realism of the situation and test the reader’s suspension of disbelief. That’s where I draw the line – if taking the swearing out detracts from the story, I leave it in, and have had many stories published by doing so. But I think it’s a very subjective subject matter, so it really does depend on the individual. I guess we can’t hope to please everyone with the stories we create, so we should stay true to them and write what seems natural.

Christie C
Hi Warren & Chris,

Perhaps I'm too hardened to effing and jeffing...

I think this is the only one of my stories where I\'ve used swearing and so completely agree there are ways to colour a character with dialogue, which is one of my favourite things to play around with. I've found thinking about whether swearing is ever necessary really interesting.

The conversation continues :)

Gordon W
I loved the story idea but the swearing adds nothing to it. I'm the last person to criticise swearing - even my kids tell me I do it a lot - but it does detract from the story. You could have used more sarcasm instead of the expletives and, if used well, it could have added something to Harold's sense of frustration: how much angrier would he have been if he couldn't resort to swearing? In this story the swearing looks like an easier, lazier option.

They don't swear in East Enders but manage to convey what they mean by using language in a smarter and more inventive way. Clive James - who is as articulate as they come - said that there are times when only swearing will do. I agree with him - but that's in real life, not in stories.

Ask yourself if anything in a story is really necessary - adjectives, adverbs, exposition, exclamation marks, long intros, explanations, epilogues - as well as swearing. I've read many stories, and written a few, that would be better off without them. Editing is more important than writing and you're quite right that we can't easily see our own shortcomings, which is why writing groups can be so helpful.

Try re-writing your story with ALL the swearing removed, then see how you can make it work without it. My guess is that this will improve it. It might even improve your chances with the judges.

Christie C
Hi Gordon, thanks for taking the time to read the story and comment.

I take your point that it's not a matter of whether you are offended by swearing or not, but more whether it detracts from the story. I stick by my use of it in this story but think it would be an interesting exercise to take it out and rewrite to get across the same level of anger but also the humour I was going for. I'm all for a writing exercises and making improvements!

I'm also all for a good edit and am not a fan of baggy stories either. 

Margaret M
Dear Chris, thank you for all your info; always excellent.

Elderberry gin is an excellent painkiller.  I recently fell sideways on the toilet.

Before the gin this was.  Excellent story by Christie.

Chris Fielden
Thanks Margaret, glad to hear you liked it.

Enjoy the medicinal gin :-)

Warren Y
Dear Chris & Christie:

I have often thought of the use of foul dialogue in writing and whether it's really necessary to the success of a piece or not. I personally don't think it is. Mark Twain (Samuel Clemmens) was noted for spilling the odd bit of profanity verbally here and there - but he never used it in Tom Sawyer and that was one of the most delightful books as a lad that I ever read. If he did use it, it's not among his most respected & treasured pieces of his work. Maud Montgomery wrote Ann Of Green Gables and there was no profanity there either.  General Eisenhower wrote extensively of his war experiences and  it was a pleasure to read what he had to say - without profanity. Like him, I've heard it all - in Box Car Letters! There are so many words in the english language that there are tons of alternatives... Moshe Dianne wrote about the six day war - no profanity there. There are just so many great authors of classical books who've produced master pieces in literature - without finding it necessary to employ profanity. Winston Churchill; Zane Grey; Will Rogers even some of the rough old boys bit their tongues...

Just think of America's best. Have you ever listened to the whole melody of taps? Listen to Donna Reldy's rendition of Taps. If that doesn't remind us of one of the richest heritages we North Americans can be thankful for, then something really is missing since we turned the last page. Think of all the young men and women who gave their lives for what most of 'em believed America was worth dying for...

Chris Fielden
Hi Warren, I agree with you, it is easy to write without using profanity. I certainly wouldn't use it in children's or family books/films as it's not appropriate to that market. If a writer enjoys and excels at writing without the use of any strong language, then they should do so. It's probably the safest, most widely accepted answer, as it can be written for any age group and stories aimed at families will always be popular because they can be shared with anyone. People who enjoy stories that use profanity are also likely to enjoy stories that don't. The same can't always be said the other way around.

There is another side to that argument though. I could list many books that do use profanity and have been very well received. Look at 50 Shades of Grey as a recent example (not my cup of tea, but you can't ignore how successful it was). Given the subject matter and market, the use of profanity was appropriate for the audience. The films of Quentin Tarantino are hugely successful - his use of language is extreme, but it pushes boundaries and gives him an original and identifiable voice. Game of Thrones, possibly the most successful TV programme of all time, uses lots of profanity. It isn't gratuitous - it fits with the characters and situations, adding realism to the story.

As a writer you have to understand the different markets out there and write for them. As a reader, you have to read things that appeal to you, but understand that other people might have different tastes and enjoy different things. As with anything creative, liking or disliking it is subjective.

My advice to any writer would be; find a voice that's unique and suits you and your audience. Don't hope to please everyone - it's impossible. Then stay true to your voice and write excellent stories. If strong language fits with your style and adds realism to your story and characters, use it, but accept that it is likely to put some readers, judges, editors off your work (this is where market research comes in - don't submit to publications that don't use swearing if you use it in your stories). If you don't need profanity in your stories and it's not appropriate for your target market, don't use it.

Warren Y
Dear Chris. So could I - list many books that DO use profanity. By that I don't mean to set myself up as some sort of snow white judge on righteous street. There was a time when I cursed my enemies and damned their faults etc. But regardless of the current character of the publisher - I feel we shall go on minimizing the nobler character of our nation (s) if we continue to adopt as individuals an absence of responsible behaviour in our fiction and non fiction writings; in journalism; audible dialogue; our personal behaviour, our politics etc. If we fail to keep it clean, just and positive, I think we shall all be the losers in the end...

I understand why some writers have no hesitation using profane language - their audience accepts it as normal every day dialogue because to the reader it adds realism. But even when I used a little profanity verbally, I still appreciated reading dialogue and learning about issues that left all the crap out of the text entirely. I still find it difficult sometimes neglecting old (border line) western expressions like "Why that old scorpion is tighter than a bull's rear in fly time..." or " She looks like the front end of a Jeep with a winch on it!" So much for that - Heh! But I never use the hard stuff because it really isn't necessary in the sort of things I love to write about. Even war stories don't need to employ it. If you explain it right, war IS Hell! But so is LIFE if we make negative choices. Neglect our people and especially our children without setting a more honourable example and somebody always loses.

I enjoy writing about fishing and hunting and studies on wild life in the wilderness lakes and rivers of North America. Then there's how-to articles on subjects like taxidermy & carving native fish species; pet dogs and some human interest pieces.

Any way it's an interesting discussion. But I'll stick with the good stuff - thanks Chris.

Chris Fielden
Hi Warren. I’d never thought of it like that before – having a responsibility to keep things clean and positive. An interesting perspective to contemplate.

You’re never too old to learn and that’s what I love about running a blog – getting to liaise and discuss things like this with people situated all over the planet. Thank you for your time and input.

Kit G
Hi Chris. Every now and then I get the chance to come onto your site and read what's been written. You have yet to disappoint in your discussions with people. You bring a smile to my face without even trying, for that I thank you.

As for swearing in books, some need them, some don't. If they do and it builds character, I don't think you need to go overboard, if they don't, no sweat. How boring  life would be if we didn't have a kaleidoscope of colourful and wonderful words to use and/or write down, whether they be soft and gentle or harsh and vulgar. Each to their own when it comes to reading material, from Will Shakespeare to Charles Dickens, from Roald Dahl to J.K Rowling etc, etc.... Life would be very boring if we were all bland, the same can be said for the written word.

Carry on blogging Chris, it's a joy to read. Take care X

Chris Fielden
Thanks, Kit - it's always nice to hear that someone is enjoying the site.

I agree with you - if we were all the same, with the same tastes, life would be very, very boring indeed. Who would we argue with? :-)

Personally, I like the odd flourish of colourful language, but I guess we all need to respect that it doesn't suit everyone.

Donna F
Hi Christie, I loved your story. It had me rolling around in fits of laughter.  Just so you know I'm a big fan of swearing in the right place and time.  Swearing is part of life.  Like going to the toilet. We all do it, so why write something and leave it out if we know it'll make all the difference to our character?  None of us are pure souls, so why pretend? Thanks for the great laugh.

By the way, this is a fantastic Web Site!  Haha sorry Chris used an exclamation mark.  But honestly I've sat all morning reading all your articles.  A real gift to any writer. So thank you, thank you.

Chris Fielden
No problem, Donna, I'll forgive the exclamation mark :-)

Glad to hear you like the site.