Thursday, March 25, 2010

Changing Sh*t Into Sugar…

In case you haven't noticed, I'm a writer. As such, I belong to several writing organizations. Occasionally, some of these groups have contests. Once in a while (and for tax purposes) I enter them. I don't ever expect to win. There are a lot of people out there who spend hours, days, sometimes, crafting the subtle nuances in a paragraph. Not me. I'm more of a "What you see is what you get," kind of a girl. When it comes to me bleeding on the page, I write directly from the gut. I know I'm not creating great literature that will be utilized in the educational curriculum to mold the minds of young scholars for ages to come; but my stories have interesting and flawed characters that people identify with and want to follow their exploits. But I also believe in being true to the characters I create. In that vein my characters, like people in real life, occasionally use language that conservative readers consider to be very bad words. Words like "F*ck."

(Note: I have been trying to change the spelling of certain words on my blog so the People Who Run The Internet don't mistakenly flag my site as porn. I do, however, do it in such a way that you still know what word it is I'm writing.)

Now, I personally believe that there are much more damaging words in the English language then f*ck. The "N" word, to me, is way more damaging to our society then f*ck. In fact, any ethnic, racial, or sexually oriented word or slang word aimed at a person in an attempt to demean or disenfranchise them are very bad words. Conversely, I also do not believe in censorship. So if a person makes a statement about how they do not like or appreciate a (fill in hurtful very bad word here to indicate a specific group of people), although I do not agree with what they say, I believe in their right to say it. And besides, allowing everyone freedom of speech also helps us identify individuals in society that we might want to avoid. Or at least not friend them on Facebook.

So, here is the deal; I want to enter my novel into a contest. You are required to submit the first three chapters. However, in reading the rules and regulations of this contest, I ran across the following qualifier:

Submissions that do not follow the guidelines or are in poor taste (pornography and profanity) will be disqualified and the entry fee forfeited.

Now, as I said earlier, my characters tend to swear a bit. In fact, I went thought the first three chapters and noted use of the following words;

Crap- once (and before you hurt yourself with an eyeroll, understand that I live in an ultra conservative state where a large portion of the population do not watch "R" rated movies. I'm not talking "NC-17" here, I'm talking "R".)

Bo*bs- twice. (See above statement)

"Damn"- once.

"Sh*t"-is articulated on three occasions.

And of course the mother of all swearwords, "F*ck", is utilized in the dialogue six times. Six. That equates to twice a chapter.

Now, don't think of an elephant.

Haha, you just pictured one, didn't you? So, should I be true to my characters and submit my entry, knowing that as soon as someone encounters that first F*ck, they'll bounce my entry, keep my fee, and I'll be secretly blackballed from any further contests sponsored by this group? Or, should I stifle my voice, change "Sh*t" into "Sugar" and "F*ck" into "Fudge" knowing that each time the reader judge runs across those words they'll know, subconsciously, what I meant to say? (Don't think of an elephant.)

My other choice, besides not entering, which I feel denies me my right as a dues paying member who was not required to adhere to any particular set of guidelines upon joining, (unlike, say, a well known organization that disallows girls, gays, and atheists,) is to enter it as is, get bounced, sue them for denying me my rights protected under the First Amendment, and end up wallowing in a court system that is already overburdened by frivolous lawsuits because we live in a litigious society just so I can make a point?

I'm thinkin', "F*ck that."


McB said...

in reading the rules and regulations of this contest, I ran across the following qualifier:

Submissions that do not follow the guidelines or are in poor taste (pornography and profanity) will be disqualified and the entry fee forfeited.

So they get to decide if your entry is porn or profane, even if you don't consider it so? Babe, do something else with that entry fee.

me said...

Well, what one person thinks is "poor taste" is another person's tasty. I truly believe swearing can be done and not be in poor taste. (Things like F this, F that MOFO, c*nt, etc, swearing for shock value alone, could be poor taste as opposed to a character genuinely reacting to something with a well-placed "f*ck." {Hmmm, that sounds funny.} And I don't even think boobs or crap count anymore.) I swear loud and often, so do some of the characters I write. I say, don't change your style for the sake of one group: you can't please everyone. If you change it to sugar, someone will yell at you for being a wimp. If they are against ALL profanity, I'm thinking this is not the contest for you and you need to find a group that's not so straightlaced. If you're still undecided, ask yourself this: Is the fee little enough that you can afford to forfeit it when they all have strokes upon reading your entry if in fact they do consider your entry "poor taste"?

GatorPerson said...

I'd email the person in charge. Your characters are using words that reflect their personalities. Explain that to them. If the person in charge won't bend, then follow McB's advice.

Diane (TT) said...

Lisa, I don't know how much it would violate your characters to alter their reactions. I think "boobs" and "crap" are ugly words, but not profane.

F*ck and sh*t are definitely profane - do you think that the contest people would find "hell" or "damn" equally disqualifying? Would those satisfy your characters' urge for strong language?

I do NOT think that you should switch to "sugar" and "fudge" unless you can come up with some sort of character motivation why they are trying to keep their own language clean. There are strong exclamations ("blast") that aren't profane, but only you can decide if they are in character.

They may be protecting themselves against the truly vulgar and will not disqualify you for the use of some profanity in dialogue. Or you may be wasting your entry fee - perhaps you could email and ask.

Or you could write a different story about puppies and kittens and tidy spring flowers that would not offend.

Lisa Deon said...

Diane (TT),

in the second book the male lead tries to convince the female lead to substitute "Fudge" for "F*ck" because they are going to have children and she should clean it up a bit, which becomes an issue
in a candy shop, since (she has aquired brain damage) she truly substitutes the words.

Lisa Deon said...

Also, in the first book ( the one I am considering entering) there is a scene where the heroine, who suffers from aphasia due to her ABI, and often times utilized incorrect words, is ranting at another person and her diologue is peppered with swear words. One of the characters mentions that it's odd how she forgets the correct word for some things but she always remembers the swear words.

orangehands said...

SD: Ok, please don't substitute them to "fudge" and "sugar", as that seems to totally violate what sounds like really interesting characters. (Really interesting - when do these books hit bookstores?)

This is actually a situation YA authors find themselves in all the time. Some of them have publishers who give the go ahead, some who say no so authors violate their own story (though at times they can change them without violating story), and there's been at least one case that - because her character spoke Spanish - only swore in Spanish, though the reader got the gist.

But yep, listen to MCB and GP. Or you could send in the chapters that discuss how the heroine needs to stop swearing, though that probably means kissing your entry fee goodbye. But still, you could argue you're addressing the problem of profanity. ;)

Anonymous said...

Girl, I keep telling you: You are writing mainstream fiction. I know nothing of contests. You have to decide if you are sticking to the profanity because it is true to your characters or because it is true to you. I like the arguments between the woman and her husband because that's a real child-rearing issue. Cussing, courtesy, interpersonal behaviors of all kinds, are worth tackling in your work.

What's the payoff if you win the contest, anyway?

michelleblackler said...

Present day vernacular is full of colorful words. Deliberately spell them wrong: fulk and shet or tell the self righteous philistines to rot in hell for their censorship. People can decide whether they are offended or not, by writing impressively worded letters to the editor after your spicy, variegated prose inspires them to talk, just as this blog has.

I think swearing denotes a lack of word mastery and intelligence, but I can also let rip like a sailor. It is a choice. Make your choice to stay true to yourself and your characters. Truth is always the answer.

You fulking rock, g-friend!

Lisa Deon said...

OH:(Really interesting - when do these books hit bookstores?)

In my fantasies? Next week, and they will both immediatly be in the NYT best seller list, with a bullet. Then, (after aquiring a GIANT sized bottle of Valium) You, dear OH, get to fly me around the country in the helicopter I buy for you out of my instant riches (because I've also sold the movie rights for seventy jillion dollars, with a big fat "Nanny Nanny Boo Boo" in Dan Brown's face) so I can appear at all my various book signings and promotional appearances.

Then I build a "real" CB Bar and Grill. Right next to Nora's B&B.

In the real world? Still working on that "Get an Agent" thing.

Lisa Deon said...


$20 to enter for members, probably a check and a certificate to winners, but as with any contest it's the bragging rights (Winner of the "Hunky Dory Novel writers contest" right there in your query letter along with your other credentials) that gives the contest longer legs then just a cash payout at the end. The cash payout just goes into the Financials showing the IRS that you are, indeed, trying to do this as a "Business" as opposed to a "Hobby."

BCB said...

Okay, a couple things. You say you occasionally enter contests but don't ever expect to win (an attitude for which I will beat you over the head later). So what's the big deal? Is there any difference between "not winning" and "being disqualified?" [Yes, of course there is. I'm playing devil's advocate here.] But in terms of money invested v. expected return, there is no difference.

No, you absolutely should NOT change anything in your work based on contest rules. Whether it be swearing or anything else. You have a responsibility to tell the story and portray the characters in a way that rings true to you. Period. Sheesh. You know that.

If this contest doesn't fit what you write, find another one. There are GOBS of them. No one is censoring you. No one is infringing on your right to write whatever the hell you want to write. There are contests that ask for entries showing the first kiss or the hottest scene. Some books just don't have scenes like that. No one would suggest the author add those things in order to qualify for a contest. It's not censorship. Sorry, it's just not. Not even if you're a member of the group sponsoring the contest.

What I do object to is the wording of the contest rules and the statement that pornography and profanity are "in poor taste." It's one thing to allow/disallow certain types of entries in a contest, it's quite another to assign a value judgment to them. Whoever is running the contest would be well-advised to re-word their rules to simply disallow pornography and profanity. And leave off the qualifier. Issuing an official blanket judgment like that about something that is wholly subjective and relies heavily on context really is fucking poor taste. JMO.

Lisa Deon said...

The two things that bother me the most about the entire situation is this:

When I joined, and paid my dues, I was not advised that this was a writers association only for people who wrote G or PG rated material. Had I known that in advance I would have passed. However, I have been blessed with not only meeting my Crit group, who do not adhere to such strident standards, but also my friend who introduced me to the local RWA group.

The second thing is exactly what you touched on. The subjective nature of the qualifier; exactly who is responsible for determning what constitutes pornographic or profane. As Michelle earlier pointed out,"Present day vernacular is full of colorful words." Even my 79 year old mother says F*uck on occasion.

orangehands said...

Sounds good. Sign me up. :) (Though if my fantasies come true first I may be a little too busy living on my island with its own huge library to fly you around; I promise to visit though.)

It's up to you to decide what you want to get out of this. Do you think the feedback will be helpful? Do you think you have a chance (do they mean no profanity or a certain level of profanity)? Do you want to make a fuss about the rules they assigned? (You won't be winning a censorship argument, I echo BCB's thought on that, but you can bring up issues about how the group when you signed up is not sticking to the same criteria they want for the contest. You won't win that either, groups are allowed to change the rules, but you can air your grievances.) Do you just want to go out there and win (no ifs!) contests? In that case you may want to pass on this one.

Decide how much time, money, and effort you want to go through for this contest you may be disqualified from that you therefore can't spend on a contest you definitely won't be disqualified from.

McB said...

Bad taste is very subjective. However, as a famous CB once said, even a dog knows the difference between being deliberately kicked and being accidentally stepped on.

Dreaming said...

What a dilemma...well, maybe not. I say that your characters will lose everything that makes them 'real' if you change their language. The language is a part of who they are.
So, maybe this contest isn't for that particular piece.
For all that you do and share, I'd like to award you the 'Beautiful Blogger' award.
The award is posted on my blog at: