CW – Swearing (Obvs)
Today I’m throwing together the subjects of picking font styles and using swears in literature. I know they don’t immediately spring to mind as common subjects to be discussed side-by-side but, what the hell. I’m going to do it anyway.
Your choice of font can have a significant impact on whether some people can read your book, fact. If you choose to present your fantasy stories on the page in a florid, cursive font your are essentially ensuring that people with visual impairments or dyslexia cannot read your work. I grew up alongside dyslexia, my brother spent his formative years in trouble at school, accused of being ‘lazy’ or ‘stupid’ until he was diagnosed with dyslexia. He went on to study aerospace design in college. My partner has dyslexia, they are a business opportunities analyst in aerospace and defence. Dyslexia isn’t a measure of intelligence, it’s a condition that affects how the brain interprets written text or numbers.
Whether a reader has dyslexia or a visual impairment there are ways to help them access your work without going to the lengths of having an audio-book recorded (although, if you can, you should.) Many people who fall into these categories struggle with small or Serif fonts, that is fonts with little kicks and flairs. Times New Roman is actually a Serif font and an industry standard but it’s the easiest for those who have trouble reading to interpret, but it’s not the easiest. Sans serif fonts are easier for people with dyslexia to interpret, I used Helvetica/Calibri (one font, two names) when I set up the Camelot Trilogy. The lack of any flairs and the spacing of the characters makes for a much more comfortable reading experience. You can also download fonts designed for the purpose, Dyslexie is a new font designed to help people with dyslexia.
Sans Serif fonts might lend themselves more toward Sci-Fi stories, you might want your book to look like a fantasy as well as to read as one, but using fonts that exclude swathes of the readership hurts you as the author more than it hurts them. Also it is Ableism, and ableism is a form of prejudice and prejudice is bullshit.
So on that uneasy segue, swearing, expletives, f-bombs and more.
I swear, I write swears in my books sometimes, bad language is a part of our world and has been since the birth of language. Therefore it’s part of the myriad imagined worlds of authors throughout the ages, however there are some unconscious conventions I would like to bring into the light and some opinions I would like to offer.
There are articles and memes aplenty on how people with higher intelligence have been found to swear more, however that needn’t apply in literature. When you have time to craft your dialogue and put your meaning across with carefully chosen prose excessive swearing is neither big, nor clever. Swears should be used for emphasis, or when appropriate. Sometimes the character you’re writing comes from a background where they might swear excessively, then it becomes appropriate, it’s part of the character. It’s also dialogue, don’t swear in the descriptive or narrative prose.
Use setting appropriate swears. Now, while historical settings might allow for insults like ‘Whore-son’ or ‘Bastard’, ‘Cooze’ or similar, gender-specific derogatories are falling out of favour as well they should. When writing in fantasy there is the wonderful opportunity to use Oaths (‘By my life, I shall end yours!’) or older language (such as can be found here, courtesy of MentalFloss). Science Fiction gives you free reign to create your own, “Frack” was popular in Battlestar Galactica, “Frell” and “Yotz” in Farscape. The point is that, using someone’s genitalia as a basis for slurs and slanders is unimaginative and outdated. One of my personal favourites, an insult I’ve used to describe many an uncooperative colleague over the years, is “Blue-blazing Fuck-muppet”.
Something to realize about the conventions of swearing is the gender-inequality between some words. Penis related swears like ‘dick’, ‘cock’, and ‘balls’ are seen as much more casual, lesser swears than their vagina-related counterparts like ‘cunt’ and ‘twat’ (although twat is fast falling down the list in terms of severity in my experience). Especially in fiction there is an opportunity to address this, either ‘dick’ and ‘cunt’ get levelled off in terms of offensiveness or you invent new ways for characters to slander or challenge each other. ‘Fascist’ is a good start, if you want to refer to a characters obsession with wealth to the exclusion of the well-being of others and their inherent sense of unearned privilege, I’d suggest ‘Tory’ but that’s just me.
It’s high time to step away from swears and insults based upon, gender, race, sexual persuasion, ability or body-shape. Personally I think it’s important that we, as writers, try to be creative in all areas of our process. Expletives and insults come into play when the emotions in our books run the highest or when we’re angling for a laugh. These are the sections our readers remember and it fall to us to help society step away from judging others by the contents of their underwear and start looking more closely at the content of their character.