The Motherf*cking Contextual Appropriateness of Swearing And More In Narrative


If somebody hit you in the head with a pink ball and you had an ant eater snout for a mouth with two crazy feet and orange skin, you'd probably cuss like a sailor too.

Welcome back, readership. I know we’ve been quiet over the past week or so, but Mr. Oliver here has been very very under the weather and not feeling well at all. I am feeling better than I was, at least enough to make a post, so here I am. And that foul-mouthed son of a bitch up top there is going to help me.

Oh I’m sorry, did I offend you with that swearing? Too bad, because that’s what this post is about today. If you can’t handle actual mature discussion on the topic of swearing within a story, I suggest you stop reading this post now. If you’re grown-up and can handle it, then continue on!

This would be your spoiler alert (I will dance around the plot as much as possible here, but there are some things I need to speak about so it makes sense for you).

Although this was expected, quite a few people were actually NOT offended by the amount of swearing in Rabbit in the Road, save for a small, angry little minority. Truth be told, there’s actually not a lot of swearing in the book… until you get to the second to the last chapter, and that is pretty much contained at the beginning of it. Oh, and it’s a lot of it. Let me say that again for emphasis.

That chapter has a LOT OF FUCKING CUSSING. 

So, the next logical question would be, “Well, why is it there, and is it appropriate for the narrative?”

The answer to your question would be, “Yes, it’s appropriate.” Let me tell you why.

The book itself is written from the perspectives of 3 different characters. The first 6 chapters are written from the perspective of one person, the 7th chapter (the profane filled one in question) from another, and the final chapter written from the perspective of a journalist. Needless to say, even the main character (whom the first 6 chapters follow) does her share of swearing, but most of it is internalized and not actually spoken verbally. Sure, she has her line every now and again but it’s mostly few and far between.

The character perspective shift in Chapter 7 deals with the idea of a person who is trapped inside themselves, not unlike a coma where it has been well documented that people are still very much conscious during it. Needless to say, the circumstances are much more dire, ugly, and personal. In a sentence, they’re pissed the fuck off and the chapter opens up with their profane filled internal rant about the situation.

Now, what’s REALLY going to bake your noodle… is that I wasn’t the one who wrote that. Danika did. In fact, I had to make her REEL IT IN some, because the message of the situation was getting lost. She sat down and wrote that section, I looked it over and made changes to make sure it flowed correctly into our crescendo, and then approved it. I’m pleased with the work, and I won’t be changing it to suit someone else’s tastes.

So, let’s bring it around to the root of the matter. Why was it contextually appropriate? Because the character was PISSED THE FUCK OFF. The character was angry, and ultimately trapped with no escape. The story is very much a game of chess, and this character had been placed in the ultimate checkmate scenario. Except the difference was that it wasn’t a game, this was life and the character just lost. Badly.

Dealing with swearing in narrative isn’t a tricky situation as people want to make it out to be, especially if you’re writing realistic characters with realistic (and often times, STRANGE) motivations. Early on when we were writing the book, we went through a few different character behaviors, to which Danika said, “Well, this part here doesn’t make sense to me, I would never do that.” My response to that was, “It doesn’t have to make sense to you and your logic. These people, these characters, are not us. I would NEVER do any of the things that the characters in this story do. But to THEM, it makes complete sense. That is where story comes from… not about the things that you would do yourself, but whether or not you can believe that someone ELSE would do those things.” That was when it clicked over for her, fully.

Context is king in all things in fiction. Whether or not a particular course of action is believable in regards to the circumstances surrounding it. Even then, behavior can be contextually INAPPROPRIATE and still fit within a narrative. Take for example, the actions of a mentally deranged or disturbed character; their actions are almost never contextually appropriate. But why do we allow this to happen within a story? Because it is BELIEVABLE. Crazy people do weird shit. So what does that mean? Brace for your mindfuck.

The contextual inappropriateness of a character can in fact, be CONTEXTUALLY APPROPRIATE. 

So what does it all mean? It means that so long as it correctly serves the aim of the story and is not wish fulfillment or gross amounts of fan service, it’s probably okay.

Sometimes, the contextual inappropriateness of a situation and the reactions to it are the POINT. If you’ve ever seen Mr. Show with Bob and David, you might be familiar with the character Pit Pat and Ding Dong Burger. Rather than tell you, I’ll just show you. Click the image below.

With the price of beef going through the fucking roof? That's a deal!

As you can see here, the joke is that their response is NOT appropriate to the services being provided, or the situation. This is what made it funny. If the characters in the skit were not reacting that way, it would actually be very boring and people would say, “Okay, what exactly was the point of this?”

One thing that you’re going to have to learn, is one of the dark ugly truths that no one has bothered to tell you until now:

The world is a fucked-up, dark scary place overall. There’s a few good parts here and there, but for the most part? It’s a giant clusterfuck. Truly, civilized society is hardly civil at all. 

Context rules everything, even out here in the real world. Here’s a fun fact for you, in case you didn’t know. Did you know that the killing of a human being in a violent fit of rage, isn’t always murder? Sometimes, it’s manslaughter. Ultimately, someone has to make the call on whether or not that particular course of action  was appropriate “if it would cause a reasonable person to lose self-control.”  Just because a person kills another person, doesn’t make them a murderer. You see, murder requires two things: Malice and Intent.

With that being said, swearing doesn’t make something a bad read, nor does a lot of violence make it a bad, either. Now, if you can’t handle that, that’s too bad for you. But many times, these two things are reasonable and appropriate given the circumstances within a given work.

Now, as I wrap things up, allow me to wreck your childhood instantly with this thought:

With what we’ve learned today, you should realize this: Mr. Rogers, given the correct circumstances, would probably blow your fucking brains out of your head. Everyone has a trigger for actions, some just have more triggers than others. And before you go “NUH-UH!” and clap your hands over your ears and refuse to believe it, think about this: What if someone were trying to seriously hurt a child and he was the only one there who could try to stop them? I bet he’d call them some really not nice names while he was curb-stomping the shit out of them, too.

Behind that smile lies a potential motherfucking killer.

Enough fucking said.

In closing, sometimes you’re going to have to deal with that in order to enjoy a good story. Does every story need it? Of course not. Take for example, there is going to be fairly light violence and light swearing in the next novella we’re working on. As for our fantasy series? A hefty amount of violence and almost no swearing at all. It all depends on the circumstances surrounding your material on whether those things are appropriate or not.

~Oliver

P.S. If you didn’t realize it, the majority of the goddamn swearing contained within this post was for the sake of sarcasm. Most of it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s