About Me

My Photo
"New futures from old horizons." Author of off-kilter sci fi/fantasy books. Fond of apocalyptic and fantastical things. Known for phuquerie. I bite. On Amazon.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Losing My Virginity: The Ultimate Missed It Review

Hello hello!

Today, I'm not going to pretend I'm even a little bit objective. This post is about finally seeing The Empire Strikes Back. 

Yes, that one.

Yes, really. I'd never seen it before. Oh, I watched A New Hope when I was, like, four? And I watched that and Return of the Jedi so often, RoTJ's VCR copy started to wear out and the protector thingy at the end fell off. I knew enough about the story to follow along, so it was fine. But Empire just never happened. I was scared of it as a kid, of the scary images and its violence and intensity, and while it's mild by modern standards, it was much more intimidating to my fragile childhood self. I was easily scared--more on that in another post.

Then, when I was ten, The Phantom Menace came out. I bought illustrated encyclopaedias of Star Wars characters from the extended universe and droids from the universe, and flipped through everything from game guides to visual dictionaries, soaking up the rich details. I saw the movie, and since I was ten and didn't understand racism yet, it rocked my world. (And really, everything except the horrible, horrible racism in those movies is awesome. The graphics are gorgeous, Qui Gon instantly reminded me of my dad, the person who got me into Star Wars...and Darth Maul was scary enough to live up to Vader's legacy. At least, to my ten-year-old self.)

The next two movies weren't as good, although Attack of the Clones definitely left an impact on my growing pubescent self--especially Natalie Portman's beauty and steadiness, whatever her character's flaws.

Even the third movie, as awful and frustrating and dark as it was, couldn't destroy my love of Star Wars and the universe. I actually own not only a mint box version of The Queen's Amulet, a goofy fluff piece about Amidala and her guards, I tracked down a bone carver to make a japor snippet for me. I found a scrap of ombre orange velvet during some fabric scavenging and kept it just because it looked like the handmaiden gowns. So, yeah. Star Wars has serious issues the prequels especially, but my love for it is instinctive and deep to this day, enough to make me buy things and lose my mind over the sequel in December.



(you can get really great, well-made japor snippets from 
this seller, by the way.)


And all of that...without having seen Empire. 

So--I won't pretend to provide analysis, because I can't. Watching it at last, after my friends nagged me for years and it had become a running joke, was like losing my virginity. I mean that in a really good way.

Visuals: 


I knew about the big scenes, but that didn't prepare me for the wonder of seeing it for the first time. From seeing all the robots I'd only glimpsed in a handbook to the magnificence of Darth Vader stomping around to the Imperial March, to the sheer gorgeous detail of the practical effects in Hoth's battles, it was a feast. The movie was shockingly pretty and stood the test of time REALLY well, mostly due to the puppets and simple effects. The delicate foreshadowing, the beauty of the Cloud City and Dagobah...people don't talk about the fact that the camera work is as stunning as the writing and sets are, but the way shots are framed and the colour composition really stands the test of time. The use of colour, of white for deception and shadows for truth, is really stunning, even now. The Big Lightsaber Fight really stands the test of time, too, and made my heart clench and stomach churn with vertigo even though I'd seen the making-of shots. 

Characters/Acting:

The unadulterated feminist/little girl synergistic squee of watching Leia be useful and also give Han Solo serious shit was overwhelming. I did not expect her to out-cool Han Solo, but, well, she did. Seeing Lando before he could be a hero, especially knowing he'd be redeemed later, was pretty compelling. Another thing about it was the pleasure of seeing young farmboy Luke (who I had a crush on as a pre-teen, I don't mind admitting) really struggle and change. I had only seen him in ANH and RoTJ--and in RoTJ, he's calm, collected, strong of will and at peace. The middle phase was another matter, and watching his development while Leia and Han struggled to work together provided a lot of wonderful tension. The grief in The Scene--"I AM YOUR FATHER" was still pretty moving, and the literal and figurative fall after was hard to watch. It was gutting, in fact.

Lando was another surprise--I knew he'd become a hero, and seeing him fail and struggle in this film was pretty amazing, the rare case of a journey that works even out of order. Vader is what can only be described as OG, a magnificent black spectre of looming failure and defeat who haunts the protags at every turn. Every actor is on point in this film, and every character's decisions and choices matter. Let it sink in.

Plot: 


Okay, this is the one area where I have a nitpick. The whole thing with Jabba having a hit out on Han, but Vader going LOL DIBS *freezie pop* for some reason, was a bit confusing. I had to ask my partner what was going on there, and he said the Emperor wanted to stay on Jabba's good side and deliver Solo...again, I'd seen both ANH and RoTJ MANY times, but that was confusing. That said, a Cracked author mentioned that they didn't understand "how Vader knew Luke was his son", but we SEE the Emperor go "yo, Vader, Anakin Skywalker's son Luke is running around", so I'm not sure how that was a "plot hole".

That being said, having the context of the prequels and sequel (and sure, the old extended universe) really enriched the interactions. Yoda and Obi Wan discussing Luke's impetuousness, Luke's transition from derpy farm boy to calm sage in the making, Han and Leia's cracking chemistry...all of the little details added up, and would add up, and it was amazing to see how this one film has pretty much defined Star Wars more than any other.

Still, with all those nuances, there's a LOT going on in this movie, and it's more packed and faster paced than the first and third, so it's not something you can slack off while watching. There are a lot of twists and turns, and it's a rewarding, unpredictable watch.


Final Verdict: 

How do you even rate a masterpiece? Sometimes a movie is so good, you don't know what to say about it. I should have been prepared for this. I still wasn't. The Empire Strikes Back is every bit as beautiful and devastating as when it was first released. I do have that Star Wars nostalgia prejudicing me, but I also have fairly fresh eyes. The classic scenes still stand up, are more moving in context and cannot lose their impact even with a thousand quotes. "Luminous beings are we--not this crude matter."

And if you'll excuse me, I need to go cry with happiness now.


***
Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Leave your comments, rebuttals, and vehement agreements below. Don't miss any of the phuquerie--get on the mailing list. Find Michelle on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr, and find her work on Amazon. Check back on the blog to see when one of the irregular posts has careened onto your feed. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out! 

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Trigger Warning: A Dissection and Confession, Part 1

Hello hello!

Today I'm going to talk about something ugly and difficult. Consider yourselves warned. But before I talk about trigger warnings and Trigger Warning, let's define the terms of battle.


What's a trigger, exactly? 


"Trigger: an event or circumstance that is the cause of a particular action, process, or situation.
  • "the trigger for the strike was the closure of a mine"

In mental health terms, the action, process, or situation resulting from a trigger tends to be panic, anxiety, anger, or even violent defensiveness. The trigger itself can be just about anything, but the most common triggers tend to be related to violence or abuse.

Triggers are often connected to other symptoms of PTSD, but can appear independently, the invisible scars of trauma. They aren't the same as a Garcia Effect-coded food or experience, such as--in my face--honey-dipped hazelnuts, on which I once ate myself sick. (The Garcia Effect is responsible for ruining a food once you've gotten sick from eating it: one of the brain's adaptive measures to keep the body safe in a world full of potentially contaminated food and toxins.) A trigger is not the same as a phobia, although it can activate the phobia reaction. For example, two people with a spider phobia might react to it differently--one might have a phobic reaction on seeing a picture of a spider; the other might have the reaction only when in the presence of a spider.


The (not) wonderful thing about triggers 


The second thing to know about triggers in the real world is that they are sometimes reasonable and sometimes absurd. Some are reasonable, such as violence, car crashes, decapitation, and sexual assault; some are small, like the words "bitch", "fuck", or "psycho".

I know this mix of absurdity and logic in triggers too well. Some, like being ganged up on in a discussion or being in the centre of a circle of people who are annoyed at me, are 'sensible things' to be afraid of. Some of mine involve apparently innocuous situations. Being in all-female groups, for example, or being in a space with no hiding areas, or having someone sharply criticize the very short List of my favorite people/things (Neil Gaiman, Leonard Cohen, Neko Case, John Green, and Farscape) can throw me into a bout of nausea and panic.

For people who don't experience panic attacks or phobias or traumatic flashbacks, trigger warnings seem ridiculous: like impedimentia, rather than useful, helpful tools. When trigger warnings first caught academic attention, and wider internet attention, they got abused on Tumblr and drew ire and panic on forums. A lot of us (myself included) thought proper use of trigger warnings would lead to a spoiler-riffic, dystopian, creative hell. More on that later.


What's the big deal?


There was a time when I thought they were ridiculous. An attempt to keep people from their emotions, from dealing with things properly. I got fooled into believing the rhetoric some people were espousing, suggesting that trigger warnings would balloon out of control and end up spoiling novels, ruining all discussions, and basically leading to the end of intelligible discourse in classrooms and forums everywhere. Some survivors (!) called trigger warnings ableist, some said that triggers were too arbitrary to pin down, citing things like the smell of paint or breakfast or a certain shade of orange; a lot of other people called them absurd, and so on and so on, in circles. A few people took a more moderate response to the faddish appearance of trigger warnings, but in response to this extreme climate, Neil Gaiman announced the title of his next story collection would be Trigger Warning.

When I heard about that title, though, instead of rejoicing in the stick-it-to-the-man potential, I cringed. That was after I realised I had my own triggers, and after I had developed close friendships with a lot of survivors. I'd been reacting to things as though triggered, but not having the vocabulary for it made it hard for me to protect myself, and even to know when I was being unreasonable.


Wat do: the musical


So what does one do, then? Avoid the potentially problematic work, which lurks like a shark in the ocean at the end of the lane, or risk pain and suffering by facing the thing head on? In my case, Trigger Warning was a persistent itch. Today, I caved and bought a copy. I have not yet read the stories; only the foreword, which tackled the rationale for the title.

It wasn't as good as I'd hoped, but it was better than I feared. It tackled that triggers are not a punchline or an absurd thing made up for the sake of attention and tone-policing--well, it didn't address those last two directly, but it did validate their existence. I can tell Gaiman either isn't a person who struggles with triggers, or else has a different cultural perspective on them from what I'm used to. And then I managed to read an essay criticizing the book's approach, and even discuss it with my editor and some friends--without panicking or falling apart. Okay, so I almost fainted in the shower afterwards--but it didn't derail my day or make me curl up and cry, something that happened during a nasty attack two weeks ago. Baby steps, to be sure. But steps.

But this paragraph, the closer, imperfect as it is, gives me comfort. It could be read sarcastically, but I interpreted it as sincere. A corner of comfort is a good start, but there are other books that have not been labelled which perhaps should have been.

"There. Consider yourself warned. There are so many little triggers out there, being squeezed in the darkness even as I write this. This book is correctly labeled. Now all we have to worry about is all the other books, and, of course, life, which is huge and complicated and will not warn you before it hurts you."

And yet, people still complain when a trigger warning shows up, complaining that it limits their freedom or that it's distracting. The thing is--do we want to cater to people who want to pretend they haven't been hurt, or help the people who have been hurt to brace themselves?

The thing to know about triggers is that they are basically pressure points. We all--from the angriest Men's Rights Activist, to a survivor and pro-choice activist, to a socially isolated government clerk, to a homeless person couch-surfing until they can make ends meet--have pressure points. We all have demons in the dark. So if you, too, are one of the people skeptical of the utility of trigger warnings, especially simple, general advisories like "Mature and violent content" or "warning: explicit description of child abuse", try to think about your own pressure points. Try to remember the last time something apparently arbitrary brought back a memory, and made you cry or panic or burn with rage. Remember the last time you felt out of control, or laid in bed and stared at the ceiling because it was absolutely impossible to imagine doing anything.

The Thought Police are not coming for anyone, and there are no Compassion Police to make us treat each other with sympathy. We ourselves have to take responsibility--for the sake of those who can't, but also for the many more who are trying.

The weirdest thing, though, is that having trigger warnings actually improves our ability to speak freely, rather than restricting it.  Yes, Virginia, you can have your cake and eat it too. How? That's coming up in part 2.


***
Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Leave your comments, rebuttals, and vehement agreements below. Don't miss any of the phuquerie--get on the mailing list. Find Michelle on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr, and find her work on Amazon. Check back on the blog to see when one of the irregular posts has careened onto your feed. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out! 


Thursday, 2 April 2015

Trigger Warning: Tagging vs Censorship, Part 2

Hello hello!

So, in the last post, I tackled the scary issue of trigger warnings. In case you don't feel like reading the last post, or found it confusing, let's define what a trigger is once again.

Triggers are often connected to other symptoms of PTSD, but can appear independently, the invisible scars of trauma. They aren't the same as a Garcia Effect-coded food or experience, such as--in my face--honey-dipped hazelnuts, on which I once ate myself sick. (The Garcia Effect is responsible for ruining a food once you've gotten sick from eating it: one of the brain's adaptive measures to keep the body safe in a world full of potentially contaminated food and toxins.) A trigger is not the same as a phobia, although it can activate the phobia reaction. For example, two people with a spider phobia might react to it differently--one might have a phobic reaction on seeing a picture of a spider; the other might have the reaction only when in the presence of a spider.

The practical upshot of this, then, is that seeing something or reading about it can be not only upsetting, but disruptive to someone's life. Put bluntly, they can make someone likely to perform a compulsive behavior, cause a panic attack, or just leave someone curled up and crying on the floor for an afternoon. People who aren't subject to triggers but are still bothered by things can use those tags to determine the kind of experience they want to have. For example, the #NSFL (Not Safe for Life) tag on Reddit and elsewhere often denotes disturbing content, gross things, gore, and that sort of thing. #NSFW (Not Safe for Work) usually means swearing, violence, or sex are involved.


The value of transgression


If the sound of sex, violence, profanity, and disturbing content intrigue you, you've just discovered the upside of tagging. By explicitly mentioning these elements in a book's blurb/back cover summary, authors can help readers get a clear idea of the experience they'll have--and help readers who want to be responsible for their own mental health, or who are vulnerable, to keep themselves safe.

There is an urge and a push in the anti-trigger community to tear away these labels because of an urge to shake people up and scare them. Mostly, this is targeted at those who are not survivors. I understand the impulse, but we've reached a point in culture where being provocative doesn't require being irresponsible. In 1990, the sight of Madonna air-humping a bed was worrisome enough that a police presence appeared at one of her Toronto shows, wanting to arrest her. Now, the things people overlook and ignore for their own comfort are things like racism.


The downside


People do sometimes get overly enthusiastic or overly concerned about tagging issues. Sure, it can sometimes impede communication. But generally, the people who are most concerned about overtagging things are the people outside the survivor communities. If we want to find a happy medium, we have to a) put survivors in a position of authority when it comes to discussing these tags and labelling methods, and b) avoid falling into discussions of "theoretical" triggers. These conversations about tagging things for "warning: contains peeling paint" and "warning: contains breakfast" are often derails, and don't reflect that triggers often involve multi-sensory experiences or specific situations. I see a lot of conversations take this tactic. Ultimately, unless we listen to survivors, we won't know how to approach things, and finding a happy medium that doesn't frustrate authors and artists but still serves survivors is going to be a process.

Some people do see labelling as censorship, which is inaccurate. "This is the work of The Establishment," they cry, shaking fists, "and we won't take it!" But this is deceptive, and actually a bit archaic. Sex and violence are pretty normalized. It's hard to shock people at this point. Even so, there's a difference between shocking someone who is able, well, and sheltered, and tricking someone into suffering a mental health event. Trigger warnings don't need to be detailed in order to give people an idea that they need to prepare themselves or avoid the content. Even a simple, vague "disturbing content warning" is better than nothing at all. At worst, it whets the appetite of the curious. The battleground has shifted, and maintaining the old way of not-labelling things with trigger warnings is honestly the best way to prove oneself a conservative. The issues that make people angry aren't just explicit sex and swearing--they're issues of diversity, entrenched power structures, sexism, ableism, and all the rest. If your urge to avoid trigger warnings comes from that impulse to rebel--you need to up your rebellion game.


So what the hell should I label? Everything? 


There's a big four that often require labelling for triggers--suicide/self-harm, abuse, graphic violence, and sexual assault. Harassment and bullying are also often tagged these days, but really, those fall under the abuse heading. Most people can see why in-depth coverage these four topic groups would be upsetting or might induce a panic attack.

Some people take content warnings and trigger warnings quite far, and the outcry to label everything sometimes ends up reflecting insulative elements of white, straight, able, or cis privilege. "I don't want to watch this! It has gay people in it!" (Ask me how many times I've had my work tagged with completely unnecessary trigger warnings just because it included consensual, loving f-f sex. Yes, this has happened. And boy, does it piss me off.)

Content warnings do get abused by conservative outlets in an attempt to bubble-wrap the world and make it safe, but that's absolutely not the same as a trigger warning. As always, actions are defined by their context, and the outcry against all trigger warnings and content warnings sometimes becomes a way to tear down safe spaces. People who are used to imposing their will on others, or are trying to define their own boundaries, often end up clashing.

But as I promised, content warnings do have some benefits. Enter, from stage left, the fanfic writers.


What does fan fiction have to do with content warnings? 


Fanfic is known for its vast oceans of tags and weird sex scenes. However, fanfic writers get away with writing about incest, hardline and scary BDSM, sexual assault, and the worst romantic pairings imaginable because there's a culture of consideration in the community. People tag things so that someone looking for a sweet John Watson/Sherlock romance won't accidentally stumble onto an anal training and puppy play capture fantasy. But this appropriate tagging has led to a freedom that's allowed authors to do anything they want, basically, and that also means that they can meet even the most unusual needs their readers present.

Tagging means freedom


I will rep for "freedom of icky speech". While we do need to be somewhat intolerant of intolerance, and actual hate speech needs to be condemned, there is a large, vast ocean of people saying and doing weird and sometimes terrible things. But if we want to fix the terrible things, we need to talk about them and to criticize them. And the alternative to not tagging them is what Amazon's done--simply removing books that "violate its terms of service" because they contain "offensive content". The problem with that is that it's just plain old censorship, and it's caught some books that depicted the experiences of survivors in the crossfire.

Simply surprising people with disturbing content is no longer an option. It was permitted in the past, but so were a lot of other things, like minstrel shows and keeping women out of certain clubs. The old way isn't going to work, and if we can protect people without silencing ourselves or our artistic intentions--why not?


***
Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Leave your comments, rebuttals, and vehement agreements below. Don't miss any of the phuquerie--get on the mailing list. Find Michelle on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr, and find her work on Amazon. Check back on the blog to see when one of the irregular posts has careened onto your feed. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out! 

Friday, 27 March 2015

A Confession: Some Thoughts on Romance

Hello hello!

So, it's fairly well known that I'm an editor as well as a writer. Naturally, that also means I'm a reader. When I was younger, I reviled romance. Then I discovered Jane Austen and the Brontes, and without realising it, started to fall headlong in love with falling in love. Tess of the D'Urbervilles, The Hunchback of Notre Dame--classics of the 19th century, with their seductively rich prose and antiquarian settings, became my go-to for tales of loss and love.

I read Stranger Music by Leonard Cohen and Visiting Hours by Shane Koyczan over and over, my heart thrilling to the caress of sensual, playful poetry and the love stories coded in the verses. But it wasn't romance, of course. And the tragedy of Anna Karenina, of Crime and Punishment, and the near-misses and playfulness of Beatrice and Benedick in Much Ado about Nothing--those didn't count as romances.

But not modern romances, I told myself, chucking Harlequins at the wall and rolling my eyes at the worst excesses of bodice-rippers. Modern romance, outside of literary novels, was bollocks. A Farewell to Arms and 1984 had delightful love stories, but anything written after 1950, or anything written below a certain reading level, was clearly worthless pulp at best.



Shown: a huge, disappointing bore.


Why hate romance? 


Obviously, I was dead wrong. Bigoted, even. As I slowly gained respect for romance in the context of sci fi--my heart wobbling over Farscape's Chriton and Aeryn Sun, or Doctor Who's Rose and Nine, or Mass Effect's Liara and Shepard--I kept thinking that it was "better" than most romance. That it fell into a special category of some sort. Surely it wasn't 'real' romance, because it was in the context of sci fi.

I had reasons. Honestly, a lot of them were pretty sexist, and related to not wanting to be "one of those girls". But I also just hadn't found anything I liked enough yet. And that kept me in my little box.

It's amazing what you can talk yourself into. "This is better, because ___, and it's not like the other ___s!". But eventually, if you're smart enough or patient enough or just have enough friends smarter than you are, the truth breaks in. And the truth was, my inept fan fiction-writing friends in high school didn't represent everything romance could be any more than they represented what fan fiction itself could do.



Shown: definitely not worthless pulp in any way.

And yet...



Eventually, I had to face up to it--it still wasn't my genre most of the time, but I *liked* romance. Editing it, reluctantly at first, only made for a slippery slope. You *have* to respect something that a lot of your colleagues and clients write. And then, lo and behold, I slowly found myself enjoying some of the stories. I discovered the feminist side of romancethe stories of people of colourthe contemporary tales about Californian teenagers written with aching honesty and truth. And I discovered that yes, there were stories about gay people, and even--gasp!--stories about women falling in love with other women. And I realised that I liked writing and creating them as well as reading them.

The turning point


Then I got blindsided by The Fault in Our Stars, the kind of book that--before--I would have eschewed on principle. Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami and other books had softened me up, but it took John Green for me to sit in my shower, ugly-crying and turning pages compulsively. That broke me. Every time I'd growled at something like Moulin Rouge didn't matter anymore. Since then, it's been a slow and gradual slide--I've found myself occasionally seeking out romance. This weekend, I ended up watching Chico and Rita, which was an unusual and heartbreaking movie. And it was the love story that made me break down in embarassing, goofy, cathartic, pleasant tears.

The whole thing has been a real learning experience. I'm never totally averse to eating humble pie--I mean, come on, pie is delicious--so as much as it was embarassing to be so wrong, I'm glad that I've changed my mind about it.

What have you changed your mind about? What would you like to change your mind about?



***
Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Leave your comments, rebuttals, and vehement agreements below. Don't miss any of the phuquerie--get on the mailing list. Find Michelle on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr, and find her work on Amazon. Check back on the blog to see when one of the irregular posts has careened onto your feed. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out! 

Monday, 23 March 2015

Holy $#@*--On the Use of Profanity

Hello hello!

Ah, profanity. As a reader, I enjoy it for cases of verisimilitude and emphasis. As a writer, well, I love it. I’ve been dinged for it in reviews. As an editor, I long for more of it. So why do so many writers shy away from it?

The most common argument I hear against profanity is that it’s crude and coarse language. However, profanity has little to no correlation with socioeconomic status or personal refinement in most cases. Sure, there are people who use it as a substitution in their vocabulary, but it’s not as common as you’d think. Instead, aggressive, type-A, ambitious people with strong emotions tend to favour it. It’s also common in cases of injury or anger, as swearing actually has analgesic (pain-reducing) effects.
So why don’t people use it in books? While a cozy mystery or a Young Adult novel might not be the best place to drop some F-bombs, I am going to go out on a limb and say that other New Adult or Adult-oriented fiction (ie, most of the market) needs and requires cussing for verisimilitude. Even Jane Austen and the Brontes mentioned their characters swearing, and sometimes showed it--with censoring, sure, but it still happened. Some authors ‘aren’t comfortable’ with ‘inappropriate’ language, but considering that beheading a character or sexual assault flies easily with some of the same authors, I’m left scratching my head. Swearing makes up approximately 0.3-0.7% of language, and it’s a small but crucial portion.


So, when should characters swear? 


Strong emotions are a great time for this. Crying, bouts of anger, an argument, physical pain—all of these are prime times for some cussin’. If your characters are using exclamation marks—as they should, if they’re shouting—they can do some swearin’. Some people even swear when they’re happy—a joyous ‘F$#@ yeah! I won the lottery!” hardly goes amiss. As well, characters who are in the military, known for bluntness, or are teenagers, will likely do some cursing.

I am going to be blunt.  If you, as an author, are uncomfortable with swearwords, you need to get over it. That goes for readers, too, but this is a column about writing, so it’s authors I want to address. You don’t have to pepper your text with F-bombs in order to get the right feel, but a carefully-placed swearword can make a lot of difference. If you’re uncomfortable with swearing, practice saying it out loud (in private if you must) and try to write dialogue with lots of cussing in it to acclimatize yourself. Why do you have to? Because you’re trying to write a good story, and a lack of cursing can result in utter silliness.

“Ow! Ding dang dong diddly!” shouted Claudia. The insane clown grinned and continued to saw away at her toes. “Ow! Shucks and tarnation! That hurts!”

Your characters shouldn't sound like Ned Flanders. Even Ned would cuss if his toes were being sawed off by an insane clown. Consider this revision.

“Ow! Fucking shit! Get the fuck off!” Claudia yelled. The insane clown grinned and kept sawing at her toes. “Fucking--go to hell!”

This is how most of us would respond in the same circumstances, though probably with more screaming. Sure, these words can be seen as ugly, but they’re a natural part of language. Avoiding swearwords altogether is like avoiding the letter ‘z’—it might be rare, but you WILL stumble across it eventually, and having a slice of pi—a would be very odd.

I’ve also heard the argument that authors in the classical era didn’t swear. Anyone who’s read classical plays, Shakespeare, or even Jane Austen can easily refute that. ‘Damn’ used to be considered as powerful as ‘f$%#’, and now it’s used in kids’ movies. That’s right—the logical corollary is that even Jane Austen dropped a few ‘D-bombs’ once in a while, even if they were often censored.  Arguably, you could also say that just because classical authors did it, doesn’t mean it’s right.

So, my final words are these—whatever your religious or moral persuasion, in writing, it simply won’t do to avoid cursing completely unless you're writing children's books. You can make up the occasional curse-word as a substitute, but make sure you use it the same way as traditional curses, swears, and oaths. Don’t make your characters talk like Sunday-school teachers unless they are, and even then—I’m pretty sure every Sunday-school teacher has hit their thumb with a hammer at some point in life. 

What are some of the most creative swear words and phrases you've heard? Let me know in the comments.

***
Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Leave your comments, rebuttals, and vehement agreements below. Don't miss any of the phuquerie--get on the mailing list. Find Michelle on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr, and find her work on Amazon. Check back on the blog to see when one of the irregular posts has careened onto your feed. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out! 
Google+