In Mon – Farewell to Words

Well now. When I first got the email with this week’s InMon prompt, I thought I’d be writing a tribute to Steph, who runs it. I also began to consider how I might replace InMon in my blogging schedule. And then I thought about the date. And then I read the post in full. And then I sighed.

So, no tribute to you, Steph. And you almost did yourself out of a participant!

Instead, here’s a story…

A Farewell To Words

“I put them there for a reason,” sighed Joanna, trying to keep the whine out of her voice. “I don’t go in for gratuity, you know I don’t, but sometimes you have to include the character’s language for realism.”

“I know, but the publishers won’t take it.” Ian flicked through the redacted copy in front of him. He could almost hear the author’s brain trying to come up with arguments through the silence on the telephone. “Sometimes you have to sacrifice perfection.”

“For what? Market share? There is no way Bilton would say ‘Shoot’ when he sees those bodies. No way! There’s perfection, Ian, and then there’s…” She stumbled over the words; she wanted to pick up the phone and throw it across the room.

“I know it’s frustrating, Jo, but that’s what they are telling me. They want the novel. They want to give it publicity, a good launch date … hell, they’re even offering you an advance. That’s unheard of for a first novel in this market.”

“Did you say hell?”

Ian took a breath. Now she was mad.

“Did you say HELL, Ian? Not heck? Not gee, or shoot? You said hell, because hell is what came to your lips when you heard I might get some money for seven years of researching and writing. Now imagine you’d just seen a room full of carved up little children. Imagine you had spent chapters and chapters looking for those children, talking to their parents, hoping against hope that they were alive somewhere. Are you imagining it, Ian? Are you imagining you open that door and see the bodies piled up, bits missing, unseeing eyes staring at you … Now, tell me you would say ‘Shoot’.”


“No, Ian. Go back to them. Tell them the swearing stays. And if they don’t like it, they can go shoot themselves.”


A bit of backstory, for those who are interested.

The prompt “Farewell to words” reminded me of the Hemingway title, A Farewell To Arms. One of his most famous and successful novels, this book was originally published censored, with the swear words replaced by dashes. It was America, in the inter-war period, and such language was too much for the publishers and readership. But this is a bleak, tragic novel, set during the First World War. Undoubtedly the real-life soldiers for whom those events were real didn’t hold back their language, but Hemingway was obliged to when he depicted them.

Even now, authors face a conundrum of how and when to use blasphemy, swear words and other controversial language. It’s a difficult balance to strike – between realism and toning it down for the market. Graphic, horrific scenes seem to get a much easier ride, and yet as a reader, I think I struggle much more with some of the images created than the odd F- or S-. I thought that might be an interesting subject for a short, and the story above was born.


Filed under Inspiration Monday, Writing

11 responses to “In Mon – Farewell to Words

  1. I don’t really struggle with not using swearing or cursing in my stories because I rarely use any of those words. However, as you point out, sometimes situations and characters call for them. If I read a book with lots of dialogue of the nature, I tend to skip it mentally as much as possible. Again, realism calls for a lot of bad language with certain groups or situations, but I think it can also be distraction, even if real.

    Saw an Irish film several years ago in which “feckin'”, their equivalent of the f- word, was used in almost every sentence and, it seemed, as every part of speech (not really, but…) It didn’t bother me as much because even though I know what it means, I don’t hear it that way.


    • I actually agree that it isn’t usually necessary, Janet, and you can definitely hint at it with a few strategically placed words rather than a stream of profanities, but there are times and places where they add character and realism and, as I said, I find graphic violence / rape / etc can be much more offensive but a lot less taboo.

  2. Awww, I hope it wasn’t too mean a joke. But April 1 landed on a Monday – it would almost feel wrong NOT to do something.

    I’m glad you still wrote something this week – and this piece definitely makes you think. I’m generally against strong language, but “shoot” would just be an insult to those children. Although, what would be strong enough? My solution would probably be not to write specific words at all, but allude to him saying some. “A string of curses,” type thing, but that wouldn’t always work. This piece definitely brings the point home. Also, cool use of prompt. I hadn’t even thought of the Hemingway connection.

    • Not a mean joke at all; you are long-since forgiven! I’m not sure what I’d write if I were the author of the scene with the children – I agree that nothing would be enough, and I actually try to avoid profanities in my writing. But I sometimes think we’re in danger of getting upset about the wrong things – in a book with this scene, would a few bad words really be a problem?

  3. It really bothers me that we have such taboos over propriety. It’s not about what is real, but about what is presented to the outside world as our *version* of real, and sometimes it is such a dishonest stance. Even when it comes to something as simple as a single curse word.

    The way we as humans do this is so varied, and bothers me from time to time so much, I’ve tried to pull it all together in an essay (there’s probably enough for a book), but I haven’t figured out a way to do it and say what I want to say.

    One of the other things that used to be so popular in the way of propriety was to marry right away if the woman or girl found out she was pregnant and then try to pass it off as a honeymoon conception. All to make it “look” proper to those who would gossip. There might be good reasons for marrying before the child is born (insurance and hospital visitation rights perhaps), but making it look good to the society isn’t one of them in my opinion. It’s not society’s business. This is basically what happens when language is censored to make it clean for the reading public. If the character (real life or fictional) is salty he/she should use salty words whenever he feels like it 🙂

    • I’m not sure anything we do for the sake of propriety is done for a good reason, Madison. There may be many good reasons, I’m just not sure that’s one of them. Thanks for adding my comment to your site – I’ll let you know if I have any more problems in the future.

      • I misphrased that first sentence – the taboo is over what is (uncomfortable) reality and the societal “fix” to it is propriety. What I don’t understand is why anything that has nothing to do with anyone else is uncomfortable to anyone other than the person experiencing the particular reality that someone wants to deny … I hate propriety. Surely didn’t mean to sound as if I supported the notion!

  4. Sarah Ann

    Your story and your point are both powerfully put. Well done.

  5. Pingback: Inspiration Monday: fresh smoke | bekindrewrite

  6. Bee

    I love how your story is a commentary on society. I swear much more in my daily life than my characters do in my stories, unless the situation (in the story) calls for it. I also don’t swear nearly as much on FB or even my personal blog. This is sort of a recent thing. I don’t want to alienate readers, I think?

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