“When this baby hits 88 miles per hour, you’re going to see some serious shit.”
The script to Back To The Future is a lot like a precision timepiece, so much working perfectly, and most of the times you don’t even realize what it’s doing. This line is a perfect example. It’s the first use of profanity in the movie, and that gives the line greater impact. After 20 minutes or so where the harshest word uttered is “slacker”, one line tells you, in ways you didn’t even consciously realize, that the rules just changed.
Profanity can be a powerful tool in your writing arsenal.
Back at ArmadilloCon, I was asked about why I don’t use profanity in the Maradaine books. And while I might argue that’s not exactly true, the way I use profanity is, of course, a deliberate worldbuilding choice.
The main thing, for me, was having the way characters swore be their own unique slang. Beyond that, the slang of someone in his fifties is going to be different from someone in her twenties. Beyond that, the slang of someone from Maradaine is going to be different than, say, someone from Kyst or Lacanja or Yoleanne.*
Wanting to incorporate all that in led to my use of terms like blazes, bleeding, rutting, rolling and sewage, as well as a few other phrase sprinkled in here and there. Not to mention steves, facks, birds, slans, and sinners. Part of that is personal preference, of course. There are words I simply don’t care to use.
The other aspect of profanity is the racial epithet. Since the ethnicities in Maradaine are all their own, with their own history and context, I had to build all those from scratch. And in An Import of Intrigue, where there is plenty of interaction between “regular” Druth residents of Maradaine and the foreign enclaves of the Little East, there was ample opportunity to put them into practice. Especially with less sensitive or genteel characters like Mirrell or Corrie. Kierans get called piries as a play off the word “imperial”, Tsouljans and Lyranans are both called tyzos because the far eastern continent is Tyzania.
These are the choices I made for Maradaine, which aren’t the choices I’d necessarily make for another work. In my Space Opera work-in-progress, Lt. Kengle swears somewhat prolifically, even though her alien crewmates don’t always understand what she means, as translations are imperfect. One of them wonders why crises always makes Kengle talk of mating.
I’ll be making an appearance at Austin ComicCon, specifically on writing female characters. So that’s this Saturday– worth checking out if you have the time.
*I’ve yet to have good cause to drop an all-of-Druthal map or a full world map in the Maradaine books. But those are all cities along the west coast of Druthal, as you head further south.