Foul Language and Tense

I have just returned from perusing a certain website’s gallery of writing, mainly browsing in the fantasy genre. I won’t disclose where, of course, but my brain hurts. My tea is backing up in my esophagus from mixed sensations of confusion and despair, sporadically reversed by jocular exasperation and morbid fascination.

For the record, I’m not big on romance. In fantasy, romance ought to be a subplot, not the main plot.

One of the first things that caused my heart to quiver and shrivel up is the superfluous and devastating amount of slang and modern phrases that are used in these stories. In the fantasy genre. Tassels flying as thieves and assassins leap out of castle windows onto their half-horse half-cat creatures awaiting them below. I really, I just really cannot envision a mage thief brandishing his dagger and saying “Good times brah, dig it?”

And then with the cursing galore, as if this is some contest as to who can use the harshest cuss words in the coolest way. And no, none of them were pirate stories.1050700926_034ab8611d_m

* When I see the word “firstly,” I die a little inside. Firstly comes off as an adverb. And if there is no “secondly,” then drop the “firstly” altogether. /rant

About nine out of the ten stories I read were written in present tense. Have I mentioned here or elsewhere that reading a story written in present tense leaves me panicked and angry? I suppose it’s the “new thing” nowadays but unless it’s done well with the right story (this is not often), the story becomes catastrophically shallow and stilted. And forget about keeping the tenses straight, most of the stories I read constantly switched tenses within the chapter.

An example of the last story I read within the space of four paragraphs: Present tense > omni third > past tense > limited third > past tense > present tense and so on and so forth.

Doesn’t anyone proofread anymore?

Lessons Learned

I would say that picking up Strunk & White’s “Elements of Style” would be quite beneficial, but in the case of novel-writing, perhaps studying other stories in your genre, preferably time-tested stories that are at least 10-20 years old, would be better. I’m not saying that modern stories are bad, but I’ve seen enough poorly written contemporary books out there to suggest not learning from them.

And I’m sure Robin Hood had his bad days too, but do you think he really had cursing matches with his enemy? Where every other word was a lovely 5470090456_035284d7ba_zreference to particular features of the human anatomy? Did he refer to anyone as a douchebag? Let alone walk away and continue to cuss and complain to himself?

Now some of us may use a lot of foul language (inside or outside of our heads), but when it comes to literature, have a little class. I don’t condemn the usage of curse words, but have it make a bit of sense, and use them wisely.

Writers are artists. Artists are creative. So be creative.

5 responses to “Foul Language and Tense

  1. I love reading other people’s rants on writing! It shows me I’m not the only one who is a little OCD… Writing is someone else’s view of reality, but in order for it to be enjoyed by others, it must follow a few rules of etiquette 😉


    • I’m all for creativity and the like, but you couldn’t be more correct about etiquette. Crudeness is okay in dialogue, but not in narrative, in my opinion. Everything in moderation. Always!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Anachronisms, even for fun, take me right out of the story. A Knight’s Tale, with people doing the Wave in the jousting arena, drives me up a tree, and an anachronism in a story ruins my enjoyment. If I want literature about the 18th century, I’ll read something written then – it can’t have anachronisms!

    Sometimes words are used correctly, and are from the right period, but still ‘feel’ wrong (meanings have changed, nuances have changed, or no real reason); those words, however right, also take me out of the story (my suspension of disbelief is not robust).

    As a writer, I stick to the near past; it’s hard enough to write a 167K novel without having to worry about the language. Handled gracefully, swearing and etiquette add so much; awkwardly, the result is the loss of us picky readers.

    And it’s not just language; behavior also can be overly modern. Not done well it’s just a costume party.

    Liked by 1 person

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