Friday, 8 May 2009



I was wondering the other day about swearing in scripts. Before I became a writer, I had a bit of a "you don't need to swear" opinion. But that's changed. Yes, you do need to swear! Why? Because everyone does. Even if you're not the sort of person who slips the F-Bomb into every sentence, you're not telling me that when you stub your toe, you don't think "SHIIIIIT!" And if you are telling me that, you're probably thinking "Fucking idiot! Thinks he can fucking tell me whether I fucking swear or not?!"

People swear. Characters swear.

Obviously, depending on the medium and audience, certain language is going to be outlawed. You're not going to tune into TELETUBBIES and see Tinkywinky walking round asking Po to give him a fucking break!

You are, however, going to get a healthy amount of strong language in Mr Quentin Tarantino's work. This is a man who gave Samuel L Jackson one of his greatest lines -

"I'm a mushroom cloud laying motherfucker, motherfucker!"

One of the only things that's bothered me about Joss Whedon's work is the lack of swearing. You're walking down the street in good old Hellmouth Central Sunnydale, when a bloodsucking fiend jumps out from behind a tree. You don't say "Oh my God!", you say "Holy shit!" Spike is a badass character, but the extent of that language-wise is uttering the odd "bloody", "bugger", "wanker", "piss" et al.

Anyway, I can get over this because a lot of the time, Whedon uses other ways to have the same effect as swearing. Like in FIREFLY, they swear in Chinese. There's no way they could get away with half the bad language were it in English.

On that note, I've noticed more and more swearing on TV. Shows DEXTER, TRUE BLOOD and SONS OF ANARCHY use strong language on a regular basis.

The thing is - is it justified?

I've mentioned above that people swear and that if you're in a terrifying situation, you're going to cuss with the best of them. Swearing can also be a powerful tool for character development.

If you have a character who never swears, then one dark day, he does, what does that mean? Surely it highlights the severity of the situation? It can have a huge impact.

For example in BUFFY's season 5 finale - 'The Gift', the gang are having a heated debate about the possibility of killing Dawn (Buffy's sister) to save the world. Buffy says they're not talking about this. Then Giles screams in with "Yes we bloody well are!" Giles never swears. Since his hell-raising Ripper days, he's become proper; far too civilised and educated for such language. So when he drops "bloody" into his line, we know things are serious.

It's just something I was pondering on the other day, after reading through the MICHAEL'S RESIGNATION script. There's a healthy amount of "fucks", "shits", "twats" and even some "cunts" in there for the actors to deal with. Some of the language is overused and I think that's the issue - use bad language if it's justified and sparingly. The more you use it, the less impact it has. Save those powerful words for a really serious situation to highlight the impact.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Check out the Thick Of It for some good swearing, Malcolm Tucker especially. I read somewhere they actually have a guy they send the script to for this, a so called "swearing consultant."