Author Topic: Need some help on phrasing. Real world curses in a fantasy setting.  (Read 195 times)  

Online Elizabeth Avery

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So for the most part I swap out Earth specific curses or exclamations like "What the Hell" or "What on Earth", and any mention of specific religions or deities with my worlds applicable equivalent. But I'm having trouble with a specific use of the word "hell", that doesn't seem to be able to be swapped out with say "the underworld" or something of the like.
The line is:

It wouldnt be a good idea. Hell, we barely know each other as it is."

As you can see, putting "Underworld, we barely know each other..." just sounds silly, as "hell" here really isn't referring to the place, it's more of a general exclamation. Whether I use profanity or not, I can't think of any word other than "heck" that really fits. I tried "damn" or "damn it" but it doesn't suit the character. The phrase "I mean..." actually fits the best as far as the meaning of the sentence, but it doesn't have the same punch.

I've looked up some discussions on other forums on the topic, but most of them are centered around the use of the word in the "What the hell" sense, rather than this specific use. I'm really stumped on this one.
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Offline jb1111

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Re: Need some help on phrasing. Real world curses in a fantasy setting.
« Reply #1 on: April 16, 2018, 04:14:16 AM »
If the characters are Earth based in some way, I don't see the harm in using a term like "what the hell," or "hell" in the exclamation use of the word. It's become almost a genericized term, where people using it aren't really using it in its religious (or geographical) connotations.

But if your characters aren't Earth based, you could lose the reader unless you are really good in creating the setting.

The closest analog that I'm aware of is the Conan fantasy series. Author Robert Howard had Conan The Barbarian say "by Crom" a lot, and it wasn't that hard to understand.

Offline RBN

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Re: Need some help on phrasing. Real world curses in a fantasy setting.
« Reply #2 on: April 16, 2018, 04:14:41 AM »
"It wouldn't be a good idea. We barely knew each other."

The "hell" isn't adding enough to make the interjection necessary.

Offline Steve Vernon

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Re: Need some help on phrasing. Real world curses in a fantasy setting.
« Reply #3 on: April 16, 2018, 04:42:43 AM »
"It wouldn't be a good idea. We barely knew each other."

The "hell" isn't adding enough to make the interjection necessary.

Joe Abercrombie has been getting a lot of mileage out of having his characters swear out loud using modern day vernacular.

So did Brian Wood in his Northlanders graphic novels.

Say hell-o if you want to. If readers can't understand that your character is swearing, they can go straight to perdition, as far as I am concerned.

Offline CathleenT

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Re: Need some help on phrasing. Real world curses in a fantasy setting.
« Reply #4 on: April 16, 2018, 04:50:04 AM »
This is difficult since I don't really know your character. It would be easy if you were writing a Greek god story:...by Hades, we barely know each other. Do you have another god's name you can slide in there?

Personally, I don't think profanity translates well in secondary world stuff. It depends on shock value, and we don't have any associated with made-up words.

I would have suggested using damn, but you said it didn't fit. Sh*t would work, but it's more obnoxious than hell or damn.

The only non-profane single word I can think of to slide in there is look.

Offline Acheknia

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Re: Need some help on phrasing. Real world curses in a fantasy setting.
« Reply #5 on: April 16, 2018, 04:57:31 AM »
Sheesh, comes to mind :)

Offline nosecroquet

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Re: Need some help on phrasing. Real world curses in a fantasy setting.
« Reply #6 on: April 16, 2018, 06:09:45 AM »
Neat question - yeah, clearly 'Hell' in this case doesn't refer to the, uh, infernal locality - it's more a generic oath designed to express vehemence on the part of your character.  I guess the question I'd ask is 'would this character on Earth use an analogous oath in this situation?'  That is, were they on our Earth, would they say 'Hell!' in the same manner? 

If so, what might they swear by in your world instead?  It might not always be deities or religious figures; if you have characters who are animists, they might use an oath that was a bowdlerised version of something to do with places of power in their faith - hills, rivers, springs, etc. are all good ones here.  If they practice ancestor worship, they might refer to that.  IMO this is a neat opportunity to add colour by showing how people's passing language (like curse-words) comes about in your world.  In English we have had archaic uses of 'zounds!' ('God's wounds'), or 'sblood!' ('God's blood'), or even 'odds bodkins' ('God's bodkins', the nails in the Crucifixion) - all referring to an event which is a source of faith, rather than a being.  Could something similar have happened in your world?
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Online Mark Gardner

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Re: Need some help on phrasing. Real world curses in a fantasy setting.
« Reply #7 on: April 16, 2018, 06:15:45 AM »
So for the most part I swap out Earth specific curses or exclamations like "What the Hell" or "What on Earth", and any mention of specific religions or deities with my worlds applicable equivalent. But I'm having trouble with a specific use of the word "hell", that doesn't seem to be able to be swapped out with say "the underworld" or something of the like.
The line is:

It wouldnt be a good idea. Hell, we barely know each other as it is."

As you can see, putting "Underworld, we barely know each other..." just sounds silly, as "hell" here really isn't referring to the place, it's more of a general exclamation. Whether I use profanity or not, I can't think of any word other than "heck" that really fits. I tried "damn" or "damn it" but it doesn't suit the character. The phrase "I mean..." actually fits the best as far as the meaning of the sentence, but it doesn't have the same punch.

I've looked up some discussions on other forums on the topic, but most of them are centered around the use of the word in the "What the hell" sense, rather than this specific use. I'm really stumped on this one.
How about flipping it? Instead of the expletive (swear word), "Hell," try the expletive (oath), "Gods," or the universe-specific deity. I'm reading a post-Earth series that uses "flaming core" as an expletive, and it works really well.
« Last Edit: April 16, 2018, 06:20:25 AM by Mark Gardner »

Offline Puddleduck

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Re: Need some help on phrasing. Real world curses in a fantasy setting.
« Reply #8 on: April 16, 2018, 06:24:00 AM »
The line is:

It wouldnt be a good idea. Hell, we barely know each other as it is."

As you can see, putting "Underworld, we barely know each other..." just sounds silly, as "hell" here really isn't referring to the place, it's more of a general exclamation.

You're right in that it's a general exclamation, so forget about trying to find a variation on "hell" specifically and think of a general exclamation that people in your world might use. In the Dresden Files, some of the words/phrases Harry uses which would work here are "stars and stones" and "hell's bells", neither of which really (appear to) have any significance at all.

I think you're overthinking this. Just come up with an exclamatory word/phrase that works in your world in situations like this, and use it consistently.

Offline VanessaC

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Re: Need some help on phrasing. Real world curses in a fantasy setting.
« Reply #9 on: April 16, 2018, 07:59:36 AM »
You're right in that it's a general exclamation, so forget about trying to find a variation on "hell" specifically and think of a general exclamation that people in your world might use. In the Dresden Files, some of the words/phrases Harry uses which would work here are "stars and stones" and "hell's bells", neither of which really (appear to) have any significance at all.

I think you're overthinking this. Just come up with an exclamatory word/phrase that works in your world in situations like this, and use it consistently.

This makes sense - I love it when writers get creative with exclamations / swear words.  I'm sure I've seen "for the love of green apples!" used as an expression of exasperation somewhere.  And I love "flaming core" quoted above.

In your example, "hell" works or "heck", or equivalent - you may not want to be wordy with this, but lots of scope of fun! :)