Pencil to Paper

The Daily Life of a Compulsive Writer

To Swear or Not To Swear – That is the Question August 4, 2011

Filed under: Writing — katblogger @ 2:26 PM

I’m not supposed to swear at home. It’s pretty handy, really, that a friend taught me all the necessary words in sign language. However, although I seldom let the dreaded four letter phrases slip out verbally, I’m perfectly happy to type them out or scratch them down in a notebook. Why? Because it’s fiction, silly. And fiction needs to mimic real life.

Squeaky clean literature has always bothered me. It’s ok if your character is under fifteen, I suppose. But if your main character is between fifteen and beyond, chances are foul language will come into play. It’s human nature. It’s the real world. If adult characters are using ‘Drat’ and ‘heck’, we have a problem. The reader is going to notice, and they won’t take you seriously.

There is another extreme, of course. You can overuse profanity just to look ‘edgy’. If you use it too much, it loses its effect. (Unless the effect you’re going for is drunk college boys, perhaps.) Obscenities are used in real life to amplify, and they usually serve as a way to express emotion when you can’t find better words. Writing is all about finding better words, so use curse words sparingly.

I generally place curse words only in dialogue or character’s thoughts, and only when it’s the right kind of character. Some (Rai) tend to be on the profane side, while others wouldn’t be caught dead spouting vulgar language. It’s up to you to decide if a certain word is necessary.

What bothers me the most is when people ask for writing with no curse words in it. Usually these people also want: no violence, no drugs, no homosexuality, nothing explicit, etc… basically, nothing real. Bad stuff happens in the real world. It’s up to writers to show that truthfully. How would you tell a story where nothing bad happens anyway? If you avoid all of that, you’re kidding yourself, hiding from reality. Trust me, that will just make the inevitable wakeup call even more painful.


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