Profanity. Curse words. Swearing. Where does it have its place in writing? Is it censorship? Or should we be developing other ways to express our characters and their situations? Some abhor it, call it lazy and/or uncreative, but I know Shakespeare, Hemingway, John Grisham (who is a Christian) and King would disagree. They are, after all, just words. Or are they?
…shit, Goddamit, asshole, cunt, honkey, beaner, cracker, fag, bitch, clitface, dago, nigger, dyke, queer, gook, cocksucker, hell, ruski, tard, pussy, Jesus Christ, whore, dickhead, and our favorites: fucker, fuckin-A, holy fuck, fuckbrain, motherfucker, fuckface, fuck me, FUCK!
In my attempts to offend everyone, I’m hoping I’ve offended no one. If there were certain words in that paragraph that were upsetting to you or made you uncomfortable, it just shows how powerful words can be. For some characters and scenes, maybe a little extra power is necessary to convey the message, but profanity can be a fine line too. As a writer, profanity is something we all face and question from time to time. Here are a few questions I ask myself before typing that f-bomb:
1) Is it appropriate to the genre?
2) Is it appropriate to my audience?
3) Is it worth alienating some/many readers?
4) Are there other ways to express a character’s character or emotions?
5) Should I consider the quality of a few swear words over the quantity of swear words?
6) Could I use slang instead?
7) Does it fit the time period and/or context of the piece?
I must admit, my husband has compared me to Dexter’s sister, Deb—I do enjoy a good bout of cussing now and then, but because I take my writing seriously (most of the time), I am cautious about my profanity use. My number one goal is to please my readers and knowing when to use profanity and how much of it can be a challenge.
What do you think about profanity? Do you hate it? Love it? Think it’s only appropriate at certain times? Or the more, the better?