Profanity in Writing: Heck No or @#%! Yes?

Is it ever okay to use profanity in writing? Should be it be avoided at all costs?

What it comes down to is realizing what you are writing and who you are writing for.

If you are writing a children’s book, you aren’t going to want to include a lot of profanity (parodies aside, like “Go the #$&! To Sleep.)If, however, you are writing from the perspective of a grizzled sailor, then you would be destroying the authenticity of the piece by not peppering his speech with a few choice, salty words.

The argument can also be made that by using profanity, you are making your characters seem less intelligent than they might otherwise appear. Readers might have trouble believing a top rated surgeon has a mouth like a sailor. Of course, you might choose to do that as a subversion, but that’s on the writer to sell it then. Of course, if your goal is to make your character appear less intelligent or cultured, then having them use profanity might be an excellent way to sell that idea to the reader. Not every main character needs to be, or should be, an Ivy-league educated hedge fund manager. If you are writing from the perspective of a beat cop or a gang member, then a lack of profanity might hurt your chances on convincing your reader that the character is authentic.

An argument can be made that by using profanity, and if you are looking to make it as a commercial writer, you are going to limit your sales. Older people in particular (as well as those with certain religious convictions) are not going to want to buy your book.  However, if using swear words is central to the character and it helps sell the character as authentic, then by all means, go ahead.

Some writers, in order to avoid using the “harder” swear words, choose to replace them with “lighter” alternatives. Others, especially when writing fantasy or science-fiction, choose to create their own so that they fit the setting. As an aside, it is worth pointing out that many of the modern English swear words were perfectly good Anglo-Saxon words that the Normans deemed unacceptable for polite society.

The thing to remember is that the words need to serve the story, and by removing profanity from the table completely, you are taking tools off the table to help you do that.

Thanks to Natesha, SRG81, Anisa, James Hensley, Karen Holt, Tracey, Doug Langille, Gloria, Mary Tejeda, Riss-Ryker, Olivia Owens, Robert Nielsen, Charles Stone, Anisa, and Anthea for contributing tho the discussion. The original post can be found here.


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