F is for F-bomb

How should you use profanity in books? Does it put you off as a reader?

You see – to me, it really depends on the type of book that you’re writing, or reading. If the book is a high impact thriller and the emotional tension in the book calls for it – then I say yes. Drop in some colourful language. Why not? If it’s used effectively, or to reinforce characteristics, then I really don’t see what the problem is. People swear – and to help make our characters more believable in the situations that they face – then I think swearing is okay.

If the swearing is completely misplaced and out of character or really not for the audience you’re aiming your book at – just don’t do it. I find that as a reader and as a writer, if I’m reading something, and cussing is out of place with the character, then it makes me want to stop reading the book. I think to myself that the writer really isn’t understanding their character, or that their writer’s toolbox is lacking a little.

As a human, I probably drop the F-bomb a fair bit. In saying that, rightly placed profanity can be terribly effective. I believe that is so for books too.

The Wall Street Journal did an interesting article about using colourful language in the professional world. I can tell you – I have worked with some people where it was perfectly natural to swear your head off in the work place. It was a highly stressful and political arena that we were working in, and rightly placed swearing was very common place.

The Journal article stated: “Deployed at the right moment and in the right setting, a well-chosen curse word can motivate a team, dissolve tension or win over an audience.”

It would be really interesting to get everyone else’s take on this… does well-placed swearing put you off reading a book? Or does it just it just solidify the character more?

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11 Comments

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  1. I sear in real life, lots of people do, so it doesn’t bother me when I read it for the most part – though as you say, sometimes it’s just really out of place and feels like the writer is trying to be edgy by using swear words but missing all the other stuff that makes it work.

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  2. It really depends. I can be completely put off by it, if its the same over and over and every second paragraph. Also in real life. I’m all for showing emotion, but be a bit creative with words !

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  3. Cursing and salty language should be used as seasoning, not for blanketing the entire book. Certainly coarse language would be well in character for someone like a dock worker, a typical teenager, or a poor slum-dweller, but I’d think most readers would get the idea if F words and other vulgarities are used sparingly. When there are 5, 10, 20 F words every page or every few pages, I start to lose respect for the writer. Words lose their power and meaning if they’re used so thoughtlessly and frequently. When an F word really is merited, it won’t seem so powerful and shocking anymore.

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    1. Couldn’t agree more!
      usage of them needs to be sparingly placed for impact, and to show emotive tension. I lose respect for writers who don’t utilise their whole wordy toolkit as well – if there is a better word – use it.

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    1. Awesome to meet you too, Michelle!
      And yes. Placement is so key to swearing, as it is with any prose. If something gets too repetitive – then it’s never going to work.
      Another person said that sometimes writers do it to make their characters sound edgy and cool. But if it’s out of character – then it doesn’t work for the reader…

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  4. Hi! Really enjoy your blog. Don’t you just love April and the chance to meet all these amazing folks!! I agree that “language” should fit the character. Actually, any use of dialect, quirky speech and yes, swearing, should be organic to the characters and almost blend away into the person–if it stands out like hearing you life-long conservative christian mother try to start swearing in her late 60’s (what, that’s just my mother? 🙂 ) then it probably doesn’t work.

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    1. Thank you for enjoying my blog! I enjoy writing it. Actually – April (so far) has been really really good for me – because it has meade me really think about the daily content that I’m writing and publishing. I needed a swift kick up the backside with my blogging, and April has well and truly done it for me! Phew.

      I had to have a giggle about your example. I’m the offspring of someone who swears all the time, which I think is hilarious. But it’s just totally her character. She does use profanity is some very amusing ways. She can also turn it off though when the situation calls for it – and I respect that a lot!

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  5. When used in moderation and for emphasis or to show character, I don’t mind. However, I don’t like when it’s over used, even if the character might actually talk like that. There are other ways to explain and express that type of character.

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