Young Writers Society

Home » Forums » Creativity Corner » Fiction Discussion

Use of Profanity

User avatar
489 Reviews

Gender: Female
Points: 5577
Reviews: 489
Thu Jan 29, 2015 11:55 pm
View Likes
Holysocks says...

Well, I'm not sure. I've read a lot of books lately that have really hardly any plot but that the main character is falling into a world of drugs, violence, and over has no likeable traits what-so-ever. I'm bringing this up because I think a lot of writers think it's 'cool' to write about a terribly messed up character... though I've never found it fun to read. Some bad traits are good, yes... but when there's no good, it kind of misses the pint, I think. I just feel like the way stories are going these days is like there's some kind of race to have the worst character... when yet, we have to remember, that just like there's bad in the world, there's good too. ( That was a bit off-topic so sorry about that! )

Cursing? I, like a few people, think it does sometimes take away from the work. I don't like it when swear words are used in an anger-based conversation... so when too characters are fighting or something. I don't like it in that instance because it makes my gut twist in knots.

The only time I enjoy cursing in a story, is when it's in humour. Of course cursing when something bad happens is something I don't mind either- doesn't mean my characters will be using extremely strong language, but I understand it can add a sense of realism.

I have thought about this a bit too, and I'm still not sure whether or not I personally will use strong curse words in my works... but I'm still thinking about it.

Anyway, that's just my thoughts on the matter. :-P
I hope it's a good joke because otherwise I'll have got it for nothing...

WARNING: Do not take grammar advice from me... EVER.

User avatar
260 Reviews

Gender: Female
Points: 15020
Reviews: 260
Fri Jan 30, 2015 4:53 am
View Likes
TriSARAHtops says...

Meandbooks wrote:Also, a semi-random sidenote, people that try not to swear still have their own branch of "profanity" (a.k.a what they say when they're irritated/upset), so that's something you can use in writing. They also tend to be pretty creative and weird ("Oh my flipping darn" is one that comes to mind). Plus, doing that adds as much character to the person as swearing would to another character, perhaps even more so.

A very good point. I don't really have all that much to add to it, but you do bring up something good. I guess it falls under the 'how the character swears' umbrella - some people are really creative in using expletives, and others are really creative in avoiding them. :) It all just falls under use of language.
if we wait until we're ready
we'll be waiting
for the rest of our lives

User avatar
93 Reviews

Gender: Female
Points: 3819
Reviews: 93
Fri Jan 30, 2015 5:20 am
Lefty says...

I think it's ok depending on the circumstance, as others have said. Generally, I think that less-offensive ones like h-e-double hockey sticks and the "beavers homes ;)" are okay to use in dialog if it fits or shows that's a word the character uses, because it's less offensive. But when it comes to the f-word, only under extreme circumstances do I think it would be okay. For the most part, I think another word could and should be used, because unless they have a really good reason to use it, it's usually over-used and a more intelligent work could be used, in my opinion.

In my mind, there are certain boundaries when if comes to writing fiction that, when crossed, makes the story feel amateur or unprofessional. For instance, when a copyrighted business or item is in a book, it usually bugs me. And when it comes to language, for more intense/offensive words, in real life they are often overused or used incorrectly. So when an author starts throwing the f-word around everywhere, that bugs me too. Of course, my opinions do vary somewhat depending on the story.

So, less offensive words are okay if not overdone while I think f-words should only be used if completely necessary. As for words in-between, I think it completely depends on the story/genre/situation, ect... Just my opinions, though. I'm sure copyrighted things in books don't bother 90% of the population while language doesn't bother a good percentage either.
Hear me out, there's so much more to life than what you're feeling now. Someday you'll look back on all these days, and all this pain is gonna be invisible. - Hunter Hayes

User avatar
253 Reviews


Gender: Female
Points: 17359
Reviews: 253
Fri Jan 30, 2015 5:27 am
View Likes
RacheDrache says...

Curse words are just words that society has labeled as profane. They are not inherently profane or bad or anything like that.

In fact, the F word in English is one of the most linguistically fascinating word in the entire language. YouTube it--many videos exist demonstrating its majesty.

As for using profanity in fiction, my answer is: audience. Language should be audience-appropriate, even if that means you must censor your own characters. I don't like censoring the words that come out of my characters' mouths, but I also don't like recording every 'um' and 'uh' that real people make when speaking. So I go for sticking to the emotional truth in dialogue if not always strict adherence to verbatim dialogue transcription.

I mention this latter bit because I have a few characters with extremely foul speech to the point where it becomes bad dialogue. Rather than bleeping out every other word, I keep the essence of the cursing and bleep out every, say, third or fourth word instead.
I don't fangirl. I fandragon.

Have you thanked a teacher lately? You should. Their bladder control alone is legend.

User avatar

Gender: None specified
Points: 279
Reviews: 3
Fri Jan 30, 2015 10:02 am
View Likes
DriftingPulp says...

It doesn't matter if a word is "offensive" or "bad". If certain words make sense for a specific character to say or use, then use them. If a writer uses excessive "curse" words in a situation that wouldn't necessarily call for it, then the majority of the time it isn't a well written character anyways. Words are just words. It's how you use them to create a scene and forward the story that matters.

User avatar
23 Reviews

Gender: None specified
Points: 906
Reviews: 23
Sat Jan 31, 2015 12:06 am
View Likes
CowLogic says...

I mean, as several people have said, it strongly depends on the character and the setting, as well as the circumstances.

Certain characters should swear incessantly, perhaps with dialogue riddled with swears, because that's how some people talk. Other characters may never swear at all, because that's how some people talk. It is a true literary skill to be able to invent different styles of speech for each character just as there are so many speaking styles in real life.

If the setting is either predominantly a poor community, or perhaps a nouveau riche community, you should expect that many, if not most, of the characters will have dirtier mouths than a community of family money, or some type of Puritan community or old neighborhood.

And of course, different people have different amounts of filth on their tongue in different scenarios.

I don't like censoring the words that come out of my characters' mouths, but I also don't like recording every 'um' and 'uh' that real people make when speaking. So I go for sticking to the emotional truth in dialogue if not always strict adherence to verbatim dialogue transcription.

This is a good point, because you don't necessarily want to make your characters talk totally realistically. If you did, almost no character would be able to speak coherently, just like in real life. Any given teen-based novel would be impossible to read because of the constant tirade of "likes" and "you feel?s" every other word.

People often read for enlightenment, or to escape. Even nonfiction books are not documentaries or crappy reality TV shows. So dialogue, just as any other aspect of writing, calls for a suspension of disbelief.

But that doesn't mean that we should construct unrealistic characters that speak in formal English constantly and never have miscommunications or err in their delivery. Realistically, you are going to have profanity in many discussions.

In summation (Vulgarity warning)

Spoiler! :

The course skin of a thousand elephants sewn together to make one leather wallet.

User avatar
260 Reviews

Gender: Female
Points: 15020
Reviews: 260
Sat Jan 31, 2015 12:50 am
View Likes
TriSARAHtops says...

Just a question for everyone to consider, do you think that your opinion on swearing in fiction is the same as your opinion on swearing in real life? Because I'm getting the sense from a lot of people that they don't like swearing in real life (fair enough), for whatever reasons, so therefore they think of swearing in fiction in the exact same way. Personally, I think that the two things are quite different (I think swearing in fiction is more of a reflection of reality, rather than a lack of vocabulary, etc for instance) but I'd be interested to seeing others' take on this. Personally, I'm fairly desensitised to swearing, so I don't tend to notice them all that much in fiction, unless, I guess they're way too excessive.
if we wait until we're ready
we'll be waiting
for the rest of our lives

User avatar
423 Reviews

Gender: Gendervague he/she/they
Points: 215
Reviews: 423
Sat Jan 31, 2015 1:35 am
Vervain says...

Actually, I think my view of swearing in real life is looser than my view of swearing in fiction—I swear quite a bit in my fictional works, yeah, but never as much as you can hear in a five-minute private conversation between myself and my sister. I don't care what people drop in a conversation with me, as long as it's not an actual insult to myself (and as long as it's not shaming someone). I am totally fine with vulgarity.

In my fiction, however, I sometimes feel like I pull it back a bit so that every other word isn't a curse. With a number of low-born or poorer protagonists, it's a lot more likely that they were raised with a loose view on cursing, but I kind of feel like I have an obligation to my audience to keep my work basically readable. I don't want it to be unrealistic, but I don't want it to be overwhelming, either.

I'm also not a fan of the idea that swearing is because of a "lack of vocabulary" -- I've heard it from a lot of people in my life, but my eloquence is not tempered by my ability to spew out a few good oaths. I think it's an idea that's carried over from a former age, the age where maybe a lot of historical fiction or fantasy is set, where the poorer would be more likely to curse due to limited educational resources. It makes sense that a poorer character wouldn't be using words like "liturgy" and "catechism" and such unless they were raised with those terms in common use in their home, however, I don't think that same philosophy carries over well into the modern age, unless we're talking Old Money families.
stay off the faerie paths

User avatar
1077 Reviews

Gender: Female
Points: 100405
Reviews: 1077
Sat Jan 31, 2015 1:44 am
Mea says...

I'm actually a lot more intolerant of swearing in real life than in fiction. If someone I'm talking to swears, I will ask them not to, period. I just overhear it on the bus or something, though, I don't bother.

In fiction, though, I don't mind minor swearing, it just bothers me and distracts me from the story when it's a lot.
We're all stories in the end.

I think of you as a fairy with a green dress and a flower crown and stuff.

I think you, @Deanie and I are like the Three Book Nerd Musketeers of YWS.

User avatar
229 Reviews

Gender: Female
Points: 11589
Reviews: 229
Sat Jan 31, 2015 2:29 am
SushiSashimi333 says...

I believe that sometimes curse words can be seen as necessary in fiction. To get across extreme anger, it's more likely that people will curse. Of course, if it sounds unnatural then cursing should most definitely be avoided since it'll take away from the flow of the story :/ Yeah, there is such a thing as too much swearing which I think shows immaturity of character.

What you may be writing is fiction, but the characters have personalities of people. If you're in a hallway and you hear some person saying the "f" word every three seconds (which I do), you'll obviously be either: annoyed or think they're immature. (I am both) It's the same for the readers, cursing too much just to sound cool is something all writers really need to avoid. The question is, when is cursing necessary?

IDK about that one, I just think if the character is uber mad then yeah, cuss words are "okay". Keep in mind, this is MY opinion. Just remember that sometimes saying something without a curse word can have more of an effect on a person/character than saying a strings of curses.

For me personally, I try to not curse because #1 when I do curse it makes the words all that more effective #2 My mom would whoop me if I let one slip and #3 I think telling someone they're poopy or to go eat a brick gets my point across a lot better while adding a bit of humor to it. I don't like getting mad because when I actually get mad it NEVER ends well :( However, those are rules set for me. My cussing rules for fiction are the same as my cussing rules for reality, do it with a cause and not just because you want to sound like a "cool high schooler" or whatever cool thing you think you are.

@RacheDrache I'm going to have to slightly disagree with you. (This is a discussion so I figure I should talk to someone :P) Yes, audience is important and parents probably won't let kids read books with ____ every other word, but if it takes away from the flow, character, or whatever I don't think there should be sensory. I think the rating should be made around the work, not the work around the rating. That's what I got from what you said anyways, I could totally be wrong, I am a lot, so correct me if I am. Discussions are kinda fun so feel free to correct me a ton if you disagree!

I guess what I'm saying is when it comes to writing, nothing should get in the way of you making a masterpiece. The age you're going for shouldn't force you to draw away from the intensity the language brings to an argument just like age shouldn't take away from the amount of gore, violence, or sex you put into your masterpiece. I like to think writing is more for the book than for the audience.

Sushi :D

User avatar
1634 Reviews

Gender: Female
Points: 67548
Reviews: 1634
Sun Feb 01, 2015 7:51 am
View Likes
Deanie says...

Using profanity can really depend on the writers style as well. I am writing a story about domestic abuse and I really feel like profanity should be used - and yet I don't like writing those words into my work. That's why I am trying to use Rick Riordan style of curse words, where he mentions that they are cursing but never uses the words themselves. That way if you want to include profanity and not use it, you can.

But yes, especially in contemporary fiction sometimes the use of profanity can be seen as necessary to make it seem realistic. I really think it depends on the writer themselves and the story you are writing.

@SushiSashimi333 I think audience should be taken into account. It's already given that you aren't going to be putting swear words into childrens fiction or middle grade fiction - so of course it does matter. It depends what kind of teenagers you want to attract to your novel, and then you should adapt the level of profanity to fit that. Audience is vital when it comes to writing.
Trust in God and all else follows.

Deanie, dominating the world since it was cool @Pompadour, 2014
Your username reminds me of a hotdog @Stegosaurus, 2015
Tried to make puns out of your username, but every attempt has been Deanied @Candywizard, 2015

User avatar

Gender: Male
Points: 240
Reviews: 0
Wed Apr 22, 2015 4:14 am
View Likes
Vikingr says...

It all just depends.

I firmly believe that in writing, the author should challenge themselves to not always let their personal convictions dictate what a character says, believes, and does, and what other things happen within a story.

Key word not always. If you have a character who would curse when being shot at for instance, then they should curse when being shot at. Doesn't matter as much what YOU think about cursing. And of course the audience should be taken into account, but if you're intending for your work to be read by...not kids, then this also shouldn't dominate whether your character(s) curse or not.

Now I'm not talking about wanton cursing. Even in my story, there's only occasional cursing, and it's always in places where it matters; hectic situation where characters are getting shot at and have a critical high stress job to do--realistically they might be cursing like 300% more than I have written. Just watch several videos of soldiers in combat in the middle east--they're not exactly using Shakespearean insults and English. Especially when rounds come very close by.
"A foolish man thinks he knows everything if placed in unexpected difficulty; but he knows not what to answer, if to the test he is put."

--The Hávamál

User avatar
10 Reviews

Gender: Female
Points: 862
Reviews: 10
Mon Apr 27, 2015 3:49 am
View Likes
KimberleeP says...

I believe word choice should be however the author chooses it to be. There are millions of readers, and different types at that. There are those who like, and don't like profanity; just as those who like informative books and don't like informative books. :)
"I write because I want to, and you read because you choose to." -Kimberlee P.

Random avatar

Gender: Male
Points: 240
Reviews: 0
Wed May 06, 2015 11:30 pm
View Likes
Octaclepassing says...

If profanity is going to be used then who is going to use it?
That's pretty much it. Doesn't matter what genre.
It's mainly who.
Story isn't much of a factor.
It's the character's class. Profanity can too be humorous depending on tone and situation. When people are sensitive, it's their morals. Of course, characters are like everyone in the world, random. Different education, environment, and culture are details are vital to it. So profanity depends on the who.
It can be used anywhere. The only fear against this is because of explicit manner of express and reference to things people think wrong. It's the personality and structure of the guy or gal. It's all varied really.

User avatar
61 Reviews

Gender: Female
Points: 1538
Reviews: 61
Sun May 31, 2015 4:39 am
Jadefox says...

I'm going to break down what I think into bullet points. I have clear opinions about profanity in books. It's all probably been said, but I would like to put in my two cents.

Swearing should only be used if:
-fitting to the character
-fitting to the narrator's voice
-fitting to the setting/time period

I'll explain myself now.

Every word we write should serve a purpose. Whether it be furthering the plot, describing the setting or character, every word needs to count. Therefore, meaningless cuss words or "filler words" in general should be edited out. If there's a better word to describe something or further a point, use it instead. If an s-bomb is the best way to describe a rotting, desolate shack in the wetlands of southern Florida, then use it.

Now that we understand the importance of each word that comprises your work, we also need to understand the importance of voice and discourse. Who is your narrator? Who is speaking? What is their background? What do they sound like when they speak? How are they communicating to the reader?

Let's take a look at some dialogue from Good Will Hunting:
(Warning: it does contain profanity)
Spoiler! :
Will: What do I wanna way outta here for? I'm gonna live here the rest of my fuckin' life. We'll be neighbors, have little kids, take 'em to Little League up at Foley Field.

Chuckie: Look, you're my best friend, so don't take this the wrong way but, in 20 years if you're still livin' here, comin' over to my house, watchin' the Patriots games, workin' construction, I'll fuckin' kill ya. That's not a threat, that's a fact, I'll fuckin' kill ya.

Will: What the fuck you talkin' about?

Chuckie: You got somethin' none of us have...

Will: Oh, come on! What? Why is it always this? I mean, I fuckin' owe it to myself to do this or that. What if I don't want to?

Chuckie: No. No, no no no. Fuck you, you don't owe it to yourself man, you owe it to me. Cuz tomorrow I'm gonna wake up and I'll be 50, and I'll still be doin' this shit. And that's all right. That's fine. I mean, you're sittin' on a winnin' lottery ticket. And you're too much of a pussy to cash it in, and that's bullshit. 'Cause I'd do fuckin' anything to have what you got. So would any of these fuckin' guys. It'd be an insult to us if you're still here in 20 years. Hangin' around here is a fuckin' waste of your time.

This brief exchange between two life-long friends features a variety of "high-quality" profanity. In context, however, it serves it purpose. The language matches the setting and voice of both Will and Chuckie, while all the while serving a purpose. The story takes place in the lower-class neighborhoods of Boston, Massachusetts during the 1990s. Will, Chuckie and a number of other characters, grew up around the gang, violence, and drug-ridden neighborhoods of Boston. Therefore, they aren't going to speak like Oxford graduates. Their use of the curses communicates and describes their intense emotion during the intense scene.

The last thing I want to leave you all with is this: if you don't use that curse word you thought would go swimmingly with your writing, would something be lost from the text? Or would it survive without it?
Every book you've ever read is just a recombination of 26 letters.

Once you have read a book you care about, some part of it is always with you.
— Louis L'Amour