Profanity in Young Adult Fiction (or any fiction for that matter)

Comments: 4

This subject has a pet peeve of mine for a long time. The subject recently came up in the Utah Children's Writer's message board, and there are a lot of people who say profanity is needed to make a scene believable or credible.

I for one, do not believe using profanity in ANY book is necessary, adult or young adult. I've seen many books depicting bad characters who use profanity, but the author chooses not to use the actual words. I think it's sufficient to indicate that a character swears, or swore, without using those profane words.

As an example. I'm currently reading "The Great and Terrible" series by Chris Stewart. I recommend reading this series and other "best-selling" books by Mr. Stewart as great examples of what I'm talking about. Mr. Stewart has some pretty awful characters depicted in his books, yes, characters who swear and use profanity, but he does not use the actual profane words, choosing rather to indicate that a character swore, and leave the bad word up to the imagination of the reader. It does work. I don't think anyone reading his books will think they are fake or phony. They're quite realistic.

Another example is Dean Hughes' books. He writes about WWII and other difficult subjects where profanity should be expected. But I can't recall a single profane word and his books are totally believable.

Certainly, it takes a bit more creativity on our part, but isn't that what we writers pride ourselves as being -- creative?

I think we can avoid using profane words and still be realistic. It just takes a slight bit more effort. In my mind, using the actual words in our writing cheapens our work and is the lazy way out, and what example are we showing our youth?
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About Paul West

Paul West is a freelance writer and novelist. Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, Paul claims to be a "Prune Picker," though he now makes his home in Taylorsville, Utah.

You can follower him on Twitter: @PaulWWest

Published: Monday, February 09, 2009

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  1. I agree that swearing is, for the most part, unnecessary and counter-productive. Before i published my book, Kramer's World, i worked hard to eliminate the swear words (after receiving advice on the matter) and i think the finished version is better. It's a young adult realistic fiction novel ( and there are some tough 14 year old characters. I didn't use the 'f' word (or abbreviated) once, and i think i only used 'shit' when a hyphen wouldn't do. The protagonist goes to hell and back in this story but doesn't swear once. I'm proud of that. I think swearing would have cheapened the characters and the writing.

  2. Good going, Troy. Thanks for writing.

    In my novel, I've not used even the sh_t word, though it's obvious some of the characters are using that word, and worse. My characters are around 17 and pretty tough too. Still, I think I've done a good job avoiding the usage of such language.

  3. As a reader and not a writer, I get absolutely disgusted when I see swear words on the pages of a book. I know many people who feel the same way. My advice to anyone reading these comments and believing otherwise would be to keep it clean. All swear words do is make a character look well as the writer in my opinion. If you have any education at all, you can think of more appropriate words.

    ps. Dad, stop crying about our move. I may come live with you guys for a month or so while Joel studies for the Bar this summer.

  4. Thanks Beckers. Great comments.

    No, I'm not crying about your move. I was just kidding. Sure, you know where I wish you were moving, but I feel the Lord is directing your paths, and I can't ask for more than that.

    I wish you and Joel, and your brood, the very best in your move.

    Love ya,