Profanity in Your Writing

Comments: 3

Some people believe using profanity in their writing makes their prose sound more realistic. They claim it's necessary for shock value. While that may be, I don't believe it's "necessary" in order to create a sense of realism, which is all fiction is anyway.

In my novel "Sweet Revenge," I have some pretty tough characters, but I don't have any of them using profanity, even when they are being beat up by a group of thugs, or by the thugs themselves, for that matter. The antagonists (thugs) swear, but I never use the actual swear words. I just say, "So and so swore," or something like that, which allows the reader to imagine the epithet.

I don't think it's necessary to show a person swearing in order to show his emotional state. That can be shown by what he's seeing, hearing, saying, but mostly feeling in his heart.

I was part of a critique group once that was supposed to be strictly for writers of young adult literature. A young boy (around 16 or 17) joined the group and proceeded to put the infamous "F"-word in every other paragraph. When I told him publishers of YA material probably would not accept that kind of language, he became even more profane. I complained to the moderator, but she refused to do anything about it, so I quit rather than read any more of his filth.

I know I don't like to read those kinds of words when I’m enjoying a novel, and I think a lot of readers would prefer not to be subjected to them either, if the truth were known.

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 read "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, 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 works. 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?
More on:  ,

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: Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Share this PostPin ThisShare on TumblrShare on Google PlusEmail This

Post a Comment

Today, in the Query Tracker Blog, Elana Johnson has an excellent posting about the dreaded bio.

I've read a lot about the need for a short bio in a query letter. It should highlight your writing experience or credentials. But what do you do if you really have nothing to brag about? I have no publishing credits, at least not yet. I'm not a member of any prestigious writing associations. I'm not an expert in any field related to the subject matter. So what do I write?

There are two kinds of bios we writers need to be concerned with. The short paragraph, in the query letter, and the longer one sometimes asked for separately, often along with a synopsis and sample chapters.

Here's some examples of both:

Short, query letter, version:

I grew up in the town and era in which this novel is set. I currently work as an environmental biologist writing technical reports, and use fiction writing as my therapy from boredom.

Longer version:

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 West Jordan, Utah.

The rustic San Francisco Bay Area countryside, the quaint small town he grew up in, and the colorful people who once lived there, have all teamed to fertilize his ever-churning mind with stories that are yearning to be told.

From his earliest days in high school, his English teachers saw some raw writing ability in him, both for fiction and non-fiction, and urged him to pursue his dream of being a writer. In college his creative writing professors also encouraged him to mold his ability into a talent.

After settling on a career as an environmental biologist, where he’s written numerous technical publications, the stories swarming through his mind kept crying to get out. So Paul began writing fiction, but only as a hobby at first. He has recently finished his first novel, SWEET REVENGE, and is close to finishing his second, GERTA! Paul intends to keep letting his stories out through future novels.

Paul is a member of several writing and critique groups including Authors by Design, Writers Pen, Query Tracker, Children's Writer's & Illustrator's, Utah Children’s Writers, among others. In addition to his writing, he and his wife, enjoy spending time with their four children and six grandchildren, gardening, reading, and researching their family history.
Read More »