Profanity. Cursing. Offensive language, of various kinds. Is it okay to include this in fiction?
Should your characters use swear words, or is it unnecessary and unacceptable for them to do so?
If you write for children, it’s advisable and ethical to avoid swear words.
YA, or Young Adult, is a somewhat different issue, and a grey area.
I write Adult Fiction, so my main focus is naturally upon books aimed at adults.
If you’re interested in the ongoing debate about swearing in YA literature, I encourage you to Google this specifically. The subject has been extensively covered, but I won’t be addressing it here, beyond this short acknowledgement of the issue.
Genre and target audience are considerations, even within Adult Fiction.
Certain genres, and types of story, are significantly more likely to include swear words.
As with so many other issues, it’s important to know your target audience, and their general preferences. This can then guide your writing and editing decisions.
In a recent post about addressing controversial subjects in fiction, I cautioned against being deliberately controversial, for mere shock value.
This advice is definitely applicable here.
Swearing is undeniably a part of real life.
But not everyone routinely swears. Some people hardly ever – or (apparently) never – swear at all.
The truth is that characters often make the decision for you – to a certain degree. Some people, and therefore also characters, are going to swear. But, even in such cases, the degree of editing that you exercise is your personal decision.
Censorship aside – you would, in general, edit dialogue to exclude anything superfluous, and therefore, many swear words will probably be shed naturally, during revisions.
Any device that is overused tends to lose its impact, and swearing is no exception.
Maybe some of your characters will swear, but others not swear at all, or very rarely.
And, if some particular characters are constantly swearing, ask yourself whether some instances can be cut. Readers get the general idea, without being bombarded by bad language.
And, if you do want to convey, at any stage, that a character is furious, via the use of strong language – well, this technique won’t be effective, if such expressions are part of the character’s regular, casual vocabulary.
If you’re personally very uncomfortable with swearing, it’s probably not advisable to include this in your stories.
There are other ways for your characters to express themselves.
But, if you do feel that swearing is something that you need or/and are content to include in your fiction, don’t feel that you can’t do so for fear of judgement.
Maybe your parents or grandparents, or the woman next-door, would be shocked – but are those people your target audience, anyway? Probably not – and, such being the case, your story is not, or should not be, being written to keep them happy.
Some readers will indeed slam down your book in disgust, if you include swear words.
But then again, others will slam down your book if your dialogue doesn’t ring true – and it may be that swear words are one of the many devices that would add authenticity to the dialogue. You’ve heard it before, but you honestly can’t please everyone, and shouldn’t try.
Write from the heart. With or without swear words.