I often hear people say that they hate fiction with the f-word. People will say things like `it’s nothing but the F word. It’s all swearing. There’s too many profanities,’ yet is swearing a valid expression within fiction and when does it become too much?
Personally, I don’t mind a bit of swearing. I don’t think that it’s always appropriate but sometimes it is more realistic. In fact I find that attempts to cover swearing can stand out even more than if they’d used a profanity, because the words I would expect a character to say are absent. Something about the replacement of the F-word just jars me.
Yet there are times when it goes too far the other way. I’ve read some books where the use of swear words seemed to be constant and gratuitous, every character in a constant tirade of profanities which only distracted from the story.
So how do you decide when to use it in your fiction and how? Here’s a few ideas:
Use it when:
- It seems the most appropriate thing for the character to say.
- It fits the character and situation without defining them (unless you deliberately want to define then)
- It feels right for the scene.
- It doesn’t detract anything from the scene.
- It adds realism.
Avoid Using it When:
- It doesn’t seem appropriate and you don’t feel that it fits into the story and/or characters.
- It would be inappropriate to your audience. I.e. In children’s books.
- It becomes the story – This is where it is so frequent that it actually becomes a hindrance. Instead of adding more realism this actually lessens the effect of the swearing because the reader often either switches off from it because it’s repetitive or is offended by it.
The most important thing to remember that it is all about choice. You can choose whether you feel swearing is a necessary part of your story or remove it entirely. Some people will always find it offensive but there’s nothing to say that it doesn’t have its place. After all which would be a more realistic way to react if your character had just lost everything he/she owned because of someone else’s mistake? Would they be mad? Upset? Of course they would. Whether they would swear or not depends on that type of character but I think it’s safe to say that many people in this situation would be shouting profanities.
My advice is to use it sparingly, even if you do choose to use it. While there is a place for it, you may not want it to dominate your work, which is usually what will happen if it’s used too much.
What’s your take on swearing? Do you use it in your novels or flash fiction?
- Bad Language in Crime Fiction (avidmysteryreader.com)
- Go Ahead and Swear: The New Pain Management (fitsugar.com)
- Fiction and Word Counts (bardicblogger.wordpress.com)
- What’s Your Favorite Swear Word? (thegloss.com)
- Raising the Stakes – Fiction Tips (bardicblogger.wordpress.com)
- The Virtues of Innocence (manbehindthecurtain.ie)
- The E-Spark (bardicblogger.wordpress.com)
- You Shouldn’t Curse In Blog Posts, Damnit (blogworld.com)