Profanity in Books: One Perspective

This is something which has been on my mind for a while now whenever I read a book. Is the use of profanity an important feature of literature, or an unnecessary excess that serves no particular purpose? To be honest, in my books, I do not showcase any great amount of profanity, as, although not a prude, I find it does not truly mesh with the stories I write. This does not mean, though, that profanity does not play an important role in other books.

Slide for blog post

Slide for blog post

I find swear words, when used sparingly, can have an enormous impact in a specific scene. Sometimes the use of a word can heighten the scene, and display the full range of emotions between characters. If two characters in an exchange say, for example, ‘You stupid woman’ it may not have the same impact as, ‘You damn harlot’ or ‘You damned whore’. The use of ‘harlot’ or ‘whore’ would be much more shattering to the recipient than ‘woman’ would.

There are books where the full range of swear words are employed between characters, but the intention of these may be more muted, if, for example, the characters use these words to express familiarity with each other. I believe it depends upon how these lines are delivered, and what the speaker wishes to arouse in the other person(s) in the conversation. This, though, is much different from having characters mouth harsh obscenities in every second word, which can be trying to read, and going overboard.

It all comes down to a difference of opinion, and what writers and readers are comfortable with. Now, over to you with this question – what do you think of the use of profanity in literature?


2 thoughts on “Profanity in Books: One Perspective

  1. I think a person’s dialogue should be a true reflection of the character, Marcia. Yes, I hate over use of bad language, too, but you can’t have, say, a fast living rock singer or a New York policeman saying nothing stronger than ‘flipping heck’. I’m careful about which of my characters curse a lot and which don’t; as you say, a really strong word used by someone who never normally utters anything stronger than ‘oh dear’ is much more powerful than constant use of them”!!

    If you consider any best selling, trad pub authors, I don’t think ‘whether or not to use curse words’ is even an issue; they just write according to realism of their characters.

    • I completely agree with you. If it’s in the context of the material, and it rings true, with the story and characters, like you say, softer language in certain books would not work, and sound wooden. To be honest, I have very minor, occasional swearing in my books, but sometimes feature more of characters ‘chewing the scenery’ as the saying goes, which I find fun, but that’s a personal thing on my part!!

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