While I was over at Maya Reynolds blog this morning (today she has an excellent post on censorship), it brought to mind the use of profanity. And while her post deals specifically with someone else's hissy about the use of the word 'scrotum' in a middle-grade book, which isn't profane by any stretch of the imagination, I'd like to talk about the use of profanity in adult-level novels.
First off, let me say that in my younger days, I swore like a dock-worker. I didn't think anything about it, and it certainly wasn't done for effect like some young people, but looking back it certainly didn't do much to make me appear intelligent. Still, my way of thinking about it has always been they are just words, and whether they have any affect on your sensibilities depends entirely on you. (Remember, once upon a time Dick was just short for Richard and Bitch was just a female dog.) As I've grown older, I've found better and more appropriate words to replace most of the profane, but my opinion hasn't changed all that much.
A prime example of how not to use profanity would be those comedians (especially since Eddie Murphy's 'Raw' - although he was by no means the first) who feel the word 'fuck' adds to the punchline. Sometimes it does; most times it doesn't. And most of the time it's used purely for 'shock value'.
So what do I, as a writer, do with profanity in my novels? As with anything, I use it where it would be appropriate both to the story and to the characters pattern of speech. Inner city youth? Swears often. Highly educated astrophysicist hero? Very little, and never the worst of the words. Smarmy pseudo-scientist? In private, very often; in public, very little - depending on what word suits his purposes at the time. (Truth be told, when he's with his lackeys, he's a potty-mouth. He thinks it makes him look tough when in reality it just makes him more of an ass.)
Purposefully peppering your prose with profanity until it is purple works about as well as too-much alliteration. On the other hand, purposefully steering clear of all profanity - if your work is set in this day and age - would make your work sound unnatural. (Unless you're writing a book about the Amish or the Mennonites... Hell, even Mormons swear every now and then.)
As with anything, please remember the cardinal rule, of writing and life: With all things, moderation.
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