Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Should or Shouldn’t Writers Give a Fu*k?

People use foul language every day without a second thought but in mainstream modern crime fiction there is often very little bad language and what there is tends to be there to create effect. A character who uses “Oh no”, “Oh dear” or other such tame expressions can convey the increased seriousness of a situation by saying “Oh fuck”. But as a counter balance it has to be inkeeping with the character and their personality.

Expletives have their place in literature as they have their place in everyday dialogue. Soldiers, emergency forces and certain professions are rife with foul language and a true depiction of characters in this environment would have to include the sweary bits. 

I have in the past criticised an author for his heavy dialogue and had to tone my own down. This is not because I am a shrinking violet. Quite the opposite in fact, I can swear with the best of them. (Especially once beer has been sampled)

However when writing as with life there are time we all choose to swear or not swear.
Hit your thumb with a hammer, stubbed your toe or caught your beloved in the wrong bed? Fine swear all you want.
Lunch with the in-laws, job interviews and first dates are times when you wouldn’t choose to swear in real life so characters shouldn’t swear, unless you are making a fool of them. Or arse of them perhaps? 

I try to find the balance in my writing as to where profanity is relevant, character driven and is not there purely for shock value. 

One area I do like to use great big sweary words is when I have a lengthy piece of dialogue and I want to use the minimum amount of dialogue tags. Having a curser and a polite character gives a great voice to each character and defines their speech patterns to create their identity. Hell you can even have the characters ask the question “Do you have to swear so much?” to spice things up. 

One thing I do draw the line at though is the use of the C word although I have noticed it is becoming increasingly used both in crime fiction and TV shows.

Having read many mainstream and successful authors one thing I have noticed is that very few of the really big sellers litter their books with Fucks, Bastards or Bloody’s. 

Please feel free to comment on your own boundaries and thoughts on the topic of swearing in books.
In other news I have a story in the forthcoming anthology Off the Record 2. All monies go to charity so grab a copy when it comes out later this week.
I am honoured to have my story included in this anthology for both altruistic and selfish reasons. Altruistic because all the monies raised go the charity.
Selfish because of the fantastic lineup of my peers.


  1. If it's in character, I agree, it's completely acceptable and I don't bat an eyelid.
    If it's out of the blue, and out of character, I sometimes wonder if the writer is just trying to make it 'rough' so people will buy into whatever happens next. Sudden violence is ok, of course, but if it's completely out of character and just to titillate the story...not so much.
    :) good post

  2. Interesting. Odd how vagina and cunt denote the same thing, yet one can be used freely & posted up outside theatres while the other "provokes outrage", and this despite the fact that when the latter is used as a curse it generally loses its sexual connotation & just denotes a nasty fellow.
    I can do without it as a punctuation, though it doesn't offend me. Reading it page after page bores me, as would listening to it.
    When I writr, there are very few......though I did prepare a special edition of my books to send to my mother, in which the bad guys were calling each other "scoundrels" and "blackguards" Andy

  3. If it is gratuitous it is really annoying and the sign of a bad, or lazy, writer. If appropriate and used with constraint and conviction it doesn't offend me or, at least, I can excuse it. I also have the post-beer-sampling problem!

  4. I'm as sweary as the next guy in some of my fiction -- but, interestingly enough I suppose, never in my poetry. The F word has come to be interchangeable with "Very" here in the States and the "C" word is rarely used. Never could figure out why that is. Maybe because of its Anglo-Saxon heritage? Allan Guthrie did a brilliant satire on its usages in contemporary fiction in Shotgun Honey: http://www.shotgunhoney.net/2011/04/fucking-liars-by-allan-fucking-guthrie.html. I was, I'm afraid, a bit free with thr word at the end of last nights NFL game between the Green Bay Packers and The Seattle Seahawks. Maybe even a bit more than Allan's piece in SGH.

  5. The about curse words is, is that no one curses the same way. If they all do in your book, it's just a lack of vocabulary. If there are people who shun curse words, psychos who chains them when they can't accept reality and plain ol' foul mouthed people, well you got it. The way I see it, it's just another tool in the writer's shed.

  6. I rather like clever use of swearing, and must admit to using it in speech personally (oops), and dialogue in fiction. What I don't like, as has been mentioned is gratuitous use - I mean, fuck is such a wonderful and powerful old word when used correctly, or when least expected - why waste it on filling out sentences? I do hate the 'C' word though.

  7. It never fails to amaze me when I hear or read about writers expressing distaste for a word. And, as expected, nine times out of ten, it's the old C word that gets the blood boiling. (Note how I didn't write the whole word in case it offended your sensitive eyes and you had to go lie down for a while.)

  8. Thanks to one and all who commented.

    It seems to me as if the general consensus is that sweary words are ok and even welcome provided that they are in context. The ever controversial "c" word seems to be the most offensive profanity and as such is the least used yet the most powerful.

    AJ that is one fucker of a link you provided.