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Profanity in Writing: Is It OK?

Profanity sells!

That is a fact. Which is one of the reasons writers employ it. Some will say they do it because they want their characters to be real. But this argument falls flat when you view real life.

Sure many, not all, people swear. I was a sailor and learned to swear, but that doesn’t mean that all sailors swear (though they have that reputation). But the truth is that even those who do swear usually are mindful of the people around them. It is rare to find someone who swears all the time.

Personally, I don’t like swearing or any kind of profanity in writing. One critic read a recent book review in which I explained my 2 star rating of the book was partly based on the excessive profanity. It was a book that left me feeling dirty, and I don’t think I was able to finish it. In fact, I eventually threw it away.

 Back to the critic. He took exception to my condemnation of profanity. Called it absurd and proceeded to attack me personally because of my Christian stand. I replied to that critic that I felt that way about profanity before I ever became a Christian.

 This critic had also defended profanity in writing because “most” people swear. This is dubious at best. Perhaps if you are talking about an occasional swear word this might be true. But constant swearing? Kind of depends where you frequent.

 The truth of the matter profanity in writing has less to do with creating “real” characters and more to being a crutch. Instead of investing time and effort into creating believable characters some authors opt for profanity and graphic text. These are crutches usually designed to cover poor writing.

 The sad part of this is that I have read (or started to read) books that were well written. They had good plot and strong characters. But then they inserted profanity. Ruined the book which ultimately landed in the trash.

 If you have been around for awhile you may remember some of the classics of old. Rarely did you see a swear word. Actually the authors often used symbols for swearing, such as “#$@&%*!”. And I am going to say something that may astound you.

Using symbols in place of actual swear words is more effective than the swear words.

Did I really say that? Yes. And here is why.

The writing of fiction, whatever genre you are in, has a primary goal of connecting with the reader. And how does a reader connect with a book? His/her imagination! It is the author’s job to trigger that imagination, to excite it and pull it in. That is why so much emphasis is placed on strong characters and well developed scenes. When describing a scene the author doesn’t get bogged down in details but gives beautiful (or ugly) descriptions that leave it up to the reader to fill in the smaller details. That is why two or more people can read the same words and ‘think’ it described something altogether different.

Same thing with language. Using a symbol actually triggers the reader’s imagination. One reader will supply a word or phrase, while another reader will apply an altogether different meaning. They personalize the text, making it something they are familiar with in their own lives.

Unfortunately there are famous authors who have used profanity in their books. Why? I can’t read their minds, but all to often it is because profanity sells. And that is sad. Especially if they are able to create strong characters without it.

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R. Frederick Riddle is the author of several books. For more information on him visit his Amazon Authors Page.

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