Profanity in Books and Writing
WARNING! Despite the topic of profanity in writing, there is NO profanity in the following article. No caution is necessary while reading (but don’t click on the links if you’re offended easily).
I hardly ever use profanity in my personal life. The two exceptions are during football games and while I’m stuck in traffic. And when I write for Dysfunctional Literacy, I rarely use inappropriate language. Even when I wrote about the etymology of certain vulgar words, I used signs like @, %, *, and # most of the time to take the place of letters. I really didn’t want to spell them out.
I notice profanity in writing. I think some authors put way too much foul language in their books, especially in their dialogue. It won’t stop me from reading a book, but it might keep me from reading another book by that author (if the profanity is pointless). It’s not because the profanity is offensive; it’s that profanity is sometimes a sign of lazy writing.
I notice profanity on blogs too. Most of it is unnecessary (in my opinion), but I don’t stop reading because of it, and it occasionally (if used properly) adds more emotion to writing. It seems that the less profanity is used, the more effective profanity becomes when it’s used.
Even when writing fiction, I hardly ever use foul language. An English teacher in high school said that when our characters used vulgar language, it was best to just say that they swore and not state what words they used. That’s what I did for all of my stories in high school (it kept me out of trouble), and it had some carry over in college too. Now when I write fiction (none of it published, most of it not very good), I try to keep the profanity to a minimum.
But then I started writing “The Literary Girlfriend.” It’s a serial romantic comedy on my blog, and Danielle, the female love interest, swears a lot. It’s part of her personality, and I write a lot of dialogue in this story.
The problem is that I that I don’t know how offensive the profanity is to potential readers. I know some teenagers (and other impressionable souls) occasionally read Dysfunctional Literacy. I know teenagers curse more than Danielle does, but I still feel a bit hesitant to use so much foul language. Even sensitive adults (like me) might be offended if they don’t expect the profanity. My policy is that I don’t mind offending people (well, I do, just a little), but I don’t go out of my way to do it either.
Just a few days ago, the first sentence in The Literary Girlfriend: Car Trouble had two bad words (the f-bomb and the s-word). I liked the opening sentence, but I could see how it might turn off readers who had never read “The Literary Girlfriend” or had never seen Dysfunctional Literacy before.
So here’s the question (or questions): Should I put up a language warning at the beginning of “The Literary Girlfriend” posts when Danielle curses a lot? Do you get offended by overuse (or any use) of profanity in writing? How much profanity do you use in your own writing? And can you get through a traffic jam without using profanity?