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Last week’s post and comments on bodily functions got me thinking about the use of profanities in fiction. I wouldn’t be in favour of puritanical censorship, but I wouldn’t advocate gratuitous swearing either.

Sometimes swear words express what your character wants to say. As always in fiction, for me anyhow, character comes first and I try to make character and speech consistent. Some characters will have to use profanities if they’re to be true to themselves. If it’s the writer who uses profanities for the sake of shocking the reader then it’s boring and will damage the story.

I find it helps to consider the question: Does it work for the character? If yes, then I use as many profanities as the character would use, in this story, for example.

If you’re writing with a particular market in mind you might want to ask yourself, Does it work for the market? Literary markets shouldn’t be a problem if you’ve been faithful to your characters and have scutinised their word choices, but obviously if you’re writing for a conservative demographic you won’t use many F words.

Does it work for you? If there are some swear words you just wouldn’t use then you probably need to get over your reluctance in order to allow a character the freedom to use those words.

Of course writers have been known to sound like drunken pirates too. Here’s Annie E Proulx on ‘structure’ in a Glimmer Train article: “I learned how important balance is. And I learned how bloody, fucking important structure is. If you can’t get the structure, stay home, baby.”

But, that’s for another post…

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