Explicit and profane

Before I start this post officially I would first like to point out the similarity in this photo of Winston Churchill, nabbed from the BBC website;
To this picture of renowned evil vampire Herrick in Being Human!
It made me pause in my sandwich eating…
Anyway, the image of Winston Churchill comes from a news article on the BBC about legally insulting people.
It demonstrates the art of the insult through a few examples including Winston Churchill’s comparison of Charles de Gaulle to a ‘female llama who has been surprised in the bath’ and Shakespeare’s ‘thou hast no more brain than I have in mine elbows’.  Brilliant.  They put the majority of insults to shame.
This made me think about swearing in fiction (as swearing is often used when insulting).  Swearing, along with sex scenes, is something I’m not completely comfortable with when writing.  Which is strange considering I constantly swear in reality, and am fine by sex (where appropriate). 
Personally, I think my own problem stems from the way I was brought up.  Swearing is unprofessional (a definite no-no in the workplace) and I want to be a professional writer.  As for sex scenes, I’m fine until I wonder if my dad might read it…
I’ve recently started putting stronger swear words in my novels, reminding myself that I am writing for adults and therefore it is allowed.  I’ve read far worse from best selling authors. 
Then again, according to latest studies, the characters who swear in young adult fiction are the most popular, including mild swearing in the Harry Potter series which surprised me.  This has raised questions about whether books should have age ratings, which is a whole other debate.
On the other hand, my mother-in-law comments on the books she reads that are filled with profanities, claiming that while the story is good, it would be better without the constant swearing.
Essentially, swearing (and sex) in fiction is utterly subjective.  As is everything in fiction.  When writing fiction, you should write what you want to read and if you don’t mind profanities and sex in your books then hopefully your readers won’t either.
This is not an excuse to overuse the swear word.  Some swearing can make a character, or situation, more believable.  Sex and swearing, as with everything else in writing, should be used as tools.  For example, in the first series of Game of Thrones Joffrey called Arya a c***.  This was a complete shock and I vividly remember both me and my husband gasping at the sound of it.  It was the moment when you realise that Joffrey isn’t just a spoilt little prince, in one word the viewer comes to realise that there is something very wrong with Joffrey.
On the other hand, the brilliant Neil Gaiman’s Amercian Godscontains detailed sex scenes.  I read the first one with shock and actually had to put the book down to think about how I felt about such descriptive language.  On one hand, was this detail necessary?  On the other hand, it made me stop, think and look at Neil Gaiman’s name on the front.  I certainly haven’t forgotten it in a hurry and it didn’t detract from the story, rather it gave it a certain flavour.
A good rule of thumb when deciding whether to include profanity, or sex scenes, is to consider;
  • Is it believable?      

I recently had to stop myself from putting a common profanity in my latest fantasy novel when I realised that a whole other world of kings and dragons wouldn’t necessarily have the same profanities as us and this was a great opportunity not to use our common swear words.

  • Does it add to the story?   

Vivid, detailed descriptions of sex may add to a scene or situation or let the reader into a secret about a character.

  •  Who is your target audience?  

Are you writing for young adults or adults?  How would you feel about your child reading those words?

  • Does it fit into the setting? 

If you’re writing an historical story, certain swear words will not fit the tone and will put the reader off.

  •  Are you comfortable using the words? 

If your own writing makes you cringe then it will make others cringe!  Only write what you feel comfortable writing and remember, there will be a lot of people out there who share your views on profanities, no matter what they are.


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