Better left unsaid? Inappropriate language.

Welcome back to another blog hop, with #OpenBook. Here’s this week’s prompt.

How do you feel about the use of profanity, either in your stories or in what you read?

After forty years at sea, I don’t think there’s a profanity I haven’t heard (or used), probably in several languages. I’m pretty immune to most of them, spoken or in print.

If you want what you write to be realistic, you will probably need to consider using the occasional profanity. Even in Y.A. fiction. Unless the book that you’re writing is aimed at the under-twelves, you have to accept that the odd word here or there won’t corrupt teenagers. It’s what they will expect and almost certainly language that they use among their peers (i.e., when you’re not listening).

If you read most modern adult literature, you’re almost guaranteed to encounter some choice words. There are some books where every second word is unacceptable in polite company, personally, I find myself numbed to their effect by the constant repetition. I think that authors who use too many, or inappropriately are missing a trick.

I like to think that what I write can be read by just about anyone over the age of twelve. Having said that, there may well be the odd thing here or there that might be considered inappropriate. A bit like life really, you occasionally hear or see something you wish you hadn’t.

I would defend their inclusion by saying that a lot of it has to do with the context. And less is most definitely more. By not writing a stream of profanity, you can gain more effect from a single word, especially where it’s not expected. A little taste or suggestion can sow a seed and get the reader’s imagination (and empathy) engaged.

It’s the old Alfred Hitchcock ploy, suggest and leave it to the reader, they can then get as shocked as they want to be.

It was one of the tricks I learnt whilst in a position of command at sea, to resist the urge to get angry or make a fuss as much as possible. I would go to my cabin or the foc’s’le store and shout behind a closed door. When you finally erupted for public consumption, people took much more notice than if you were always doing it.

My life, and indeed my books are not littered with profanity. Every now and then, one word might well escape my lips but it’s usually for a good reason and it’s all the more effective for being the exception. There is a place for the judicious use of an F-bomb, it can relieve tension or create it. Coming out of left field, it will make you stop and think. It can even show the seriousness of a situation as seen through the utterer’s eye. Or appear in a burst of humour.

As it frequently does in real life.

Even so, I will not use some of the available choices, they’re just too much.

Until next week.

Let me know what you think about this week’s subject.

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6 Responses

  1. Leon Stevens

    I agree. It’s all about appropriate usage. Too much can be off-putting, none at all (depending on the character) may seem bland.

  2. Stevie Turner

    Very true about going behind a closed door to shout and not using too much profanity. In that way when you do shout or swear, it has more effect. Otherwise too much shouting and swearing has no effect, as you say. It all becomes normalised.

  3. P.J. MacLayne

    Don’t forget, a word that is too much to you can be run-of-the-mill in another location. Keeps our job as writers interesting

  4. Daryl Devore

    As a high school teacher – I also – would go hide behind a door and let loose with every cuss word ever known to our human species. Then quietly go back to class as if nothing happened.

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