Tag Archives: swearing in books

When the F#%K Should Your Characters Swear?

Time to bring out Ann and John again.  In case you missed their previous antics:

Ann and John on Copyrights

Ann and John on Characters with Accents

Ann and John vs. Robostrangler

And now, our latest installment – Ann and John and the Search for More F$*ing money.

I have mixed thoughts on those pesky swear words.  On the one hand, we are adults.  If your characters are adults living in an adult world, they might swear once in awhile.  Case in point:

“I’ve had enough of your goddamn cheating, John!”  Ann said as she drew her gun and pointed it at him.

“Ann!  No!  What the f$%k are you doing?!”  John asked.

“What I should have done a long time ago, you son of a bitch!”

Ann fired.  The bullet ripped through John’s flesh.

“Owww!”  John screamed.  “My f$&king arm!!!”

I don’t like gratuitous swearing.  I like to use it sparingly, avoiding it if at all possible.  Whether it is for humorous or dramatic effect, I only like to use it when the situation absolutely calls for it.

It’s not that I’m some kind of prissy teetotaler.  I don’t clutch my pearls, pop my monocle, and shout, “Oh I declare, I positively have the vapors!” whenever I hear naughty language.

Unless it is somehow central to the plot, or somehow works well with the story, I just fear that too many swears will alienate a reader.

The problem?  Just as it is possible to overuse swears, it is possible to underuse them:

“I’ve had enough of your gosh darn cheating, John!” Ann said as she drew her gun and pointed it at him.

“Ann! No! What the fiddlesticks are you doing?!” John asked.

“What I should have done a long time ago, you son of a female dog!”

Ann fired. The bullet ripped through John’s flesh.

“Owww!” John screamed. “My fudging arm!!!”

I suppose it is possible to split the difference.  After all, if you’re going through a frightening experience, like say, getting shot, you would probably swear, but then again, you might be in such shock, you might forget to:

“I’ve had enough of your cheating, John!” Ann said as she drew her gun and pointed it at him.

“Ann! No! What are you doing?!” John asked.

“What I should have done a long time ago!”

Ann fired. The bullet ripped through John’s flesh.

“Owww!” John screamed. “My arm!!!”

Well, let me get to the whole point of why I seek your input.  As previously discussed, I’m working on a sci-fi novel.  It takes place in a gritty world, where life isn’t easy for my characters, and bad things happen.

It has aliens, robots, spaceships, monsters – or in other words, the odds are younger people will like it more than older folks.  Although, maybe not.  I feel like I’ll still love Sci-Fi when I’m eighty years old.  The more sci-fi was around when you were a kid, the more you’ll like it as an adult.

As an author, I find swear words to be particularly vexing.  Don’t use a swear and you might be selling out, overuse swears and you’ll push potential readers away.  And the second you drop a swear word into your book you move from something that can be enjoyed by all to something that can only be enjoyed by few.

Well readers, what the f%&k do you think?

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