Hell, yes, you should use profanities in your writing!
Some would contend that swearing cheapens your prose and turns off your audience. Others will tell you that expletives are part of normal, real speech and can spice up your writing.
The truth is, word usage of any kind depends on your setting, characters, genre, expected readership, and a number of other factors.
While there are no ironclad rules about using profanities — or not — in your prose, we can make some generalizations.
When to Use Profanities in Your Writing
When Your Characters Are Angry
No matter how couth your characters are, there’s only so much a guy can take.
When things go bad, and especially when circumstances lead to angry confrontation, expletives are gonna fly.
Don’t artificially suppress your characters’ emotions by deleting the profanities from their dialogue.
When Your Characters Are Cursers
Some people just swear a lot.
You know the types: hotheads or self-important blowhards or the perpetually frustrated.
If your book is fronted by a single dad who works 16 hours a day at a manual job while raising three kids on his own — yeah, he’s going to curse.
When Your Genre Demands It
There are certain genres where profanities are part of the trade.
Can you imagine a gritty western where none of the outlaws curse?
Or how about an erotic romance novel with no dirty talk?
Neither can your readers. Give them what they want.
When You Need to Emphasize a Point — Strongly
Even beyond dialogue, there may be some circumstances when profanities are warranted in your writing.
Chief among those is when you need to make a strong point.
If you’re moving along with solid, standard prose and building toward a point, a well-placed expletive can be more impactful than just about any other word choice. This is going to depend on context and audience, but the judicious use of profanity can be a damn powerful way to make your case.
When NOT to Use Profanities in Your Writing
When You’re Writing for Children
Don’t curse when writing children’s books or stories.
Just don’t do it.
Otherwise, you might find a posse of angry parents on your doorstep, eager to kick your ass.
When They Become Overwhelming
We all know people who can’t get through a simple conversation without spraying their listeners with expletives. When every third word is the F-bomb, your audience will bristle and, if they stick around, eventually become immune to the impact of the sentiment.
Even the strongest of words lose their effect if overused.
The upshot is, employ profanities judiciously and don’t over do it.
During Normal, Everyday Conversation
In the same vein, most of your dialogue should be relatively “clean.”
If every conversation is pumped full of expletives, you will again lose some of that “wow” factor. The exceptions would be the situations cited above — certain genres and types of characters.
So what do you think? Do you use profanities in your writing, or is your prose strictly G-Rated? Let me know in the comments below.