Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Writing without profanity

A Decision

I debated early on whether or not to use profanity in my writing.  After thinking about it for quite a while, I realized that stories could be told perfectly well without it.  Many of my favorite books had absolutely no swear words in them.  Recently, I've noticed that many books do have profanity, especially with Indie Authors who don't have anyone to discourage them from doing so.

My first two stories, "Blue Haired Alien Girlfriend" and "Test Pilot" have some light profanity in them, but it fit at the time.  They were written before I made the decision not to use swearing.  In writing my first novel, "Rojuun", I came to a point where it would make sense for a character to cuss, but I was uncomfortable writing it.  (I can be a total prude in some ways, oddly enough)

Would writing without profanity work?

In this day and age, swearing has become prevalent throughout American society.  Finding someone who doesn't cuss is rarer than finding someone who does.  Would it even be possible for me to write without it?  At first, it started out as an experiment.  Halfway through "Rojuun" I realized that it was pretty easy to do.

There have been two or three times when it's been really hard not to put swearing in a section where it would really fit.  I've been able to cover it by saying: "He said things that weren't polite in any language" or something like that.  It's worked pretty well.

The results

All of my novels and all but the two short stories mentioned previously have no profanity in them, a fact that I'm rather proud of at this point.  The mean characters haven't lost any of their toughness in the process.  The stories read better in my opinion.  It's also been fun putting the challenge before myself and meeting it.  The other advantage is that it makes my books palatable to a wider variety of audience.

The flaw in my plan is that I tend to add graphic violence with details of heads flying through the air and blood splattering against walls.  *sigh*  I don't really market my novels to younger children for this reason.  Another issue is that I tend to get somewhat descriptive with the beginning of sex scenes, although I fade out before it becomes erotica.  I've been accused of having too much kissing.  I'll let you decide if that's a bad thing.

So, to sum it all up: my books have gratuitous violence, mild sex and absolutely no profanity.  There's probably some sort of flaw in that logic, but it's working for me. ;)


I have also read a counterpoint argument by Patty Jansen, a winner of the Writers of the Future Contest.  She makes very good points that refusing to use profanity limits vocabulary.


Rachel McClellan said...

I think it is possible and should be done whenever possible. I've read a lot of YA books as that is what I write, and I'm shocked to see how many use vulgar language just for shock value. When I see it, I remember it more than any great writing the author may have had in it. And I get that in real life teenagers curse, but it's distracting when reading it just like it stops me in the school hallway when I hear the "F" word. In writing you never want anything that "jolts" your reader. For me, obsessive cursing jolts me.
Good post. :)

John H. Carroll said...

Hi Rachel,

It's been challenging a few times, but I'm happy with the decision.

The way teenagers cuss can be disturbing. Oftentimes they don't even think about how they sound. I know I didn't when I was a teen.

I cuss in real life occasionally, but don't even like when I hear it out of my own mouth.

Thank you for reading and commenting. :)