Swearing in Creative Writing


What is everyone’s thoughts on profanity in creative writing? Would it be acceptable to write profanity in a certain characters’ dialogue since it can help set a particular tone which can really only be set by using such words (since lesser words wouldn’t sound authentic)?


I would go for it!

As long as you don’t have it so bad that it starts getting sinful.



In literature swear words are only useful if used sparingly.
If your characters swear all the time you lose the effect of a given situation where a good solid swear word is necessary.

Also, unless you live in the world where every one swears all the time, you will not be writing honestly. Your readers will know instinctively that you are using swear words as a gimmick rather that a true portrayal of your characters.


I do get what you’re saying, but if I’m writing about someone who is in an exceptionally high stress situation or someone who was a convicted felon (or in this case both), then they would probably let out more than just one swear word. I probably wouldn’t personally feel comfortable writing the f-word even if it was in a character’s dialogue, however. I would probably do lesser words.


If you are writing ‘realistic’ and representative fiction, you want to ground the character as strongly as possible in his or her particular context, create a believable and compelling character. And that means producing well-motivated and convincing dialogue. If you want to show, for example, two war veterans talking in a bar, you are likely to have expletives and off-colour jokes. That doesn’t mean that these men (or women) may not be people of deep faith or troubled by faith issues or good, complex people caught up in a tough situation. Their inner monologues may be profound or questioning or show the integrity of inner struggle. But outwardly they will talk as others do in that kind of context.

In the same way, you may want to show a young wife and mother who is concerned with careful speech, a demure church-goer, gentle and soft-spoken. Unexpectedly, her little son is killed by a drunken driver and she feels a rage she has never felt before, she blames not only the driver but the God who did not save her child. She rages at the universe in language she has never dreamed of using before. In the novel or short story this is only the beginning – you will show her journey through rage and grief to acceptance and a deepening of faith, work to help others who are bereaved, the slow healing of this terrible loss.

The important thing is that the speech or dialogue should not be mindless or cliched, it should resonate with the character and the context.

Good luck with your work.


It is an author’s call to make.

One of my favorite authors is Tony Hillerman. He wrote about murderers and villains of all sorts. Once in awhile one of his characters will swear but only once in awhile. The strange thing about his writings one is totally unaware that Hillerman seldom uses swear words. Now if the hero is climbing up the side of a canyon with a vicious dog on his trail and he trips and drops his gun, you would be hard pressed to think he would say, “Oh golly gee.”

You have to use common sense.


I would say no.


You don’t have to write the actual words, just say (Bob) is the person in the story.
then approach it like this.

Under all of the pressure and hearing the cell door lock,
Bob fouled the corridor with a burst of expletives as has
never been heard there before.

That’s what I try to do anyway.
Hope it helps. :tiphat:


In literature, there are many curse words…but you can skim over them & they don’t offend too much. :blush:

On the other hand in movies, if they are not edited for TV, the curse words hit you like a slap in the face. :ouch: One or two for effect can be tolerated but most new movies, eg. “Django Unchained,” go overboard and it just disgusting!

The old gangster movies & my favorite TV series, “Miami Vice” had no cursing but were still tough and you didn’t need to hear the filth!

I watch the Turner Classic Movie channel & enjoy good movies without embarrassment. :blush: Also my Miami Vice & Walker, Texas Ranger DVDs!


A writer doesn’t have to quote profanity in order to have a character swear. In my own writing, I get around it by simply saying that a character cursed.

For example: “When Joe hit his thumb with the hammer, he roared a dozen blasphemies.”

The rest is left to the imagination of the reader.


As a professional editor for a book publishing company, I do run across swearing in some of our submissions. It appears that unlike the past, swearing and profanity have gradually increased in movies and on TV. It took a while, but it is not limited as it once was. Now, the thinking is that it is realistic or authentic. I think stories can be told without it. In fact, from a Christian point of view, I think more stories should be told without it. The counterculture that began in the late 1960s started it and it gradually got worse as what was once underground is regarded as somehow OK today.

Tone, pacing, atmosphere, setting and how to build characters… I didn’t get any of that in my college Creative Writing class. It was too free-form, do what you want kind of thing. I ask that everyone reading this consider the effect our writing (I’m also a writer) will have on readers. Should we just go along with what is ‘popular culture’ today or go in the opposite direction - toward interesting stories minus the swearing and profanity? What we write will be our legacy.



I don’t necessarily see a problem with having a character swear but I think in most cases it doesn’t add any particular value. I had a professor in college who insisted that every story have some swearing in it. He said we were all adults and it added weight, personality and credence to a story. He tore into me one time because I turned in a story that was profanity-free. I followed it up with the most obscene, raunchiest piece of filth I could come up with. Half the class walked out while I was reading it. He didn’t mention the profanity requirement in any of my classes after that.


haha okay I’m sorry but this is funny


See, that style of writing doesn’t always work. The thing that I want to write wouldn’t be from a third person omniscient point of view, so I couldn’t phrase it like that. I know that there are ways to get around using profanity in stories. I never said there wasn’t. But using techniques just to get around writing an expletive or two can take away from the authentic feel of the story.


Oh, I’m aware it can’t always be done. But I’ve always managed to use it to keep any swearing out of my own writing.


Since I use profanity on a daily basis I would think it would be fine. I would shy away from taking the Lord’s name in vain though…


Words mean things.

Not just by their rote definition but also by context.
An ugly situation could well warrant an ugly word.

That said, words also tend to lose impact when used too often.
A well placed profanity can have a great impact, but stringing the words along as we see in too many films these days and the profanity becomes meaningless.

Keep the profanity in your thesaurus just as any other word.
But use it if, and only if, the word really fits.


In my experience, fictional characters tend to swear more than real-life characters do.


Think about your audience. Be Catholic when you write.



I would think that, writing without swearing,
is in fact, writing more creatively.

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