Writing fiction: Using swear words?


#1

In a story I am writing my characters sometimes use bad words but not to excess. Is it a venial sin to write the story?


#2

[quote="InJesusItrust, post:1, topic:320772"]
In a story I am writing my characters sometimes use bad words but not to excess. Is it a venial sin to write the story?

[/quote]

If the language is necessary to accurately convey time period, personality, culture, and situation, and you genuinely are not writing the language for the purpose of the swearing, it is not necessarily sinful.

However, there's a thin line here between sinful or not, and it is a near occasion of sin, so carefully decide what words you use where. I would stay away from the worse swear words (you probably know which I mean).


#3

I hope you find the following helpful:

acatholiclife.blogspot.com/2007/02/is-bad-language-sin.html

Peace,
Ed


#4

In the novels Come Rack! Come Rope! and By What Authority there is a very minor sprinkling of swearing/profanity found throughout. They are not only considered very good Catholic novels, but they were also part of my school curriculum for literature, and were even written by a priest - Fr. Robert Hugh Benson.

As long as the message being conveyed through the use of swearing/profanity in literature is good, then it is most likely fine to include it, unless the content of said profanity is truly unnecessary. It would be one thing to include one D-word, for instance, and an entirely different thing to have 10 profanities laced one after another for no apparent reason. Swearing in general is best garnered towards a shock factor in literature anyway (not to mention that overuse of it often detracts from the substance of the story) - so keeping it light is usually the best way to go.


#5

You could follow novelist Dean Koontz by humorously and vaguely describing what the swear word would have been IF it hadn't been censored. :D


#6

I tend to despise vulgar language in real life, but I think it's rather silly to worry about using it if you're writing fiction. Stories often include unpleasant people and events; reasonable readers will understand that they are not necessarily endorsed by the author. And if you want to write a realistic story about ordinary people in the present day, then you practically have an obligation to use some vulgarity in order to avoid a surreal sense of censorship.


#7

[quote="InJesusItrust, post:1, topic:320772"]
In a story I am writing my characters sometimes use bad words but not to excess. Is it a venial sin to write the story?

[/quote]

Words have different effects when spoken and written. Be sure the words work when written. They might work when spoken, but when we speak we have gestures, expressions, posture, tone, volume, etc. Effective use of these words often demands spoken rhythm that can't be duplicated on the page. These are all lacking in the written word.

There is a simple test. Write the passage including the words under consideration. Then write it without them. Which one reads better? Which one communicates best to the reader? Which one tells a better story?


#8

Well, I am trying to convey that my characters are immature. So the dialogue they have is one way I have to characterize them.


#9

That’s tough to do. It’s hard enough to make it work when the vocabulary actually fits the character. It’s even harder to do it when trying to show something like immaturity.

Note we really don’t see much of it in fiction. That’s because it just doesn’t work well. This all from a practical writing perspective, not a moral one.


#10

Later, at my house, while we were sitting on the sofa and playing Soulcalibur II on my Xbox, John said, “So what was up with you today?”

My fighter mauled his fighter, and the screen lit up: KO. “What do you mean?”

“I mean you played pretty bad today. You kept fumbling the ball.”

“Not in my game today, I guess.”

I kicked his *** some more in Soulcalibur II. “So that new girl…” he said. “What’s her name again?”

“Erika.”

“Yes, Erika. Do you think that she is pretty?”

My face burned, but I continued playing the game. “She’s all right. Why? You like her?”

“No! Of course not!” he said. “I mean—yeah she is pretty… but I don’t like her like that, you know?”

I grinned. “Liar!”

“Ah, shaddup! You know nothing.”

After I beat his *** some more, we decided to watch TV and eat some nachos. Then he decided that he had to go back home, so I opened the gate and he walked outside it and down the hilly road

This is the passage in question. I did not really use an excess of profanities, but what I did use expresses a certain immature personality.


#11

[quote="InJesusItrust, post:10, topic:320772"]
This is the passage in question. I did not really use an excess of profanities, but what I did use expresses a certain immature personality.

[/quote]

It doesn't convey immaturity. It's normal usage.

Note you are using the exact same phrase twice in first person narration. "his *** some more."

Show immaturity by behavior or attitudes.

"I could have let him win a few games, but why bother? Real victory is in beating someone when they are already down. You know? Like kicking sand in their face. Let him get ahead, and maybe think he's going to win, then slam his ***."


#12

If I could write something that anyone would read, I would probably base it on my experience as a correctional officer. The language I would have to use to make it realistic would make a sailor blush. That's just the nature of the beast.


#13

[quote="Enilu, post:11, topic:320772"]
It doesn't convey immaturity. It's normal usage.

Note you are using the exact same phrase twice in first person narration. "his *** some more."

Show immaturity by behavior or attitudes.

"I could have let him win a few games, but why bother? Real victory is in beating someone when they are already down. You know? Like kicking sand in their face. Let him get ahead, and maybe think he's going to win, then slam his ***."

[/quote]

Well, my character is slightly immature, but he's not cruel.


#14

[quote="pete_29, post:12, topic:320772"]
If I could write something that anyone would read, I would probably base it on my experience as a correctional officer. The language I would have to use to make it realistic would make a sailor blush. That's just the nature of the beast.

[/quote]

Dialogue is a funny thing. If we write exactly as we speak, it's a mess. Nobody can read it and understand it. But if we make dialogue conform to all the rules of grammar, it's stilted and unrealistic. So written dialogue has to balance between the two. It has to conform to grammatical rules to the extent that it can be conveyed in writing, and it also has to break them to be realistic. Making that work with the selection of words we are referring to is really hard to do. That's why so few do it.


#15

Sure. He’s your guy. That was just an example of using attitude to convey something else.


#16

[quote="Enilu, post:14, topic:320772"]
Dialogue is a funny thing. If we write exactly as we speak, it's a mess. Nobody can read it and understand it. But if we make dialogue conform to all the rules of grammar, it's stilted and unrealistic. So written dialogue has to balance between the two. It has to conform to grammatical rules to the extent that it can be conveyed in writing, and it also has to break them to be realistic. Making that work with the selection of words we are referring to is really hard to do. That's why so few do it.

[/quote]

Well as someone once told me, my grammar is in the kitchen baking cookies.:D


#17

The best literature contains no swear words.

Step back from the narrow question of how this scene should play, and first decide whether you want to be a popular writer or a good writer. Why do you even want to write about characters that seem trite and superficial? That is why you need the swear words (in this instance), your characters are shallow.

I'm surprised at the excuse making on here. Swearing is never necessary if you know how to write. You can convey the entire meaning and feeling without the words in question.

I think you have quite a way to go as a writer, and that is the real issue.


#18

[quote="Rosella, post:17, topic:320772"]
The best literature contains no swear words.

Step back from the narrow question of how this scene should play, and first decide whether you want to be a popular writer or a good writer. Why do you even want to write about characters that seem trite and superficial? That is why you need the swear words (in this instance), your characters are shallow.

I'm surprised at the excuse making on here. Swearing is never necessary if you know how to write. You can convey the entire meaning and feeling without the words in question.

I think you have quite a way to go as a writer, and that is the real issue.

[/quote]

You make a good point, but I couldn't write a book about prison without cursing because that's just the way prison is.


#19

I struggle with this in my writing too. But OP, the word you're concerned about is not swearing, it's just vulgarity. I wouldn't have any concerns about using "***."
If I want to portray a really bad character, I will say something like "Cursing, he ran after her."

I would hope that your character would gain some maturity in the course of the story, maybe his language would improve!

(Edit: Okay, that's interesting. I typed the original word you used, which rhymes with "grass," and it turned into asterisks. I guess Catholic Answers doesn't like vulgarity.)


#20

"I'm surprised at the excuse making on here. Swearing is never necessary if you know how to write. You can convey the entire meaning and feeling without the words in question. "

If you know how to write, you know how to use it well and sparingly.

"I think you have quite a way to go as a writer, and that is the real issue."

Disagree. I encourage InJesusITrust to keep working at it. I sure can't tell how far he has to go as a writer. I'd encourage him to ignore people who think they do.


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