Here is a good, thoughtful post at Kill Zone Blog about the use of blue language in fiction. Note this *is* Kill Zone Blog, which is mainly focused on mysteries and thrillers and so on.
There are different reasons why readers dislike profanity in their fiction. It can colored by religious conviction, personal morals or just plain old taste. Authors are guided by the same impulses. Mark Henshaw, a Mormon crime writer, wrote a blog “Why I Don’t Use Profanity,” saying, “My short answer to the question is: because my mother reads my books. My long answer is a bit more involved.”
Yeah, you all have no idea how much of a fuss my mother made because I included just a half dozen or so cuss words in Black Dog. Sorry, Mom! That’s the way this character talks, especially when he’s upset!
I don’t find it limiting to leave out the cusswords when writing secondary world fantasy. I *have* found it somewhat confining to try to write secondary world fantasy with no swearing at all — not even Gods! or anything like that. (Can you recall which book was written with no swearing, even in secondary world terms? Did you notice at the time?)
It *is* more difficult to try to leave out ALL cusswords from any kind of fiction set in a contemporary or contemporary-ish world. Of course it can be done, and in such a way that the reader doesn’t notice. It takes artistry, but after all, skill with words is kind of what we are hoping for from a writer, yes?
We get everything from no expletives to made-up expletives to the use of expletives under extreme circumstances to a massive heap o’ expletives, and any of those can work depending on the book and the author. I think Tanya Huff pulled off a fake swear word pretty well in her Valor series. Tough to manage military SF without cusswords, but made-up words can look so silly. As I say, I thought she made it work.
I do occasionally wonder whether authors who pour f-bombs into all their stories realize that probably many readers hesitate to buy those books as gifts for their mothers? Of course if the author is okay with limiting their potential readership, that’s fine, but do they realize it? I just wonder. If you hang out mainly with people who exclaim Fuck! every time they drop a spoon on the floor, you probably stop hearing it. But a whole lot of potential readers are going to dislike that in your character’s mouth.
Anyway, this blog post ends with a quote:
Take it away, Kathryn Schultz, in your essay “Ode To a Four-Letter Word:”
Do we need…a justification, beyond the one a writer might mount for any word, i.e., that it works? There is, after all, no such thing as an intrinsically bad, boring, or lazy word. There is only how it is deployed, and one of the pleasures of profanity is how diversely you can deploy it. Writers don’t use expletives out of laziness or the puerile desire to shock or because we mislaid the thesaurus. We use them because, sometimes, the four-letter word is the better word—indeed, the best one.
And I would like to disagree with Schultz just a bit. SOME writers DO employ expletives out of laziness or the puerile desire to shock — or, while we can’t see into their heads, their writing certainly gives that impression. I would like, rather cautiously, to offer an example:
All of Stephen King’s characters sound almost exactly the same, at least in his later books. And one reason they all sound the same is — you can see this coming — because they all cuss the same way, with the same words, under the same circumstances. His bad guys in particular all cuss like Stephen King baddies, but the same is basically true for the good guys as well. And once you, as a reader, notice this, it is grating.
Or at least it was for me, when I noticed it.