Language in Your Writing


Photo Credit: SLU

This post is partly inspired by a comment I received yesterday on my post Stopping a Book Before you Finish. I’d go back and see who said it, but I’m writing this 15 minutes before I’m supposed to get ready for work, so if you read this you mystery person you, thanks for the comment.

Okay. Now I’m not talking about language here. I’m talking about cussing. Or vulgar language in your work. There are a number of genres in which any coarse language is unacceptable, but let’s not talk about those this time around. Let’s talk strictly books for adults. Say you’re reading along and then the protagonist has an angry episode and starts cussing all over the next few pages. Would that turn you off the rest of the book? Or say you’ve been reading along and the protagonist speaks casually with other characters using some of our favorite four-letter words. Would that turn you off the rest of the book?

I ask because I’ve come to realize that although I read mostly detective stories that deal with serial killers or rapists or so-called bad people, there is very little cussing going on. When I say very little, I mean almost none. The book I’m just about to finish in the next day or so, The Drop by Michael Connelly, has had none. Or if there has been any, it’s been such a small amount that I can’t even recall it.

The point I want to make is that sometimes we write scenes that we just know need a little cussing to make more genuine or realistic, but in reality that is rarely the case. It may sound okay to you as you write it, but it likely sounds a bit forced or excessive to the reader if there are any scenes that have a lot of cussing from one or more characters. There are a number of things that can potentially turn me off a book, but cussing isn’t really one of them.

To you, do you tend to have any amount of vulgar language in your writing? Maybe there’s some yelling or maybe it happens in casual conversation. Tell me.

170 thoughts on “Language in Your Writing

  1. I think that is a great question to ask. Vulgarity in many forms can turn some readers off to a work of writing if not done correctly. I think it works if it fits with the character or the scene. However, it only works in these situations if it’s used appropriately. So, in my opinion, if a writer puts in a line of multiple cuss words because the character is so mad, I think they could have done with just one. A good writer does not need to rely on vulgarity to express the emotion of a scene, but it may help support the character’s personality in reflection to a situation.

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  2. In my novel I’m still editing there are maybe three curse words used at time where it seems like that would be the only proper response to the situation. None are used in random conversation, but all my characters are more professional types. Swearing doesn’t turn me off a book but it might annoy me if it seems forced and excessive. I’m pretty used to swearing in my daily life so it doesn’t really bother me.


  3. I’m turned off by vulgarity in general, and especially in books. Writers are supposed to be creative. So create! A few swear words here and there, especially in emotionally charged scenes, is fine. But if people just lean on swearing, I’m disappointed in the author. I know people do talk like that in real life, I experience people like that every day, but it’s not something I want to read. So, if there’s a lot of vulgarity, I’ll stop reading the book.

    I think I have maybe two swear words in the entirety of my written works, and I’ll probably edit those out. Just a personal preference, but vulgarity is lazy speech/writing to me.

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  4. I’m always disappointed when I open a book and it has vulgarity in it. Most of the time it is completely unnecessary. I can only think of one time when I have used a swear word in my writing. It has to be in there because lets face it, sometimes ‘jerk’ just doesn’t cut it.


  5. I don’t care to read excessive vulgarity in conversation. An occasional expletive maybe. Those words really are a distraction. Taking all those extra words out, a good writer will be able to project the emotion of the speaker in greater depth by using words that actually carry meaning. Those vulgar words are nothing more than grunts that interrupt the reader’s train of thought. Meaningless interruptions are annoying, and many people will put the book down rather than read the same vulgar words over and over. Be creative. People will not notice the absence of vulgarity. Really.


  6. I am fine with cussing if it adds to character or emphasizes an important moment. I don’t think that it is needed though, but if that is someone’s style, so be it. Gratuitous cussing turns me off.
    What I have noticed is that the level of cussing in films and books has decreased lately–at least compared to the 80′s and 90′s when authors were out to shock everyone with their vulgarity. Or maybe I have stopped watching and reading that kind of stuff. I’m curious to know what other people think of this.


  7. I’m not against cussing, but I think a lot of people can get carried away with it, and then it takes away from the story. Plus they lose their effect after a while, so they don’t have the impact you want when you need them.

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  8. Every word needs to be chosen with care. If the situation calls for it, let it rip. I often hesitate (working on some sci-fi stuff) because I’m picturing my audience — a younger crowd, though few would mind. I think cussing is lazy in most circumstances, warranted in others.


  9. There are people who cuss quite a bit and others who very rarely cuss. I think if it seems to suit the character and fits the story large amounts can be acceptable. But I agree that it can sometimes seem to be placed just for the shock value or to make you hate the antagonist, or make a character “cool”. For it to work it has to flow naturally. I very rarely use “bad language” in my writing. If I cuss in real life, you know I mean it. Same with my fiction.


  10. I wrote my first novel back in November for NaNoWriMo and one of my main characters, Ingrid, is a complete “potty mouth.” I didn’t have her cuss every time she spoke, but I did make sure to include strong language in her dialogue at pivotal moments in the book. Other than that, I think her sailor-like tendencies were implied through her tone and characteristics while speaking (having little to no filter, etc.).


  11. To be honest, I don’t swearin real life, so swearing does not come natural to me in my writing. However, if there are swear words in a story I am reading, I won’t necessarily stop reading it. It really depends on if the level of swearing or vulgarity is distracting from the story. If the level of swearing makes the characters or story sound fake (usually if it is too much or too harsh), I will lose interest in finishing the story.


  12. I think, because we all use a bit of ‘language’ in our real life, that a little adds an element of reality to the story. That being said, if I’m going to have it in a story, it’s usually a one word exclamation and usually under breath because the character has gone and either made a mistake, or is about to break something. Kind of like what I do in life. I find that excessive amounts of cussing an annoyance factor. Hence why I won’t ever read a Stephan Cannell book again. The one I read had more than it’s fair share and I found it annoying. I did not know that most detective/crime books didn’t have a lot of swearing. I thought they all did and it’s nice to know they don’t. I don’t spend my time around people that cuss, and I don’t want to read a ton of it either. A well placed ‘da–‘ or ‘shi–‘ does work nicely sometimes. I never use the F word.


  13. On of my beta readers (my dad, funnily enough) thought there may be a bit too much swearing in my story. I wasn’t sure, but when I went back and re-read he was indeed correct. It was out of character much of time; although I did leave one or two obscenities in – just for good measure.


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