Should You Use Bad Language In Your Book?

By on February 26, 2017
Should You Use Bad Language In Your Book? - Writer's Life.org

Deciding whether or not to use bad language in your book may actually be a bigger decision than it first appears to be.

Of course, using bad language in your writing is a choice, and if you want to do so then you should - it is your writing after all!

The important thing to remember however is that using swear words in your work will evoke a reaction from your reader, and making sure that the reaction is the one you want will influence your decision, and perhaps make you think twice about using bad language in difference contexts.

Here are some things you might want to consider:

Is it gratuitous?

Don’t use bad language just for the sake of it. Done right and swear words can be used to enhance your book, and to create more tension and drama. However, if every second word from each character's mouth is a ‘bad’ one then your book becomes difficult to read, and the reader will tire of this very quickly. It may suggest to them that you simply can’t think of another way to express what you are trying to say.

Is it appropriate for your audience?

This is the big one. If you want your book to be read by people of all ages then you need to pay attention to your language. YA fiction, for example, might contain some milder swear words here and there but they will be few and far between. Even if you know that most 15-year-olds probably use bad language, you have to remember that it’s their parents who still monitor what they read, and if your book is X-rated when it comes to swearing then they probably won’t be too happy about their darling teenager being influenced by it.

Will your audience expect it?

Using swear words is fine, as long as your audience expects that your book is the kind of book that would have bad language in it. If they aren’t expecting it, the swear words will jump out at them and seem awkward, interrupting your flow and potentially making the reader feel uncomfortable as well. Of course you can use swear words unexpectedly to shock your audience, or to make them laugh - as long as it is done in a way that makes them see that - but do be wary of going against people’s expectations - it’s like swearing in a job interview - if you aren’t sure, it’s probably best to play it safe.

Think about your genre

Some genres are more likely to have swear words in them than others. Conventional romance novels, for example, could be treated the same as YA, a few milder swear words every now and again is fine, but if you litter your prose with them you may run the risk of putting your readers off. The same goes for non-fiction, strong language is generally kept out of non-fiction work - that doesn’t mean you can’t use it to surprise and engage your readers, you just need to be clever about how you do so.

What’s your gut telling you?

At the end of the day, only you’ll know whether it feels right to use bad language in your book. If your gut feeling is that you shouldn’t, it’s probably best to leave it out. On the other hand, if you feel you lose something by removing or replacing bad language, just go with it!

Bethany Cadman -author of 'Doctor Vanilla's Sunflowers'

Bethany Cadman -author of 'Doctor Vanilla's Sunflowers'

About Bethany Cadman

Bethany Cadman is an author and freelance writer. Her highly anticipated debut novel 'Doctor Vanilla's Sunflowers' is available on Amazon as both an eBook and a paperback. You can find it here - http://tinyurl.com/z47t8qf

One Comment

  1. Don Falloon

    February 26, 2017 at 12:50 pm

    Good article. While genre and intended audience certainly define the use of coarse language, it’s often character-driven. A gang member or street thug often swears because that’s the language they grew up with and the language of their peers. Soldiers in a firefight won’t respond with ‘dang’, ‘darn’, and ‘heck’ in response to their situation. A child blathering cuss words loses it’s cuteness quickly, While a swearing grandmother might be comic relief.

    How do you get 99 grandmothers to say the F-word? Just have one yell, “BINGO!”

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