The Words We Say

Howdy!

Today I wanted to talk about something a little controversial. Cursing in books. Especially those books by professed Christian authors.

Now I’m fully aware this is a hotly debated topic in some circles. It seems there are a few standard answers.

A. No cursing at all. Get it out.

B. Some is ok as long as there is a good reason for it.

C. Meh, I don’t really care.

What’s my viewpoint? Well, I can see both sides of the issue to a certain extent. But overall, I don’t mind reading some language. Sex is another thing entirely and we won’t go there today. Why am I comfortable reading curse words? I’m exposed to it everyday at school, out at the store, in movies, etc. For worse or better, it’s unavoidable. The occasional cuss word comes out of my mouth and I definitely have thought one or two in some situations.

Now, when it comes to be every other word that I’m hearing/reading, then it becomes something else and I quickly get turned away. So what about in my writing? Well, my usual viewpoint is that if I can’t safely give it to my 12 year old sister, then it’s not getting written. Except in a few cases when I might be dealing with a more “adult” story overall.

I have one WIP where I have included a few curse words, mostly for emphasis. Now don’t be thinking that this is one big cuss storm of a book. It’s not. I’ll give you an example here in a second. I’m using “milder” (to me) cuss words and there will probably only be a handful of usages. I don’t like the F bomb and there is never any reason to profane the name of God. Ever.

(It’s the Mountain Baron story for those of you interested. You can read a synopsis HERE and an excerpt HERE)

Why have I included them? It has to do with the overall tone of the book. It’s a bit darker and (I sort of don’t like this word, but) grittier. To me, it makes sense to include them in the right places. Now I understand that many people I know don’t like this sort of thing in their books, so now it becomes a big decision for me.

Do I include it or not? Yes, I’m definitely going to classify this story as Christian fiction based on the plot and storyline, but what does that change for readers? Do I have an obligation to cut it out based on people’s viewpoints? If it something I’m comfortable with, is it okay to include it? If I do include it, am I risking scandalizing a reader? Since it has so permeated daily life, do I need to take the high road and not use it?

I don’t even know if I’m making sense at this point. But I promised an example. So here goes with a quote from the book, one as currently written and one with a reasonable substitution.

“He’s your blood!” Dermot slammed the table. “That damned outsider rode in here and took him as if he were free for the taking!”

OR

“He’s your blood!” Dermot slammed the table. “That cursed outsider rode in here and took him as if he were free for the taking!”

Which one do you think has more emphasis?

So now to you, Reader? What is your opinion on cursing in fiction?

Now this is also a way to poll readers since A) you’re probably following this blog because you’ve like a post in the past or B) you’ve read one of my stories or are interested in reading one of my stories. Would something like this turn you away from the story no matter how interesting it sounded?

I’m genuinely interested in your opinion, since this is something that I’m really debating at the moment. But please be respectful of other people’s opinions when commenting.

*I reserve the right to release the cleaning harpies on the comments section.*

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45 thoughts on “The Words We Say

  1. I like both versions of the excerpt, but think the first has more emphasis. I do use curse words in my own work, but keep it to a minimum. I’m not keen on certain cuss words, but I think it’s a little unrealistic to assume in a more adult setting/book that curse words are not used. Although, I can understand that some people don’t like swearing or curse words at all. It’s a delicate balance. 😊 📚

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t have a problem with cursing so long as it helps the story instead of getting in the way of it. That said, as a writer, I know that the more profanities I place into a work the more it can narrow my potential audience. This isn’t a major problem for me when I write non-modern fantasy where today’s profanity would be out of place. But in my modern settings, I write dialogue that’s true to the character and the situation they are in.

    If that means a particular work gets labeled with an “Adult Language” tag, then so be it. That’s what I wanted to write, and nobody is being forced to read my stories if they didn’t want to. I talk differently to little children than I do to adults, and it’s no different when I write a story aimed at a general audience or another for an adult one.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Agreed. I don’t have a problem with it unless it just seems to be stuffed in just because. But you do have to look at what the character would realistically do. I like your point about audience too.

      Thanks for the input, Jason! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I loved this! I’m not totally sure on my viewpoint, but I will say that I don’t think we should use really strong language in books (like the f word) or use God’s name in vain (we’re told not to in the Ten Commandments) and the language that is used should be kept to a minimum.

    But, we are writing about characters. And if we really try to make them realistic, those characters are going to have flaws. Flaws just like every human being. So for some of them, maybe they have a bit of a language problem. When we’re in a bad situation, it’s hard not to let a word or two slip. So I would get a character saying a bad word or two when frustrated or angry.

    It’s a tough balance.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. My view on swearing is pretty much the same as yours. No F-words, no using God’s name inappropriately. Other words are ok, as long as it’s something the character would actually, realistically say, and is not excessively used just because we can.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Frankly, I think the examples have equal emphasis. The only difference between the two is the curse word, which doesn’t actually add anything useful. Curse words are so ambiguous that all they do is point out that foul language is being used. “Damn” is used in excitement, pain, annoyance, amusement, hatred, etc. What gets the meaning across is the context, not the curse word.

    It can be argued that “realism” can require bad language… but it doesn’t, actually. If that’s the case, “realism” in ANY battle scene requires vivid (R-rated) descriptions of exactly what happens when vital organs are destroyed by a war-axe or a supersonic chunk of ballistic lead… right? Yeah, no. In my experience, the only reason for curse words is to have curse words.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. I think that cursing has a place in literature, and can be used effectively for emphasis. But that’s in books for older readers. I’m not a big fan of putting cursing in children’s books, especially “F-bombs.” I don’t believe in sugar-coating things for kids, but kids develop by imitating what they see around them. I feel that exposing them to vulgarities when they’re that young might make them more prone to being potty-mouthed adults.

    Judy Blume and Phyllis Reynolds-Naylor (authors who are quite famous for writing linguistically and sexually explicit kids’ books) are of the belief that exposing kids to this stuff in books will better prepare them for the ugly world they live in.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. It is such a curious question. And a hard one to wrestle with as a Christian author… and I don’t honestly know if there even is “AN” answer.

    Personally, I don’t mind coming across cussing when I read. I absolutely do not write it… but that’s because I have a very strong aversion to swear words in general. They do not come out of my mouth. I can count on one finger the number of times I have actually allowed a swear word to exit my mouth, and I still feel guilty about choosing (because I thought it over very carefully and then said it anyway) to say it. When I sing along to my country music and a swear word is coming, I change it.

    That’s my personal conviction for myself. I don’t make a big deal out of it, and have never commented when friends have used coarse language around me… and yet it has led to many witnessing opportunities because people notice that I’m not speaking that way. And I think they notice that it’s not a crusade for me, I’m not trying to get them to change the way they talk, it is just who I am.

    So that is why I’d never write it. If I have a character who would say some of those words, I have to get very creative. I might *MIGHT* write, “Marik cursed under his breath.” but the jury is still out on that one… I think there are creative ways to sidestep the issue.

    As for you… I think you should stick to whatever your own convictions are. You’re never going to please every reader. I have good characters in my stories who use magic and magic is not seen as a “good” or “bad” thing… but rather as a genetic ability or a gift from that world’s Creator figure. This has turned some Christian readers away and resulted in a couple of negative comments in reviews. That’s their conviction and I don’t begrudge them that. I’m not going to change my stories for them, and I’m not going to try to hide the fact that it exists in my stories. A few cuss words in your books may be the same sort of thing: it will turn some readers off. Others won’t mind at all. Some won’t even notice. I think a good rule of thumb no matter what you choose is this: Be Honest in your marketing. Let your readers know (so far as it is up to you) which of your stories are perfectly family-friendly and which ones may contain words they’d rather not have their children read.

    And my reaction to your two examples: neither one would bother me in the slightest (partially because I don’t consider “damned” in that particular usage to be a particularly “bad” swear word).

    Erm. Hehe. Hopefully something in my novel-length comment is helpful to you. Apparently I have a lot to say on the subject!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha! Yes, it was helpful!
      I typically try not to cuss anyway, partially because I am still living at home with young siblings, but also because like you said, it’s also a bit of a way to be different from the mainstream and uphold some straightforward moral values. (I think I’m making a great counter argument to my post at this moment :P)
      In other books, I’ve used “he cursed” to get around it and keep it cleaner. But yeah, I’ve already decided that if I do publish with the curse words that I’d leave some sort of note or review as a general content warning. I’ve seen some authors do that and I really like the idea.
      I don’t really consider “damned” to be really bad either, and the usage in the book is pretty much “damn” or “hell” and I don’t consider those to be necessarily “bad” words anymore.
      But anyway, thanks for the input, Jenelle! I’m appreciating all the different opinions people are bringing to the table! 🙂

      Like

  8. I pretty much agree with you.
    I mean, I would prefer if there wasn’t any cussing, but I’ve kind of gotten used to it. I don’t really mind as long as they aren’t words such as the “S” word or the “F” bomb. And, of course, taking the Lord’s name in vain.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I am not put off if some people write the word “damn” but I think my opinion of them as writers lowers a lot because they can’t add tension to a book without cussing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve read a book a bit like that, where the language was all over the place and it got tiring.
      But I’ve had a bunch of other books that use occasional curse words and it hasn’t changed my opinion of that particular writer, but I think in my mind it’s more of context use instead of “just because the author can” context.
      Thanks for the input, Chess! 🙂

      Like

  10. I think my view is a lot like Jenelle’s up above. I could never bring myself to write a curse word into one of my books, even if it would be authentic for the character, since personally I would never be able to say those words out loud (though I am guilty of thinking them). And certainly taking the Lord’s name is vain is never okay. But, I read a lot of secular thrillers and am usually pretty good about skipping over the bad words.

    In my current WIP, I had to make the choice of how to deal with cursing, since one the POV characters has a problem with it. But, this book is book 4 in a series that, up until this point, has never had a curse word, and I know I have an audience of 10 and 11 year olds who are reading this book. It would not be acceptable to suddenly spring a bad word on them now. Instead, I chose to mention that he “curses” or “swears” but not use the actual words. One of the other characters calls him out on it, and he struggles to stop cursing by the end of the book.

    So, I guess, know your audience. Being up front about mild language when you are marketing the book will certainly help, especially since it is the start of the series. Adding language partway through an otherwise clean series probably wouldn’t sit well with reviewers.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good point about audience.

      I like how you’ve chosen to handle it with your character. I think it’s an interested development for him if we’re able to see him gradually stop by the end. I like it! (Especially since I know which book this is!!! 🙂 )

      Thanks for the input, Tricia! 🙂

      Like

  11. Very interesting discussion, and one I’ve seen floating around a bit of late. I think the first example you gave had more emphasis, and I’d be okay with that occasionally in a book, but it gets old if there’s just a ton of words everywhere. Like Jenelle, I personally never say any curse words, and while I don’t mind a few, sometimes, in books, especially the “older” ones that are in a lot of the old British books I read, I don’t like a lot of cussing in books I read, and I usually get turned off of books if there are stronger curse words like “S”s and “F”s and the like. “D”s and Hell I don’t mind as much. But again, I can understand that sometimes it’s really hard to write something without them, but in general I’m good with the book just saying “He cursed under his breath” or something like that. We don’t HAVE to always see it. *shrug* At the same time, my characters haven’t ever said particular words, and while there were a couple times I almost had them say it, I have so far always done something else. A few of my rougher characters might swear but I wouldn’t put the words there; however, there may at some point come a time when I might put a little in my books if the context called for it and if I was writing a more adult book, but so far it hasn’t happened and might not ever. XD

    I guess mainly, I don’t say swear words, and they CAN annoy me in fiction, though sometimes I don’t notice. Like you said, I have younger siblings and I read all my writing to them, so I’m not, at this time, going to put anything that I or they would cringe at. 🙂 Pretty much, if I wouldn’t want to say it aloud, or have my mom or little siblings read, I don’t write it. 🙂 I also would say that I’ve read many books that I love which have some milder swearing in them, and I don’t mind myself, but sometimes it makes it so that I don’t want to pass them on to, or read them to, my siblings, which is sad…

    That was long, sorry. I don’t even know if I have a point to my rambles. XD I’d say mostly I’m against it in fiction but I can see a way to using it if it needs to… but in general I’m not a fan? But something like you wrote above isn’t going to make me upset at your book if I read it. It’s just a complex question and as long as you think about your choices, just do whatever you feel is right. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s pretty much how I feel about cursing in the books I read. And there have been a few books that I’ve loved but don’t give to my siblings because of things like that.
      But yeah, I wish it was a bit easier more straightforward to come to a conclusion. I’ve actually looked through the document, and most of the time I do actually say “He cursed/swore”, but I have a handful of hells or damns but they’re kind of used in sentences more than just exclamations, if that makes any sense. 🙂
      Thanks for the input, Deborah! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Interesting discussion! I guess I’m more on the “no cuss words” side. To be honest, reading a book with swear-words throughout (even lightly), I am more apt to put it down or give it a lower rating. I know that it is the real world, and common to hear them, but I guess when I read I want to have an example – something better than the standards of the world, if that makes sense. I don’t mind usually when it’s just “he swore/cursed under his breath” for the most part, but saying the word isn’t a favourite of mine.
    I’m just more comfortable when a book is sans-swear words. 🙂 I think everyone’s bringing-up has an influence on that choice, too.
    But yes, good post, Claire! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Totally get where you’re coming from with not wanting to read it. I do rend to like a book better if it doesn’t have any cuss words.
      Up bringing is a big part, but I also think that exposure outside of the home is a part of it too. We weren’t exposed to it growing up, but then we were with jobs and heading off to college.

      Thanks for the input, Raechel! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh yes, that is also what I meant too – our surroundings (not so much our immediate home life! Just everything we encounter) definitely have a play in it. I didn’t mean to imply it being in one’s family life. Sorry about that – sometimes my words aren’t always the clearest! ^.^

        Liked by 1 person

  13. I don’t like swearing. I see it so much in everyday life, and hear far too much of it on the TV. But, I think that when we write a story that has people in it who are likely to be using those words, it takes away from the realism of the book of they’re not included.

    I think you’re example is mild, and I wouldn’t have a problem reading it. I’m not a Christian, so not exactly you’re target audience. But an overabundance of swearing in anything does put me off. So I think I fit in your second type of person at the start of the post – only include it if there’s a good reason for it.

    The second example of your writing doesn’t seem as realistic as the first for some reason. I think the first has more emphasis, and creates a different tone and different character than the first, if that makes sense.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Totally makes sense! I’m definitely with you on the “only include if if there’s a reason”preference. I think that’s been most people’s reaction to this post, regardless of their belief system.
      Thanks for the input, Phoenix! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  14. I agree with Jenelle and Tricia’s comments. I wouldn’t be put off by mild swear words in a book, though I myself wouldn’t write them. It’s your decision, what you think fits a particular scene best, just let your readers know ahead of time if you do add some curse words.
    I actually have a question I’m wondering about too: Would darn and heck count as curse words? I know they’ve been used in kid shows and books, so I’m curious if people have an issue with those?

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Such an interesting topic, Claire. I’ve been wondering the same thing.

    I don’t think there’s really a right or wrong answer to this, honestly. What I do have a problem with is when Christian authors make characters curse and it’s being presented as fine and good. When some characters do it, is should never be seen as “conversation filler,” or “funny,” or “cool,” because it so often is used that way and I hate that. When I was taking drivers ed in April, I sat in front of a kid for five days who, by himself, probably used the “f” word forty times in one day. No exaggeration. It just kind of made me sick, because it was as if it was a spectacular word in need of saying, when in reality, he was just looking for (totally random and inappropriate) places to say it. So when authors do that — and with any word, not just the stronger ones — I find it to cheapen the dialogue and make me lose respect for the author.

    But when it’s used in moderation, and for emphasis – I don’t honestly know. I think it has to do with the personal conviction of the author, and the personal conviction of the reader.

    I wrote a guest post the other day about discernment — http://literarycafe.weebly.com/home/guest-post-amanda-beguerie-how-to-be-discerning-in-the-books-we-read — and it kind of sums up my thoughts, as a reader. Books, and especially Christian ones, shouldn’t make us think that anything that’s wrong is actually right, or make us “like” bad language. As Christians, we’re not of the darkness, we’re of the Light. That’s not to push us into legalism about what we can and cannot do, just that we’re mindful of how things impact us, and our appearance to the world as Christians.

    So yeah, those are my thoughts. Thanks for the thought-provoking discussion, Claire!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I definitely agree on the excessive use or just a “filler” words, Amanda. That’s when it really becomes unnecessary. I guess I fall into the second part, where I’m using it occasionally for emphasis. But even still it’s a difficult decision to make, especially considering my beliefs and the beliefs of some of my readers. But I’m really glad people have taken the time to comment with their opinions. It’s really helped me towards a decision.
      Thanks so much for the article link. I’ll have to go check it out.

      Thanks again for the input, Amanda! I appreciate it!

      Liked by 1 person

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