The Versatile F-Bomb in Writing
My father swears like a sailor, and my mother cringes every time. My own household takes after my father. So it makes sense that I pepper my own writing with a few salty words.
The question remains for writers of all genres: when is it OK, and when is it not OK to use the f-bomb?
Since I cater my blog to young upcoming writers, I'll try not to swear. This will be a serious philosophical discussion about the uses of profanity in our writing.
I have been known to mislead.
Proceed with caution.
Before you decide whether to infuse your writing with bar-room language, you must consider the topic and the audience. More importantly, you need to know what kind of writer you are.
Answer yourself these four questions:
1. Do I want to tell a story that simply makes readers laugh and cry?
2. Do I want to shock readers out of their complacency and draw their attention to the worlds outside their windows?
3. Do I want to introduce characters to aspire toward?
4. Do I want to introduce well-rounded and fallible characters?
Before you get all judgy on me and say I'm pigeon-holing writers, take another ponder around those questions. Now recall your favorite books as a child, teen, adult. What stood out for you? Which questions would those authors answer yes to, which ones no?
I do use profanity, including the f-bomb, in my YA stories. However, it is used with intention, just like every other word I write on the page.
I don't use it to shock but to inform readers about the emotional intensity of a situation or the anger or loss of control in a character. Sometimes, on rare occasions, it's used for levity.
I work with teens, and I listen to them speak. Their conversations through the hallways are far more colorful than those heard inside a holy space. They are prolific purveyors of the f-bomb--and then some.
Here are three cases of my use of profanity in my stories:
In my first novel, THIS GIRL CLIMBS TREES, a literary middle grade coming of age story about life, death, family, and friendship, I don't use any profanity. The story is set in the 1970s, and its thematic focus is innocence. It's also my first novel, and my writing is not as adventurous as it is now.
In my second novel, BIRDS ON A WIRE, a contemporary young adult story about a teen's struggle to come out as homosexual to himself, his mother, and his friends, there is ample use of profanity. Searching my manuscript for the top three swear words (including the f-bomb), I found 107 uses.
Neither search through these books surprises me, and I find the use of the words appropriate and their absence equally appropriate for the characters and stories.
In my current works, I'm revising three young adult tales. The one closest to being finished is ON THE ROAD TO MARTY MCFLY, a teen's search for her father as she deals with OCD and a strained relationship with her mother. MARTY began as more of a middle grade tale, but during the course of revision, it has grown into a YA. Good thing because there are fifteen variations of the f-bomb, more than half a dozen uses of the b-word, and a variety of other lesser offensive expressions. The high-incidence of profanity in this story is appropriate as one of its central themes is bullying.
There you have some food for thought about the uses of profanity in your writing. I don't think there are rules (as in the movie and music industries), but I do believe how you use these words affects whether you will find a publisher and where they will market your story. Swearing definitely is a line-drawer between YA and MG.
So my advice: try it, leave it, or be creative.
Choose every word with intention. Make every word count.
Most importantly: Write fucking on!
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