I’d appreciate your opinions concerning ‘blue language’ in novels.  In the final edit of my forthcoming novel, Black Karma, I notice that my main character has a very ‘blue’ exchange using the ‘F’ word when he’s mistakenly taken down by the FBI.  I notice that several sites want to know about a novel’s use of profanity.  As a former Marine, I know and sometimes use blue language. When really pissed, so does my main character.  What are your views? How do your own readers feel about it?

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Many great fictional detectives (including modern/ contemporary ones) have never needed to utter a word of profanity,  and I don't suppose the readers expected it or cared.   Now I suppose that in the interest of "realism," it might be expected.  If it was in character, and not excessive---the occasional expletive--- it probably wouldn't bother me. If it gets in the way, it's just going to seem self-conscious and even gratuitous.  (Look how realistic this is---a cop cursing a blue streak!)  Personally I tend to prefer detectives with a slightly intellectual bent. :) I don't know how realistic that is, but I like the idea.  

Somehow I think most readers would object less to the lack of profanity than the presence of it.  Unless your detective can come up with some truly innovative and imaginative curses. :) 

Well, these days most crime novels consist of mostly dialogue, and that's dialogue by rough characters.  I don't see how you can afford to clean up their language without making them sound silly.  It's important though not to overdo it, otherwise it will also sound unnatural.


Consider your audience.  If you're writing for fiftyish females preferring cozies, the f-word becomes a problem.

I think profanity should only be used in novels when it's absolutely necessary. It depends on the story and, most of all, on the character. A drug dealer is not going to say, "Oh, darn it!" when the cops arrest him. By the same token, a housewife probably wouldn't use the F word when she drops a bottle of juice. Although she could. Again, it depends on the story you're telling and the personality of the character/s.

In my Malone mystery novels, Mixed Messages and Unfinished Business, I chose not to use profanity and I'm glad I didn't. At the book launch event for Unfinished Business, a woman bought one of my books and told me that her young granddaughter wanted to read it. Whew! Could've been a disaster.

It think the simple answer is that it depends on the book.  The language you use should match that of your characters.

Absolutely. Characters need to be thought of as people, and people curse. Some people curse more than others. Crime fiction tends to have more criminals in it than other genres--shocking, I know--and criminals are often from social strata were profanity is not just commonplace, but used as punctuation, and sometimes with great effect. 

I've been all over the place on how much foul language I use, but it's always had to do with the situation, characters, and the story's place in time.

That being said, I have no patience with people who read stories of multiple, possibly grisly, assaults and murders who then object to foul language in the telling.


I agree.

Thanks.  We're thinking along the same lines.

I agree with Dana.

I think artful use of profanity in dialogue can really help with character development.  How a person swears--or doesn't swear--can tell you a lot about who they are, and who they think they are.  It can also be funny.  I generally don't much enjoy the company of people who are offended by swearing, and I'm not interested in writing for them, or in spending much time with them as characters.   

Dead on. Characters are best portrayed by what they say or do. How they use profanity--or don't--can be a key point in making them real. I once had a young female cop in a story who couldn't swear. Not that she wouldn't--she tried from time to time to be more like "one of the guys"--but she stunk at it. I did it to say something about her, and how her peers responded said something about them.

I do realize that our culture has an addiction to profanity but I find that it really makes the entire use of profanity just seem juvenile. Profanity has a place, but I think it should be used to maximum effect. Profanity can and should be reserved for fitting moments. When it's just carelessly tossed around, not only does it loose any impact, but it cheapens the work.

I prefer a witty remark or an original insult to a coarse vulgarity, unless the vulgarity is used to expound the character's lack of sophistication. With dialogue, anything goes, as long as it's within character. I just hope I don't have too many Chinese or Rastafarian readers who might object to Diu nei lou mou or Rass!


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