If You're A Christian, Your Writing Has To Be 100% "Clean" All The Time // Cussing Edition

7:00 AM

We're gonna boldly go today, guys, to places I've only sort of gone before. With really long titles.
this title is slightly less long, go me.
I'm not the only Christian writer out there by far. I'm not the only Christian teen writer out there. Now, my books don't necessarily fit in the genre of "Christian Fiction", but I'm not alone in that, either. (Maybe someday I'll write another post about why I'm not a fan of the Christian Fiction genre, but plenty of people have done that in smart ways already.) There's a lot of debate and/or talk about what Christian writers should write and how they should write it. If you're in this circle you probably know that by now.

So let's talk about swearing for a second. 
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yeah, yeah, i know.. 
You see -- I swear in my writing sometimes. And I feel perfectly comfortable with that. This is such an hot issue, and I've read so so so many times that Christians shouldn't swear in their books for a variety of reasons, so I wanted to take a post to explain why I'm okay with that as a Christian writer, and why I believe that a book can reflect Christ and still contain content that's not necessarily "clean". So I'm going to write a response to a specific article (this one right here) not because I'm picking a fight with them personally, but because it was the first one I could find and it has five specific points that I'm going to address briefly. (Hopefully this post doesn't get too long. I have lots of Opinions.)

I'll give you a second to read that article (it's short, don't worry) before I start talking over it. 
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i have never seen this movie??? i seriously need to fix that sometime.
I've read this article many times. I don't hate it, I don't hate the people, I agree that there are valid points within the text, but I also disagree with the main points presented and the way they're presented. These seem to be common arguments I've found when it comes to whether or not Christians should swear in their writing, so I'm going to talk about those points for a second and hopefully not be too long-winded about it. (Please don't leave me stranded here, spouting my opinions to an empty room.) 

1. It's lazy.
"You don't need swearing for shock value." "You don't need swearing to make your story more edgy/gritty/dark/whatever." "You don't need your character to swear to show how bad they are." "It's lazy storytelling." 

Yes. And also no. 

There are occasions where swearing is excessive or unnecessary. It can be lazy storytelling. But there's a thousand other ways to be lazy and boring and sensational when it comes to writing, and cursing isn't one of the major ones. For me personally, the decision to let my characters curse did not come lightly, and I didn't just throw it in there. I'm going to use Pariah as an example -- the characters curse. Full disclosure. They say things I wouldn't say. But they say them for a variety of reasons, including but not limited to: 

They're in a different time period, and these words are historically accurate. They're rough, imperfect characters who are not me. They're in a situation that's beyond stressful, beyond horrible, and sometimes people with that kind of pressure just aren't squeaky clean (and I don't blame them). 

(Also, you know what? Screw the idea that using a curse word to add some shock to a moment is always a bad thing to do. Words are powerful. Certain words are really powerful. The right word at the right time can say volumes about a character's emotional/mental/spiritual state and add to the mood. And I'm not going to apologize for that.) 

2. It's still you saying the words. 
"Don't blame this on your characters! You're still the one writing those words, thinking them, and using them. Isn't that just as bad as saying them yourself?"
This is a big one. You know what? You are absolutely responsible for your words. All of them. The things you say, and the things you write. And you need to be careful with that responsibility and that power, yes. But why is swearing the one sin you use this argument on? (whoops, dangling preposition there. #sorrynotsorry)

You know what the Bible also says is a sin? Anger. Having a temper that's out of control. Threatening people. Lashing out at people. Murder. Selfishness. Lust. Pride. Greed. Why is using a specific word any worse of a sin than calling someone an idiot in a moment of anger? (spoiler alert: it's really not.) I can guarantee you that every Christian writer out there has written their character saying or expressing or doing something that's considered a sin in that way. No one would point out that I shouldn't have my characters yelling at each other, saying unkind things, not keeping their temper under check. Our world is broken and writing, by necessity, relies on flaws and bad things to keep it moving. A story that contained no sin at all, with perfect people, would be a miserable kind of story to read. 

Am I responsible for/doing everything I write in my stories? Pariah centers around a murder mystery. Am I responsible for the murders, since I wrote my character doing it? Am I responsible for every time Sachi yells at someone and struggles with her temper? Am I responsible for the lies, the betrayal? Are you going to hold me responsible for everything? You know what? My characters are not me. They just aren't. And if you're going to hold me responsible for the words they say, you have to hold me responsible for everything, and no one has done that yet. 

3. The realism issue 
"You don't really need cussing to be realistic. That's not an excuse. And if you really wrote in a realistic way, they would be swearing constantly!" (this one could take up a whole blog post in itself.) 

I'm going to say it: Swearing makes my stories more realistic. I know the arguments against this. I know. I've seen this a thousand times. Do I need to rely on profanity to make my point? I don't. But you know what? It adds something I can't get anywhere else. The world is messy. People are messy. Pariah, my own story, is a messy story about messy imperfect people. They come from the London streets, from rough society. They are not me. They are not my values. The entire story is full of ideas and things and situations that I do not condone or do myself. Swearing included. I believe that if I'm going to write a story that's gritty, that's raw, that's an honest look at this kind of person (which I feel I should) it's simply wrong of me to censor out the specific things I don't like. That's not how life works. I cannot hold my characters to the same standards as me specifically. That's not fair. I would never force someone who is uncomfortable with swearing to read a book that contained words they didn't like. That's their call. But I have put a good deal of thought and prayer into this, and I personally don't believe in flinching away from specific aspects of darkness and humanity as if they're any worse than the other things I've chosen to portray. 

It's also worth mentioning again that language is incredibly fluid. Specific words we find offensive now were either normal or didn't really exist in past times. Culture and what we see as offensive are always changing. In fact, the Bible never gives us a specific list of words not to use; when it talks about guarding our speech, it's always in the sense of being loving, of watching our language for the sake of not tearing people down or cursing them. I don't use certain words because their meanings are just vulgar and I don't need them. But words like "hell" and "damn" were, for example, completely commonplace in regular conversation in the 1800s. In certain places certain words just slip into conversation. Banning certain specific words is a shallow argument in the end. 

4. Tolkien didn't include swearing. 
This is, in fact, one of the main 5 points in the article, and he pretty much leaves it at that. "Tolkien didn't swear in his books, so you can write a great book without bad words, so THERE. Take THAT." 

You can write a good book without using swear words. Using swear words does not make your book any less of a good book. I won't spend a long time on this particular argument because there's not a whole lot of logic and/or substance there and I've spent long enough on other parts of it as it is. Swearing or any other kind of darkness does not take away from the meaning of a story if, in fact, the story is written with intention and points back to the truth and the themes are solid. You don't have to read it, but you can't deny the fact that books like Brave New World and 1984, with all their more mature content, contain important, deep, insightful themes. 

(And while we're on the topic of Tolkien -- do you know what he included in some of his works? Pretty explicit incest. Murder of best friends. A number of other things. C.S. Lewis used swear words in some of his adult fiction, because it was acceptable and normal at that time and because it made sense for the characters in that context. Les Miserable is a spiritual book with powerful themes and a raw look at God and redemption; the fact that it contains sex and prostitution and theft does not take away from its value.) 

5. Who is going to read it? 
"How would you feel reading this out loud?" "What if your little sister reads it?" "What if you're hurting other Christians with the language you use?" "What does that say about you and Christianity if you use that language?"

(1. There are swear words in Pariah. I would read these words out loud if I read my story out loud. I put them in the story for a reason, I believe they are there for a reason, and I do not personally feel uncomfortable including that. 

(2. Pariah is a YA novel. It's a novel featuring teenagers, in a rough section of London, in rough circumstances, solving murders. It deals with abuse and death and mental illness. And you know what? It's not for my little siblings. I wouldn't let my youngest siblings read it, because it's not written for them. I wouldn't read some of Tolkien's books to little kids, either, because of other content and also the emotional maturity required to really understand appreciate the stories. I'm fully comfortable writing things I wouldn't want my little siblings to read. Again, a book doesn't need to be clean for all ages to have value -- there are certain sections of the Bible you don't read to little kids, either, because they're just rough that way. And that's okay. 

(3. This is gonna be brutally honest: I don't have an obligation to write a story that every Christian agrees with, or likes, or appreciates. I don't have an obligation to write a book that pleases everyone and makes everything comfortable. No author has to cater to that. If language is a stumbling point for you, if it deeply and truly makes you uncomfortable, I don't mind if you set down my book and choose another. As for representing myself to non-Christians, that is important to me, and I certainly don't want my books to be the same as all other secular books or to glorify the world. But it's my hope that people are smart enough to see beyond a few culturally "offensive" words and see to the light I point to, the themes, the overcoming. 

I have put a great deal of thought and prayer into the language I use in my stories. I want every word to be important, to point to the grander theme. The world is a broken place, you guys, full of broken people. I chose to write about a specific piece of brokenness, and after consulting my Bible and others smarter than me, I've come to a point where I am comfortable with the language I've used. My comfort level is not the same as that of other Christians'. And that is okay. But let's erase the idea that writing about specific things, using specific words is un-Christian, is a direct reflection on you, and keeps your story from being "Christian". Let's look beyond the nitpicky specific words and focus on telling stories with overall truth and spiritual intent, and respect each other's comfort levels and boundaries. 

Aimee out. 
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You probably already know what the discussion question here would be, and I'm sure I'm going to hear opinions anyway (which is great) so just go ahead and throw those thoughts at me, yeah? Love you.


  1. While I don't include cussing/swearing in my own writing, I think your article is spot-on. As long as the content is appropriate for how the book was marketed (e.g., the f-bomb in middle grade fiction or frequent instances of gratuitous swearing in a book marketed as "clean"), I think it is acceptable, even in "Christian" fiction.

    1. Exactly! Obviously there are words I wouldn't use, and I'll keep it appropriate for the intended audience -- I don't see that as a problem at all, and I hate that you can get absolutely slammed for it. :P

  2. Wow! I think you really nailed all the arguments, here. (Especially the Tolkein one... I mean, sure his stories were okay, but devoting four short sentences to that? Talk about some lazy writing...)

    I think you make some really important points. Especially, for example, the one where you have to be "accountable for your words" in writing but not other sins. Which I think has value. I definitely don't think this is characteristic of all Christian Fiction or all Christian YA but I know that out of the purity movement of the 90's and other more recent stuff, a lot of things like softcore rape and other weird sexual stuff happened in such books to provide a "Christian" alternative to the "secular" stuff out in the world—and while I don't want to shame these books, per se, presenting those ideas as Not Problematic is very problematic for me.

    And, you know, calling out Tolkein and Lewis for some of the things they wrote was a good idea, too. I am *aware* that all sins are equal and whatnot, but also, suggesting that curse words are the benchmark for sinfulness in writing when there's stuff like, I dunno, INCEST? *rolls eyes* Yeah. It's a fact.

    I have actually been working on a post similar to this for a while, responding to similar ideas, although my take might be a little different because sometimes I think that it's necessary to use curse words to build people up. Perhaps I'll respond to your post in the next week or two, if that's okay with you?

    1. Please do write a response! I'll enjoy seeing it, since you always have an interesting take on things.

      Yeah, there's a lot of hypocrisy that goes on when it comes to Christian writing and what is and is not acceptable -- some Christian books really do end up being borderline racy sexually, and let's be real here -- a lot of them use a sin to create drama, so what's so different about that? Ugh, I have too many thoughts about this. (Not to mention the fact that most Christians will turn to Christian fiction books just because they're clean, ignoring the fact that lots of them are actually theologically unsound, and that's even more dangerous.)

  3. I didn't have time to read the entire article you responded to, but I did get a look at the main points, and, well...
    I HATE HATE HATE the argument that as Christians we're obligated to write stories with no objectionable content whatsoever. Hate it with the fire of a thousand suns. And I'd argue that refusing to portray life as it actually is (where people, including Christians, swear and lust and check off all the rest of the seven deadly sins daily) is lazy writing. As a writer, your duty is to show what life is really like, not what you wish it was like. I feel like a lot of Christian writers (at least those writing for a specifically Christian market) just don't get this, and that's why a lot of Christian fiction, to put it frankly, sucks. (Also, every time I see an argument for no sex/violence/etc in books or movies I remember the book of Judges and laugh.)

    1. Hah, right? There are lots of sections of the Bible that just..aren't PG! God isn't condoning these things; he's showing life as it really is and was, because that's essential to creating a story and also showing the truth. I can understand personal preferences and comfort levels, but insisting that using a few words that are culturally inappropriate now is just lazy and ignores a lot of other things.

  4. Wow. Wow! You responded to that article so well. This is something that I've been struggling with for awhile: Should I include swear words or not? I've been trying to consider all angles and pray about it, and this is really helping me think things through.

    Another thing is that every country has different swear words. I live in a very international community, and it can be difficult at times because I might say a word at home (which is completely acceptable there) and it'll be appalling to some of my friends, and vice versa. So what is a swear/cuss word? I don't feel like there are any swear words that apply to all people and all readers. So should I not include a word that I use in my everyday life and consider normal because it might offend one out of a thousand readers? You're right; we need to start looking past singular words and start focusing on what our stories are telling the world.

    Thank you so much for this post! <3

    1. Exactly! Language is always changing and different, and slang/cussing is always changing and different -- most of the time, it's literally just a word that we use as an exclamation. (Though some of them are just vulgar in meaning, and that's why I don't use them.) It's true that there *are* some words that are actually profane, and actually "curses" -- g-d- being the biggest one I can think of -- and those aren't words that you use. I probably wouldn't be comfortable using it. But really, we're never told not to use specific other words in the Bible, so fixating on that rather than the message of the story is just petty.

  5. "I'm not the only Christian writer out there by far. I'm not the only Christian teen writer out there. Now, my books don't necessarily fit in the genre of "Christian Fiction", but I'm not alone in that, either. (Maybe someday I'll write another post about why I'm not a fan of the Christian Fiction genre, but plenty of people have done that in smart ways already.) There's a lot of debate and/or talk about what Christian writers should write and how they should write it. If you're in this circle you probably know that by now." - straight up me

    THANK YOU for saying all of this. This is exactly how I feel and sometimes it's really difficult to be in the Christian writing community while being someone who indulges in less than squeaky-clean prose. All of this is really spot-on and I appreciate your honesty and integrity in standing up for what I think are sensible and perfectly acceptable opinions. Keep it up!

  6. This very interesting article and some good points. :) I personally don't use swear words in my own novels (though I've no problem making up exclamations for fantasy character or simply saying someone 'swore under his breath'), and I prefer not to read them (though I will sometimes), but I also don't mind if I don't agree with others or if they don't agree with me on everything. ;)

    I do have one point to mention, not to debate you but just for your consideration. Now, I'd not say we are responsible for what our characters do in the manner referenced above (because a villain kills someone, we aren't murders). I would say, however, that we are responsible for the portrayal of what they do. As Christians, we don't portray murder or lying or such as good. It happens, yes. There are bad guys and there is evil. But we also show the results of evil. We show the good, the light, and the truth. So I think we need to consider how we portray swearing as well.

    The only other difference between swearing and other 'bad' actions is that swearing is words, while actions are actions. And books are words, not actions. A character who kills another character clearly hasn't harmed anything in the real world. But reading the same words as 'real life' swearing (as opposed to saying the character swore, but not saying the word) doesn't make it any less of a bad word because the character is saying it.

    1. You're absolutely right, it doesn't. But honestly, when I read "he swore" or anything like that, I find myself...thinking more about the word and what word he must have used? Maybe that's just me, but for me it actually puts a bigger focus on the words, rather than allowing me to skim past it. I understand that for some people swearing makes them deeply uncomfortable, and of course, you should follow your convictions in that and avoid things that make you stumble. But really, what *is* a curse word? The Bible never gave us a specific list -- we are, of course, told not to take God's name in vain, told not to *actually* curse people, and there are a few cuss words that genuinely are curses. I wouldn't use those words. But otherwise...most of these words are simply vulgar, or used as an exclamation or to prove a point. Cursing is such a fluid thing that depends on the time and the culture, and I don't really see the point in getting hung up on a word.

      As for being responsible for my character cursing...yes, I am. I'm responsible for portraying them in a manner that I believe reflects who they are. And I should hope that the discerning Christian would realize that me using a particular word, just as I would write a particular action, doesn't mean that I'm condoning unkind language. For me it's the same as a character losing their temper, lashing out -- if my main character does that, am I condoning the unkind words they use? Those are just as much a sin as the curse words that happen to be offensive in our culture. :)

    2. Woah this article is amazing

  7. I pretty much agree with you on this. I've rambled before about how much I dislike the idea that Christian writers must have 100% clean books (So many bland, unrealistic Christian novels. So. Many.)There's nothing wrong with avoiding reading or writing books that include swearing. That's a personal choice, but sometimes including it really does make the story more realistic. I wouldn't be saying "Oh gosh golly darn it" if a murderer was chasing me and my friends around. I'm also glad you brought up the point that while some authors (like Tolkien-I mean gosh, The Tale of Turin is one of the overall darkest things I've read, and I read Greek plays and legends) may not include cursing in their work, they may include plenty of other dark or mature content. It doesn't make sense to only condemn the language component, and I see a lot of people using that angle. I guess a lot of it has to do with the context of the story, its intended audience, and the way the characters are presented. Anyway, I'm so glad someone feels the same way I do on this issue. I know plenty of people who don't.

    1. Right? It's not a black and white issue, and I wish people would stop making it such.

  8. I liiiiike this post. :) VeRY MUCH. I also like how you called out that we can write about much WORSE things than swearing, but that's apparently "okay". Like seriously what's worse: swearing vs murder?! So it can be a complete double-standard there if people are going to get upset about swearing. Books cannot be "perfect". They just can't!

    I actually never swear IRL (well, "dangit" happens hahha and stuff like that) but in my writing? I go with what the character needs! And what the situation requires! I definitely swear in my writing and I don't feel bad about it, because half the time I think humans give these words all this power and they're kinda just words half the time anyway...

    I think you were very logical and articulate in this post, Aimee!!

    1. Haha, I don't really go beyond DANGIT too, but I have no regrets as to what I write. :P Thank you!

  9. Oh my gosh, I love this post, Aimee! I completely agree with you. Like, okay, no, I don't think that it's necessary to be dropping five curse words on every single page of your book, but including curse words in and of itself is NOT a bad thing. I also love your point about how there are lots of different sins included in writing, but people always harp on the language. Next time I end up in a discussion about this, I'll definitely bring that point out.

    This was a fabulous post, Aimee!

    1. Yeah, it's not a black and white thing, and I think you need to be smart about the words you're using at all times, but that doesn't just extend to cursing. And it's a petty thing to be hung up on most of the time.

  10. I actually wrote a post recently on the same topic on whether or not to include swearing in one of my books that would fit the label "Christian". (if you wanted to check it out, it's here. no pressure though - https://clairembanschbach.wordpress.com/2016/07/14/the-words-we-say/ )

    But I totally agree with you. I use cuss words frequently, although I try not to. I'm ok with reading some in fiction. I think that in some instances you do have to include it to be realistic in books. (as I've read somewhere "'darn' just doesn't quite cover 'my planet just exploded'" :P )I'm not advocating the F-bomb, which is the one I dislike the most, or profanity as in taking God's name in vain.
    For my story, I am using some curse words like damn and hell. Going back and forth on b****rd. It also has some stuff in it that I probably wouldn't recommend to a kid anyway, so if it ever does get published, I'll just market it to an older audience. So, yeah, I say that if you're comfortable with it and it fits a theme within your book (as in all the reasons you gave for Pariah).

    Great post! Thanks for writing it. I've always struggled a bit with the reasoning like the article gave. I can see both sides, but since I'm not offended by "bad" language really, I'm ok with reading or writing it.

    1. Right! Obviously I wouldn't encourage someone to read or write things that make them uncomfortable, but I'm also not a fan of getting hung up on specific words that happen to be culturally offensive at the time. Some words are just crude and vulgar, which isn't good -- but there are actually only a few words that are actual *curses* and are words that I kind of hate. It really comes down to how you portray these things, who you're writing for, a thousand other things...

  11. 1st, it's entirely unclear to me that the passages you cite refer to the manner of expression rather than the content of the message. I believe that they refer to vulgar and hateful ideas.
    2nd, I read the article you linked. When you come across ANYTHING written by Reagan Ramm IGNORE IT. I've had several run-ins with this ... er ... fellow. Suffice to say I am NOT a fan.

  12. *applause* seriously. MAD applause to you. I agree with every point. Ive been struggling with whether or not to make my characters swear. since IVE never done it, would it count if I wrote a cuss word? silly things like that. but as I look at my characters, its almost impossible for them not to swear. it would be completely unrealistic.

    I love every point you made here. thank you so much for finally saying this.

    1. Thanks so much! I mostly just wanted to get rid of the shaming around it, the idea that you can't write something worthwhile or good if it has objectionable content.

  13. yeysyeysysysysyes . Yes. Swearing is not the worst sin, swearing happens in real life, and to be honest, if your God is the kind of God who will send you to hell for writing a word that was invented by humans and means something bad, then that must be terrifying. that is all.

  14. This is a really interesting discussion. Who your publisher is matters a lot in what you can put in your story, but I've known an author who is one of the most Christian men I know put swearing into his story centering around sex trafficking, because you know what pimps swear like sailors. The reason I don't put swearing in my books is because of the publishers I'm going for, but a lot of my characters would actually swear. It matters a lot about what your market is.


    1. That's a true point...personally I've never believed in worrying about who my publisher is going to be, because I think there's some harm in writing toward a specific kind of publication in the first place, and I should hope that whoever takes my book is a group that understands what I'm going for and is supportive of the way I've chosen to do it. :)

  15. This. THIS. *applauds wildly* Thank you so much for writing this post. I agree with every point you made. Few things infuriate me more than the stereotype that because we're Christian, we have to keep our writing/what we read/watch/etc. squeaky clean. True, there are a few cuss words are just plain foul, but really, if you understand what they mean, a lot of them really aren't THAT bad! Our society has just blown them up so much that we're afraid if we say a cuss word, we're going to end up in Hell or something.

    And then the whole thing of singling out language as the worst of all evils in writing...I mean, hey. If you don't want to read books with cussing in them, then read something else! There are plenty of books I've put down because I wasn't comfortable with their content and I just moved on to something else. Let's face it: cussing is a normal thing in our world. But that doesn't mean we have to hide under our blankets and pretend like it doesn't exist!

    I don't swear IRL, but my characters do on occasion when it fits the character/situation. Because I want my characters to be real people, in a real world. In Tolkien's world of Middle-earth, cussing wasn't a normality. So of course he wouldn't include it in his writing.

    Sorry. I had to rant. XD

    1. Exactly! It's not the biggest deal in the world, and if you're going to be picky about that kind of language, you're going to have to be picky about all the mean/unkind things anyone in the book says, because those aren't any less "bad" than specific words. It's a silly thing to be hung up on and I wish there wasn't so much shaming for it.

  16. You already know this but I'll tell you anyway. I write murder, abuse, suicide, mafia crime, cutting, and the occassional prostitute. If my morals are defined by my writing, then I am surely doomed. XD
    I think you have made some very good points here, and I've basically nothing to add except that I believe the most common error in this debate is to assume that this is black and white. It's terribly grey, and I think the choice of what sins a writer can comfortably represent in the spirit of being honest is the writer's choice.
    I personally don't put swears in my book, but that's because once I start those words like to stay at the forefront of my mind and tempt me in difficult situations.
    However, I very much respect and am not bothered by your decision to include swears. You do it right.

    1. It definitely is up to you and what you feel comfortable with, and I would never force someone to write or read something that didn't make them uncomfortable. It's all about personal conviction. *nodnod*

  17. Great post, I agree as long as your using it properly and not just for shock value or something. Swearing happens, as do murders, I don't see a problem with it.

  18. I'm also a person who doesn't swear but I will read books with swear words in them (but of course, each book has its exceptions).

    I don't really disagree with Christians including swear words in their novels. I used to think the word 'crap' was a swear word but then my opinion changed. If a person uses swear words in their writing to be lazy, then it would show. It would definitely show. I have no problem with people using the words 'hell' and 'damn' in books since they are words featured in the Bible. heck, some people wouldn't even regard 'hell' as a curse word.

    Also, yeah, the Bible isn't PG. The thing is, my parents made me read the entire Bible. And I was about 9 when I first finished it. Okay, I skipped Songs of Solomon. Could you blame me? I was 9! Also there was incest and also advice for married couples (which isn't the PG kind either). What's the worse, a sex scene or a scene with intense cursing?

    That's a problem Christians have. Regarding one sin above the other. I used to do this before I realised that it was wrong. Lying as bad as murdering someone. So is hating someone.

    Yeah, I'm off topic.

    1. That makes sense! The problem comes when we hold one thing as unacceptable when it's no worse than anything else being portrayed -- and especially in the case of swearing, it's something that comes down more to intent than specific words. It's a grey area and people have difficulty with that.

  19. Oh my gosh, Aimee! This is amazing. You hit the nail on the head with this one. I used to think the way the writer of the article did - I was very conservative in my thinking with swearing, sex, etc. But as I get older, and realize more, learn more, I realize that it's not the same as it used to be.
    Sometimes swearing is okay. It's no different than any other sin we write about. And let's be honest. If characters are "real", they're going to sin. Just like, if people are real, they're going to sin. It's called a SIN for a reason - and no one alive doesn't do it.
    Thank you so so so so so much more this post. It was written so well, and I'm so glad to have you a part of our new writing project.

  20. This was really interesting. I haaate the "it's lazy" argument. What are you meant to say?!! "You're a brigand!" "You scoundrel!" "You cad!" ... It just doesn't quite have the same effect, does it?!

    This is something I wrestled with in my WIP fantasy. I came to the decision not to use words I wouldn't use myself ... but then equally there are big debates about what even "is" a swear word. For me it's S and "above" but some people don't even say crap ... So I feel we are working with shifting goalposts!

    I think it's important to remember that as writers we set the parameters, so if the worst word in your book is bastard but you only use it once or twice, it can have a big impact on its own, even though it's not a "bad" swear word. It's good to set that kind of framework.

    On the realistic topic, though, I chatted to some irl non-Christian friends -- I was stressing about it and saying "how can I write about a uni setting without swearing!" -- and they said they don't really notice bad language in books. Even I am a bit desensitised to it because of the world I inhabit daily, but I do notice it; but I guess if you constantly use that language yourself you probably don't really notice it one way or the other. That's what they said, anyway, which I thought was really interesting.

    Great post!

  21. First, I'll say I'm not a big fan of swearing in general in fiction, because to me it CAN seem lazy if it's over-used.

    But then, let's get down to this:

    What IS swearing, really?

    The Bible doesn't really specify, it says foul or unclean speech, but not what that foul or unclean speech might be.

    It is SOCIETY which decides what is considered inappropriate for polite company.

    (Parson me for swearing on your blog. It's to make a point.)

    Take the word 'bloody.' Up until about 1700, it was common speech. Then someone decided it was offensive. Until past the mid 1970's, it was considered obscene in England. (Despite no one really knowing what it means or why, unlike a lot of bad words -- there are vague explanations as to its origins but nothing known for certain.) Now, however, the word is no longer considered obscene in England, among the younger generation. It's used even in children's books (Harry Potter, for one).

    So, the word wasn't obscene, became obscene, and isn't obscene again. Society decides what is, and what isn't, appropriate. It changes over time. Whatever swear words existed in Biblical times no longer exist now, and what we consider swearing now may not be seen as swearing in 400 years.

    So when people point to common swear words, and say -- don't say that, they're really basing their assessment of said word on society's beliefs, not Biblical proof of any kind.

    I don't have a problem with minor swearing in books. It doesn't bother me. I DO have a problem with words I consider to be obscene from a personal standpoint -- I could never bring myself to write the f-word in a novel. I've actually used some of the linked-to-article's points in trying to convince another writer not to do it -- but it was more of a "this will alienate your audience" motive than a genuine sense of "this is wrong, don't do it."

    Good blog. Just discovered it. Enjoying reading your thoughts. :)

  22. Personally, I'm not a fan of books that are littered with profanity. Yes, I still read The 5th Wave trilogy (and loved them), but I don't usually just go around reading profanity-filled books for fun. But, if there's one thing I've learned from my mother, it's this: it's okay to agree to disagree. I'm not entirely sure what my stance is on "adding profanity to books", but I personally don't have an issue with words like "crap" sprinkled occasionally throughout a book. I probably wouldn't even have a problem with "damn" or "hell" as long as it's not being used to curse God and isn't being used unnecessarily. But for my own book, I have decided not to use profanity due to my own morals and opinions on profanity because I wouldn't want to ever publish something that is in direct conflict with my biggest morals.

  23. I know this article is old, but I just wanted to say I happen to agree with you on a lot of this!! I actually read the article you quoted throughout, and the points you made here are pretty much what I thought about it, too. I don't curse in my writing, but that's simply because I have too many friends and family who would NOT tolerate that at all. Honestly, though, I don't see why murder / lying / stealing in a book is any better than using a simple swear word? That's never made sense to me. Anyway, thanks for posting this!


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