Profanity and shit in literature……
Someone asked me why there is so much profanity in my writing.
“Fuck you,” I replied. Not really.
Mostly, I strive for my writing to be authentic. In the real world, people swear. If writing is a representation of the real world, why wouldn’t it have profanity? Not only do my characters swear, but there is a liberal dose of four letter words in my narratives as well. I have never been a fan of “proper”. Some writers strive to elevate the discourse and, in doing so, elevate society with their art. Good for them. I strive to muck around in the viscera and entrails of our human existence and, in doing so, celebrate the very imperfections that make us fascinating. Maybe some day I’ll write something with a seventy year old, British etiquette teacher as narrator, and I’ll refrain from the profane…..although I already imagine her muttering “fucking kids today” under her breath.
If good writing is about finding the exactly right word, then removing profanities from consideration is taking a bunch of arrows out of the quiver. People, and characters, don’t have “Oh darn!” moments. They have “Oh shit!” ones. Some times characters don’t make love or have mad passionate sex. Some times they just fuck. In real life, teenage boys swear like longshoremen. Longshoremen swear like longshoremen. If you have a seventeen year old male character who says, “darn,” I call bullshit.
I have been told that the presence of profanity in my work will restrict my audience. I’m okay with that. Someone who will not read my work because of the presence of the word “fuck” would probably not like my work even if I changed it to “flip” (I’m from Utah. Flip is the Mormon F word). Shakespeare, for his time, was lewd and very profane. He seemed to have a decent career.
The use of profanity demonstrates a limited vocabulary and a lazy writer. That’s another argument I’ve heard. I briefly considered going off to count all the words I know. Then I said “fuck that.” Occasionally, a character may defecate (see? that’s a big word), but more often they’re going to take a shit. As for laziness in the writing, every “fuck” or “shit” or “damn” in my work received the same consideration as every other word. They are there because I thought they were the best choice.
I don’t use profanity for shock value. There are many instances when the absence of profanity would be more shocking. Faced with, say, someone backing into your brand new car then driving away, few people would say, “Gosh. You’ve damaged my automobile and quite perturbed me.” I salute anyone with that much restraint. Most of us would launch a screed (see? another edumucated word) involving a whole bunch of “motherfuckers” and new profanities we made up on the spot.
The presence of profanity in literature is not for everyone. I’m cool with that. Am I going to remove it from my writing? Fuck that shit.