That is the Fucking Question! A blog post discussing the use of profanity in fiction writing.
I've been toiling away at a new novel that I started a few weeks ago. It's in the embryonic stages right now--my little baby. It's the first draft which means it will be a skeletal framework that I will revisit later and flesh out with things and notes and details that I've jotted down, similar to contractors finishing out a house with sheetrock and paint and roof shingles and exterior siding and shit like that. But one of the things I've been thinking about lately is the use of profanity in my work. You know? Blue language, curse words, CUSS WORDS. If you still don't get it, then I'm referring to what George Carlin famously listed as the seven dirty words. These words are: shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, tits, and any variant of these words as well as dammit, goddamn, bastard, fuck, asshole or any other word that is considered offensive to somebody. And that somebody is important here; that somebody could potentially be one of my readers.
Now, I know what you're thinking. 'That Carlin bit is from 1972. Nobody is offended by these words anymore!' Au contraire, dear blog post reader. Cuss words still offend A LOT of people. 'How can this be? I mean, I heard someone on prime-time TV say jackass just the other day.' I know, I know. The proliferation of foul language is apparently clear but it still offends a lot of people just like female nipples on TV offend people. Foul language and female nipples in print still offends people too. It's just crazy in this day and age that cuss words offend anybody. But they do. Creative types like me have to wrestle with this at one point in our careers because our audience can be shaped, expanded or restricted, by the use of these foul words. But what are we 'writers' going to do about it?
Over the years, I've read some reviews of my books that have stated that, even though they really enjoyed my books, there was a lot of profanity in them. For instance, one reviewer named 'Red Adept' remarked, "This book is filled with bad language. I seriously doubt there are many pages without at least one cuss word." Another review from a reader named 'Grandmaw of Eight' states, "Not an author I will buy from again,due to the foul words he used.Was going to read it to my grandson,but decided to check it out first.Yes,one of life's lessons is to check out the author first!!!!!!! DELETED IT COMPLETELY FROM MY KINDLE." Bad grammar in this review aside, 'Grandmaw of Eight' has a point. There are foul words in my books. But every book I write is very carefully thought out and every word, at some point or the other, is scrutinized over, considered and reconsidered, edited in or edited out, then copy-edited again, then read a final time for the final version. The foul words are in my books for a reason. To me, it made sense to use the words I used. I didn't use foul language for the sake of just using foul language; that was the way my characters spoke to me. It rang true to me to have my characters speak that way.
Considering this reminded me of an Eddie Murphy skit where he finds out that Bill Cosby was offended by his use of foul language in his comedy act. He claims that Bill Cosby said, "You cannot say the word 'fuck' in front of people." Eddie says, "Then I got mad cause he thought that was my whole act. Like I just walked out on stage and cursed then left! And I managed to stick in some jokes in between curses." In reading some of the reviews of my books, I kind of feel the same way that Eddie did back in 1987, like my books are just filled with cuss words while I manage to get a sentiment or two in there when that is purely just not the case. I agonized over every word while editing them. Any use of shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, tits, and any variant of these words as well as dammit, goddamn, bastard, fuck, and asshole was scrutinized to the nth degree. And at the end of the day, they were meant to be there. That's the honest truth.
Ultimately, it's not up to me to change readers' minds about cuss words. Peoples' definition of morality varies drastically. Some people find the word 'fuck' to be highly offensive. Some people find the word 'fuck' to be a very versatile word that can be used as a noun, verb, or adjective. But, as a writer, I need to be true to my creative muse. And considering this, I can't apologize for my use of cuss words. They are in there for a reason. So, after considering this, I can only say what Richard Pryor claimed to tell Eddie Murphy to say in response to Bill Cosby, urging Eddie to not curse in front of people. Pryor said, "The next time that motherfucker calls, you tell him to suck MY dick! Whatever the fuck make people laugh, say that shit ... You tell [Bill] to have a Coke and a smile and shut the fuck up!" Although crude, Eddie and Richard were right. If there is purpose in your work way beyond only being crass, then go with the purpose. Criticism over the crass without discussing the purpose in your work is just bullshit.
Be true to your creative muse. Write on!