Don’t Censor Swearing

Swearing in writing can be controversial, but there are ways to avoid it without directly censoring your characters.

Image Credit: 
Public Domain

I quite enjoy swearing in my writing. It can be quite a fun and—at times—inventive way to convey what people are feeling, and people in the real world do swear. But not everyone wants to swear in their writing, and there are some very bad suggestions for how to go about achieving this goal.

Before we start looking at what not to do, why it’s bad, and what to do instead, it’s important to point out that your own personal bias shouldn’t impact your writing. If you don’t want to swear for whatever reason, that’s your choice, but it isn’t your character’s choice. If they swear, then they should swear in your writing. There are also quite a few misconceptions about swearing; some people still hold the opinion that it is something that people with lesser vocabularies do because they lack the tools to say what they mean without swearing. This is despite numerous studies that have argued that swearing is indicative of a higher vocabulary. With that out of the way, let’s look at the worst suggestion I have ever seen.

Censoring

Don’t ever metaphorically bleep your writing. By that I mean replacing letters of your swear words with asterisks or with other symbols.

Don’t you f*****g dare do that you m!$£@%&^!$£r.

I have seen people advocate for this, but never do it. For starters, a significant part of writing is immersing your reader. Doing the above is a very good way to break immersion. On a second note, it looks unprofessional and quite childish. If you’re going for a childish narrator, then they shouldn’t be swearing anyway. On a final note, it makes you look like an amateur. If you want your readers to feel something, then you need to feel it as well. If swearing makes you uncomfortable, then putting it in will likely have the same effect on your readers because of the way it’s used. This is an integral part of writing that takes time to learn and, if you’re censoring your swear words, you haven’t learnt it yet.

If you are still focused on not including the actual words in your writing, then that’s your right. You’re writing the thing.

Make up your own swear words

I quite like doing this in conjunction with swearing anyway but you can use other words to the same effect that swearing does. One of my characters has a tendency to call people ‘dildos.’ It’s not swearing, but gets the point across. It always works as an exclamation. A famous example of this is the use of ‘smeg’ in Red Dwarf. There’s nothing quite like watching a horror movie and exclaiming “What the smeg?” quite loudly after a jump scare. You can make the words a bit different and out there as well, especially if you’re using a fantasy setting.

Tell and don’t show

You can just do something like this:

”I’ve had it up to here with your nonsense,” Alex said with a curse.

You can, but that doesn’t mean that you should. It’s okay but it does fall very clearly into the telling category which you should be avoiding. It’s an acceptable solution if you use it once or twice but, if you’re approaching agents, publishers, or editors, you’re likely to get picked up on it unless you’re writing for a younger audience.

 

I’m not telling you that you should swear in all of your writing, or that all of your characters will swear. I have friends who don’t swear, some that swear rarely and some that swear almost constantly. Having said that, people do swear, and if your character is one of those people then you should show your readers, regardless of how you feel about it.

David Chitty was born and raised in Thanet in the 90s. He devotes most of his energies to writing fantasy fiction novels.

Join the Discussion

Please ensure all comments abide by the Thanet Writers Comments Policy

Add a Comment