Do you swear, cuss, and curse? When you speak, does the air turn blue around you?
I have friends who never swear, and some who swear only when the occasion calls for it. I have other friends who punctuate every single sentence with profanity. Kind of like Dexter’s sister, Deb, on the television show. I myself have been known to string a few choice words together, usually under stress. I try to watch myself around the kids ever since the time my young grandson blasted me with a barrage of expletives that caught my hair on fire.
In spite of that, I teach my children that shit and damn aren’t bad words. Words are tools, and profanity is a poor choice to get the job done. Case in point is my friend who drops the F bomb whether he’s angry, happy, sad, or amused. The word itself does little to clarify his meaning.
This brings me to my point. As writers, we are taught to cut nonessential words. Redundancy is density, and brevity is bliss, my teacher used to say. If you can take out a word without changing the meaning of the sentence, do it.
But what do you do in a day and age when every other word is F or GD? We want our characters’ dialogue to sound natural and believable, don’t we? Beyond that, we want their words to exemplify them. Characterize them. A sailor should talk like a sailor, right?
Or is that the easy way out? When does such stereotypic profiling become just plain boring? No one likes to read the same words over and over, and even foul language loses its shock value after a while. Yet how are we supposed to get the picture across to our readers? Don’t tell me we actually have to put emotion into our dialogue.
Profanity is a poor tool. Profanity is a fact of life. What’s a writer to do? We can substitute pretend words such as the laughable and endearing frakk, but in the end the trap is the same. Brevity is bliss. I wish I had the goddamned answer.