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Books for Thought is where I post a discussion topic related to books, reading, writing, or something pertaining to one of the three. I hope you’ll join in, and discuss today’s topic of

swearing in books

I recently posted about swearing on the blog, and a lot of people said that whilst they didn’t swear on their blog, they were fine with people swearing on their own blogs.

Today, I’m interested in swearing in books.

Personally, I love it. Almost all teenagers swear, so I just kind of think it’s unrealistic when there’s not one swear word in an entire contemporary YA novel. I mean … come on. Young adults know what swears are, you’re not going to taint them with cuss words.

I’ve said before that I swear a lot, and this can translate into my writing, as well. Not because I swear, but because teenagers swear and it fits my character.

With one of my novels I finished in 2014, I started off with the main character swearing. And then I got about halfway and realised that it didn’t suit his character at all, so I went back and changed pretty much all the f-words to freakings or whatever fit more in that particular sentence and circumstance.

But my second novel is filled with swears. The character is older than the one above, and is in a completely different place in his life. He would most definitely be a cusser because of so many reasons.

The novel I’m writing at the moment is about halfway between. This boy doesn’t swear all the time like the second boy, but he does swear. And there’s reason for that, as well. He’s going through some pretty tough shit and he’s kind of angry at the world, and it’s 100% understandable for him to swear, at least some of the time.

So there you have it. I actually love swears in books (as long as it fits the character and circumstances).

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How do you feel about swearing in books? Yay or nay?

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Posted on: January 16, 2015 • By: Chiara

52 Responses to Here’s a Swear, There’s a Swear, Everywhere a Swear

  1. I totally agree, swearing characters add to the realism of something. In contemporary YA especially, I feel a little weird if none of the characters dropped any cuss words. As long as it fits the character, like you said, I think swears are a good addition to books.

    I mean, even Eoin Colfer managed to sneak in a few swear words in his MG books. Sure, it was in a fantasy language, but the characters were soldiers and it was a tense situation, but the swearing added to the realism.

    • Chiara says:

      I definitely think swearing adds some more realism to contemporary books. And also thrillers and other books that have high stakes. I mean, if I was getting chased by a murderer or whatever, I’d be swearing my head off, haha. In some situations, swearing would come naturally to most people, and I like it when that kind of reaction is included in a book!

  2. Amanda P. says:

    I think swearing in most books just bring a sense of reality to the pages. Every high school has students who curse like it’s going out of style. So when an author doesn’t portray that, it makes me wonder if they are portraying a school that they wish existed.
    But then there are some books that don’t have cussing (I’m thinking of a few fantasy books). Sometimes they have curse-like words, Such as frakking or something similar. Snow Like Ashes comes to mind for this one.

    I personally love when characters cuss as long as it makes sense with who they are. Great discussion topic!

    • Chiara says:

      Exactly! And I always think: I did not know anyone in high school who wouldn’t drop a swear at least SOMETIMES. And I think this perfectly non-swearing teens in books are little unrealistic.

      Yeah, some futuristic and fantasy books I’ve read have made up swears. I don’t know if I like them or not! A part of me thinks that these made up swears are just a way to avoid using the actual words, haha.

      Me, too! I’m glad you agree, Amanda. Thank you! :D

  3. Annie says:

    I swear a lot in real life. Not an obscene amount, I don’t think, but not little at all. I think it just seems like I swear A TON because my friends don’t swear or less often so I’m the one pegged as the potty mouth just because I have the dirtiest out of all of them but not necessarily the dirtiest out of everyone. SO anyway, because of that, I don’t really mind swearing in books at all. Teenagers do swear and I always thought it was kinda dumb when people would criticize books for having too much cussing… like you realize the author is probably TONING IT DOWN given all normal circumstances? Like teenagers do swear more and probably say worse things than what you’re seeing in the book.

    One thing I remember coming across though is that one is never annoyed by the absence of swearing because that’s not really noticeable but too much swearing is annoying. I guess that’s not always the case because you notice a lack of swearing but for me, I never notice when there’s no swearing but if there’s too much… I mean I understand what I just said above but still. I feel like while the writer should be authentic, too authentic might be a bad idea because I’m surrounded by teenagers all the time and wow, if the author wrote down dialogue word for word as they would say it that’d be a really tedious book to read. Like I never have problems listening to me/others speak but I can just imagine how annoying reading all that dialogue would be. So much swearing, so many likes and sos and actuallys and weird slang…

    • Chiara says:

      Word for word dialogue would make for a ridiculous novel, haha. There’d barely be a point to anything the characters said XD

      I have personally never read a book that I thought had too much swearing, probably because I find it realistic, and it does not bother me in any way.

      Funnily enough, I always notice if there is only ONE swear in a book. I think that’s probably even worse than not having any at all, haha.

  4. Beth W says:

    Too much can feel gratuitous, like the author is trying to overcompensate for a lack of understanding about how teenagers communicate. But when it’s for emphasis to show extreme emotion (frustration, pain, etc), as in real life, I think it adds to the believability of a character, teen or adult. Even if the cursing is in a made-up language, it fits. I swear often in life (outside of work, of course), so it doesn’t offend me. But using swear words (or ‘hum’ or “uh’ or ‘like’) in place of intelligent language….that IS frustrating.

    • Chiara says:

      I definitely think that swears used in the right circumstance, like extreme emotion as you mentioned, definitely add to the believability of the character! I personally haven’t read a book with excessive swears in place of explaining something, but I suppose it could feel a bit overcompensating.

      Thanks for your thoughts, Beth!

  5. This is a great post and it’s been something I’ve been thinking (worrying) about a lot lately.

    I don’t swear. Generalization, because I think we all at the very least curse under our breaths a little every now and then, but I usually don’t swear. Never really have. For me I think it does depend of the character and the circumstance, but as a writer who doesn’t usually swear (and has a strict background with lots of people who if they read my book and I had swearing in it would be absolutely mortified) I worry sometimes about realism. Is it necessary? Probably not, but most teens do swear. I don’t know. I guess that as I continue writing I’ll need to make that judgement call. Gah!

    Again, great post :) xx

    • Chiara says:

      I think if the swearing doesn’t come naturally to the character you’re writing about – don’t worry about it! I determine whether or not the character will swear by their circumstance, and the language they use most of the time. So I’m sure if your character feels the need, they’ll probably let you know, haha.

      Thanks, Millicent! :)

  6. Megan says:

    I swear like a sailor in real life, too (well, only with people I’m comfortable with… which is basically just me. Lol), so it doesn’t bother me much when I come across characters to swear in books. But it depends LARGELY on the character herself and how the author incorporates swearing into their book. It would annoy me to no end if the swearing was there just for the sake of being there, or if the character swears because they think its uber cool (it’s not, and you’d sound like a prat if you swore for that reason). So just as long as your character’s personality suits it, then it’s all good.

    Oh, and have you read The Murder Complex by Lindsay Cummings? That book is one example of what authors SHOULD NEVER do when it comes to swearing. The author basically took words such as “f**k” and “s**t” and substituted them with lamer swear words. It just took away the seriousness of the story and made the characters sound so lame and ridiculous. ><

    • Chiara says:

      Yeah, I don’t spew swear words in front of just anyone, haha. But I have been noticing myself slipping up with people I don’t know THAT well, by dropping f-bombs every so often. EEP.

      Whether the swearing suits the character and the situation is THE most important thing for me. But I still find it unbelievable if there is not one swear in a YA book, especially if there are moments of heightened emotion. It’s just like … really? They wouldn’t be swearing right now? *side eye*

      I have not! And I really hate it when actual swears are substituted. I once read a book where the author BLACKED OUT the res of the word ‘fuck’. So the character was like “f____ you!” I actually could not believe it. I had hardly seen anything so ridiculous in a book before.

  7. Honestly, If the character doesn’t swear then I hardly notice it but as soon as there is a swear I instantly realise that hardly any of the books I’ve read use cuss words and it’s weird and I don’t like it.

    I think swearing adds a touch of realism to the book and it instantly makes me connect to the character more since most if not ALL of my friends swear. Now, that’s not to say that if the book doesn’t use swears then it’s a horrible book because that’s not the case at all but as you said, if the situation warrants it and the character isn’t the most innocent, goody-two-shoes, 12-year-old in the world then swear away!

    • Chiara says:

      I definitely think that swearing adds to the realism of the book! And I constantly find myself cheering when I find a book that uses swears. It’s so much more authentic than one without, especially for YA books.

  8. I’m not bothered if they’re swearing like a sailor but I don’t swear a lot, well I do have some proxy swear so it’ll sound acceptable. I’m maybe an old fashion but when I hear someone swear in every word I’m shocked, still. But I don’t like characters that swear to make them look “dangerous, “badass.” It’s such a cheap way to make him look a dark character. Flesh out the character not his swearing ability.

    • Chiara says:

      Oh, I definitely don’t like it when the only person who swears in a book is the “bad boy”, just to add more badness to his character. This is ALL kinds of lame, and actually makes it seem even more unrealistic, because chances are he wouldn’t be the only one swearing in real life.

  9. I’m not bothered by it, I think it can make a character even more realistic. Sometimes I’m annoyed when authors try to introduce their own swear words that doesn’t make sense. Sometimes it’s more than enough to use ‘asshole’ no need to come up with a new word :)

    • Chiara says:

      The fake swears can REALLY annoy me, haha. A real swear in a book is not the end of the world, and like you said: it actually makes the character more realistic than if they don’t swear!

  10. Swearing in books only bothers me if it’s every second word. People who swear like that ALL THE TIME in real life also annoy me. Other than that though swearing in books doesn’t bother me.

    One thing that is really annoying no matter what though: fake swearing. I’m not talking about fantasy novels where the world has its own curses, but in novels that are so obviously set in our world or in a world based on it and they constantly use one word that is so obviously a substitute for another. JUST USE THE DAMN WORD IN THE FIRST PLACE

    I feel like those last few sentences made little sense but oh well

    • Chiara says:

      I’ve never seen that much swearing in a book! I don’t know how I’d feel, but I guess there is a limit to how much a swear should be featured in a novel. I HOPE I DON’T ANNOY YOU, EEEEK. I do try and tone it down, but I always hear f-bombs slip out without my consent. Sigh.

      HAHA. I totally get what you mean. When you read a sentence and you’re just like, FFS say the word. Like when characters actually say “BS” instead of “bullshit”. I have NEVER IN MY LIFE HEARD ANYONE SAY BS. STOP. PLEASE, STOP.

  11. Yes I think that swearing in books is totally okay! In fact, I like it because it gives the novel an authentic touch. I don’t know all that many people who don’t swear at all, so yeah xD

    Lovely post, Chiara! <33

  12. acps927 says:

    I really don’t like much swearing in books because I’m just not a fan of it in general… even in high school I did not hang out with people who swore frequently nor did I myself. However, I also recognize that many people/teens do, and it doesn’t right for everyone to go around saying, “Golly gee.” (Actually, I’m totally against using that as a substitute, unless your character is supposed to be kind of ridiculous or is pretending to be!) So it can be hard for me… I guess my main thing is I do appreciate if there is at least some restraint/moderation with the swearing. I mean, if the character uses the f-word in every sentence then not only am I going to put down the book, but it honestly sounds ridiculous no matter what your feelings on swearing are. It definitely doesn’t need to shoe-horned, but if it sounds naturally and used minimally, then I deal with it.

    • Chiara says:

      I don’t think many authors would use a swear in every sentence, simply because it would detract from what they were trying to convey! But I really don’t mind frequent swearing, because some people DO talk like that. So it’s just a trait of that character, I suppose.

  13. I LOVE a swear in books. It’s kind of what I live for. It’s because I swear like a sailor so I kind of feel connected to the characters when I find them swearing as well. Odd, yes? I don’t mind when books don’t do swearing. BUT only if they cut out swearing completely. There’s nothing that annoys me more than books that substitute swears for odd freaking phrases. It drives me up the wall.

  14. Oh, I am all for swearing in books! I think it’s very realistic because a lot of people swear, and most of the time, authors get pretty creative with their cuss words. They make me laugh, and they make me want to use them in the future. I’ve learned many a swear word in the books I’ve read, and I have started using some of them in daily life. And then I get to make others laugh!

    • Chiara says:

      Yay! :D I am most definitely a fan of swears in books too, Inge. I love finding new swears/add-ons to swears I already know. It does make life a bit more interesting!

  15. I don’t mind swearing at all, as long as there’s a reason for it you know. Swearing in books is great if it fits the scene as well. I’m glad you’re not withholding in your writing either!

    • Chiara says:

      I think even more important than swearing fitting the scene is if it fits the character. People who swear don’t just swear in high pressure moments, you know?

      Oh, I’m definitely not withholding, haha XD

  16. I personally don’t like swearing in books. I know it is realistic and all but I still don’t like reading it. I’m not around people much who swear in real life either, so I don’t like reading it and hate hearing it in movies. But I do think that writers who put swearing in should do so sparingly and only if it fits the character. I won’t not read a book if it has swearing in it, but I do prefer when a writer writes ‘ he swore’ rather than writing the word that he swore.

  17. Valerie says:

    Hahaha this reminds me of a fun time, back in middle school, where I bought the book Tithe by Holly Black, and I read it. AND I WAS OVERWHELMED by all the swears because I was a little 6th grader and I didn’t know swears could be in books. In my eyes, the swears were literally every other word, and I just couldn’t take it. I think I was scarred in the end. Hahaha.

    Now, I don’t really care much as long as it isn’t in every sentence. So yep, I have grown up (I mean it has been 9 years HA)

    • Chiara says:

      Awh, little Valerie! Haha XD I can imagine being surprised by swears in a book when I was in year six. I can’t remember the first book I read that had in swears in it, though. I probably wouldn’t have blinked an eye because I was older. I was still reading my horsie books when I was in primary school ;D

  18. April says:

    I’m fine with swearing, unless it is every other word! I read a lot of erotic romances and YA and those seem to have the most swearing, lol! :) I know for some people it is a real turn off, though!
    Great post, :)

  19. The amount I swear in real life is embarrassing. I feel like whenever I see swearing in books, i think “hey, this author gets it.” Unlike so many adults who assure me that my swearing is a fad that only a few people go through and that I should stop, authors know what they’re talking about. I love hearing swearing because it really heightens emotions if it’s done right.
    But on the flip side, too much swearing is useless because it makes the character look like a try hard.

    • Chiara says:

      I know what you mean! I always think that when I see swears in a book. Makes me feel like the author actually gets what it’s like to be a young adult and swear.

      Useless swears are not the greatest, I must say.

  20. I don’t care if you swear or not in books, however I hate when there’s made up swear words. I swear a lot (sometimes it’s embarrasing) so I get it if a character in a book is going to swear, too. But give me stupid swear words like “glitch” instead of “bitch” or “klunk” instead of “shit” etc etc. It just makes me feel childish.

  21. Lola says:

    I don’t swear a lot, either on the blog or off the blog, but I don’t have anything against it in books or on blogs. Although there is soem limit, if someone uses swearing words in every sentence then it can get a bit too much, but that’s the case with every over used word. In most cases I think swearing gives a bit of a flavour or personality to a characters and often it’s realistic, because like you mentioned teens swear a lot. Usually I don’t consciously take notice of swearing words, there are just a way to give flavour to what someone says.

    • Chiara says:

      I think it gives the character/s and story a little more realism when there are some swears thrown in, but of course anything can be overdone if it’s not capped off at some point!

      I may notice it because I swear? XD

  22. Rinn says:

    I’m fine with it, if it fits. I don’t have a problem with swearing – unless it’s excessively used for no good reason. There are lots of good reasons to swear – for example, after stubbing your toes there’s nothing better than letting go of a tirade of swear words ;)

    So yes, I’m perfectly okay with it in books as long as it’s not every other word or something. Then the page just looks ugly.

  23. This is a really interesting topic! I have to say I agree with you, I love swearing in books (god that sounds weird) but purely because I feel like I’m reading about a REAL person, who is imperfect, can get angry, feels frustrated sometimes. But I’ll admit I’m not a huge fan of characters swearing constantly for no real reason, maybe just because it seems too unnecessarily vulgar. And then there’s the “made up” cuss words in some futuristic YA, that sometimes works, but most of the time it’s a little bizarre! Great post ^-^

    • Chiara says:

      Thank you! :D

      YES. I feel that it makes the character more real and relatable, which is why I love swearing in books (when it’s needed and fits).

      I’m never really a huge fan of the made-up ones! They always look kind of silly XD

  24. I completely agree with you! If the character isn’t one that would swear, then it would be weird if they did. It goes the same the other way. A character that should be swearing that doesn’t is also really odd. I can understand why people don’t want swearing in YA books because they can be under the ‘Childrens’ section but like, what’s so bad about swearing every now and then anyway? Saying fuck you and fudge you can have the same impact depending on how you use it. But maybe that’s just me. :P

    • Chiara says:

      When a total badass doesn’t cough up one swear, I am side eyeing the shit outta that book, haha XD

      Another reason why YA should not be lumped in with children’s literature, in my opinion!

      And I think when a substitute swear can work, that’s super fine. But sometimes a swear is the only thing that fits!

  25. I definitely agree with you! I am never short of swearing too in everyday life and it makes sense to have it in books as well. Honestly, it makes you click with that particular character even more because of how real swearing makes the book feel. I think that most books don’t have swearing in it when it does suit the character would either be because the author is against swearing, or because you never really know who is going to read your book, so you’d rather not swear so you don’t turn anyone off because of that one tiny thing? Does that make sense, or is it just in my head?

    • Chiara says:

      Nah, that totally makes sense! I wonder sometimes if the swearing in my books might turn some people off, but I’m not really writing to please a crowd, you know? It suits my characters, and the circumstances – so that’s why there are swears!

      And I think it makes the book feel real, too!

  26. I don’t care either way. Haha. It’s true that swearing makes characters sound more realistic in their portrayal but if an author chooses to go that route, then it should be “natural” to reflect that realism. Like, a lot of people swear casually with people they’re comfortable with but if a character swears solely to emphasise what a rebel he/she is, then it does annoy me.

    Since I don’t swear (except on extremely rare occasions where I’m under duress), I don’t really notice when nobody swears in a book. In fact, I seem to have this vibe that makes even people who swear non-stop tone down. Lol. Some even told me, they have to be all proper around me. Rofl. I find it funny because it’s not like I tell people to watch their words or anything. I’d rather people are their genuine selves around me. So what if I’m the only one who doesn’t utter a cuss word in the room? It’s my choice. In the same way that it should be the author’s choice whether or not to include swearing in a book.

    • Chiara says:

      A lot of people have mentioned this ‘swearing to make you badass’, but I have never seen it! The only swearing I have come across seems incredibly natural to the character, which I really appreciate.

      Funnily enough, until someone hears me swear for the first time, they always think I am a non-swearer. And then I swear and they’re all: ohmygosh you just swore! Uh, yes. I did. I have no idea why I give off that vibe, haha. Maybe you have a sophistication about you that makes people want to be proper in your presence? But yes, like in life, it’s the authors choice (although, that can be argued since as a writer my characters dictate what they do, not the other way around) to swear or not!

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