Today, we are talking about everyone’s favorite topic: cursing in novels. Uh oh, I know. Cursing is a touchy-feely subject. In one hand, we have writers like Stephen King who allow their characters to curse mellifluously. In fact, Mr. King made cursing a creative art by writing a full paragraph with various derivatives of the f-word. On the other side, we have writers who rarely or never allow their characters to express themselves in expletives. I can think of a few such as Joyce Carol Oats and (maybe) Toni Morrison.
I remember in book 4 of Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling allowed Harry to express himself too much by writing some of his dialog in caps. She had a backlash from readers who expressed their dislikes toward Harry’s rage. In the subsequent volumes, when Ron was angry, Ms. Rowling described it as “Ron cursed profusely” without getting into details of the exact curse words.
It’s easy to understand since Harry Potter is a children’s book. However, when it comes to books written by adults for adults, what is the exact guideline for writers? Should you go the Stephen King way or the Joyce Carol Oats way? I was confused at first so I consulted a whole bunch of books about writing. The common denominator in this subject is: respect the language, don’t allow your characters to curse too much.
While I love Stephen King’s creative cursing, I decided to come up with my own solution regarding the f-bombs, a-trains, and their relatives: I would use them as special effects. For example, I have this character who is basically a quiet guy. He doesn’t talk much but whenever he does, people just tend to ignore him. At first, he doesn’t mind and keeps it to himself. One day, things really happen and people are looking for a solution. As usual, nobody listens to him.
So, he stands up, opens his mouth, and starts his speech with an f-bomb.
Everybody swings their heads back and begins to listen.
That, my friends, is how I would like to use profanities. Special-effect profanities, that is.