How Should Christian Authors Depict Swearing?

November 5, 2018

Editor’s Note: This article is the fourth installment in our five-part series on how to portray tricky subjects in Christian fiction. To learn why we’re doing this series and how we’re approaching these topics, read our introductory post.


Swearing, like most subjects in the Christian community, has created its share of controversy. Are English words, which are nothing more than subjective pairings of vowels and consonants, offensive to the Almighty, or only when combined with His name? Should we avoid saying certain words around children? What about typing them out?


These are all questions that Christian writers are forced to resolve at some point in their careers. You’ve likely grappled with them if you’ve ever read the language section of a Plugged In review. They boil down to one key quandary: Should Christians include swearing in their writing?


The answer goes beyond a simple yes or no. Since our goal as Christian storytellers is to glorify God in our speech and actions, let’s look at Scripture’s teaching on foul language.


Biblical Condemnation Against Swearing

Though Scripture doesn’t specifically list the words or phrases we should shun, the New Testament provides several instructions for godly speech.


“Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.” (Ephesians 5:4)


“From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.” (James 3:10)


We are to bless, not curse, and express our thankfulness, not indulge in rude or profane speech. But most importantly, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain” (Exodus 20:7).


This is not an optional recommendation, but a solemn command not to debase the holiness of the Lord’s name. Unlike curse words that fall in and out of use, this mandate is constant throughout the ages. Nowadays “OMG” is thrown about carelessly by even young children, but this habit should not be present among the redeemed.


Biblical Instances of Swearing

We should all be able to agree that profanity is distasteful. Ideally, man should speak with a clean, loving heart and tongue all the time. But dichotomy often exists between exemplary behavior and humanity’s sin nature.


In 1 Samuel 20:30, after King Saul discovers that his son was protecting David, he hurls this insult: “You son of a perverse and rebellious woman! Don’t I know that you have sided with the son of Jesse to your own shame?” The euphemistic Hebrew translation can be easily understood by substituting the modern term, “You son of a *****!”


The Old Testament writer is being descriptive, not prescriptive. Far from condoning bad language, he’s emphasizing the degree of King Saul’s corruptness in verbally attacking his son (and by extension, his wife). The writer could have used a more general phrase, such as “Saul’s wrath was kindled against Jonathan,” but that might have lessened the emotional impact.


In Philippians 3:8, Paul contrasts the value of worldly ambitions with Christ: “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.”


“Rubbish” seems a lackluster translation considering that the Greek word skubalon literally means “excrement.” Since the word appears only once in the Bible but much more frequently in non-literary historical documents, Paul seems to have deliberately chosen an expletive to shock his audience. Its offensiveness likely falls somewhere between “crap” and the s-word.


This cannot be passed off as vulgarity from a degenerate biblical character the way that Saul’s can. Paul is redeemed in Christ and still brandishes this term, whereas elsewhere he exhorts others to “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths” (Ephesians 4:29).


Paul employs this language for the purpose of teaching, not as an angry attack or out of laziness. Given the extreme flexibility of the f-word as a noun, verb, or adjective, swearing tends to replace creativity. But as the most prolific and educated New Testament writer, Paul was capable of producing a more genteel term. Instead, he selected a word that nevertheless accurately conveys the revulsion we should feel toward life apart from Christ.


The Bible contains several other examples of vulgar word usage, but out of consideration for the younger demographic in our audience, we will skirt them. In summary, two possible reasons to include swearing in fiction are: A) to demonstrate a character’s depravity, and B) to stress a point.


How to Depict Swearing with Wisdom

Now that we’ve established our biblical foundation, we’re equipped to tackle our next topic: How should we tailor our writing for our audience?


Since some Christians view swearing or misusing the Lord’s name as heinous, we should be aware that our work will be judged and perhaps boycotted if it contains anything questionable. But violence, drinking, or romance poses the same risk, so we must choose our battles wisely.


Being a Christian storyteller does not mean obscuring sin’s ugliness or portraying it inaccurately. But a strong element of discretion is involved. Children and adults alike can understand the stories of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife and David and Bathsheba without displaying the grisly details of adultery. As we consider how to deal with language, we should ask ourselves whether we’re writing stories for adults to explore alone or to read aloud to the entire family. Having a clear vision of our audience should simplify content decisions.


Oftentimes, made-up exclamations in fantasy or brief statements that a character cursed can function the same as literal profanity. In cases to the contrary, apply the biblical guidelines discussed earlier. For the most part, conveying a character’s obscenity should be possible without spelling it out.


One frequent abuse of swearing in secular culture is the misconception that injecting an expletive into a joke’s punchline automatically makes it funny. This flippancy encourages people to see swearing as light and fun instead of filthy. Thus, “crude joking” as condemned in Ephesians 5 should be avoided if our goal is to provoke laughter instead of a cringe.


Another challenge is characters who compulsively swear, especially when the stories happen in real life (several military biographies I’ve read spring to mind). Omitting strong language will likely ring false to readers, yet its true-to-life form will oversaturate our pages with expletives. Vulgar language easily pervades our thoughts, so reading and writing it can be spiritually unhealthy for both writers and readers. Deciding to include it should not be taken lightly.


I would personally advocate using strong language in moderation (and only if the context demands it), with the frequency heavily determined by the age of the audience.


Some might argue that Christians should never blaspheme, but showing characters doing it is fine since they’re only mimicking people’s real speech. This is true to an extent (writing a character who commits murder doesn’t make the author a murderer), but out of concern for readers’ minds and as a stylistic choice, I would keep this to a minimum in my own writing.


Staff Perspectives

I have an advantage in navigating strong language since I write fantasy, which allows me to invent words that are offensive in my fictional culture but not to readers. However, this doesn’t remove all potential quandaries.


When I’m evaluating whether to include swear words in dialogue, one of the first questions I ask is what impact I want the scene to have on readers and the characters. To reflect and showcase the power of language, I prefer to reserve cursing for intense scenes.


If I decide a scene needs forceful dialogue, I then consider whether the dialogue can be equally vehement without a swear word. If so, I’ll avoid using a swear word so I can exercise more creativity in my prose. If not, and cussing is the best way to convey the character’s emotions and personality, I’ll insert real swear words.


Though people don’t always restrain language in real life, literary dialogue never perfectly imitates speech, but instead seeks to resemble it in a way that emphasizes whatever needs to be communicated. As a result, I only bring out the “big guns” if I believe they’re necessary to the scene.


–Josiah DeGraaf, Summit & Marketing Director


After much study, I’ve come to accept foul language as an appropriate writing tool in certain situations, but one area I still deem untouchable is blasphemy.


Because God’s name is holy and awesome, it’s inherently different from all other swear words, which are inappropriate, derogatory, or cruel. Defaming the name of our Creator is much more serious than employing vulgar words for vulgar purposes. In the Old Testament, blasphemy was a capital offense. Even if we distance ourselves from characters who blaspheme in our stories, God’s name, which should be precious to us, is still being dishonored.


Can we ever write a character blaspheming without violating the third commandment? I’m not yet ready to make an absolute statement. After all, I believe we can include other swear words in fiction. However, I must soberly ask, is God’s name so suitable for showing a character’s frustration or dismay that I can’t rely on another word? If I use God’s name when another word would suffice (and I think another option is always available), then that seems like vain and empty treatment of His hallowed name.


–Daeus Lamb, Outreach & Community Director


The Power of Words

Words carry weight, even when spoken by imaginary characters in fantasy worlds. Ultimately, we want readers to judge our stories by quality, not the quantity of expletives. Seeking to implement the principles laid out in Scripture regarding strong language should give clarity to our next word-choice dilemma.


Tune in next week as Josiah tackles writing about sex. In the meantime, we’d love to hear your thoughts. How do you determine when to include or exclude swearing in your stories? Share your perspective in the comments!


  1. Victoria

    Thank you so much for this post!
    I had always wondered how to include swearing or even if to include it, and this definitely provided me with new insight.
    I’m looking forward to the next one.

  2. Maddie Morrow

    This is so good. I 110% agree.
    I don’t use real swear words in my writing. Occasionally I’ll use a word like crap or friggin, but that’s it.
    My fantasy worlds use made up curse words.
    There have been times where I really debated putting a real cuss word in because it would perfectly convey what I was going for with the scene, but I’ve always decided against it because I struggle with cussing in real life, so I don’t want to embrace the idea that a cuss word says it better, even in fiction.

  3. WarrioroftheRealm

    I respectfully disagree. No offense to the Story Embers staff, of course!

    I believe, as Christians, we are responsible to set an example of righteous living in our lost world. It says in Titus 2:7-8: “Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.”

    Nonbelievers (whether they willingly admit so or not) inadvertently expect Christians to be different. That is, not drinking, smoking, cussing, and doing other things that the world accepts as “normal”. Therefore, should they see Christians partaking in worldly actions, they don’t see any benefit of coming to Christ themselves (“they’re no different from me, so they don’t really have anything to offer”).

    It also says in Romans 14:21: “It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles.” Meaning, it is harmful to do something (which may or may not be inherently sinful) in the presence of another that causes them to stumble in their faith. In Paul’s time, it was the eating of food sacrificed to idols. In more recent time, Billy Graham and his associates in ministry adopted a strenuous method of accountability in which they could assure their message was not tainted by anything others could deem as “evil”.

    Therefore, it is my belief that cussing is not something we should partake in due to the negative effects it causes on nonbelievers. In my writing, I’ve used sentences like “He cursed under his breath” or using descriptive phrases (or made up ones) that deal with the same sort of situation in a more discreet manner.

    Again, no offense to the awesome staff of Story Embers—kudos for taking the chance and tackling some hard topics! Looking forward to reading more of your great articles!

    Your fellow author and brother in Christ,
    Jackson E. Graham

    • Renee

      Jackson, you hit all the points that I was going to. Good, thoughtful comment. Thank you, kind sir.

    • Parker Hankins

      Thanks for commenting this!

    • Daeus Lamb

      Hey Jackson! Thanks for popping in with your perspective.

      I thought I’d comment because, in many ways, my views align with these points. The difference is that I see them as strong cautions, not absolutes. I thought I’d explain and then see if you have any further helpful insight.

      The #1 hurdle for me was where the Bible instructs us not to use any word except for edification. How on earth could swearing be edifying? My thought process ended up something like this.

      If I were to instruct a younger sibling, “The reason we don’t say ***** is because it means ***** and using it mocks the gravity of the word”, we would actually call that edifying, even though I “used” the swear word because the swear word wasn’t the point at all. Now, say I wanted to write a story about a woman learning to forgive her abusive father and I start with a scene from her past where her father is in a drunken rage. Without including at least a tiny bit of serious verbal abuse, I would be left hampered in that area of my theme. It is truly hard to address a character’s wound when the wound is “off stage” so to speak. My attempt to bring healing (edification) to that area would be hampered. I think we could also safely say that the use of the swear word was not my point but the wound caused by its uses.

      So while swearwords themselves aren’t edifying, I do think their use in the story could result in it if handled very carefully. The question then is — is it really necessary? That’s a tough question. In the example I gave above, I would say it’s worth using, but in many cases other alternatives will work quite fine. I use swear words in my writing about once every 100,000 words and in some cases not at all.

      As far as our witness to unbelievers goes, it is my personal opinion that if a Christian writer uses swear words in a way that they are seen as negative and uses them only as a last resort, that quite starkly separates them from the rest of the world.

      And I do believe that the tone in which a writer uses language can strongly affect how it affects the reader (like with violence). For example, a personal opinion on the devolution of language:
      G.K.Chesterton — decently good handling of words
      A.S.Peterson — doesn’t feel filthy, but quite excessive
      Brandon Sanderson — mildly filthy on occasion and generally excessive.

      As far as not causing a brother to stumble, I inquired into this subject in depth in this article: https://kingdompen.org/can-you-keep-a-pure-mind-while-reading-about-darkness-in-literature/

      I think that covers it. Any thoughts?

    • Daeus Lamb

      I’m also curious if you think it would be a bad witness to translate the portions of scripture Sierra brought up literally in the sense the Hebrew and Greek indicate?

    • WarrioroftheRealm


      Thank you for your response! I do think that tricky subjects often require a bit of hashing out to fully understand and utilize to their best extent.

      Before I address anything, I would like to point out how no writer should violate their conscience! If something does not sit well with you, don’t do it. It is better to abstain from something than indulge and mar the conscience God has given you. I’ve had points in my writing career where I’ve had to exclude things or tame them down due to conscience (although not enough to undermine my theme).

      As for your first point (considering absolutes vs. strong cautions), we are faced with the realization that God’s perfect word (divinely inspired), includes situations and words that would be deemed unsuitable for reading or writing (violence, sex, and other issues, not just swearing).

      This logically makes us consider why God would include such things in his word! Could it be that there are ways to include these elements in our writing that do not mar our witness? I would have to answer yes—but we must be 100% positive that we are handling them appropriately and with a lot of prayer.

      Basically, we must be skilled in the art of realistic, yet appropriate portrayal, and always include God in the process!

      Let’s turn to the example you gave about a scene with an abusive father and his daughter—would it compromise the theme if you purposely manipulated the circumstances so that no cuss words were used?

      I would have to say no.

      Showing the abusive father beating his daughter, destroying the house, screaming at her that she was a mistake, and that he’d rather watch her be run over by a car than see her face again—in the hands of any skilled writer, that will very much affect the reader. Not to mention dwelling on the emotions, thoughts, and feelings of the daughter herself!

      But let’s say that not cussing would be unlike the character we’re portraying. Is it unhelpful or an obstruction to truth if we simply state “He cursed under his breath”? Such a sentence, when added to the abusive scene above, I believe would continue to lend credence to the situation, rather than detract from it.

      Not to mention…

      If you’re writing historical fiction or fantasy, using old-fashioned insults (for example, fop, dotard, imbecile) can substitute for more modern swear words (and more fun). 🙂

      As for translating the scriptures Sierra brought up in the original Greek and Hebrew… Since this website is public (meaning nonbelievers can access it freely, without our knowledge), I would leave that up to your discretion.

      Once again, I mean no offense to any of the Story Embers staff! You all are great and offer a great community for Christian writers!

      Does this answer any of your questions and/or concerns?

      – Jackson E. Graham

    • Olivia

      So it’s less morally questionable to have a character beat his daughter than to have him curse at her?

      That just doesn’t make sense to me. You’re either mentally hearing the sin of cursing or mentally seeing the sin of physical abuse. How is that any different?

    • WarrioroftheRealm


      I apologize for the confusion. My point was not that violence is more morally acceptable than swearing—that is definitely not the case and such an idea is not Biblically sound.

      My point was that cussing in writing is more likely to cause nonbelievers to stumble and dismiss the Gospel rather than cussing.

      For example, let’s say a nonbeliever reads a passage with a few cuss words written in it by a Christian author. If I was not a believer, I might look at that as a worldly behavior and reject the Gospel because the Christians “revel” in bad language just like the world does. If a Christian author deals with swearing in a serious manner and communicates how this is not commendable, I think this nonbeliever would not come to this erroneous conclusion.

      Now, if that nonbeliever reads a semi-violent passage written by a Christian author, and it is clear that the writer is not glorifying violence at all, but showing its perverseness, that nonbeliever might walk away considering the meaning of violence in a desensitized culture, that’s all.

      I apologize again if this confused or upset you. And again, my words are fallible (since I am obviously not God), so if I communicate something not Scripturally sound or obviously wrong, let me know!

      – Jackson E. Graham

    • Daeus Lamb

      Hey Jackson. I should mention here I do agree about following your conscience and normally when I consider adding a swear word to a story conscience prompts me not to.

      What still eludes me though is how an abusive father swearing (maybe twice) at his daughter constitutes “reveling” in cuss words. Rather, I think (and this depends on how it is handled) the writer could write the scene in such a way that we feel aghast at the father. To me, this sounds like saying that a writer of war stories revels in violence just because he mentioned one of the MC’s buddies getting blown in half by a shell.

      If a Christian writer really does handle it well so that it is okay for another Christian to read, then I don’t see much difference with a non-Christian reading it. The old and New Testaments have always been read (even in Biblical history) in the presence of the young, which of course statistically includes many unconverted (and these readings would have been in the original Hebrew and Greek for the most part).

      Also, HF is very nice in letting you use words like imbecile and all that.

      I’m writing a character at the moment who has the right beliefs and convictions, but is fairly world-weary, gruff, and not super good at handling his emotions. I’ve settled with him snapping out with “Confound it,” since it’s a great word for expressing his not-so-patient attitude without being filthy or making him less loveable.

    • Sierra Stevenson

      I appreciate the thoughtful comments and respectful manner of those who disagree! You hit several good points, Jackson, but as Daeus summarized, I see them as strong cautions instead of absolutes. Overall it’s been amazing to be a part of the intelligent discourse throughout this series and I respect those who’ve shared their differing views.

    • WarrioroftheRealm


      Ha! Love “Confound it!” One of my characters from my book series yells that out all the time, and it’s become a running family joke in my house. 🙂

      I guess what I was aiming at with the mention of “reveling” in swear words is this:

      It might be easier for a nonbeliever to look at occasional (and perhaps even necessary) cussing in writing as (faulty) evidence that the author’s Christian identity is no different from a worldly view on the matter.

      Whereas, a Christian writer writing a non-graphic violent scene might not elicit that response. Then again, it varies per person and I cannot know for certain how every nonbeliever would respond in such a case.

      My focus was more on making sure we present a Christian identity that is different than what the world experiences daily. Due to my personal conscience, I would not include cussing in my writing (and be excessive in any violence, etc.) so that I personally exhibit what I feel would be the most compelling difference to the world’s mindsets and behaviors.

      That is my opinion, and I don’t expect everyone to adopt it.

      Again, I am glad fellow writers can discuss such matters on Story Embers with respect and thought without worrying about offending the other or causing division.

      Oh, and Daeus, I read Edwin Brook, and I really enjoyed it! Very Monte Cristo-esque and reminds me of a lot of the literature reading I did for school. Great job!

      – Jackson E. Graham

  4. Olivia

    In my first novel, since it’s roughly Middle Grade or lower level YA, I made up nonsensical phrases for my character to say when expressing emotion or surprise. It sounded silly, yes, but that was the point, since my character is sarcastic by nature and frequently making jokes. It turned out to be a really fun alternative, though it obviously wouldn’t work for most writing. I still haven’t decided what to do regarding swearing if I write stories for an older audience in the future, but I really respect and appreciate the opinions in this post.

  5. Maddie

    I tend to agree with Jackson’s comment. I know that for myself, if I’ve spent too much time listening to unbelievers talk or reading too much swearing in books, my mind starts using those words, and then, in turn, I almost speak them. I stay away from using swear words in my writing because I always end up speaking like my characters, and those are not words that I need to be dwelling on.

    I understand, however, that different christians have different convictions. This is simply my conviction on the matter.

    • Sierra Stevenson

      You’re absolutely right about how easy is to internalize the speech patterns of others, Maddie, regardless of whether it’s in print or in person. That’s why I almost always avoid using strong language. I’m just not prepared to rule them out entirely given the select biblical occurrences we see.

  6. E. Grace

    Something I think should be kept in mind is that people who are like me are very uncomfortable around swearing in books. I would prefer the writer simply state, “he cursed”, or something of the sort, instead of spelling out the slander in words. I completely understand trying to make our novels realistic and not shying away from tough realities, but I think as far as Christian writing, this is something that doesn’t need to be done. I don’t think it weakens a book in any means to avoid saying perverse words, and if it’s crucial to the story, then I think it can be approached in a different way (like mentioned above). And I believe, as Christians, our stories should be significantly different than those of the world’s, and I feel like using words like that diminishes that effect. But, thank you very much for this article, and for sharing your perspective on this tough subject. It is much appreciated!

  7. Sarah Baran

    Well this is FASCINATING. The idea that strong language is only applicable when driving home a strong point makes a lot more sense than I’m used to hearing in the discussions of this topic — but that being said, I’m not 100% sure I agree with it. The world has a general opinion of how most Christians ought to behave (ie no drinking, no swearing, no sexual immorality) and while I don’t think we should go along with those stipulations simply because they’re expected of us, we should be careful what image we’re presenting and how it’s going to sway other’s opinions of our beliefs.

    When there’s a Christian who upholds a certain ideal, and then they intentionally *break* that ideal, it gives the impression that the ideal was never really as important to them as they said. When I read a Christian book and there’s swearing in it (even just a little), my good opinion of the author immediately goes down. I know that for the sake of reality we can’t cut out the presence of sin from our writing, but in the case of a murder, the sin is in the action, and describing it isn’t the same as committing it — whereas with swearing, the sin is the actual word, and I think it should be treated as such.

    I really respect the opinions in this article — it presented a point of view I wasn’t expecting, and made me think a lot harder about the subject than I’m used to– but thought-provoking as it is, my personal conviction will continue to be that foul language doesn’t have a place in Christian writing. 🙂

  8. I, David

    This is some great advice on language in writing. I appreciate your thoughts, especially in concern with guidelines for imagined fantasy swearing. Thanks for taking the time to address and share this with all of us!

  9. Michelle

    I find it interesting that this is such a heated topic in Christian writing. I agree with the conclusion of the article itself.

    I try very hard NOT to use swear words in my writing, and I work hard to find options around it, until doing so would be disingenuous to the character and/or the story. Using “He cursed.” or “She swore.” works 99% of the time, and there are other ways to work around it. However, when

    I also fully accept the knowledge that by using such words, I risk alienating a portion of my readers.

  10. Alatheia Grace

    I have never really had trouble with this.
    I read a great book that had a person who swear in it and the all the author did to tell you of this was to say; the man swear savagely or, the word that came from his mouth was not worthy for anyone to hear. The person had been in the army and was old and not a professing christian. When I read it, I never had the impression it was Good or write but a sin and flaw to his character.
    Thank you for addressing the subjects you have and will cover and I look forward to reading them on Mondays.

  11. Matthew Sampson

    I can testify that even saying “he cursed” or “she swore” has impact. Bryan Davis’s Children of the Bard series, particularly the first book, has a lot of corrupt guards who utter “obscenities” and “streams of profanity”. Even though none of the actual words were used, I found it almost too much.

    Swearing is a habitual pattern. The words are offensive (and grab attention) and intellectually available. My concern is that if I use swear words to make a point in my writing, am I not simply propagating the pattern? Might not someone read it, internalise the linguistic pattern, and go on to swear when they want to make a point?

    • Sarah Baran

      Hmm, good thought. If it’s okay to swear in our BOOK when we’re trying to make a point, what’s the difference with swearing in REAL LIFE when we’re trying to make a point?

  12. Chelsea R.H.

    I appreciate the opinion given in this article! Thanks, Sierra, for contributing 🙂
    I’ve never really had a problem with this sort of thing since I grew up in a house that was (and is) strictly no swearing. Since I didn’t swear (for the most part. No one is perfect) in real life, I’ve never felt the need to write it into my stories.
    I’ve also noticed that for me, I find it much harder to forget things I’ve read rather than things I’ve heard. I hear swearing every time I leave my house and it personally doesn’t offend me or affect me, but reading profanities I’m much more likely to begin thinking them.
    I do remember reading one book which used the power of swearing very well. It was a secular adult novel, but it only had one instance of “proper” swearing (though it had a good case of Australian slang,which is probably more offensive elsewhere than here) but that one swearword effectively showed the intense emotions the character and really pressed home that he was more upset and angry than he had been for the whole novel. So I think that was a good example of what Sierra spoke about here.
    Personally I leave swearing out of my stories, using the good old “he cursed” if need be, but I respect the opinions of others in this matter. As long as your book isn’t peppered with f words every second sentence , I’ll still read your book 🙂

  13. eden anderson

    Very well done, Sierra! Honestly, I’m not entirely sure where I stand on this subject. 🙂 Your article was very clear and thought provoking, but I’m gonna have to do some thinking on this subject for awhile.
    I can say though, that personally, I am very hesitant to use any cursing/foul language in my writing. It’s repulsive to me-when I hear or read people using “bad” language-so I don’t really like using it in my writing, but that’s just a personal opinion and choice that I make. I’m open and willing to hear others points of views, because I know there’s a lot I need to learn.
    I also appreciated Daeus’s comments on showing reverence to God’s name. That is so important.

  14. K.M. Small

    I don’t want to sound boring and say I agree with everyone else, but I basically do 😛 I’ve never used official swear words in my novels. A “he cursed” or “he swore” does the trick, along with made-up fantasy words or a “darn/blast.” I avoid swear words mainly because I find them extremely irritating and distracting from the main point of the sentence. Like The Maze Runner. “Bloody” isn’t exactly a swear word, but with how often the characters used it, it was nearly impossible to figure out what they were saying. It was nearly a more offensive version of “like” (i.e. “he, like, was so, like, angry…).
    A few milder swear words usually don’t turn me off too much in writing, though it does alter my opinion of the author a bit if the words are thrown in randomly and for no good reason. If they’re there, they shouldn’t be the *most offensive* ones you can find and they should have a purpose. Though I completely reject using God’s name in vain in fiction.
    This was a well written article 🙂

    • Sarah

      Actually, bloody when useded as a sware word in England is a strong one as it refers to the blood of Christ. I didn’t realize it until I made a friend in England.

    • K.M. Small

      I didn’t realize that either, Sarah. I haven’t used it in writing, but thank you for letting me know about that. I’ll steer clear of it 🙂

  15. David Keener

    As the son of a preacher, I was raised to steer clear of even the mildest expletives. Admittedly, it didn’t quite work completely, but I still struggled with this question for a long time, of whether or not too portray it in writing or not, and how.

    Over the years, I’ve come to terms with it, somewhat out of necessity, given that my stories involve a lot of rough, coarse, battle-hardened soldiers, which accurate representation means they all need a little soap in the mouth.

    Given this, I can agree with 110% of this article, as well as Josiah and Daeus’s notes.

    God’s name in any way shape or form, and the four letter version of the F word are my two big no-no’s. Anything else, only as much as I feel is necessary to accurately portray the personality of a given character, no more.

    I will say, the majority of Irish/Scottish/British/Australian characters has caused “bloody” to circulate frequently, although sometimes more as an actual adjective than an expletive.

  16. Sam Kowal

    It’s nice to read an article about this that is so straightforward and clear. This is a tough topic to navigate sometimes.

    On the one hand, we have verses like “Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving”, from Ephesians, which command Christians to abstain from such.

    And yet we also have the power of fiction and storytelling at our fingertips, with which we can illustrate why things like foul language are lesser than thanksgiving contrast darkness with light. On top of that, the instances of Scripture using extreme language are also interesting.

  17. Sylvie Berg

    I have just started school recently, after being homeschooled for 8 years, and I am APPALLED at how often kids swear these days. I was raised in a Christian family, and although my parents swear (by accident), us kids are not allowed to ( I’m 14, by the way). In my writing, because I know it’s part of the English language, I throw in an occasional “he swore”. I am a very avid reader, and when I come across a swear word in a book, I cross it out with pen, whether it’s a library book or not. I love when authors use old rude words like Warrior of the Realm said. I think it’s hilarious, and it gets its point across. I also like using a fictional word to fill in for a swear word. Or, like in Guardians of the galaxy, “He says ‘Welcome to the frickin’ Guardians of the Galaxy.’ Only he didn’t use frickin’.” this also works.

  18. Sarah Inkdragon

    This was a great article in my opinion, though I must admit that I’ve never really had trouble with this before. I’m honestly not a very squeamish or sensitive reader, whether it’s violence or swearing, etc, unless it’s something like sexual situations, which I don’t think anything other than implications need to be in any book, YA or adult. Strong swearing, like the f-word, etc, is something I’ll probably never put in a YA novel, but I’m yet to decide whether or not it’ll go in any adult novel I write someday.

    Taking that into consideration, 90% of the time I tend to hang onto the trusty phrases “He swore/She cursed,” since anything other than that tends to upset a lot of Christian readers. In all honesty though, I think that some conversations just wouldn’t have the same effect without swearing. True, there are many places where you shouldn’t use swearing, but there are also some conversations that need to have an edge to them, if you know what I mean. There are some places in fiction that I think can benefit from a curse word.

    Also, understanding that, I will never take God’s name in vain in fiction. That I do not think has any place in fiction, especially Christian fiction. 😉 So there’s my opinion. Anyhow, great post, guys! I’m really looking forward to the next one(and really any future posts you guys have.) XD


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