• Welcome to the Fantasy Writing Forums. Register Now to join us!

How necessary is "colorful" language for lending a sense of maturity to a story?

Penpilot

Staff
Article Team
Whilst I agree with the people above, I actually do enjoy swearing in a book. It gives me some weird thrill or rush of adrenaline when a punchy line is inserted. But perhaps I'm just some low brow troglodyte 🤣

It has it's time and place. But if you enjoy a good old F-bomb check out the The Lies of Locke Lamora, first book in the
Gentleman Bastard series by Scott Lynch.
 

BearBear

Archmage
Not having published any fiction but having written a dozen novels without a swear word among them in a good million words, I'd say you don't need them. In my stories, it's as if the words are antiquated. If you were to ask one of my protagonists they'd likely not know the meaning of any of those words.

Not everyone swears like a sailor anyway, at least it's not missed I suppose.
 

pmmg

Myth Weaver
Not having published any fiction but having written a dozen novels without a swear word among them in a good million words, I'd say you don't need them. In my stories, it's as if the words are antiquated. If you were to ask one of my protagonists they'd likely not know the meaning of any of those words.

Not everyone swears like a sailor anyway, at least it's not missed I suppose.
What if i asked the sailors in your stories?
 
Last edited:

BearBear

Archmage
Come to think of it, I never wrote about a sailor. But there are transport ships that are sailed, so if I did they'd probably just be sturdy serious folk, the strong silent type. There is a race of men in my lore that are bigger and stronger than most. They value strength and tradition, they probably would find foul language to be deplorable and to be avoided because of their strong traditional ties. Not organized religion, more like Norse traditional beliefs.

Though in private they're not above sin so to speak but they're more doers than trash talkers.

Anyone spouting insults would probably be ganged up on and taught how to behave. They're defensive about those who would slight their own.

These are the descendants of the survivors of an apocalypse that their race caused. (Really a subspecies). They're revered and respected for honest hard work.

The other two main races would not likely be the sailor type.

Interesting question though, I enjoyed thinking about it.
 

A. E. Lowan

Forum Mom
Leadership
I swear a lot - raised by a sailor lol - and our characters swear a lot, but I don't think it sets the bar for maturity in our stories. I'm firmly in the setting and themes camp set the bar camp, and we definitely do that, too. 51 f-bombs in our first book, 84 in the third (92 chapters, though). We have a faerie knight with a potty mouth. But it's the fact that we tackle abuse, addiction, trauma, retribution, redemption, and sexual situations that puts us firmly in the grownup side of the store.
 
I don't think it really matters either way. The most important thing is to remain true to your story and writing style. If you naturally write colorful language, then don't forcibly remove it from your story. Same for the reverse, if you talk around it, then don't try to force it in just to make your characters sound like something. The reader will notice and probably dislike it.

I do sometimes wonder if it's a very American thing. I don't think outside the US people really care about the F-bomb all that much. It's not a term you come across in many other languages. Same with bleeping away the word in TV shows. I don't really see much point in doing so or what the harm is in keeping it in.
 

Mad Swede

Auror
I don't think it really matters either way. The most important thing is to remain true to your story and writing style. If you naturally write colorful language, then don't forcibly remove it from your story. Same for the reverse, if you talk around it, then don't try to force it in just to make your characters sound like something. The reader will notice and probably dislike it.

I do sometimes wonder if it's a very American thing. I don't think outside the US people really care about the F-bomb all that much. It's not a term you come across in many other languages. Same with bleeping away the word in TV shows. I don't really see much point in doing so or what the harm is in keeping it in.
The F-word might be a very British and US thing, but don't assume that equally unacceptable swear words don't exist in other languages. They do, and they can make for some interesting translations.
 
I think 18th century sailors are a somewhat different bunch from today's sailors...

Sailors in any era can be counted on to be foul mouthed. All that changes is the specific foul words they use. Most salty language from the eighteenth century sounds quaint to us, but it was anything but at the time.

In the same vein, I for one would find a story about teenagers who didn't cuss unbelievable. That's another population that can be counted on to drop swears, at least when talking among themselves. A book aimed at a YA audience that includes a realistic level of cussing would resonate, though it might run into trouble at the publishing level. Similar to how The Breakfast Club got slapped with an R rating for language, just because it was about teenagers who talked like teenagers.
 
The F-word might be a very British and US thing

Don't forget the Irish! They're especially known for using it.

Another movie rating for language that makes zero sense to me is the R that My Left Foot carries in the U.S., simply because it's about working class Irish people who speak their own language. There is absolutely no other content in that movie that even remotely justifies the rating.
 

Miles Lacey

Maester
Most of the people I know are in the construction or motor mechanic sectors. For them the use of the f-word is liberally sprinkled in their everyday language so I don't see it as particularly offensive in that context.

What annoys me is when people use such language to make themselves sound edgy or anti-social/counter-cultural. That is when the use of such language becomes problematic.

Going the other extreme and not using any colourful language can be just as bad, especially when the context would make the absence of such language laughable. This is particularly true when writing fiction set in working class or poor neighbourhoods.

For me, the use of colourful language should be used sparingly so that when it is used it has a very powerful impact. For example, many people walked out of American Beauty when one of the teenage characters snapped back "C*nt!" when she was being mocked by a couple of girls.
 

pmmg

Myth Weaver
Movie rating just follow a checklist. My Left foot just caused them to check a box.

It is certainly true that the culture has changed, and F-bombs and such show up much more in everyday language and media. I find it odd cause the words I could not say as a kid, are now words used all over the place, and words we did say, no one can speak. So language is tricky, probably then, and remains so today.

When I was in the Army, the F-bomb was in the speech of every sentence everyone uttered. It was only by deciding to change it and a bit of effort that I was able to drop it after I was out.
 
I just watched the first couple of episodes of Criminal Minds after years of not watching, a streaming version with the F-bomb and other fun words... it F'n sucked. The show never had an issue feeling "mature" or serious, but the colorful language felt forced, contrived, or just flat-out lazy on the parts of writers.
 

pmmg

Myth Weaver
Did not know they had a new ‘edgier’ show.

But i could not do the original. I thought it was too much bs. I lived forensics files but it was not a drama.
 

pmmg

Myth Weaver
It always felt preachy to me. Like...this show is about domestic violence, and all you viewers at home did you know these statistics, and here is where you can call for help.... How about just give me a show without all the secret PSA stuff.

Anyway... been a while since I liked a detective show. I liked Bones for a lot of seasons, but then it lost me.
 

CupofJoe

Myth Weaver
I tend to create my own swear words and profanities that I can make fit with the characters and the general setting.
Along the lines of Smeg [Red Dwarf], Frak [BSG], Naff Orf [Porridge], Gorram [Firefly]...
We can work out what the mean but they don't actually say it.
I try to stay away from "by the something of something" profanities
When I try it, they all sound like bad Life of Brian rip-offs... "By the holy sandal of the Infidel!"
 
So, if GoT took out all the profanity, it would somehow become a children's book? When Criminal Minds was cleaner, it sure wasn't for children with gruesome murder scenes and whatnot that makes profanity weak sauce. At best, it is no different with f-bombs, at worst it makes the writers feel lazy and the characters seem unprofessional and immature.

I think if they keep it really clean it feels like I'm reading a children's book.
 

BearBear

Archmage
So, if GoT took out all the profanity, it would somehow become a children's book?

A book about dragons and kingdoms. Sounds right out of Disney. Maybe Disney in the 1980's and before when cartoons could show insane violence like vivisection, beheadings, gangland style execution, torture... and this is just Bugs bunny.

Throw a few potty mouth words in and then it becomes *real shit* R18. So I see her point.

Do the bad words anchor us as adults and make the scenes grittier?

Yosemite Sam shoots Daffy in the face literally tearing his beak off: cute and funny show for kids

Yosemite Sam shoots Daffy in the face while telling him to fucking die!: gritty and restricted audience
 
Top