My mother read a draft of my latest novel the other day and halfway through one chapter she looked up at me in a very motherly way and said that she just came across the first “naughty” word in my book. I completely forgot that I even had any profanity in my story, and felt a little bit like a kid caught with one hand in the cookie jar as my mother stared across the room at me much the way she might have done when I was four. We both had a good laugh about it, but it raised an issue I had not thought about in a long time: what place, if any, do curse words have in a book?
I’m halfway through rewriting my historical novel on the American Civil War, entitled The Long Defeat, and have made significant improvements thanks to great feedback from many of you as well as other friends, family, and even a few literary agents. I really don’t use curse words for the most part in my writing, but a war novel without them seems a bit unrealistic to me. Nonetheless, I do feel that plenty of authors today employ profanity more for shock-value than in an effort to really advance a story.
What do you think? Have you used curse words in your stories, books, or blogs? How do you feel when you come across them in other people’s novels? Is it okay to use them a lot, a little, or not at all?