To Curse or Not to Curse?

I’m having a bit of a moral dilemma…

I mentioned awhile back that I wanted to try to write a novel this summer. I go back and forth between feeling like this is do-able and feeling like it’s an impossible dream. (For example, the other day I saw an interview with Nicholas Sparks and he said that it always takes him five to six months to write a novel. And here I am, an inexperienced rookie, trying to write one in three to four months. Am I crazy?)

Reading other novels doesn’t really help me make up my mind either. I recently read this one:

gone girl

And when I finished it, I thought, “Nothing I write will ever EVER be at this level.”

But then I see books like this:

totally fabulous

And I wonder, “How on earth did that ever get published?” If she could get her story published, so can I!

And this:

Net Galley pre-approved me to read this title to thank me for registering as a new member on their website. Umm.....thanks? I guess? :-/

Net Galley pre-approved me to read this title to thank me for registering as a new member on their website. Umm…..thanks? I guess? :-/

I just don’t know.

I finally had to stop debating whether or not I could do it and just start writing it, for crying out loud! And I like it so far. I’m not sure if anyone else will…but I like it, and that’s enough for now. And I let my husband read what I’ve written so far (but I couldn’t watch…I squealed in terror just watching him open the laptop, and he was like, “I’m not even reading it yet! I’m just looking at Yahoo Sports!” and I grabbed the car keys and I was like, “I have to get out of here.” I couldn’t even be in the same house as him while I thought he might be reading it. I know if I eventually want to publish the story I’m writing, I’ll have to let people actually read it at some point, but I’m taking baby steps, here.

Anyways, my moral dilemma has to do with using foul language in my story. I’m a Christian and I avoid using curse words. I try my best to use my words to build people up instead of tearing them down (not to say that I don’t slip up and make mistakes). But this is a fictional story, and as I was writing dialogue between my protagonist and a guy who he’s friends with who is kind of a jerk, I couldn’t help but think, “This is too nice. If this were a real live mean guy, he would be using some nastier words.”

But is it okay for me to write down those words? Just for the sake of being realistic?

I’m not talking about throwing f-bombs or anything really horrible in there. I have my limits. And I would never have a character speak in long strings of curse words, because I feel like that starts to distract from the story and it’s not very creative writing.

But in most novels I’ve read, even teen novels that seem to be rated PG as far as subject matter, a few of those words inevitably get thrown in. I hear people talk at work, and when they’re riding the bus and talking on their cell phones. I know how things are in the “real world,” outside of my Christian bubble. I know that if this particular character were a real person, he would talk that way too.

But am I crossing a line that I shouldn’t cross, here? :-/

Categories: Christian Living, Writing | Tags: , , , , | 9 Comments

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9 thoughts on “To Curse or Not to Curse?

  1. As a Christian, I made a decision about my writing a long time ago: unless I am going to write Christian fiction (and I’m not), my characters need to reflect the full range of life. You have to do what you feel comfortable standing before God with.

    • I agree, Andra. I definitely want to have real-life characters, and the characters in my story aren’t necessarily Christian (especially not the one who would be cursing).

  2. Although I’m a Christian, I’ve never considered myself a part of the Christian bubble you mentioned, and I think there are plenty of “real world” people who don’t curse very often. Cursing frequently is a sign of being low class, in my opinion, but maybe that’s what you want to convey about your character.

    You can also get around this by just referring to the curse words rather than saying them (e.g., “after closing his fingers in the door, he let out a couple of choice words”). JK Rowling did this in Harry Potter, and Rick Riordan did that with his Percy Jackson books.

    • That’s true, Christi. I didn’t mean to imply that EVERYONE curses. Even in my story, there’s only one character who might use curse words. The protagonist isn’t necessarily a Christian, but I don’t want him to curse. And great advice, by the way! I didn’t think about just referencing the character using curse words–that might be a perfect solution!

  3. Brandon Reese

    I hope you get published!!!

    Profanity is no better or worse than some of the other ways that we misuse our words. Some of the meanest people I know don’t use profanity and some of the nicest people I know do, but even my friends with a foul mouth swear very little when they’re around me (just from the example I’ve set … we’ve never discussed it).
    Great suggestion, Christi. Rachel, remember that you can be both a “thermometer” and a “thermostat”.

  4. I think Christi suggests a great solution here!

  5. Love Christi’s suggestion! You can imply the cursing without actually typing out the words by describing the behavior and actions. If someone punches a wall, I don’t imagine to myself that they’re singing hymns, so the point would get across and you can be 100% behind everything you put on paper (or monitor – whatev).

  6. I agree! I might need to re-work the dialogue a little, but I like Christi’s suggestion.

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