Recently, I had the opportunity to help cook for an appreciation luncheon at the nearby high school. At the same time as the luncheon, there were kids helping with some painting and renovations of the band room on the other side of the building. In small groups, the kids would pass me as they went to the restroom to wash their hands or whatever. Every so often, I’d catch them say an expletive here and there, and it got me to think about my young adult novel. How much profanity am I willing to include in my novels to make my teen characters believable? Well, if even a bunch of band geeks curse like sailors, then I should find a way to include it without offending my audience, right? Or without having it banned from libraries.
There are several options to using profanity in your novel: use it liberally or sparsely, summarize or sanitize it, or omit it entirely. The liberal option isn’t one I’d want to use, but it does work for some. I wouldn’t omit it entirely either, though it might be good to do so for the religious market, I would presume. So, it comes down to author tastes and whether using it will enhance your novel and make it more real for your readers.
In my novel, if the dialogue calls for an expletive, and it would make the dialogue punch more, then I’ll use it with the exception of the F-word. I have a problem with this word and for my own taste, I summarize it or sanitize it. Like in the case where Nick uses it in my novel, I simply say he threw a bunch of F-bombs. I actually have a list of words I will not use. Ones that are offensive to me. Those words are the ones I sanitize completely by avoiding them or hinting at them.
There are words that are part of teen-speak lately, like when teens say, “What the hell? To me, I don’t even flinch at that. Now say, “Shut the (insert f-bomb here)!” and I cringe. So I’d prefer it said like this, “Shut the frick up!” You get it, right? It’s all about your readership and making them feel like they’re walking to the restroom with their friends . . . even if they’re band geeks.
So how comfortable are you with profanity?