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Author Antics What the *#$%@!

What role should profanity play in fiction writing? You can find an “expert” to share whatever opinion you hold. Should you search for that expert? I tell you without equivocation—No. That is true no matter what opinion you favor. You and you alone must decide. How you arrive at that decision is also up to you.

I am offering an opinion here, not as an expert on writing or publishing, but as a reader. Readers are the experts who put their money where their mouth is. Writers like to say we write for ourselves. That’s a lie. If we didn’t want people to read what we write, we’d simply enjoy our vivid fantasy life and not bother with all the typing, editing, and criticism.

Writers are often private, introverted types. We put ourselves out in the public eye because we want to attract readers to our stories. That being the case, writers must have a sense of their audience—the readers they want to attract.

Sailors have a reputation for using foul language. I spent a few years in the company of sailors, they don’t swear with the frequency and raunchiness of characters in some of the manuscripts I’ve read. Neither do they enjoy reading that kind of language. So, you may need to rethink the mindset of your military readers.

I have met people whose every other word is an f-bomb. I don’t hang around them long. If they are your readers—bombs away. The temptation to introduce a character with this trait may haunt a writer. My advice is to picture yourself in their company. If you enjoy it, yield. If you don’t follow the scriptural admonishment and flee temptation.

I have used words in my stories that are not a part of my usual conversation. I use them for two purposes: shock value and realism.

Shock value demands the words be a rare, unexpected, explosion of emotion or pain akin to hitting your thumb with a hammer. If a character’s every utterance is laced with profanity, if profanity graces every page, there is no shock value. Realism works the same way.

Readers rule. I like the story to tease them, outrage them, shock them, and even make them cry, but always in a way that leaves them wanting my next book. The reason is simple. My reward, the reason I write, is that they read my stories. No matter how well I write, that would never happen if I slapped them in the face.

Jack La Fountain

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