What are your thoughts on allowing strong language to appear in your fiction? I've seen it done (by Christians) in effective ways...and I've also seen it done lazily, or as if the author was trying to achieve big-kid author status, which made me cringe and feel kind of embarrassed for them...

Do you think there are some cases where it's legitimate, even best, to allow characters to use strong language in your writing?

An example could be the story I am working on. It's an apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic setting, and the people in the story are going through ugly things. The people who survive are likely to be hard survivalist types, and thugs--it would be strange to write any dialog with them without letting their character show in how they talk. Even the MCs aren't Christians (at least not yet), and aren't above some level of swearing (is anyone?)...

What would this mean to you? How would you write this kind of story?

Thoughts appreciated. :)

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I see what you mean; just because you have high personal standards, when writing speeches for your fictional characters it becomes more fuzzy. Of course, you have the let the Holy Spirit guide you. I like some of the ways authors from a century ago did things. Many of them were far from clean-cut but I grew up reading guys like R.L.Stevenson and Sir Walter Scott (I know, not "big kid" and not necessarily who Christians now should base their writing on). They wrote about highwaymen and pirates, not always the clean-cut hero. When they wanted to include profanity they would write things like, "He let out a string of oaths"(a little archaic :) or insert -- signs between beginning and ending letters; of course the last option doesn't really contribute to a totally pure mind.  May the Lord guide you.     

It is easy.

The dude walked in the door, abruptly slamming it behind him. He unleashed a string of vile profanity and then slapped his girlfriend across the face.

It is a shame to speak of the things done by sinners in secret (Eph. 5:12) and there are ways to describe the wicked without stooping to their level. The Bible does it and we can too.


Well put.
Jim Brenneman said:

It is easy.

The dude walked in the door, abruptly slamming it behind him. He unleashed a string of vile profanity and then slapped his girlfriend across the face.

It is a shame to speak of the things done by sinners in secret (Eph. 5:12) and there are ways to describe the wicked without stooping to their level. The Bible does it and we can too.

Thanks guys. :)

I see what you mean.

Steven Posey said:


Well put.
Jim Brenneman said:

It is easy.

The dude walked in the door, abruptly slamming it behind him. He unleashed a string of vile profanity and then slapped his girlfriend across the face.

It is a shame to speak of the things done by sinners in secret (Eph. 5:12) and there are ways to describe the wicked without stooping to their level. The Bible does it and we can too.

In my opinion, the use of profanities in life as well as literature, indicates a severe lack of volcabuary.  Yes I know that sometines we need to reflect life and to show the negative side of our charactors, but there are alternatives.  Several books that I know of use made-up words in substitute for the recognised profanities.  This is a very effective way of reflecting life in a sort of fuzzy way, a one time vicar of my acquaintance used to say, "Let's give Satan a kick in the slats." Everyone got the meaning without him using a profanity.  Thisis the method that I have used on a few occasions.

That's interesting. :) That's something I could do with fantasy writing especially. So then would you all say that the words themselves are evil, not the spirit from which they are spoken? For example, is it okay to exclaim "rats!" instead of a different word, even if you are going to say it from the same spirit (one of frustration/anger)? Do we measure these things simply by "how much some people might be offended"?

Dr. Derek P. Blake said:

In my opinion, the use of profanities in life as well as literature, indicates a severe lack of volcabuary.  Yes I know that sometines we need to reflect life and to show the negative side of our charactors, but there are alternatives.  Several books that I know of use made-up words in substitute for the recognised profanities.  This is a very effective way of reflecting life in a sort of fuzzy way, a one time vicar of my acquaintance used to say, "Let's give Satan a kick in the slats." Everyone got the meaning without him using a profanity.  Thisis the method that I have used on a few occasions.

Jeremiah Stiles said:

That's interesting. :) That's something I could do with fantasy writing especially. So then would you all say that the words themselves are evil, not the spirit from which they are spoken? For example, is it okay to exclaim "rats!" instead of a different word, even if you are going to say it from the same spirit (one of frustration/anger)? Do we measure these things simply by "how much some people might be offended"?

Jeremiah, the superlative expressive, 'Rats' is a well known oath, but a very mild one, but I know what you are saying, it is not the word but the intent that matters.  On that score we may as well use all of the oaths that are recognised in today's world, where if we use words that are made up, like, 'cratts' or 'zock you', etc.  There used to be a Robin Williams show on TV called 'Mork and Mindy'  Mork an alien had a virtual swear word, which was 'Shosbots' quite inoffensive to the seventies TV audience, but everyone knew he was swearing in the Orkan language.

Yeah. I'm not arguing that we use such words mindlessly (none of writing should be done mindlessly), or simply for shock value, or make ourselves feel "mature". I'm of the opinion that using words for those tactics is about as immature as you can get. However, I do believe we should try to represent sin honestly in all its ugliness when we can. Does this mean I think we should have scenes in our stories detailing adulterous activity? No. You can allude to that, and know well enough what happened and see the effects.

If you simply say "he swore" or "a string of oaths escaped his lips" or some similar thing, you do get an idea across, and I agree that sometimes this tactic works well, or even better than having the actual words in the story (especially if you're writing for a young audience). You can get the point across that "they said a bad thing." But here's an issue that sometimes reduces the quality of the story in such instances--that is called telling. You are saying "they said a bad thing because they are mad" instead of showing that the given character is livid, and some of his true feelings are coming out of his mouth through some very ugly language.

I think there's a time to tell instead of showing, especially if you're writing for a young audience, or people that you know won't read something too graphic. But I also think there's a time to show, honestly, what is happening. If you refuse to give details whenever there's something ugly, sickening, even, and then try to show the light at the end of the story, or show a character arc in which a character with a foul spirit (and, consequently, foul mouth) undergoes change by the grace of God--you've weakened the message severely. It is the same concept as saying you should not only share the grace of God in the gospel of Jesus Christ--you must first show people that they are at enmity with God so that they can see the full context of the situation, and see why they need grace.

I hope this makes sense--I felt it was time for me to explain where I'm coming from with this. Interested in hearing people's thoughts on showing the ugliness of the world, and what lines we should draw in doing so (I definitely don't believe we should revel in the details of sin in our stories for the sake of writing an ugly story).

So here's a sort of follow up question--is it wrong to portray violence, or other sins, in our stories in detail? Should we be vague in describing violence in our stories?

Dr. Derek P. Blake said:

Jeremiah Stiles said:

That's interesting. :) That's something I could do with fantasy writing especially. So then would you all say that the words themselves are evil, not the spirit from which they are spoken? For example, is it okay to exclaim "rats!" instead of a different word, even if you are going to say it from the same spirit (one of frustration/anger)? Do we measure these things simply by "how much some people might be offended"?

Jeremiah, the superlative expressive, 'Rats' is a well known oath, but a very mild one, but I know what you are saying, it is not the word but the intent that matters.  On that score we may as well use all of the oaths that are recognised in today's world, where if we use words that are made up, like, 'cratts' or 'zock you', etc.  There used to be a Robin Williams show on TV called 'Mork and Mindy'  Mork an alien had a virtual swear word, which was 'Shosbots' quite inoffensive to the seventies TV audience, but everyone knew he was swearing in the Orkan language.

You are right, Jeremiah, the heart is the issue, for it is out of the heart that evil speaking proceeds.

C. S. Lewis had swear words (and even blasphemy) in his works. Now I'm not suggesting anyone go and do likewise, but I did find it interesting.

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