I’ve heard a lot of arguments for or against including profanity in Christian fiction. In realism especially, including profanity in a character’s manner of speaking tends to help with the setting and tone, and trying to substitute lesser or made-up curse words usually detracts from the immersion. It also kinda seems weird to refrain from profanity when other worldly and darker sins like murder, infidelity, and blasphemy are present. However, I’ve also heard the argument that the things you think and say and write about will inevitably make it into your own habits, which is obviously undesirable. Also, since profanity might not be directly addressed like murder, infidelity, or blasphemy, a work including profanity might seem to be condoning it.
This is a good question as I have been struggling with this recently. I am a completely unexperienced writer so I will not give an opinion for a response as I have so little from which to share. What I will say is that I teach in a school where I hear the profanity constantly, yet I make it my purpose not to use it. While not entirely successful in my own private space, I do not use any such words in my conversations or any time that I am around others.
What I an finding is that I come to a moment where any normal person would let one fly, and I don’t want to write what I thought they would say. Wondering if it is best to settle on a ‘character favorite’ word or phrase and go with that. I do have a set of restricted words that will never be included, but wanted to ask you if you would vary you usage of use a common word set in all the intense moments?
Good question, Iris. I’ve developed my thoughts on this a bit here: https://bradpauquette.com/2021/08/should-christian-writers-use-profanity-in-their-stories/
It’s an interesting question about it seeping into your own habits. Like you mentioned, if I write a murder mystery, I’m not necessarily concerned that I might start murdering people by accident. I think we’re smart enough to differentiate and keep our bad character’s habits compartmentalized.
I think any behavior you want to not condone, just have bad guys do it. Don’t eliminate smoking from your story, for instance, but just let the reader see that only ucky people smoke. You’re teaching the lesson that it’s bad by having “bad” people do it, people we obviously don’t want to be like.
Ultimately though, I think you need to love your audience. Oftentimes we think of “Christian” fiction as if we’re writing for one, big, homogenous audience of Christians, but that’s really not accurate. Among Christians, there are some very conservative groups that are strict with their behavior, dress, etc. There are other groups of Christians who subscribe to HBO Max and have no problem with that. We could have a conversation about who’s more “right,” but that really doesn’t matter for the question you’re asking. The fact is that those two groups have very different expectations, sensibilities, and sensitivities to your content.
More specifically than just “Christians,” who are you writing to? What’s their tolerance for profanity? Will it enhance the story for that reader and make it more believable, or will profanity cause them to immediately reject it? How do you love that particular reader and speak to them about things that are really important?
Profanity will absolutely change the type of audience that relates to and derives value from your work. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.