To Write Clean or Not To Write Clean, That’s The Question!

Posted: September 20, 2012 in Discussions, On Books, On Writing
Tags: ,

While reading blog “Chris Martin Writes”, (link to page: I found that he had posted reasons why he does not include profanities in his writing vocabulary. I recommend you read it if you’re a writer, very interesting. I’m not going to try to summarize his thoughts, you can read them on your own, but it got me thinking about this debate.

Many writers use profanities, many writers do not. I’m not here to tell you there’s a right or wrong way, but I’m going to let you know all the reasons why I Write Dirty.

First off, I’m a small town girl. No, I didn’t know everyone I went to highschool with by first name, but the rural areas I always have and still do live in have some pretty colorful characters. There’s John, down at the store, who hangs out, gossips more than any girl I know, and swears up a storm when he gets talking about almost anything. There’s Lonnie, the guy that runs the store (whom we’re all pretty sure smokes some pretty good herb), who works late and usually works drunk. You walk into his store after nine and you’re likely to hear, “Hey! How the f–k are ya?” There’s Mom’s best friend, Jenny, who talks about her “lazy, f–kin good fer nothin, a–hole” of a husband. There’s my best friend, who encouraged me to use the word “f–k” as many times a day as possible, and smoke as many cigarettes as I could get away with, back in high school. And last but not least, my parents. Oh how they have nurtured me and helped my ever growing mind by peppering it with such colorful vocabulary. Thank you, Mom and Dad, for making me the writer I am today. By refusing to acknowledge these words, we are refusing to acknowledge the colorful and fun personalities that often use them, we are hiding said character’s true self, by censoring and taking those words from their mouths, replacing them with family friendly versions.

I know I said there is no right or wrong way, yet, I feel I’ve failed you in saying that. There is a wrong way to use profanity, it’s the over and excessive use that is the wrong way. No body wants to read something loaded with F-bombs, that being said, I think there’s definitely a place for profanity in writing. If using curse words, keep it to dialogue and character’s thoughts ONLY. No body cares how “f-ing” red the sunset was, unless one of your characters comments on it and it makes sense for the character to do so.

I understand that some of you writers want to develop and maintain a wholesome or respectable reputation, and to hand down to your children a legacy that does not include foul language, and if that’s who you are then great, go for it. In fact, I’m happy for you. But for those of you who write clean and talk dirty, I’ve got a bone to pick with you (kidding!). I understand not wanting future generations to open your book and go, “Wow! I didn’t even know some of these words existed!”, however if doing so hides your real self, don’t do it. When I get old and die, and leave my work to my children’s hands, I want them to remember me for the beer drinking, potty mouthed, cigarette smoking, loving mother I was, not some cleaned up PG rated version of me. I have my faults, and I’m rough around the edges, it’s part of how I grew up, but that doesn’t mean that I’m a bad person. I just have different views on what’s acceptable.

Some people say profanities are a sign of an uneducated person. I disagree. Not using profanities is a sign of ignorance to the real world. People like real, they like raw. That’s why reality TV is so popular (Ok, bad example, sorry.). Take Stephen King, for example (of course my favorite writer of all time!). His work has sold marvelously throughout the years, and continues to do so. I think a big part of why he sells so well is because he’s real, he tells it like it is. He doesn’t sugar coat things, make the world seem all sunshine and rainbows, because that’s not how it is. I find that I can relate with Stephen King’s characters. They are my kind of people. They smoke too much, they drink too much, they swear too much, and they will never change. There will always be people like that out in the world, and so long as we exist, and we as writers aim to make our stories feel as real as possible, profanity is a perfectly acceptable fact of literature.

Oh, and I almost forgot to add, I understand that not all writing styles call for language like I use. I am a horror writer, it goes hand in hand with all those dirty, nasty, offensive characteristics of mankind. Of course the writer of children’s books shouldn’t be dropping f-bombs in their dialogue. Don’t use profanities simply for the sake of using them, use them because they help show the reader who your characters really are in how they use these words.

I fully respect the opinions of my readers and fellow bloggers. Let me know what you think. I may disagree, but I’d love to hear it.

Please note, I have censored this post only because it’s public. If this was a page in one of my stories, everything would be right out there.

  1. cripleh says:

    I’m Scottish so, to be honest, any kind of language in writing really doesn’t bother me. If it flows naturally then it’ll feel far more real. On the other hand though there is such a thing as over using it as shorthand for ‘gritty realism’.

    • That’s what nearly every writer strives for, to make their writing flow and sound natural. I try not to overdo the obsceneties, because just as you’ve mentioned it’s very possible to do so. I think there’s a way to achieve perfect balance.
      By the way, thanks for the comment. I look forward to hearing more from you.

  2. Chris Martin says:

    Someone also told me that not all Stephen King’s writing is as bad as the one I tried to read, so I may give him another chance. 🙂

    • It’s all point of view any way. I grew up reading Stephen King, maybe that’s why he is now my role model, either way I do suggest reading some of his work, as there is a lot of his work that has done quite well. Oh and in response to what you said about your relationship with religion, I believe that people who are religious feel a certain connection with the inherently “good”, I have yet to find that in my life. Yet I don’t think any different of you or your beliefs because of your relationship with Jesus. (And that was partially me stalling, trying to think of something of Stephen King’s that you might enjoy, not that I’ve read all his work by far, and partially because I wanted to let you know I don’t feel “religion” is a bad word, as others make it out to be). Perhaps “The Dark Side” might interest you, as it takes a look at two very different writers within the same person. It is, however, not pretty, like most of SK’s work. I also recommend “Cujo” it’s a classic. There’s also “The Green Mile”, now a major motion pic, which I believe you may like most as it incorporates religion, healing, and helping people. Though you may have already seen the movie.

  3. Chris Martin says:

    Thanks again for stopping by and not only reading, but commenting on my post. I know a lot of this comes down to who we are as people, and what we think is right or wrong. I will be the first to admit, I’m not perfect in any sense of the word. Not even close. The good news is that I am saved and have a meaningful relationship with Jesus. (I will probably get bashed like crazy for saying this, but it’s all good.) I decided I don’t want to talk like I used to, and for sure don’t want to write that way.

    I work with inner city kids in Charlotte so I know how real and raw the world is, trust me. Just because I don’t want to write profanity into my books doesn’t mean I am naive at all. I just believe there is a large number of people who will take a look at one of my books and think it’s refreshing to read something clean.

    I hope you didn’t take offense at my views, because that wasn’t my intention at all. I wish you the very best with your writing and it’s nice to meet you.


    • I didn’t take offense whatsoever. I found your point of view interesting, and it got me going on my own. I’m sure you know how it is when you’ve got something to say, it’s hard to stop. I applaud your strong sense of self, and I wish you nothing but the best for yourself and your writing. I hope to engage in other conversations with you in the future. Oh, and thanks for commenting, great meeting you too.

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