I’m not going to win many friends with this post because I am about to stick up for the use of profanity in writing. My alter ego, C. Hoyt Caldwell, is sometimes penalized by readers and reviewers because of the use of vulgar language and situations. I don’t fault them for their opinions. They like what they like. My beef isn’t with them. It’s with writers telling other writers that the use of vulgarity is lazy writing. That’s bullshit.
This subject came up in a discussion on Facebook with a group of playwrights. A question about the use of profanity was posted by a member, and a myriad of responses came in. Most of them were of the “Do what you think is right as the artist” variety. But a few playwrights condemned the use of foul language as a sign that a writer lacks the creative talent to convey an emotion without using profanity as a “crutch.” To which I say, fuck off.
Writers that condemn profanity as lazy writing are being either intentionally dishonest or unwittingly didactic. In other words, they aren’t judging the creative merit of such words, they are judging the moral value of such words. They are uncomfortable with foul language and vulgarity, so they’ve convinced themselves that it takes true talent to write without the use of the profane. They are wrong. As writers, we record moments that exist on an ethereal plane. This realm is imaginary, but it is a self-directed imagination. Characters make choices free of the writer’s moral compass. It’s hard to comprehend if you’ve never gotten lost in the creative process, but writing fiction, in its most profound form, is undeniably otherworldly. And, that other world is outside of the writer’s influence.
Understand, I’m not condemning writers who don’t use profanity. These realms we visit tend to be ones where we will feel welcome. Some writers just won’t find themselves recording obscenities of any type because their imagination doesn’t go there. If the story doesn’t call for vulgarity on any level, don’t wedge it in artificially. But, as a writer if the story calls for it and you avoid it because you’re afraid of how it will be perceived or it is outside of your comfort zone, that is running from the creative process. It’s a cowardly move, and the story should die the milquetoast death it deserves.
Writers, stop asking for permission to use profanity. Be true to the story as it is revealed to you. This doesn’t mean I think rewrites are unnecessary. On the contrary, I think they are essential to tapping into the deepest parts of these otherworldly realms. The more you visit this ethereal plane, the more you understand it, and the better you make the story through rewrites.
Writers who abhor profanity, stop denying vulgarity has a place in literature or the theater or in film. Just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean it’s not valid. It’s not your place to tell other writers they are being lazy because they use profanity. To be perfectly honest, that’s just lazy criticism.