I'm working on a war novel (sci-fi). My initial plan was for my MC to start out with a very clean language, almost comically clean, and as the plot progresses and the situation gets more FUBAR, his language would get more colourful. Other characters were to use different levels of profanity, based on their background and time on the front. For the MC, the change in the language he uses was supposed to reflect the effect of the distance from "normal" society and the protracted warfare on his psyche.

Trouble is, I do not use dirty language in my day-to-day. At all. To the point that I'm known for it among my friends. So when I come to writing profanity, it feels awkward. The expletives don't feel as natural as they should. They stand out and feel deliberately inserted rather than being part of the speech. And at the same time, they feel toned down, like the character should have used something stronger, if they were to use a strong word there.

How can I write this kind of language, that I do not talk, not even as part of my internal monologue?

5 Answers 5


I think the answer to your question lies in the very problem you're having.

You say you've created a character whose language is so clean it's almost comical, and you yourself feel awkward when you write profanity, so use that to your advantage.

Have the MC refuse to use profanity while the other character tease him for it. Then when something goes wrong, have those characters encourage him to swear, but he can't do it. Then, as things get even more FUBAR and he finally feels the need for profanity, make it deliberately awkward for him to do so, maybe even using it out of context. You'll find comedy there and warmth of character by exacerbating the problem you're having.

Have you ever seen Frankie and Johnny with Al Pacino (not a great movie, but it's sweet) where Cora tries to get Nedda to say the word 'copulate'? It's endearing and funny. This is the kind of interaction you could use with your MC.

With the other characters, their profanity will have to be natural and to that end, I would watch as many American movies as you can that score high on the profanity scale until you get a feel for what sounds natural. The Wire has insane amounts of profanity, you could start there!

Good luck!!


How can I write this kind of language, that I do not talk, not even as part of my internal monologue?

This is either a problem or a blessing. If you, like your character, do not use it on a daily basis (not part of your verbal repertoire) then it will sound stilted, awkward, and just... well, weird.

And that's the way it should sound coming from someone (your character) that doesn't use it. So it'll come out weird, and choppy, and... inauthentic. As it should.

Perhaps explore weird word combinations that otherwise shouldn't work.

"Son of a shit"
"Dick sucker"

Other weird combinations that people who actually curse regularly (like me) would be like... "Dude. Sit down before you hurt yourself with the new vocab."


Oh man.

Swearing is f*cking poetic. I think you need to find it in you. Release it. Find the thing that pisses you off like nothing else ever has. It might be a current event (insert soul crushing current event here), or something else.

Swearing like a sailor is a beautiful thing, it has rhythm and rhyme and is percussive. Swearing like a 15 year old who has never sworn before is painful, don't do that.

Here's something I came across while looking for poetic swearing for you.



Write a short story involving foul language. Possibly several. Or just run through some shorter exercises where you you have people arguing over things - child custody, music volume, the remote, etc. See where you stumble most, and where your writing seems most artificial. Improve it through editing, and see what made it better. And get feedback from others once is a while if you feel like it. Sometimes characters sound more natural in your head than they do to someone who can't actually hear them.

This will give you a more visceral understanding of which aspects of foul language you have most trouble with. Is it timing? Is it escalation? Is it transition from clean to foul? For instance, it could be that you have a lot of trouble with the beginning of such a conversation than you do with the middle.

If you find that you are getting comfortable with some aspects of it, you can use that as a push-off point to get into the head of someone who uses foul language, instead of just trying to imitate them. And you can think of the problem you do have in more concrete terms.


On the path towards vocabulary dereliction, you might want to have some "in-betweens."

For example, "Criminy! What are you doing?"


"Oh, fudge."


You might also throw in terms like bitch and bastard further down the path, which are swears, to be sure, but have less intensity as some others.

As an aside, I liked the way the movie Johnny Dangerously kept it clean. The character Maroni's vocabulary includes "fargin icehole" and "bastages"


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