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I have to present my book(s) to a Christian publisher and I was wondering, how would I go about censoring adult language or should I just put a warning label on the title page?

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  • Why would you censor? The Bible is full of all kind of disturbing things: genocide, murder, execution, prostitution, slavery, and some of those are made/ordered by the protagonist. Some words shouldn't matter for them. – Nyos Apr 11 at 13:29
  • @PaulJohnson: I think for the question "How do I shoot myself in the foot?" "Don't do it!" is a perfectly reasonable answer even if technically it doesn't answer it. – Nyos Apr 11 at 13:43
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    Have you considered asking the publisher directly first ? Or perhaps check other publications from that publisher, looking for lines similar to what you might change in your own submission? – Criggie Apr 12 at 2:09
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    Or maybe the publisher has editors who will rewrite these things for you. – Barmar Apr 12 at 15:26
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    Whatever you do, it should make sense from a narrative perspective. If your world is meant to be quite similar (or identical) to the real world, made up words could seem out of place (but of course people do occasionally make up words, so it could still make sense). If the audience expects a character to be comfortable swearing, them using substitutes could take the audience out of the story. Although swearing in itself could also take part of the audience out of the story, especially if used in excess or unnecessarily or if it doesn't match the overall tone. – NotThatGuy Apr 12 at 17:49
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You can do what authors like Robert Swindells do and substitute non-swear words for swear words. This way the dialogue can still sound realistic while being inoffensive. For example, use the word 'freaking'. Alternatively, make up an alternative word. Eoin Colfer has the fairies say 'D'Arvit'.

However, you need to consider whether it is appropriate to include actions or concepts that need adult language in a book for a Christian publisher. Also, 'Christian publisher' is not one thing. Some will only publish a very limited range of texts while others are more liberal.

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    My favourite thing about Colfer's use of "D'Arvit" is how, the very first time it's said, the narration notes, "There's no point translating that as it would have to be censored." – F1Krazy Apr 10 at 12:22
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    +1 for made-up swears, when relevant (i.e., some type of fantasy). In much of Morrowind, the player is referred to by NPCs as N'wah - it's never defined, never explained, but still fully clear that it's a deeply dismissive racial slur. – HammerN'Songs Apr 10 at 16:29
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    @HammerN'Songs I think N'wah just means foreigner, considering they call you that regardless of what race you are. – Ryan_L Apr 10 at 18:52
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    In HHGG, it was 'Belgium' – Neil_UK Apr 11 at 7:46
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    My favorite solution to this is in Larry Niven's earlier (timeline, not writing) stories that use two swear words: "censored" and "bleep". The idea being the words had taken on the meaning of what they replaced. – Loren Pechtel Apr 11 at 23:02
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I like the technique that TvTropes calls the "narrative profanity filter". The basic idea is that instead of including adult language in the dialog, you describe the language in the narration:

He speculated at length on the thief's parentage.

As a side benefit, by leaving things vague, you let the reader's imagination fill in the blanks, and you don't need to figure out what sequence of words would be involved in making a sailor blush.

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    This is by far the best option. If you create your own profanity for the world, characters often end up using that word far more than is realistic and it just feels forced. – Spitemaster Apr 11 at 5:18
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In some circumstances, you could replace contemporary coarse language for a Christian audience with something like a calque of Σκύβαλον, say, 'skivalon', as this was the earthy term St. Paul used in Phil 3:8 (often rendered 'rubbish', but likely even stronger in force).

see also https://bible.org/article/brief-word-study-font-facegreekskuvbalonfont

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It depends on the book.

If your book is non-fiction, any bad language should be as a result of direct quotes from people. Your publisher should have guidelines about this. Ask them. 100 years ago you would have always seen dashed lines representing swearing. 50 years ago, perhaps not so much. Today, I would normally expect not at all - but your publisher should have a policy.

If your book is fiction, consider your audience. If your audience could include children, then your book should probably be edited anyway. If your audience is adults though, and swearing is relatively common in your book, I suggest that a dedicated publisher of Christian literature is probably not the place to take your manuscript.

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