We can whisper about swearing and sex—or we can just say it—SEX!
I’m all about telling it as it is—as your characters experience it—with some consideration for your audience.
First, let’s talk about swearing.
If you’re writing a story about soldiers or cops, you want to make it real, make it come alive. You as a person may not like swearing, but the characters you write about are not you—so keep them in character. I was married to a cop, so I know they swear like troopers and string together sentences with curse words. I don’t suggest that you write exactly the way they speak, but if you want your fiction to appear authentic, you’ll need a good peppering of curses—and I don’t mean limp expletives like, “You miserable so-and-so/cad/villain,” or any other curse fit for a children’s chapter book. For example, if a writer writes about child abuse, the cop investigating the case is not going to call the abuser a “cad” or a “misfit.” The officer will undoubtedly refer to the transgressor by using some very colorful expletives.
However, if we use the amount of profanity used by certain groups of people, it becomes ridiculous and the reader loses interest in the story. Therefore, we need to flavor our fiction with the language our characters use, but not overwhelm it.
Another consideration for the amount of profanity to be used is the intended audience. If we are writing children’s books, then no amount of profanity is allowed. Same with inspirational. However, things change with the Young Adult Genre. We sometimes think YA books—which loosely serves older teens and younger twenties—should meet the approval of the Pope. Think again. This age group, perhaps more than any other, wants to keep it “real.”
Then there is sex. You as a person may not be promiscuous, but what if your character is? How much sex is enough? How much is too much? Again, the answer depends upon your genre and your audience. In Inspirational Romance, we are never privy to sex scenes, but we may see a baby pop out after our romantic couple are suitably wed. Therefore, if you write Christian fiction, keep it chaste. However, if you write erotica, like Fifty Shades of Grey, turn it loose and lurid. Like with cursing, many writers rip the ring out of it and shove sex in your face in the crudest possible way—but be forewarned, the shock tactic will fail with overuse. Allow sex scenes to flavor the story, not overwhelm it.
But what if your writing falls somewhere between? There are innumerable ways of writing about sex that is tasteful. This means using grown-up words for body parts and avoiding the use of euphemisms.
Please note: Rape is not sex. Rape is a violent act that is not beautiful and nothing can make it okay, so don’t skirt around it and pretend it isn’t the horror that it is. Do not glorify it. Make it real.
We live in an age in which almost anything goes, especially where violence, sex, and swearing is concerned. A writer’s job is to make it real whilst not grossing readers out completely. It’s important to “write true and truthfully for your genre.”
Even Shakespeare swore—like, “A pox on you.” A pox, in this case, refers to a venereal disease, so for those days, that was a pretty severe oath. The use of “God” was strictly forbidden, so he said ‘sblood—God’s blood or ‘sdeath—God’s death and so on. But swear he did—to the extent of what was permitted during his time.
So, first, know your audience and write for that audience. Then, second, keep it real. Like everything in writing, too much is as boring as too little. Don't write violence for violence's sake, but use it truthfully, if it really belongs in a story. The same is true for sex and profanity. As with all the other seasonings of fiction, sprinkle, sprinkle, sprinkle.