I recently had a young reader (I believe she's in her early twenties - young to me) make an interesting comment about my novel and I thought I'd respond on my blog. She was critical over my choice of character dialog in that none of them used profanity, even in the most stressful, life-threatening situations. Her comment was, and I'm paraphrasing, was that 'real people don't speak that way in the real world . . . it's unrealistic to think that not one character wouldn't swear out of anger or frustration, or fright.'
In a certain way I can understand her comment in that, well, in some respects, she's right. The use of profanity throughout our society is now so common and accepted that I know individuals who can't put a noun and verb together in a spoken sentence without modifying both with some form of profanity.
I've browsed through bookstores and opened up novel after novel where the text is laced with vulgarity. I don't mean an occasional swear word or two, I mean sentence after sentence, paragraph after paragraph, page after page. And thankfully, there is the occasional novel that has little to none, though it seems from my browsing that you are far more likely to pick up a book containing profanity than not.
I have to admit that when I first started to write my novel, I did wonder how it would come across without some profanity, even "mild" profanity. But I chose not to use profanity because of several reasons.
First, my religious and personal convictions.
Second, some of the best novels, science fiction and otherwise that I've read in my lifetime contained no profanity. So it can be done.
Third, for me, the English language is so rich and diverse in its ability to describe human emotions, expressions, vocally and otherwise without the use of vulgar expressions. Some authors will say that profanity is necessary because of its "shock" effect and that it "adds" credibility to their characters and dialog. I'm not convinced of that argument. And yes, I realize that many of the great works of literature, Shakespeare comes to mind, used profanity, but even so, did he really have to? Does anyone really have to?
For those that do, that's their choice. Among the many great principles that our nation is founded on is freedom of speech and choice and I spent twenty years defending those values so while I respect their choice, I choose the opposite - no matter the consequences in my literary efforts.
One last note. I know and have known numerous "real people" who never swear or use vulgarity in their speech, even in the most stressful of circumstances. They come from all walks of life, rich to poor, highly educated to not so educated. They are some of my heroes, they choose not to become one with the herd, not become part of the problem, but to stand apart and be part of the solution.