On writing

I swear to you, I meant to put that foul language in



You’re hammering in a nail and you hammer your thumb instead. What do you say?


Maybe, but you’re more likely to swear, or use some special word that you reserve for such occasions. Dangnabbit, anyone?

Swearing, as in using bad language, seems to have been around almost as long as humans have. In this day and age it’s hard to write a book without any swearing in it. Especially when you want your book to sound realistic.

Yes, there are still people who don’t swear, but it would be a rare book if your world was peopled with just them.

But what about books set in other worlds? Suppose you are writing fantasy or science fiction. Do you still need swearwords then?

You don’t need them, but a few don’t hurt. Or if not swearwords, at least some sort of expletive that your character can use at extreme moments. Like maybe when your space soldier gets shot in the leg with a blaster, or when an enormous creature with rows of serrated teeth swoops down from the clouds above them and carries off one of their party. (Okay, so maybe for this last one they’d just run, but you get the gist.)

What words would your characters use?

They won’t always be the same as the words we use today. Swearwords change over time, and over geography. Nowadays they are often related to sex, whereas in the past they were more about religion.

Thus if you had to make up swearwords, what would you use?

I think a good place to start is to consider how religious your world is. If it’s very religious, then the words are likely to be based around the religion. On a world which worshipped the Great Mother, who donated her own body to the Megadeath to save the world, a swear-word might start out as something like ‘by the Great Mother’s body’ and morph into ‘gramody’. On a world which had less religion one might be more likely to start with body parts and go from there.

No matter how clever your expletives are, you need to be careful of overusing them. Especially when it’s an unusual word.

Different people have different tolerances to the made-up word. For example, in Lynn Flewelling’s Nightrunner series, I stumble every time I read ‘Bilairy’s balls’, yet other people I know who have read the books are fine with it.

Sometimes it’s the frequency of the word, rather than the word itself. It’s a fine line between a what works as regular swearword that someone peppers into casual conversation, and the occasional expletive.

I think a good test would be to replace your super-new invented swearword with a current word that is equivalent or slightly stronger than the one you invented. Then, if you can read the story without the swearword jumping out at you, you’ve probably got the frequency down okay, at least.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *