Expletives can tell a reader a lot about a character and a story. Use them wisely, and they can strengthen the overall depth and impact of your tale. Use them poorly, and they can turn off readers more quickly than improper semicolon-use. Here are three things to remember when dealing with expletives.
Expletives have power.
If you go 75k words without swearing and then suddenly drop an F-bomb, your reader will react. If that’s what you want, perfect! If not, sprinkle some more curse words throughout the narrative to soften the blow.
Pay attention to cursing within narration.
This is especially true for stories written in third person. Expletives outside of dialogue are particularly noticeable and particularly strong. Depending on the context, they may have a negative impact on the way the work is read. So just check them out, put yourself in the reader’s frame of mind, and decide whether they evoke the emotional response you’re going for.
Use expletives to define your characters.
What is your protagonist’s expletive of choice? What does she scream when she stubs her toe? What about when he gets angry? Maybe your character doesn’t cuss at all. (Good gravy!) Either way, the reader learns something about your character.
How do you use expletives to strengthen your work (or do you)?
Author & Editor