Do You Curse Brightly?

While finishing my paranormal thriller, I have made some major cuts and additions. I think my sex scene is sexier after eliminating the mechanics and expanding the sensual description. I fixed the parts where the chicken went into the oven and came out as roasted rabbit. I deleted overused words like “perfect” even though at one time I thought they were perfect.

Reading best-selling thrillers while writing my first have inspired me, until yesterday. In the middle of an intense scene where agents were kidnapped, the protagonist, “cursed brightly.” (insert sound of needle scratching record here) WHAT??? It pulled me right out of the story. I stopped reading and set the book down.

shouts expletive

The hammer actually smacked my poor thumb, hence the realistic grimace.

In an age when television allows just about every expletive under the sun, including the mention of MILF on The Neighbors and Modern Family, why are authors reluctant to use them? If we are going for realism in a story, then isn’t the placement of a dammit or a bitch important to show the reader how upset and frustrated the protagonist is? If they curse, then I say, let them curse, dammit!

I can see where the word fuck would be avoided.  I even had a hard time typing it here on my blog. Many of you as well as myself, may drop the f-bomb once in a while, but hearing or reading it still feels like a punch in the stomach for some. It may depend on your exposure to the word.

Showing verses telling is integral  to engaging your reader especially in a story filled with action. Looking back, the author could have shown the mental state of the protagonist by having him pick up a glass and shatter it on the floor, or put his fist through a wall, or race out of the room, sprint outside and scream. But instead he cursed brightly….

And what’s up with the use of the adverb brightly? My daughter joked last night that it seemed as soon as they were taught about those “ly” words, they were told never to use them. These days the thesaurus is one click away and strong verbs are at our fingertips. I have to admit that I may have used a few adverbs in my novel, although sparingly.

When I first started blogging, I wrote quite a few short stories. I found the placement of a cuss word added emphasis to the situation. If a man walking through the parking lot to his own wedding, trips and falls face down in the mud, would he say shuckydarn? I guess he could curse brightly...

As I near the end of my 845th rewrite, I am asking for your advice since I hope you’ll read my book from cover to cover someday. Do you feel comfortable when reading an occasional cuss word or do you set the book down wishing the protagonist had cursed brightly instead?

Related articles:

When to Use Swear Words in Your Writing – Writer’s Digest

Ode to a Four Letter Word – New York Books

183 thoughts on “Do You Curse Brightly?

  1. I don’t mind, I expect especially adult books to have swearing in it, YA is controversial on the subject some do, others don’t. Do what feels right for you, don’t force yourself to swear if it makes you uncomfortable!


  2. I am with the majority here. I agree that the characters should and will curse (or not) depending on their…well…character. I find that “the rules” that are sort of conventional wisdom about fiction writing turn out to be not so conventional and not so wise when offered in context of one’s story and characters. Good for you, Susie, for questioning the status quo! And congrats on getting through those rewrites. I may do some bright cursing when I dive into my next scene rewrite. This writing thing is HARD!


    • Thanks for the vote of confidence Kecia! I so appreciate your input. I am too naive to even know what the status quo thinks.🙂
      That may be a good thing.
      I just got within 50 pages of the ending when things really go south and wow, there has got to be a couple of f-bombs thrown in or it will die a slow boring death.
      Love to hear that you are working on a project too! Where are you with yours?


  3. What the heck is “cursing brightly”?

    I am a believer that in real life situations people use curse words and in movies/books they should use them to when appropriate. Sure, at times I will curse like a truck driver but only on occasion.

    Just curse away I say!



    • Thanks for that Phil! Away I will curse! Oh, I mean, I will use a few for emphasis in my book. This post made me think and reconsider any colorful metaphors I had placed. I deleted several yesterday…I have really learned a lot from this forum!
      I wonder what the reaction would be to “a tongue in her ear??”
      Thanks Phil!


  4. Susie, we are all line up waiting for your book! I debated about the swearing issue today but, as everyone points out, its kind of out there. In The Bridge Club one of the women swore all the time … but only in French! In my next novel, there’s a fifty-something woman who habitually drops the f-bomb and nobody really notices. Do what works for you and your characters (who really make the decisions anyway)!


    • Thanks Patricia! I am including a French cuss word or two too!
      Your book is on my list. I can’t wait until I am done with this rewrite and can catch up!
      I love the sound of your characters. I think when we are writing in present day, we have to include the “colorful metaphors!” I certainly say and hear them!
      Thanks so much! You made my day!


  5. I use swear words, but try not to overuse them. I think they are effective, but lose their punch if they’re in every chapter or whatnot. It also depends on the characters, of course. If a character is going to swear, then he/she needs to act the part, too. Otherwise, it just doesn’t work.


  6. I think the avoidance of adverbs is laziness on the part of the author catering to laziness on the part of the reader. ‘He cursed’ as opposed to, ‘He cursed virulently’ or ‘filthily’ – the latter choices are what I would use in place of the string of words likely to flow from a low-life. ‘Dammit’ really wouldn’t ring true.
    Amazing the rabbits out of the oven one gets even in third editions of well-selling books. In one, on safari, they pour wine into mugs and then have moonlight glinting on the glasses …


    • That is hilarious! My biggest fear is that the glint off the coffee mug happens in my book. Danny is reading a novel by Ken Follet and he must have changed the names of the characters at one time. A random name popped up in the middle of the book…. I have changed the names of my characters too… scary…
      I am only going to mention the actual curse words or not mention them at all. Of course I say this, but if my wish comes true and after it is professionally edited it gets picked up by a major and gets edited again, there’s no telling what kind of cursing will be included…
      Thanks for your input!


      • I know from sad experience how much one misses, and then the editor misses, even after proof stage. The eye tends to fill in missing bits unless one is constantly programming it not to. Quotation marks are a particular bugbear, especially with quotes within quotes. Also misplaced/missing subject following a gerund.


  7. Not using adverbs judiciously is a lazy author catering for lazy readers.
    Most of the people who would swear in my books would do so in language I would not care to report, so something like ‘swore filthily’ does it for me.


  8. Well, in Australia we curse a lot. So “cursing brightly” just won’t cut it. For me, authenticity is important, so if it fits the character and the scene, then I say, don’t hold back!


    • Thanks for stopping by Alarna! I figure the amount of exposure is regional, but given the situation in the book I read it really seemed strange. Especially when the author had an f-bomb on the next page! Now no one who read this post will be able to read, “he cursed brightly,” without giggling! I hope editors keep it out of my book!


  9. Good question. I use cuss words VERY sparingly while writing. They make many people uncomfortable (like me) and I think those who overuse them are indulging in creative laziness to a certain extent – going for shock INSTEAD of awe.

    Having said that, sometimes a curse word is absolutely what is needed to stay in character.


    • Thanks Peg! I agree and it depends on the situation too.
      It has been great to get everyone’s opinion on this topic. I have learned a lot!
      If you are Tarantino, you can get away with anything and somehow it works!


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    • I know what you mean! I have gotten more of a potty mouth as I’ve gotten older and the kids are in college. I do watch who I drop curse words with. I am usually pretty careful and only say them with a smile…..
      Thanks August! Somehow I missed your comment!


  11. What a great post! As a woman who rarely cusses herself and doesn’t relish novels with a barrage of cursing, I’ve given this issue quite a bit of thought. But when I wrote my YA novel with a teenage baseball catcher frustrated by his friend’s terrible pitching, I just couldn’t write: “Your butt, not mine.” Seriously? What self-respecting 17-year-old boy would say that?!!! Of course I happily settled on “Your ass, not mine.” No other reasonable way to write it.

    I look for other options instead of going straight for the curse word, but sometimes it shows characterization, setting, or voice better than anything else. (By the way, did anyone curse darkly in said novel?)


    • Thanks so much Julie! I loved your feedback!
      I was going for realism in my adult novel, but I don’t want to turn anyone off. It really is hard to please all the masses, but in this particular novel, there is an F-bomb on the next page!
      I found one more “bright” curse, if you can believe it, but no darklys! I gotta believe it happened in editing. I really think this particular thriller can handle the cursing. If they felt it was too much, they could have left it out! But hey! I am glad for the blog post. I learned so much and have edited since!
      Have a great weekend!


  12. Oh my dear, me drop the f-bomb… Never! Insert🙄

    “cursed brightly” what the hell is that all about? As long as your swearing is realistic and appropriate, I’ll buy it, I guess I’ll have to if I’ve already bought it. And please don’t fret typing fuck… just don’t spell with ampersands and other symbols.

    I’d actually rather talk about the photo, which is about the cutest I’ve seen of you, Susie. Even Sexy, I might add.


  13. I have no problem with an occasional cuss word if it adds to the story or character. But if a character is constantly swearing, it makes for the character uninteresting and one dimensional.


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  16. How did I miss this post? Susie, it is so funny! I really like the idea of cursing brightly, and I’m going to do so today at work. “Dammit,” she said, brightly, a smile pasted to her face. “I have 402 emails to read. Yippee!”


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