Profanity in flash fiction

I got inspired yesterday and wrote my #FridayFlash fiction piece. I edited it up after finishing, then did more tweaking this morning. I'm going to call it done and slot it into the auto-post queue for Friday morning at 8:00am EDT.

This piece has a character who uses profanity. A lot of profanity. It's an indication of her personality which sets things up very well. Is it necessary to have her use profanity? Well, word choice says a lot about people. Education, sophistication, background, temperament, etc.

There is a very different sense that you get about a person if they say "To heck with you!" or "Forget you!" instead of "Fuck you!". That particular word choice fit this person.

Ever the genteel and delicate wordsmith, I wondered if readers might like to be warned about a story that contains adult language. I put the question to the writers on Twitter:
Suppose, hypothetically, that a #FridayFlash piece had profanity in it. Should that be flagged as NSFW in a link tweet? #writing #fiction
Among the several thoughtful responses was my favorite, by Meika:
@TonyNoland only in the USA
This is a minor point, but teachable moments typically arise in the falling of a single leaf. The lesson I'm going to take from it this is, "Your readers are not children in need of protection. Give them realistic characters in challenging situations. It's a sign of respect."

This doesn't mean I'm going to deliberately put profanity in everyone's mouth from now on, but if one of my characters is the kind of person who would swear, fart in public or piss against an art museum wall, I'm going to let him do it.


  1. My #fridayflash last week had profanity in it to try and show the extreme of pressure my character was under. She would have never normally used such a word. Sounds like the advice you got is spot on. Looking forward to reading your work, swears and all, on Friday.

  2. I totally agree with the consensus. Real people use off-color language in the course of their every day lives. I feel that forcing clean language cheapens the writer's vision and character's voice. That said, I have in the past warned of scenes with graphic sex, violence or hate-speech. Because there are still some very puritanical people out there. I never apologized for it, just gave readers a heads up. But never for language. I can't wait to read your piece on Friday.

  3. Realism and emotional impact go hand in hand, certainly. It's hard to believe someone is truly furious when they say, "Gosh darn it!". That is, unless you've already established the character as someone who doesn't swear at all, or won't swear in front of children/ his mother/ etc.

    This upcoming piece is a bit of an experiment for me, in several ways. I hope you like it, but if you don't, please feel free to tell me what worked and what didn't.

  4. Slightly off topic, we are only now seeing The Wire on free to air TV here. Whoa! Now there's some foul language - but it's all in context, so it works. That's my take-out. If it's real, it works. If it's forced, it doesn't. Even when my mum reads it!

  5. @Cascade Lily "If it's real, it works. If it's forced, it doesn't."

    That's the core of it all - well put!

  6. real characters are like real people they come in all shapes, sizes and language abilities. It is the little nuances of each that make them special.

  7. I think what works for you works for you Tony.

    I killed a priest and a dog in my first flash for this group. And I was surprised by some of the off blog comments I got. As in...some people were's fiction folks....

    but just fyi? If you have someone piss on the wall of a building? Make sure it's a guy.....girls can't usually do that not even as a party trick....



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