We know ‘bad words’. We might say them a lot in fit of anger, fit of pain, or even among friends in an amiable way.
I am not here to dispute whether swear words belong in writing. That is up to the author always.
BUT if you plan to submit that writing to a publication, it could be a factor in the reading process.
(some bad words after this–but they’re not really terrible)
This might read repetitive, but still… CHECK THE SUBMISSION GUIDELINES. ALWAYS.
Swear words, and how necessary they are to a story, is very subjective. Swear words could be a part of the narrator’s or character’s vocabulary–and that’s totally fine. It’s all in the name of characterization and the language of the story.
However, you must keep in mind that magazines and journals cater to a specific audience. They know what kind of content they want to produce.
And this includes the language in it–foul or otherwise.
I’ve come across a few submission notices that ask for ‘minimal foul language’ and some that strictly say ‘no’ to swear words. There are some that don’t say anything about it at all, leaving it to you to make the final decision.
If you’re unsure whether the publication will accept your work with swear words–ASK. The publication should have an email address where you can ask questions. They should be willing to give you an answer.
You have to look at these things carefully.
But even then, if you really want to send your foul-mouthed story to a particular magazine that says no to that, feel completely free to argue with an editor and defend why your character needs to shout ‘Fuck!’ every time he sees an left shoe… or that Stella calls every hammer a ‘Bitch’ because she plans to eradicate the entire object once she comes into power….
But if there is a clear ‘no foul language’ or something similar on the publication’s submission guidelines, following the rules gives you a better chance at being accepted. It won’t be the end of the world to turn a few shit’s into craps or fuck’s into ‘damns’. If your story is rejected, then submit it somewhere else that will accept swear words.
Or if your story is accepted, your contract will state that the rights will revert back to you a certain amount of time after publication… and then you’re free to submit it elsewhere or publish it yourself–swear words galore!
Make ’em up
Some stories can make up new swear words if they’re placed in an alternate world or in the future.
I know people can make up their own words and languages in general, but you most likely will be writing in English, and anyone who speaks English know of the swear words already in existence. To convince English-speakers that these words you’ve created are equal or greater than the current curse words will take work.
In Singing the Dogstar Blues, author Alison Goodman took the liberty of sort of making up swear words. I came across one straightaway on page 2 of the futuristic novel:
“Don’t know why they still go for that antique screte,” he said.
Microsoft Word and WordPress don’t recognize ‘screte’ to be an actual word, but Goodman didn’t completely make this word up.
The word ‘screte’ here looks really similar to ‘secrete’ which is to produce or discharge something, usually a liquid. It’s synonymous with the word ‘excrete’ which roughly means to dispel something as waste.
Putting the pieces together, we can deduce that screte = shit.
Goodman took an existing word and tweaked it.
Here’s one that she made up:
If society needs a few more doctors, a number of bloodlines that have produced good doctors are invited to mate. I wondered if they sent out gilt-edged cards: Dear so-and-so, how’d you like to snork?
Probably less awkward than the way we do it.
This part on page 144 of Dogstar refers to when our protagonist, 17-year-old rebel girl named Joss, is reading up on the alien mating rituals of the Chorians, a hermaphrodite alien race currently establishing relations with Earth.
I think we can guess what ‘snorking’ is.
Knowing your audience is something both writers and editors think about when creating content.
Editors know what they are looking for… or not looking for. There are plenty of publications that accept, are indifferent to, or completely reject swear words in submissions.
Check the guidelines. If you have questions, don’t be afraid to ask them.
Thank you for your time.