I had a thought the other day while reading a YA book thick with swear words.
Wait. Pause a minute. Please know that I'm not opposed to the well-placed expletive. Honestly. And even books liberally peppered in swear words don't bother me. I can handle it. I realize that a lot of people in the world talk this way, and I know authors are simply trying to be realistic.
But I'm starting to think of swear words the same way I think of adverbs. In books, I think the rule of thumb should be: Use them sparingly.
I think a lot of writers use swear words as a crutch.
Because bad language automatically heightens tension.
Because it can (though not always) cover up poorly-written dialogue.
Because it provides shock value.
So, if you're using a lot of them, try going back through your manuscript and analyzing them as you would adverbs. Do I really need this word here? How can I make this sentence stronger without this word?
Overuse of swear words makes them, in the long run, less effective. So use them only when you need them, when they really fit what your character needs to say. Otherwise, chop them.
And another thought: I know the main reason for using swear words in books is realism. But don't forget, books are not reality. We prune dialogue, saving only the most crucial elements of conversation, at the expense of realism. So, we shouldn't distract readers from the plot with too many swear words.
But, that's just my humble opinion. What are your thoughts? Please feel free to disagree!