Fiction is, by definition, a lie. We even put disclaimers in the front of our books warning readers that any resemblance to persons or events is completely coincidental and has nothing to do with fate, marketing, or fandom. But there is powerful truth in fiction as well. This truth grows from the reader’s trust in the narrator, and their connection to the characters and story.
The First Truth – Realism in Situation
Your world is pretend. Your characters are pretend. Your plot is pretend. Even contemporary novels based on real places or historical retellings are false because they’ve been fed to your muse and regurgitated into a fictional account. Like a child playing house, they may be using real pots and pans, but it’s still just a lie.
To $%^* or not to $%^*, that is the question. I’m going to throw out a blanket statement here, and say that every fiction writer worth their ink-stained fingers has learned to step out of their own personality and into another. It’s sort of a prerequisite for being able to write realistic characters. Whether you, as an author, are willing to push those other personalities to their limits, or blush and scribble out the saucy bits to use more polite words, is not something I can discuss without a few psychology textbooks and a bottle of wine. What I can talk about is a tiny bit of realism that helps to create amazing characters.
When was the last time you said a swearword? Was it today? I bet it was this week at least. How many do you say in a day? In a week? Ok, this could get a little out of hand for some of us. Here’s another question: When was the last time one of your characters said a swearword? Think about it if you need to. You can pause this reading and start it again when you’re ready to continue.
This is where I put a short admission. Not every character needs to swear. Admittedly you’re only seeing snapshots of their lives, and it’s absolutely conceivable they do all their swearing off page… But would they?