Screenwriting : Profanity an excuse for lazy writers? F*#k! The debate goes on and on! Son-of-a-b*#@h! by Phillip "Le Raconteur" Hardy

Phillip "Le Raconteur" Hardy

Profanity an excuse for lazy writers? F*#k! The debate goes on and on! Son-of-a-b*#@h!

Deseret news, out of Utah, posted this article (see link below) about screenwriter's abusing profanity. My opinion, is writer's should use it judiciously; but sometimes to keep the work authentic, I think you need to have it. For my money, the most Profane show of all time was Deadwood. However, it remains one of the greatest shows I've ever seen. Forum Dwellers, what say you on this topic?

Richard "RB" Botto

There were 271 F***'s in THE BIG LEBOWSKI and I loved every glorious one of em. On a related note, here's a breakdown:

Aray Brown

I agree with the fact that cuss words should be used sparingly. I use cuss words but only for effect and if and when the situation calls for it. Using profanity over and over, just because it's there, is lazy writing, like Tarantino using the N word

D Marcus

Doesn't a writer write characters? Mr. Hicks starts his article with a very important statement about his parents who taught him not to use profanity. So he doesn't use it. I had a similar upbringing - I do not use profanity. I don't use it in my writing. However when I am writing a character who is a dock worker in New Jersey I am aware that his parents did not teach him what my parents taught me. It would be lazy writing if I did not capture the way a character like that uses language.

If I were to write a character who was brought up to not use profanity but I wrote him cursing THEN it would be lazy writing. There was a time in TV and the movies (which Mr. Hicks harkens back to) when a truck driver, or Mafia gangster, or New Jersey dock worker spoke as if they were teaching third graders.

Fiona Faith Ross

If I remember correctly, I read an article that analysed the dialogue of The Wolf of Wall Street, and there were 557 f-bombs (from memory) in it. Wow! Saves the writers some time and effort anyway. However, I didn't think the story was diminished for it. I bet those guys speak like that. For myself, I let myself be guided by the classification/target market I am writing for, so, e.g. if I'm writing for under-13s, I would use no swearing at all. For 12A, I might have a couple of slightly risky words, but nothing too hard-core, and for PGA, you might get away with one f-bomb or maybe two. I could be wrong here because, in the USA and UK, the film board classification has total control over what is permitted for each classification, but when it doubt, leave it out, I say. I've just completed a YA Fantasy aimed at 15+ in which my main character says, Sh*t, maybe three times, but he says "freakin' " a lot. I think it helps to be guided by what your target market will accept, and f*** it, you know? If your character speaks like that, shouldn't you find your courage as a writer and go with it? Authenticity is everything. lol

Philip Sedgwick

F-words and A-words, B-words and C-words need to be in Appropriate Best Film Context.

When I was hired to write Mirage at Zabul Province, the director and I had long conversations about the dialogue of soldiers in combat. He wanted more sanitized dialogue, leaning toward PG-13 standards. I wrote that in the early drafts. The director brought on military advisors who said combat vets would walk out shaking their heads. They encouraged him to let me loose. And then my seven years in the Navy and two combat tours paid off big time.

That film won two film festivals that shy away from films with gratuitous profanity. In conversations with the screeners, they said the dialogue worked and because of that, the story felt more real and provided emotional kick.

Elevator Pitch that we just completed has only a few "damns" right at the beginning. Who the &#%**% was I channeling? Seriously, I have written three feature scripts without a single cuss word. But it's what serves the story.

If you're writing drug dealers, mafiosos, politicians (some, not all) the dialogue needs to be authentic and ring true. Shuckie dern might not cut it. And that's no balderdash!

Philip Sedgwick

PS... years ago I had two nieces in town for a weekend. We decided to watch TV one evening. Deadwood was on. Since they had never seen it, I had to preface with a disclaimer about the language before we watched. One of my nieces made a list with tick marks for multiple appearances of various cuss words. We went through a couple of pads and many writing utensils.

Loved that show. Gonna miss Powers Boothe.

Doug Nelson

I think it depends on your target market. Most of my writing is aimed toward the broader PG market segment. There is a more modest sized market for R and X rated films but as a working professional writer, why would I want to diminish my market.

The shock value has pretty well worn off by now. I feel now that the reliance on all the fowl nowadays is in fact just lazy writing by the unsophisticated writers.

Aray Brown

A drug dealer would have a F Bomb, C Bomb, S Bomb or MFer come out of their mouths every five seconds.

When it's not authentic, when it's cussing just be cussing. That is lazy writing, which is what i meant

Dan MaxXx

David Mamet is teaching a masterclass on "F" words and storytelling later this year.

Erik A. Jacobson

Since I write mainly for the family market, I try to be cautious with language so that the final product isn't flagged by reviewers. But if writing for a different genre, I'm definitely open to a limited amount of profanity, but only if it fits the characters and situation.

My manager arranged a meeting at Sony with a producer coming off a successful $30M box office take on his last film. He was intrigued by a spec thriller I'd written. It was mainly wall-to-wall action with very little dialogue. But in discussing a rewrite the producer gave me a hard stare and barked "Who wrote this dialogue? Dick Clark?" -- all because none of my teen characters used profanity!

James Chalker

As a writer, any word you use should be used judiciously. As a general life rule, I reject the notion of hocus-pocus words--words that are so powerful that their mere utterance can unleash the forces of good or evil. Context seems to be the most relevant factor, as far as I'm concerned.

Phillip "Le Raconteur" Hardy

Richard B: I had never seen the Big Lebowski or Barton Fink until recently. Both are unconventional, memorable films. The Cohens are awesome.

Bill Costantini

Whatever the situation, writers should write dialogues realistically.

Jody Ellis

I usually have to go back through during my rewrite process and delete the plethora of f*cks (and variations thereof) that infiltrate my writing.

Contrary to some people's opinions, this is not "lazy writing" on my part, but simply the vernacular of the world I grew up in and the world I inhabit today. I grew up in a hard-core working class neighborhood, life for kids was very much Lord of the Flies. I work in an environment where F bombs preface or are included in nearly every comment, joke, conversation. It is part of my "voice" as a writer and I've been told as much by readers, who toss around words like "raw" and "gritty" in their notes to me.

I fully realize this is not everyone's world, and as I said, I usually try to tone it down when I do my rewrites. But to say it's lazy writing? F that.

Oh and in regards to the linked article Phillip, that guy comes off (to me) as a holier-than-thou, sanctimonious A-hole, getting the vapors over "vulgar language". Whatever.

Jody Ellis

lol Owen I've been censored here in the past!

Raymond J. Negron

I agree with Phillip "Le Raconteur" Hardy. that the cursing should be used sparringly, and I feel like it comes when it's really needed and has more PAUSE effect when someone is using the curse in a time when it is so unexpected. "TO CURSE OR NOT TO CURSE THAT IS THE QUESTION!"

Warm Regards Lovebugs,

Raymond J.Negron.

Beth Fox Heisinger

Owen, actually, there is a preference for professionalism and language use on S32 (Community Code of Conduct). Plus S32's membership is open to 13 year old kids and up. ;)

Doug Nelson

Bill - you ought to start a new thread on writing dialog. What is realistic dialog? I'd do it, but Beth would just tell me that everybody in here is way more advanced and that I'm wrong. So I don't offer to educate any more but I will respond.

Jody Ellis

I understand the reason behind S32s censorship of curse words. I will say though, I don't necessarily agree that swearing denotes a lack of professionalism. If that were the case, I think a lot of industry execs would be out of a job. I can't even count the number of F bombs dropped when I've made the general meetings rounds.

I also don't agree with this forum being available to children, but that's a whole 'nother can o worms. Carry on!

Beth Fox Heisinger

As far as use of foul language within the context of a specific screenplay... It's writer's choice. If it is relevant or authentic to a character's proclivities/personality, or lifestyle, or the story world, or tone/style... Then swear away! ;) The place to be very careful is if you are writing for a particular rating: G, PG or PG-13. I will add, just speaking for myself, if I'm reading something and the language choices seem to be gratuitous or I just don't like what I'm reading... I stop, not for me. And then I simply move on to something else. Never regard it as "lazy." :)

Beth Fox Heisinger

Loved The Big Lebowski. ;)

Jody Ellis

I actually asked a manager I know about taking out curse words when writing a script that was for a MOW market. He said don't do it, as most execs don't want the watered down version of your story. If the language needs to be modified, it can certainly be changed during production. But they (at least the producers he knew) don't want anyone dumbing things down (or prettying things up, as it were) for them.

Of course, the family, PG and PG-13 markets wouldn't be interested in Tarantino style scripts. But I assume writers interested in the family market aren't going to be writing scripts riddled with cursing.

Erik A. Jacobson


Agree that the target market has much to do with language choice. SHOWING a feeling by action instead of verbally expressing it is also an option. Sometimes a character's eye-roll or simply kicking a cat aside on the way out the door can be much more powerful than an F-word.

Bill Costantini

Well....we can blame swearing in film on the Brits. I'll Never Forget What's 'Isname dropped the first F-Bomb. Oh, those naughty, naughty Brits!

Dan Guardino

I only use profanity if it is necessary. Obviously, some screenplays would require more profanity but I don’t write those kinds of screenplays. I recently wrote a one hour drama for a television series and the producer didn't want any profanity. So obviously who you are writing for and what their target audience is will make a difference. .

Dan Guardino

Erik. You are right but the cat might not appreciate it. lol!

C Harris Lynn

Nice to see I have a Mormon following.

Doug Nelson

Yes Dan, it's your target market that sets the rules.

Victor Titimas

Imagine the following: Jack walks to the back alleys. It's dark. A thug, tough looking, all chains and tatoo's approaches him.


Kind sir, might I inquire as to what reason drove you to take this path?


I... I got lost. I'm not from around here.


I see. May I appeal to your kindness so it might drive you to share your current possessions with me?


You mean rob me?

Jack backs off a bit.


Indeed, such is the name of my action. Please, kind sir, remove your watch and lay it down, so this exchange be made!

Jack hands over the watch.


A thousand blessings! And now, you may depart. This watch may serve me well...

Now, how realistic does this sound?

Aray Brown

Victor, your scene is completely ridiculous and unrealistic. I have no problem with profanity. Cussing is in my vocabulary. I cuss daily. My characters cuss. The overuse of it is what I have a problem with. Characters cussing for the hell of it, characters talking for the hell of it. That's the shit I don't like. That's my two cents.

Richard Wall

It's all about the context. Used in moderation, profanity can be very powerful and add an edge to a story. Used gratuitously and it takes over, swamping the underlying theme(s).

But hey, that's just my f*ing opinion. :-)

Izzibella Beau

I write and talk realistically. At most times, yes that does include cuss words. I try to refrain from using such words around small children, as do my characters, but sometimes it slips out. I mainly write ages of 18-30, so yep there's a lot of cussing since that is normal talk for them. What's more believable for a character (18) to say in a script, "oh, gosh dang it" or "Fuck". Sorry but I think the latter my 17-year-old tells me, "mom, it's just a word."

Chanel Ashley

Phillip, contact twice in one week, lol - I completely agree with your comments re Deadwood - the profanity surprised me, but a great show and excellent writing - we have a fringe festival here, the second best in the world, plenty of comedians from across the globe, THEY ALL use too much profanity and it doesn't work for me - it seems to work in most films, but the stage? I see it as a lack of talent in most cases.

Raymond J. Negron

Toby "F&kING Wong, Charlie F&^ing Chan. Okay, trying to remember the dialogue from Resovoir. Dogs. As I wrote a script out of college for a Producer called "Bad Dogs," I was paid 2,500 beans for a 3 month draft and it never went anywhere. The Producer said "I want tough people who curse alot and make them bad asses!" as he was from South America and had a preconcieved notion of this. Instead, of colors they had dog names. Funny, how time flies.

Anthony Moore

There is a fine line between good writing and a hack throwing in a bunch of naughty words for their shock value. Deadwood and Reservoir Dogs walk that line due to the seriousness of the situations involved. A writer should think, "Do I need that word? Is it needed for the character to stay in character?" If not, then an edit is needed.

Travis Sharp

To me it's simple, if your character would say fuck then type fuck. If you're typing it because YOU want to say it, then you should probly be doing something else.

Jody Ellis

My cursing isn't always just part of the dialogue. In a pilot I wrote, which has a LOT of sexual content, F*ck is also an action word. Saying "they make love" would be ridiculous, and saying "they have sex" is too vanilla. My characters in the story don't make love. They fuck.

But Travis, it's one of my favorite words! ;-p. Can't I like saying it and write characters who like it too?????

Bill Costantini

Man, times have changed. You guys get to drop the F-word like rice at a wedding. I dropped an F-bomb once last year, and got a court summons - which reminds's Thursday and I have to go do my three hours of public service...picking up garbage on the freeway. At least it's not hot yet.

C Harris Lynn

What Jody said is dirty and distasteful. smh

(Edited for slow Internet.)

Aray Brown

Jody Ellis In one of the scenes in my pilot, Derek (the minor character) and Edward (the main character) have a conversation. Derek asks him a question. Edward evades it. My descriptive text: Derek looks at him "You're full of shit"

That's actually what the character would think.

I have another scene where a college professor makes a move on his student. He says" I'm not gonna hurt you. I'm just gonna fuck you."

The point is i try to get into the character's head in order for them to have a real voice instead of typing what I want them to say, and I know I'm not alone in that. I love cussing, but i use it in moderation. Only when needed.

P.S. It's my favorite word too! :P

Izzibella Beau

Aray Brown, so true you have to get inside of your characters head to know what to write. Mine tend to say 'fuck' a lot, but that's normal talk for millennials (my characters ages).

Chad Stroman

The Bruce Willis use of MotherF-cker in Die Hard was perfectly used and was even brought up later by the villain.

Swearing for swearing sake is a lot different than swearing because the story, characters and/or situations call for it.

By choice I am more circumspect in my language. In my scripts I employ cursing to effect and with an end. Just throwing it in for no reason just waters down the power cursing can have and can bring to you script. Use your words wisely.

Jody Ellis

C Harris that's kind of the point. The script in question isn't hearts and flowers.

C Harris Lynn

I eschew such language and acts, especially in my creative endeavors. I p**p hearts and flowers.

Jody Ellis


Lesley Lillywhite

You probably meant "Deseret News." It's based upon religious tenets, so naturally they wouldn't 'endorse' profanity.

Phillip "Le Raconteur" Hardy

Lesley: You're right. It's a typo.

Richard Thrift

Context, character and situation.

Pat Savage

"Deseret News." It's based upon religious guidlines, so of course they won't 'endorse' profanity.

Anthony Cawood

I wouldn't put it in something I was aiming to pitch to Pixar ;-)

Anything else, f*ck it!

Richard Thrift

PS: I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Deseret News is the official news of the Church. Their anti-profanity stance is obvious, but as a film-maker I think some profanity makes a scene realistic in context.

Richard Thrift

I just spoke to Mr C. Hicks and he said:

Just to explain further, when I say "lazy," I mean that profanity is overused when more creative alternatives could be explored. It's an easy shorthand fix to convey emotion with a cuss word rather than finding a more clever, witty or probing manner of expression. And it's often just gratuitous.

Obviously, "lazy" is a flashpoint word, since I've heard from others as well. But in many cases, I do think it applies. I'm not suggesting every form of profanity be eliminated. But I don't think a little restraint would hurt, either.

Dan Guardino

It depends on your target audience. I write screenplays in all genres. If I am writing screenplay for a young audience I don’t use any swear words. Recently I wrote a pilot for a producer and there were no swear words in it because it was network television. I wrote the sequel for Narc and since the first movie was filled with swear words I wrote the sequel the same way. Personally I don't care either way as long as I like the script when I am done and it works.

C Harris Lynn

"Lazy" is overused by less creative alternatives to writers. It's an easy shorthand for more creative ways to demean, dehumanize, and devalue those with whom you disagree.

Raymond J. Negron

It's an expressions of frustration when you cannot figure shit out. It's a fear, roadbloack and consideration of the obstacle(s) ahead. I believe, if used intermittently can be powerful with fortelling of a sequence of events. I like to curse without cursing and layer it into the writing without a hint of animosity. Unless, it's on! Then the curse is a ROAR of "Bring it!" Much Love Boys/Girls alike

Dash Riprock

I use it when if feels natural to the character or situation. But I'm also aware that more than one F-word can change your movie's rating, unless you dispensation by the Ratings board. And once you move into "R" territory, you've lost a good chunk of the movie crowd revenue. I imagine the 'movie-making powers that be' pay attention to that. That said, I still write the way my characters act. Once someone buys the script, they can change the dialogue to what they want.

Arial Burnz

Of course, my smartass personality has to come out for this one...

Travis Sharp

We strive to be artists of language, would you ask a painter to avoid bold colors?? Would you ask a singer to avoid aggressive notes? Would you ask a porn star to....oh wait, there might be youngsters on here.

Jorge J Prieto

Some of my favorite Martin Scorsese's films are riddle with the 'F' word, but for some reason it seems natural that these mafioso characters speak that way. The Sopranos, another one I enjoyed very much. My two cents opinion.. Phillip, love you, man!!

Jody Ellis

All of this is probably the reason I haven't delved into writing family movies. I find the conversation fascinating, I love to see the different perspectives, but it's hard for me to relate on a lot of levels. I've certainly written scripts with minimal cursing, but even then my subject matter is always adult. All a matter of what feels real to us as writers I suppose.

Marcelo Dietrich

When I write a screenplay, I'm simply putting to paper what the characters are saying.

I can't take the blame for their curse words.

With that, however, I rarely write scripts that include​people that cuss a lot.

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