Inspiration is the key!
Why do people swear? It is often explained as a way to express anger or very strong emotions one would not be able to handle otherwise. Let’s add to that, the rewarding feeling of breaking a taboo and you’ve got the perfect recipe. Maybe this is the reason why swearing has been around since ever.
Why do characters swear in books? In literature, those words tend to appear once in a while, depending on the context, the period it was written in, or who the author of that book was. The thing is, swearing is just another language and, no matter how much you’re used to it, the shock effect is always present. In spite of that, there are probably way too many levels of reacting to bad words.
I tend to think that mostly they should be justified by the context, because literature is just like life, and those words do exist.
Let’s say a writer is describing a scene and starts writing a dialogue where a character needs to say something including bad words. Should the writer censor himself? Should he change the character’s behaviour? Will this not affect the way the character was meant to be portrayed? The reason I say this, is because the writer might try to avoid swearing in real life and I admit I’m one. But, this does not mean that, because the character I’m describing is my own creature, I have the right to make him or her speak my way.
It is not my voice, it’s his or hers.
The one thing that is wrong, is not the use of bad words per se, but its misuse. They should not be used for the wrong reasons, or out of pure provocation, to cause a counterattack of some sort, an insult out of nowhere and an excess. They must be channelling the message one is trying to deliver to the reader. Profanity, however, is a different issue. I never defend profanity and I do not tolerate it. But I can’t promise that, one day, a character I could come up with, will need to be profane to be seen for what he or she is.
However, whoever uses bad words is far from being original: words like “sh*t” or “f*ck“ have been around for centuries, at least since the Middle Ages, and their origins are today debated and discussed with the most imaginative stories. With D. H. Lawrence’s “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” or James Joyce’s “Ulysses“, Modernism made no secret use of ‘four letter words‘ which could then be read by a wider audience than other literary classics published in the past.
See, it would be hypocrite to banish bad words from books as the reader does not need to be protected from anything. A wise reader knows exactly how to use a book. Yes, use. Not read. How to deal with the elements being provided, how to obtain a lesson from it through both positive and negative examples.