Not to spoil the article from the start, but I believe that profanity, slang, and pop culture references should be used sparingly in your writing. Not that I have anything against these three items, in particular, it’s just that I feel that overuse can lead to distractions from the story, character, and other aspects of one’s writing.

Much like overuse of sex or violence, profanity, slang, and pop culture references can turn into a crutch that writers rely on too much when the creative wells run dry. Instead of working on writing something fresh and original, they can fall back on easy fixes to resolve problems in the story.  

Let’s have a look at each.

Profanity

We all know what it is, and most of us are not afraid to use these four-letter words daily. In real life, they have become a ubiquitous part of our culture, but less is more when it comes to writing and profanity.

It especially has a greater impact and emphasis in your writing if used less frequently and for moments of real drama, excitement, horror, or grief.  

Too much can become boring, redundant, and eye-rolling to the reader. The last thing you want to do is distract the reader from the story to the point that they begin counting the f-bombs and using other profane words instead of focusing on the story.

This also goes for racial epithets and derogatory words for women. If you have a character that uses these words, that’s fine, but don’t let these words consume the character and your story to the point of overuse and distraction.

Impact, not interference.

Slang

Groovy. Awesome. Neat-o. Sus. Ah, the joys of generational slang. Each decade has it’s own style and flair when it comes to words and language the previous generation “just doesn’t get,” but how best to use it in your writing?

Much like profanity, slang should be used sparingly as well. A good rule of thumb is that if the slang has made it into other films, TV shows, and social media, it’s probably already outdated.

For example, if you are writing a novel based in the 50s, 60s, or 70s, don’t use sitcoms from the era as reference material. How did people actually talk back then?  

The great thing about living in the 21st century is accessing archival footage of interviews from those periods. YouTube has a lot of great interviews and other footage of regular people talking from these decades, and you can see that slang is not as commonplace as TV shows of decades past would have us believe.

In fact, I would guess that most TV shows from the 60s, 70s and 80s are satirizing the use of slang more than they are elevating it.

If you want to pull an Amy Heckerling and create your own slang like in Clueless, or like Tina Fey did in Mean Girls, go for it. Original slang is another way to use your creative muscles, and further dimensionalize your fictional world.

Pop Culture References

It’s impossible to escape pop culture in our everyday lives. From TV and movies, shirts, posters, toys, and hundreds of other things, what’s hot and big right now is shoved down our throats until we are screaming for it to go away.

It’s been like that for decades.

The use of pop culture in your writing is a bit trickier than the previous two. You want to ground your contemporary novel in reality, but what’s hot now may not be hot once the book is published. The last thing you want is to either describe the reference like a Wikipedia entry or cause the reader to stop reading to look up the reference.

Obviously, you should use the pop culture references that best fit your story and your characters, but references with a shelf life can help keep the reader focused and into the story.

Batman. Captain America. Disney. Harley Quinn. These are all known entities that people at least have a working knowledge of. Using relevant references is a great way to help connect your characters with the reader.

However, overuse can also seem like name-dropping. If your characters love Marvel movies and talk about them, that’s fine. But like profanity and slang, don’t use the references in place of storytelling. They should be integral to the plot and characters, not an aside and a distraction.

Final Thoughts…

This article is not a lecture about not using profanity, slang, and pop culture references in your writing. I wrote it as a friendly reminder to use them sparingly, ensuring that your real focus is on your originality and creativity and not these easy-to-use crutches. Use them as you see fit, but always make sure you don’t allow the reader to become distracted by their overuse.

Happy Writing, and I’ll see you next time!

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