As a Christian writer, I often face the assumption that I never have my characters use bad language, and that often extends to the assumption that I don't use it myself...
Well. As to the first, I'll talk about it in a minute. As to the second, DEEP SIGH. I could do better.
The question of how much obscenity/profanity to use in a novel isn't always an easy one. My stories are about soldiers, either active duty or retired. The soldier who doesn't swear is a rarity (they do exist). So it's really not a question of whether to use bad language, it's 'what kind', 'where', and 'how much'.
The first question, 'what kind', addresses the distinction between obscenity and profanity, i.e, is God's name used in vain or not. My aim here is to minimize obscenity, but if a character would use it in a situation, to go ahead. Profanity I don't use, unless the text in question can be taken in the context of a rough prayer.
Where to use it? In general, only within dialogue. Nothing gets more boring quicker than a character to whose thoughts we are privy, when those thoughts consist of a long string of expletives.
The movie "Hamburger Hill" has an excellent example. Two characters are talking about 'boonie rap'; one was sent home from Viet Nam on compassionate leave, and his grandmother fixed him his favorite meal. He recounted how he said to his grandma, "Could you please pass the f*****g potatoes?", and how it got worse from there.
Should this be in a book? I think, yes, because it emphasizes the divide between the way soldiers and civilians interpret the world through language. But it doesn't need to fill every page. Once, and it's shock value. A hundred times, and it's mental Novocaine.
Also, Irishmen and New Zealanders (for instance) tend to use f*****g as an all-purpose adverb. I worked for a New Zealander, and when he got going, that expression was used in every sentence. I think that the way to emphasize this casual use is to add the 'all-purpose adverb' when the character's introduced, thrown into a completely innocuous context...and then leave it alone as much as possible. The point's been made.
And that begs the question, "How much?" I use bad language sparingly, as emphasis to express the emotion of the character using it, in a way that's internally consistent with the character's personality. And since I can set up the scenes myself, I can avoid description of a scene that would require the use of a lot of profanity. For instance, describing tactical radio transmissions during a firefight would require a lot of cursing to be even remotely believable. Yes, there is such a thing as radio discipline, and it goes out the window in heavy contact.
But I can avoid that scene, or describe it differently. I'm the boss!
Writers, what do you think? Readers, what do you like or dislike?