Monday, March 2, 2015

How I Decide What Language and Scenarios Are OK for My Books

In my own experience as a fairly newly published novelist, readers have written to me objecting to this or that. Some left reviews in which they objected to this or that. Rather than being offended or feeling put-upon, I have usually found myself looking deeper into my use of certain language and found that, in my writing, I had actually violated some of my own personal beliefs or values for the sake of my “art,” that sensibility that anything goes, wordwise and expression-wise, as long as it’s true to the character.

Um, no. I have learned other ways of expressing those same things so that certain group of readers–and I–would no longer be offended by those conventional expressions.

Then there was the reader who wrote and said if my MC killed one more person she was going to quit reading me. So, the next time I came to one of those inevitable killing moments, her words came back to me, I paused on that path, and found myself thinking, “How else could I, the writer, approach this storyline and avoid killing?” After all, to kill again was predictable and maybe okay, given the nastiness of the target. But, horror of horrors, it was trite and it was predictable. So what actually happened was a wholly different twist to the storyline suddenly presented itself and I headed in that new, and, it turns out, really cool direction. (Later MC does kill again in a totally different scenario and book, but hey, sometimes…). So that’s been my experience with reader feedback, in the main. If you look through my novels you’ll find that, since I’ve honored my own sensibilities, there are no longer F-bombs or expressions of a higher power’s name “in vain,” as it were. Not because I felt threatened by the objecting reader but because my own deep-down sensibility was thus honored and my automatic writing reviewed and changed.

OTOH, would I change an expression I found okay, or a scenario I found okay, just because some group or other was offended? Never. The predicate being, “I found okay.”

What I’m relating here is in no way meant to be didactic; rather, it’s a simple recounting of some of my own experiences as a writer, FWIW.


Leon Davis said...

What I hate about the F bomb as a writer is it shows no imagination and it degrades women, men, and the language. It is used by folks who have limited word choice. It is mutter sometimes as a threat, and sometimes by people who feel they just be quiet. Or ask some one to calm themselves. Even Archie told Edith to stifle her self.

I have noticed a response in my critique class when I substitute a trite for a trite phrase. I agree with you but I don't talk about it I just do it. Some times the fan falls in the manure. Or the devil drives around the city treatment plant.

Sometimes being different helps when you are trying not to be boring. If you do it right.

Larry Levine said...

I agree with everything that has been said however the use if the phrase "my damn" just makes no sense and is very distracting. Does anyone actually say that? I can understand substituting darn for damn, my gosh for my God, etc.... Why not just damn on its own?

admin said...

Point well taken. I have known people who did use that phrase but statistically they are such a small population that they don't even register. For me, I don't use that anymore as my own feelings about the topic have changed.