For Thursday, May 19, 2016:
“You can’t blame a writer for what the characters say.”
Confession time: I am not a fan of the ‘eff’ word in writing or in movies. (Or in conversation, even though I say it to myself often enough … but I digress.) So when one of the characters in the novella-that’s-almost-ready-for-release started using it – more than once, I might add – I found myself using other words (like my own favorite, which begins with ‘s’ and ends with ‘t’) instead.
I don’t mind the occasional ‘F bomb,’ especially when it fits a situation and/or character, but I feel like I’m being physically assaulted or overwhelmed when they come at me fast and furiously.* I’ve stopped reading books and stopped watching movies, in fact, where that happens. So I usually shy away from using this particular word when I write.
This time, though, the word was appropriate for the character and his situation. Between drafts, then, I decided I had to be true to the character – to listen to him and not my own Puritanical voice – and I let him rip. More than once, too.
My first novel didn’t have any swear words – not on purpose, really, but because the characters just didn’t say them. They found other ways, other words, to get their points across, to respond to what was happening around them.
Therein is the crux of the matter, perhaps: response versus reaction. When speaking, we tend to use the ‘eff’ word when we have a knee-jerk reaction to something or someone (like when I fell a few weeks ago and turned the air around me rather purple – mea culpa, mea maxima culpa). When we can take the time, even a moment, to think more carefully, we respond rather than react.
In my character’s case, his use and omission of that certain word helped indicate his personal development. This can be true for most characters, in my opinion. It’s not the only way, of course, but I do think it’s something to consider. If everyone says that word, for instance, and says it all the time, how different are they from each other?
The most important thing to consider is this: is the, or any, colorful language from the character(s) or the author? If it’s from the latter, then some of those eff bombs need to be disarmed, in this reader’s humble opinion.
* It’s interesting that this doesn’t happen when I edit a manuscript with frequent usages. If it’s too frequent, in my opinion, especially if it doesn’t add anything except explosive words to the plot, I do suggest that the author omit some of them – especially those that feel more author-driven than character-driven – but that’s on behalf of the story, not for my comfort.