Preamble: Starting next Tuesday, I’M ON TOUR!!! And I may be coming to a bookstore or library near you. Here’s what’s happening–
Tuesday, June 22nd at 6:00 pm: Kepler’s Books, Menlo Park, California.
Thursday, June 24th at 7:00 pm: Mission Viejo Library, Mission Viejo, California.
Friday, June 25th at 3:00 pm: La Jolla/Riford Library, La Jolla, California.
Saturday, June 26th at 1:00: signing in Disney Gallery, Disneyland.
Sunday, June 27th at 2:00 pm: signing in Brisa Courtyard, Disneyland.
Monday, June 28th at 7:00 pm: Changing Hands Bookstore, Tempe, Arizona.
Tuesday, June 29th at 7:00 pm: The King’s English Bookstore, Salt Lake City, Utah.
If I’m not coming to your neighborhood, sorry! I have little control over tour destinations, except I did suggest Salt Lake City because I’d never been there before on tour.
I’m going to try to post to the blog from the road, but it is conceivable that I’ll skip the next two weeks. Now for the regular post:
On March 25th Loretta asked how much detail and gore to include in a fight scene. She feared that parents wouldn’t want their children reading about graphic violence.
Along similar lines, on June 14th F wrote, What I mean to say is, say, do you think that it would be appropriate for the characters to curse in a given situation – I mean, this and that has just happened to them! But, the readers…they may dislike seeing the words actually in print. One can easily substitute writing the words with a ‘He let out a stream of carefully chosen curses’ or some such. We get to know the character’s angry. We don’t have to see the words.
But to satisfy “your internal reader,” the author chose to print the words, rather than allude to them, choosing to ignore the fact that it might be inappropriate for a few readers. :/
In other comments on my post about writing romance a few people thanked me for not including sex beyond kissing in my books. And both F and Erin Edwards included links to several authors’ blog postings concerning the treatment of morality in their books. I suggest you check them out.
Wow! This is a complicated topic! And no easy answers.
Taking gore first, since that was the earlier question, I don’t in general enjoy violent books or movies, but there’s violence in two of my books, Dave at Night and The Two Princesses of Bamarre. In the latter, I’m explicit about killing monsters. A few people die at the hands of the monsters, but I don’t go into their deaths in detail. I’d guess readers rejoice when a monster bites the dust, except for the dragon Vollys, who’s sympathetic although evil. In Dave at Night, the violence comes from a brutal orphanage superintendent. No one dies, but Dave is beaten and another boy’s arm is broken. I report the beating in detail.
The dead monsters in Two Princesses aren’t much mourned by the human characters, so their suffering isn’t much felt by readers, which is what I wanted. The emotion in Two Princesses revolves around Meryl’s illness and her sister Addie’s quest to find a cure. But in Dave at Night the other boys are upset and angry over the superintendent’s cruelty, and the reader shares their distress. Both books are read by kids aged eight and up. I think both are appropriate for the age group, although there are children, some older than eight, who are sensitive and whose parents would do well to keep the books from them, or who might put the books aside themselves when they see what’s up.
Glossing over detail that’s important to plot or characterization or mood, important to the world of the book, is flawed writing. We want the reader to be affected by what we write, and detail engages him. If someone the reader loves is hurt, the reader will care, but only if the reader experiences through detail the extent of the hurt. Airbrushing it will only leave the reader confused.
Having said that, it’s always possible to overwrite, to pile up bleeding wounds and oozing organs until everything blends together and the reader stops caring – or starts laughing. We need to cultivate judgment, which comes with practice and helpful criticism.
It’s funny. I can write scenes that I would have trouble reading. This is because I’m in control when I write. It’s the difference between being the driver of a car and the passenger. When I go through a yellow light, not that I ever do, it’s okay. My reflexes are fast; I’ve looked around. But when someone else is driving, boy, I wish he’d stopped. I’m not making a point here, just remarking on the wonderful weirdness of writing.
As for offending readers or their parents, we are likely to offend someone no matter how cautious we may try to be. Most recently I learned that someone was offended by the trial scene in Fairest. And Writing Magic was banned from a school district in Illinois because I advised writers to make their characters suffer! Can you imagine?
This is my segue into language and sex. And here my approach is more nuanced. I used the “N” word twice in the manuscript for Dave at Night. The uses were natural for the situation. My editor had no problem, and neither did an African-American friend. But the head of library and school promotion at HarperCollins at the time pulled me back from the brink. He said that I would set off a firestorm, and that I was using a hurtful word. I took it out. The word wasn’t essential to anything, and the book was just as good without it. If it had been central, I don’t know what I would have done.
I’m a Jew, and the bad word for Jew is kike. I’ve experienced anti-Semitism a few times, but that bad word was never spoken or suggested. Racism and anti-Semitism don’t need a particular word to express themselves.
I adore language. Every word has a place in my heart. When we make a word or a phrase bad we ghettoize it and give it too much power. I would like to live in a world in which all words are equal, where kike can’t hurt because we’re desensitized. In that world kike would mean Jew and not filthy Jew. The sex words that seem dirty would just be synonyms for the more scientific and acceptable terms.
As for actual swearing in dialogue versus having the narrator say that a character shouted a string of “carefully chosen curse words,” that depends on the kind of story you’re writing, the voice you’re telling it in, and the age of the audience. But you don’t have to choose. You can make the character scream. If the character is tough and gritty, she can threaten someone.
Having said all this, I don’t think I’ve put profanity in any of my books. My strongest influences when I write are the books I loved as a child. There was no swearing in Heidi, and in Louisa May Alcott’s books, if I remember correctly, even an expression like fiddlesticks was beyond the pale. I write back to those books.
Same goes for sexual exploration in books. I am sure there are many young people – I was one – who are confused by the feelings their bodies are creating in them, who don’t know how to handle their early romantic attachments, and who are unable, for a hundred possible reasons, to talk frankly with the adults in their lives and even with their friends. Many of these kids go to novels to see how situations play out, how believable characters play them out.
Moralizing books are likely to be transparent to readers and not carry much weight. Rather than moralizing, I want books to be good, well-written, with complicated characters finding their way and making mistakes in complicated situations. Let the reader observe these characters and ruminate on their decisions and the consequences that follow. Let the reader find herself in the books and consider what choices she would make.
There is one other consideration, which wasn’t mentioned in any of the posts I read. And that’s the market. I want my books to be read, and I want to continue to earn my living as a writer. My readers expect a certain kind of book from me. If I change radically I’ll lose many of them. I may pick up other readers along the line, but maybe not. Of course, this cuts two ways. The authors of more explicit books have also developed an audience, and that is a consideration for them too. There’s nothing wrong with this. You and I – all writers – are entitled to think of our livelihoods.
I’m done. A long post on a difficult subject. No prompt today.