That Word

11 February 2002

Had a good writers' group meeting last night -- lots of suggestions that I think will make my story better, and I think I can do them in fairly short order, too. Also I got a Vegi Au Coquelet sandwich, which is always a bonus.

Timprov missed the meeting because his back is messed up. We're going to try to get him an appointment with Dr. Bill this late morning or early afternoon, so I'll probably be driving him up to Pleasant Hill and back. (There are very few things nastier than having to drive right after seeing your chiropractor. Bleah.) Other than that, I'll probably run some errands with Mark, read Kate Wilhelm's Children of the Wind, and work. Oh, sorry, that's work! I'm pretty excited about the book, the new short story from yesterday, and the edits from last night. Also have a few things to polish up for this issue of Speculon and two children's stories to finish, so it should be a pretty intense week.

Also, we have artichokes to cook and no steamer to cook them in, so I've found alternate methods. Also we now have the veggies we need for the satay I wanted to make, so I'm going to make one of those and make Timprov happy. (Also Mark and myself, I hope.) Also we have the stuff for hamburgers, so I don't have to cook tonight. It's the little things.

Yesterday my mom finished reading my latest book, Reprogramming, and she liked it. Except. There was one word that appeared in it twice and disturbed her. It was an f-word that actually wasn't related to The Sound and the Fury. (Actually, I believe that F-word also appeared in Reprogramming, unless i cut that bit.) And she said she could see why it was appropriate (I believe she used the word "authentic") for the age, personality, profession of the character, but not why I had to use it.

Well, I could say that being appropriate for the age, personality, and profession of the characters involved was enough. But, in fact, it wasn't. The main character was a bouncer in his mid-20s, and many of the supporting characters are in a rock band. If I was going for age and professional appropriateness alone, it probably would have sounded like "Good Will Hunting." Instead, the two occasions where "that word" appears are when the characters are under extreme emotional pressure. In the first instance, one of the main character's friends has learned some information about his parents that is, um, evil. That they are hip-deep in some pretty completely unethical behavior, and that his friends are actively opposing them on this. I could see no other sentence than the one I wrote him using that would convey the ready-to-snap tension this produced in his life. Anything else would not have conveyed what the situation did to him. The other instance is towards the end of the book, and to describe it directly would give away some of the plot points. Suffice it to say that one of the people the main character loves the most in this world is in extreme danger. Again, lots of emotional stress here. I tried the alternatives, and they all sounded wrong. They all sounded like someone who was trying not to use bad language, and I didn't think that my main character at that moment would really care whether he said a word his momma wouldn't like to hear from him. I used this word when it was not only authentic to do so, but also inauthentic not to.

In my previous two books, the main characters were such that it wouldn't matter what you did to them, they wouldn't say the word my mother objected to. They were suburban junior high kids in the "smart kid" crowd. If they say "dammit," you know something is really seriously wrong. But I couldn't see that "dammit" would convey the same shocked intensity from either of my 20-something male characters who worked in a dance club.

I don't believe that there are any words that are too bad to use -- well, not many of them, anyway. But some words only work if you use them sparingly. The extreme emotional tension of my characters would not have been conveyed with my word choice above if I'd done the "Good Will Hunting" route. In my original draft, there were probably half a dozen more instances that seemed natural to the characters, but in which something else seemed equally natural. When I could, I changed it. But there is no word that is too vile to use in the right context. None. Certainly not that one. If I had to pick one four-letter word that I wouldn't ever use, it would have nothing to do with sex. It would have to do with ethnicity and begin with a k. (I really hope that there are some of you going, "Four letter ethnic slur beginning with k? What's that?" That would make me very happy. I don't think it's going to happen, though.) But I can even see a reason to use that in a book, although I hope I never have to. Hmm. In that case, I'll probably actively avoid having to. But the rest of this book was worth writing and interesting, and I don't think it would be worth making these two characters into other people just to avoid having them use one word.

I think for some parts of my parents' generation, this is a word that, if you use it, you are showing off. You're proving something: that you are daring enough, that you are intense or "hard-core" enough. (I have no idea how many people of my parents' generation use "hard-core" in that context. Probably not many, though.) For better or worse, I don't think it's like that any more. While I think some SF editors would raise an eyebrow at publishing "Good Will Hunting In Space" or the equivalent, I don't think most of them will notice whether that particular word is used or how many times, as long as it's not constantly. I would be more surprised if a publisher told me to excise the two instances than if a publisher told me to stick some more in. I tried to structure the characters so that they could be who they were without having that be "necessary." We'll see if it worked.

You notice that I haven't been spelling the words out here. As I said at the very beginning, this is "a family site." Timprov says of his site, "That means my parents read it." True. That's not all of it, though. For one thing, I'm quite aware that anyone in the world could stumble upon this site and read it; for another thing, I know that there are various filters that disallow content on different grounds that don't take context into account. One of Liz's readers couldn't read her journal at work because one of her titles for the day contained three X's in a joking fashion, referring to spam. The entry itself was not at all X-rated. But filters are very difficult to convince of such reasonable things.

On a totally different note...Timprov insists that the half-pipe is not an Olympic sport. David was also talking to me about Olympic sports that had "too much judging" in them. I don't know. I really don't object to much in the Olympics. Rhythmic dance? Yeah, go for it, if you want. I probably won't watch, but I don't watch basketball, either. Synchronized swimming? Be my guest. Hand out medals galore. Speed walkers? Why not? If they wanted to have a balletic obstacle course, with leaps and pliés required, fine by me. I watch the stuff that I think is fun to watch, and that's really my only criterion. I don't think it dilutes the value of a gold in the downhill to have medals awarded in other physical events. If they started into the sixty-minute novel-edit, I might object...if I didn't go into training....

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