Tag Archives: language

A Problem with Profanity

So there’s another problem with the draft.

Maaaybe less of a problem and more of a quandary, if the difference is anything more than semantic.

It’s a problem with language.  A quandary of character.

See, I created this antagonist to be a real bastard.  And to be fair, I think I’ve been successful.  He’s a total jerkface.  A real knee-biter.  Virtually unlikable to everybody in the book except for one, and that one only tolerates him out of some twisted past business relationship… the details don’t matter.  He’s a doodie head.

And I absolutely, 100% believe that each character an author creates is, in some small way or another, an aspect of the author himself (or herself).  I just don’t think there’s any getting around that — pour your heart and soul into the work and, well, you end up with a work that’s full of your heart and your soul, perhaps more literally than you planned.  And this guy is probably me on a morning when the alarm failed to go off and the car door handle broke and the traffic is outrageous and I forgot my badge for work and then I get to work and it turns out to be Saturday.  He’s a grouch and a grump and he snaps at the word go and a big part of what makes him so nasty is that he’s as foul-mouthed as a dog that’s been flossing with roadkill.

And there’s the problem.

No, that’s not the problem.  The language works for the character.  It fits him like a tailored suit.  The problem is, I don’t know if the language fits the book.  And that brings me back to audience.

I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m not sure I know who my audience is for this damn thing.  I mean, I do.  It’s people more or less like me, maybe a bit younger.  And as a reader, language doesn’t bother me.  A good profanity-laden rant is good for the soul, and let’s be honest, as much as it amuses me to toss around the sharknados and fargos on the blarg here, they’re no substitute for the real thing when real emotion is on the line.  But I’m probably not most readers.  Maybe it’s a bit cart-before-the-horse, but I’m really worried that the profanity, appropriate as it is for the character, and fun as it is for me to write (and read), is going to alienate potential readers.

So there’s the quandary.  There’s nothing wrong with the character as far as the narrative is concerned (at least, as far as I can tell at this point in the edit), and yet I feel like his harshness might be wrong for the story.  Which, then, is more important — an authentic character or a more widely-appealing story?  Do I scale back his jerk-facery in favor of making him a little bit less off-putting?  Do I think up alternate ways to make the character unlikable? Plant some puppies in his path for him to stomp on, send him to bars to abuse the waitstaff, have him drive really slow in the fast lane?  Or do I leave him just the way he is , potential offended readers be damned?

Nothing to do for the moment, I suppose, but throw it on the pile for Further Future Me to sort through and decide on later.


Why I Like “Like”

This post is part of SoCS:http://lindaghill.wordpress.com/2014/06/20/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-june-2114/

Trying something a bit different here, a non-fiction based prompt from another blog.  The topic?  Write about the word “like”.

Well, there’s a lot to like about “like”.  The straightforwardest (yep) and simplest is the fact that “like” is used to build similes, which are like the connective tissue holding the loose clunky bits of your prose to the solid, enduring ideas that everybody’s familiar with.  Similes are just those little bits of language where you say “this thing over here is like that other thing over there.”  They can be as simple or as complex as the situation demands, but they are infinitely adaptable and always appropriate.  In fact, I’m going to step out on a ledge here and say that the simile is perhaps the most important literary technique out there.

Why?  Because it creates inroads.  Pointing out that two essentially unlike things actually ARE alike, that they do share characteristics — whether their similarities are immediately apparent to the casual observer or not — is one of, if not the, most effective way to make the most opaque of subject matter clear to your reader.

Example?  Let’s say I took creative writing instead of calculus in college.  (This is true.)  Therefore I’m not particularly familiar with arcs and curves and the best method for calculating trajectories or … okay, I’m probably making my point perfectly about not knowing anything about calculus.  Let me try again.  Physics.  As the saying goes, I know a little about physics, enough to get me into trouble.  Say I’m trying to explain a concept in physics to somebody who knows nothing about physics.  Somebody who, for example, might prefer to watch Titanic again rather than branch out and watch something new and exciting, like Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos.  Just hypothetically speaking.  This is not a real person.  But this person’s perception of gravity, let’s say, might be that it makes objects fall down.  In a highly specific way, that’s accurate: here on Earth, gravity makes things fall down.  As far as capital “G” Gravity goes, however, that’s a horrifically simplified view.

Sharknado, I’m meandering off-point.  Let me return to the simile.  Right.  A simile allows me to explain to this person whose thinking is a bit myopic that gravity, capital “G” Gravity as it exists in the Universe, not just on Earth, is a bit like the attraction between Jack and Rose in Titanic.  Once they affect each other, they forever feel one another’s pull.  When they are close, they are nearly inseparable, but even when they are apart, each one is aware of the other’s presence, and is always trying to find a way to get back together.  Now, it’s not a perfect description of gravity by any imaginable stretch, but it’s allowed me to (hopefully) shift the way that this particular person thinks about gravity by tapping into what they know about something else.

So, similes are awesome.  They allow me to paint pictures in your head by saying for example that “the blood pooling around the dead man smelled like so many old, grimy copper pennies” or that “the colors of her eyes were blue like the bluest blue sky; endless, perfect, infinite” or, in a favorite quote of mine from Douglas Adams, that the alien ships “hung in the sky in exactly the way that bricks don’t.”  Each one lets you see one thing in another way, lets you consider my experience and my retelling of a thing, which then colors your interpretation of that thing in a way that’s perhaps different than the way you already thought about it.

Damn, that feels circular.  What I’m trying to say is that “like” is like a vicegrip — a simple tool with a thousand different applications.  “Like” is like water — you find it everywhere, always adapting, always flowing, always enriching.  “Like” is like salt: sure, you could eat without it, but would you really want to?

This has been an exercise in language analysis.  Those don’t tend to read well here on the blarg.  That’s okay, I’ve got a humdinger of a flash fiction coming in my next post.

Why “The Greatest Story Ever Told” is a Problem

Not sure I could identify the cause of it, but one way or another, I’ve found myself reading a few articles and editorials lately that deal with The Bible; specifically, adapting The Bible as literature.  Like, I read a critique of Noah, and some examination of The Ten Commandments or something, and a few others.  One thing jumped out at me: virtually all of these examinations were particularly critical of their subject matter (the adaptation of course, not The Bible) and in particular they were critical of any filmmaker’s or screenwriter’s hubris in thinking they could improve upon “The Greatest Story Ever Told”.  The quotations and capitals are mine: invariably, when this statement is invoked by a believer it’s invoked casually, nonchalantly, as if this statement is a simple matter of painfully obvious fact.

I’m not here to start debates, and I’m not here to sermonize, or the opposite of sermonize, whatever that would be.  I just like to point things out and let them clunk around the old bean, like a goat swallowing stones to aid in its digestion.  Because language is important — it’s not just the what, but the way we say things that matters — calling The Bible “The Greatest Story Ever Told” is inherently problematic. Continue reading

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