Yves Brown McClain: Literary Fierceness

Writer Wednesday: Killing your story softly #1

Posted by Dahlia on August 3, 2011

I’ve been a writer for as long as I can remember. However, I’m a reader first. I love reading books as much I enjoy writing them. I have found from both the reader’s and writer’s perspective that there are things an author can do to a book that could place it in urgent care, ICU, or just flat out kill it altogether. Based on feedback from both writers and readers the Killing Your Story Softly (KYSS) Series was born. So, you ready? LEGGO!
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KYSS #1: The Half-A** Committment
Say you smash your toe into the wall, burn your hand on the stove, break your acrylic fingernail right across the nailbed. If you’re like me with a bit of a cussing spirit (maybe a lot), what’s your reaction? I’ll tell you what it ain’t… “Oh, S!”
I once read a book where boyfriend and girlfriend are having a heated argument. Girlfriend finally has enough of boyfriend’s mess and says…”F*** you!”
Seriously?
No, for real…where’s the rest of the word?
I kid you not, that’s really how it was written.
So, what the f*** is up with censoring the words? It’s a novel, not a live performance on CBS. The FCC isn’t going to come after you for spelling the whole word out. I was really bothered by that. It wasn’t a serious enough blow for me to put the book down, but I proceeded reading with caution.
My thing is if you’re not going to commit fully to whatever you’re putting in the story, be it strong language, action sequences, steamy sex scenes, whatever, then just don’t put it in. This is where the come correct or not at all rule comes into play. There are workarounds and alternatives if you’re not comfortable. However, censoring the word in print isn’t one of them because people who use profanity don’t talk and think in asterisks. I consider this a dialogue fail in the story. The author “bleeping” out the f-bomb wasn’t necessary. There had to be another way to effectively show how fed up the female character was.
Now maybe it’s just my cussing spirit, but if one of my characters is going to say it, you best believe you’re going to get all four letters on the page. Or all five, eight or maybe even all 12 letters if the scene calls for it and it’s in the character’s nature. Now, this doesn’t mean every three words should be a s, d, or f. Not every character likes to get his/her cuss on. Too much strong language can kill a story, too. Perhaps it’s taboo for the genre. (Now we know there are five-year-olds out there that can cuss you under the table and probably chew so much Dial they burp, hiccup, and fart soap bubbles, but those words shouldn’t be in a picture book…sorry.) The writer has to determine the appropriateness of strong language as it pertains to the story and to the character(s). If it is appropriate, go on and let him say it. All of it. Don’t hold back. Commit.
***
Now it’s your turn. My beloved readers, what things have you come across in books that have made you scratch your head or just throw the book in the garbage? For my writer peeps, what pitfalls are you avoiding so that your work will be its best effort possible? I’d like to know. Perhaps your story pet peeve will make the “KYSS of death” list. Happy writing and happy reading 🙂

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5 Responses to “Writer Wednesday: Killing your story softly #1”

  1. Mjones said

    For me, descriptions that are incredibly detailed for no apparent reason, like ‘the 1964 Chevy Impala with brown and tan exterior and leather seats and chrome accent with an evergreen tree air freshener drove down the block”. What? Though, people tend to do this with really expensive cars, because the author needs to prove to me that they know cars. Unless the car late runs someone over in the story, I don’t need to know all of that.

    The other is really unrealistic dialog, especially if every single sentence is tagged.
    “Hey, Susan,” said George. “Want to go to lunch?”
    “Sure, George,” answered Susan. “Where do you want to go?”
    “Well, Susan,” George replied. “I thought we’d go to that new cafe down the street.”
    “Sounds great, George,” Susan responded excitedly.

    *head. desk*

  2. Mike said

    Here here. I agree with you wholeheartedly. I write adult fiction for adults so I have no problem with just putting the words down on a page. My inspirations are George R.R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, and others who do the same. I appreciate YA and MG…but you will not catch me writing the squeaky clean stuff nor reading it much. I’m a 40 year-old-man and want meatier fare in my books.

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