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Posts tagged ‘Q & A’

Home is swear the words are…or is it?

Twice on Facebook this week I wanted to “share” clever posts that I thought my friends would appreciate. I could have borrowed the posts without attributing the source but as a writer, I’m used to giving other people’s words due  credit. But…and this is a big but….both posts were under Facebook names I felt could offend some of my friends. One poster’s name included the F-word. The other posted under a name I didn’t want linked with my books.

A trap to avoid in the media is attaching someone else’s negative words to yourself.

When doing media interviews, I’ve trained myself to avoid repeating a question in such a way that the content attaches itself to me. For instance, a TV journalist once asked me if romance novels glorify rape. If I’d said, “No, I don’t think they glorify rape and here’s why…” the ugly words would have become mine. Far better to say, “I don’t agree, and here’s why…” We saw a master at work when Prime Minister Julia Gillard appeared on the ABC’s Q & A program this week. When host, Tony Jones, put what I’d call loaded questions to the PM, she answered as I’ve suggested, not repeating his words but giving the answer she wanted attached to her.

The same applies to Facebook. Had I shared the posts under the problem names, the names would have linked to me wherever they went from there on. From the responses to my post on the question, I wasn’t alone. The authors using the names have limited the number of shares they’ll receive, and their potential influence on social media.

Some people simply won’t care.

Just as many people take swearing in their stride, but as a writer, you need to consider your audience. As much as half the sales of my novels come from the United States of America. Many romance readers live in an area of the country informally called the Bible Belt. Wikipedia says this area  consists of much of the southern states extending west into Texas and Oklahoma. It’s a conservative  region where Christian church attendance and beliefs are notably high. It also comprises almost a third of the continental United States.

Do you really want to offend a third of your potential readers

Many books ago I challenged myself to let characters express their feelings without using words some readers may have a problem with. Naturally, you can’t have a big hunky hero hit his thumb with a hammer and say, “Oh bother, that hurt.” But I can show his pain and annoyance in other ways, through his reactions and body language. Showing is always better than telling IMO. In my Carramer books, set in a fictitious south-sea island kingdom, I invented my own language. In every case, I achieved the same result as if my characters had sworn, without alienating a good chunk of my readership.

Writing is about use of language. Challenge yourself to be inventive.

As writers we may never fully master our use of the English language. But as the saying goes, shoot for the moon. You may not reach your goal but you’ll still land among the stars.

Do you find swearing a challenge? How do you handle it in your writing?


2012 Established Writer in Residence Katharine Susannah Prichard Centre Perth

Friend of the National Year of Reading 2012

On Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook (without swearing)


If you’re happy and you know it…write it down

The last week in politics has been truly extraordinary, not least because the long-anticipated leadership challenge finally happened, but because – as a commentator on the ABC’s Q & A pointed out – we were treated to an honesty we haven’t seen in political life  for a long time. Politicians the likes of Anthony Albanese showed their feelings to an almost uncomfortable extent. Even Prime Minister Julia Gillard let her red hair down and her personality shine through. We weren’t just told what these people believed, we saw it for ourselves.

There’s a lesson here for writers.

However uncomfortable it may be, it’s vital to get your feelings out onto the page if you are to connect with readers. You’ve heard the maxim “show, don’t tell,” but what does it mean in terms of this connection?

Like the politicians this week, we must see for ourselves, not only what your characters are going through, but how it makes them feel. What do your characters believe in? What will they accept – or not accept? Why? Above all, we need to know why. What in their history and life experiences explains why they believe as they do? How do they act as a result?

 Recently we experienced the fourth anniversary of Kevin Rudd’s historic apology to the aboriginal people for the annexation of this country by what were then outsiders arriving here by ship. For many years I believed I had no part in this debate because I came to Australia as a migrant from England. Then it dawned on me that many of my ancestors came from the same part of England as Captain Cook, a Yorkshireman. How could I be sure that none of my forebears had served with him, playing a role in those early events? I couldn’t and suddenly I understood where I fitted into that puzzle.  On their behalf and my own I made an unreserved apology to the aboriginal people a full ten years before the parliamentary version. Putting my feelings out there in an article published in the Sydney Morning Herald was tough. Despite everything I’d written, I wasn’t used to putting my personal feelings on the page, but the cause was sufficient that I made the effort. And it felt good.

I’m sure the politicians who shared their real feelings this last week felt the same. Without spin, without hype, they showed us who they really were. I did the same in my article. That was a lightbulb moment for me and my future writing. Ever since, I’ve tried to dig for those feelings and share them through my characters. I may not always succeed as well as I’d like to, but it’s important to keep  trying.

Sharing your feelings is hard. As someone once said, it can feel like sitting down at the keyboard and opening a vein. You bleed with your characters. But you also celebrate with them, laugh with them, cry with them, sometimes die with them. And you write more truthfully as a result. Just as we voters knew truth when we heard it this week and when I reached my own epiphany, your readers will recognise when you are writing honestly. So next time you’re tapping away at the keyboard and find yourself laughing, getting turned on, or with tears running down your face, take it as a sign that you’re connecting with your readers on a deep emotional level. They’re no longer reading about your characters, they’re sharing the experiences, exactly as it should be.

Have you ever had an emotional experience while writing? How did it affect the end result? Share by making a comment below.


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