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)