Thursday, April 14, 2011

Context

Because I grew up in a home full of language I think I have a higher tolerance for it than most people.  I don’t appreciate hearing it or reading it and would rather avoid it altogether if I could but it is a fact of life.  Some people use language.  It is what it is. 

However!

Frivolous sprinkling of language for the sake of shock value has no place in entertainment period. 

I’ve been to the library again.  I picked up a book that I have always been interested in based on the title alone.  Yeah, I gave up after 59 pages after only encountering the F-bomb once.  I went on Goodreads to read the reviews of this book.  All my friends’ reviews came up first.  High ratings.  I think the lowest I saw was a 3 star rating (out of 5) and it was because of the sex and language.  In fact, everyone mentioned the language in their review.  One review said the F-word gets worse as the story continues.  I was done with the book before I read the reviews but that one sealed the deal for me. 

This is my opinion of language.  It has to fit.  I read The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf.  There was language.  Not too much but kind of a lot.  The F-bomb was in there too.  It was used sparingly, like maybe two or three times total.  The thing is it fit.  It fit the character and it definitely fit the scene – a drunken, abusive rage.  The word gave me a physical reaction similar to how I felt when my father used the word in a situation not unlike the scene in the book.  He also reserved the word for “special moments.”  It made it that much more powerful.  This is why when I encountered the word today standing in as a shock value way to express the phrase messed up I was done reading.  It didn’t fit.  It was inappropriate and for all the other garbage I had read in less than 60 pages the author has sealed her reputation in my mind as one who doesn’t trust her writing skills.  It’s too bad because everyone raves about the storyline, in the book as well as the movie based on it.  It all could have been told without the gratuitous sex and excessive use of language. 

Cinderella Ate My Daughter was not a squeaky clean book either.  But the language and imagery she used fit.  It furthered the story to help prove her point.  Could Peggy Orenstein have used different words to illustrate her point?  Yes she could have.  I guess what made me ok with her word use in the book was that she wasn’t adding anything.  No extra adjectives to shock or amuse.  She was blunt.  Plain and simple.  The language told the story.  It was the story.  It’s all about context. 

I have taken people off my blog roll for their excessive use of language so forcible it almost doesn’t make sense.  I realize that curse words replace a variety of parts of speech but let’s not push it.  I remember a moment where my dad was so upset about an alarm clock of all things.  I won’t repeat what he said but I remember turning to hide my smile even though I was in another room and he couldn’t see me.  I thought, “Wow.  You have officially run out of words.”  When one has to invent suffixes for curse words to have it fit the meaning they’re trying to portray and it still doesn’t make sense, well, that’s just really sad. 

There is a plethora of words to choose from and nowadays you don’t even have to consult a dictionary or thesaurus.  Just type in a word in a search engine and go nuts.  By the way, this is a great way to learn how to spell too.  One particular blogger I took off my blog roll baffles me.  This person claims to be a professional advocating for others.  I don’t see how anyone can take this person seriously when he/she/it never proofreads anything before publishing.  Misspellings galore and language that would make a sailor blush.  I don’t want to be represented by someone like that.  And I’m certainly not going to potentially point traffic to that kind of site.  So it’s a blog but it can still be professional.  In this case it should be more professional since this person blogs about his/her/its profession and advocacy. 

Back to the book I refuse to finish . . . it was the author’s first novel.  I hate to say it but I can tell.  Why do first timers have to punctuate with abusive language to get an audience?  And the sex scenes!  Wow!  Sex in books can either be tastefully done (If Only it Were True by Marc Levy) or it can be porn for women (The Time Traveler’s Wife).  Did you see the episode of Friends where Joey read Rachel’s book then teased her about reading porn?  It’s true.  Men like to see it women like to read about it.  Sex has to be in context too in a book and this book was over the top even though it was about a husband and wife.  Come on!  I have much better things to do than read filthy smut.  I don’t read often so I want to be dazzled, entertained, and inspired by what I read.  Writing is such a beautiful way to tell a story.  Trust your story enough to write it well. 

4 thoughts:

Dawn said...

As a librarian in a middle school I find it more and more difficult to find books with language that is appropriate. I know that most of the students here and many of them use those types of words are a regular bases but I hate to see them in print. I use to pride myself in not abandoning books but I can no longer say that. In the past year I have given up on several young adult novels because of the language, sex and violence. While I believe in intellectual freedom I am not convinced it includes smut. I know I am making a value judgment based on my moral values but it is part of my job and I have to do the best I can. Are there books in my library with swear words? Yes. Would I want my grandchildren to read every book in my library? No. I do the best I can to keep a balance but I would not mind going back to the days where Clark Gable’s one swear word in Gone With the Wind caused such a stir.

Ray Colon said...

Hi Tristan,

That's the problem with cursing for me - even when it fits it doesn't fit. As a young person, I did my share of it, but that phase faded quickly. I rarely find myself speaking that way and language cannot be found in my writing. I'm more tolerant with its use in fiction, but even that I could do without.

Ah spelling. Not my strong suit. I can usually spot a misspelled word, but oddly, that doesn't mean that I know how to correct it. Dictionary.com is always open in a browser tab when I'm writing. Sometimes, when I am reading old posts to select one for spotlighting I find an error and it makes me cringe.

The use of language is a net minus. There have been times where I've read a witty tweet but didn't retweet it because of language. Prudish? Maybe, but I feel that that other person's language would reflect poorly on me if I passed it along.

Ray

The Piquant Storyteller said...

Dawn,

I think hearing swearing is different from reading it. I don't know why. I don't envy your job of having to find reasonable books for your library. It's too bad that so many authors are taking the cheap and easy way out with their language choices because they are too lazy to find an alternative.

The Piquant Storyteller said...

Ray,

I use online dictionaries when I write too. I have to check the definitions to make sure I'm using the word correctly and also to check spelling. Usually Live Writer catches my mistakes but sometimes my misspelling is another word spelled correctly so I try to double check. But I do miss things and see it after I post!

I admire you for not passing on tweets that contain language you don't support. If you're a prude then I am too!