I believe saying what you mean is one of the most difficult things a writer – especially a ‘new’ writer has to face and overcome.
A writer could easily be accused of being afraid by not writing what they really mean and there again just as easily criticised for saying what is in their heart. Have you been ever been so worried that you get sweaty under your armpits, your pulse is racing, you experience a dry mouth, or the urge to get up and go to the bathroom?! You want to be anywhere else, doing something completely difficult than writing the truth!
Or by facing anything else becomes preferable to facing the words on the page, because the words on the page are about to get up and challenge you. You have two choices: be honest with yourself or not. And what choices they are too! I try my hardest to always say what I mean and often this has all the appeal of undressing in public. Writers often live in abject terror of saying what they really mean. They will, under most circumstances, choose to waffle, squirm; take the easy way out.
The easiest example to give and probably the most used is when death faces us. Look through newspapers, magazines or television and almost all examples of lines either written or spoken mention ‘ she’s left us, a tragedy, she’s gone, he’s passed away, his spirit lives on.’ Never once do you see or hear the bald words, “He’s dead.” We all know death is uncomfortable and we all know we’re going to die and it is something we prefer not to think about and it is unnerving. Coming back to writing, it isn’t usually a matter of life or death, though, is it?
Let’s say I’m working on my book, and one of the characters is loosely based on my next door neighbour, who besides being obese, smelly and detestable also happens to be an alcoholic lesbian, who kicks cats around. BUT she makes a fantastic character in my book except that I know if she ever reads what I’ve written, she’s going to know I have written about her, and she’s going to be furious. Visions of being sued appear before my eyes.
Then what about the readers who object to my use of the word ‘obese or just plain fat?’ Never mind that my neighbour weighs over four hundred pounds and she does NOT have a glandular problem—I am going to have readers tell me that I shouldn’t have called her ‘fat.’ Differently sized, maybe. Well, well. And then there’s the problem with her sexuality; being a lesbian—maybe I’ve heard her call herself a dyke, but if I called her a dyke in my book, I swear I can hear the chainsaws revving up pretty damn quick. ‘Dyke’ is a word that I can’t use unless I’m one, isn’t that correct? So now it boils down to making some hard choices. They aren’t life or death, but what I decide is going to determine whether I have a story written with integrity (see my earlier blog post ‘Writing with Integrity’) and passion or something that won’t offend anybody, by not telling the truth.
Another example (and I can already hear some of you complaining).Where did the title ‘differently abled’ come from? Is it really an appropriate synonym for ‘crippled,’ or that ‘appearance-challenged’ is a better use of the English language than ‘ugly.’ If you truly believe this then I’m not making myself understood.
We are all different on this planet. Honest! We are not actually one colour: black, white, red or yellow. In fact we are various shades of brown, and genetically we are close to each other. But we are not all the same. We are obese and skinny and spotty we are canny and foolish, geniuses and retards; we are straight and queer and everything in between; we are sick and healthy; we are tall and short; we are moral and immoral, good and evil; we are honest and we are liars. We come in two sexes, male and female, and neither sex is inherently better or purer or nobler than the other. Some women are smarter than some men, some men are smarter than some women, and changing the English language to censor any admission of this is not going to change the facts. Nor is it going to change the fact that my neighbour is fat and stinks, or that she’s a rude, self-centred, demanding woman who thinks the world owes her something because she’s a lesbian and can’t keep a decent job for long. She is who she is—a person and an individual. And if you try to sugar-coat your words to keep from offending people who are looking for the chance to be offended, you are going to end up losing everything about her that makes her such an interesting character.
So please, say what you mean. We are writers, craftsmen and we’re not cowards. Lies or weasel words are for people who cannot face up to the fact that life is not fair, and is never going to be fair.
Weasel words are for people who want to tell everyone else what they can and cannot think. If these people can control all those thoughts, the world will turn into a place where everyone is the same as everyone else. By that it will appear colourless, genderless, sexless, passive, obedient, and inoffensive. In other words by calling shit faeces then it will not stink. But actually it still does.
Men are different from women, and those differences are both normal and good. Men are full of testosterone, and that testosterone makes men aggressive. But that aggression is channelled into the creative drives that have given us some of the world’s best architecture, literature and art, and have created in men a sense of honour, passion and courage. Women are full of oestrogen, which can make us bitchy, but it can also be channelled into creative drives of great literature and art, and women give birth to children and the world’s next generations. Families are good, sex is nice, and parenthood is vital and rewarding. People are fascinating, challenging, diverse, awful, amazing, complex, and colourful. Don’t be afraid to admit this, say what you mean.
We as human beings are worth knowing and worth writing about because we are all different. That is the beauty of humanity and we have made our stand based on who we are. Not who we wished we were, not who the censors demanded that we pretend we were… but who we are. Write the words that tell your story, even if they hurt.
Take a stand, walk away from the weasel words, admit that death waits for you at the end of your life, call your character short or fat or skinny or stupid or ugly or perverted. But above all tell the truth! Don’t be ashamed and hide the truth. Say what you mean.
Thanks for reading this and don't forget the Indiebookblowout going on now until the 24th December. There's some great books featured on there!