Monday, February 27, 2012

Minding your Ps and Qs

I write for adults. I always have. Don’t get me wrong, I like children’s books. I got a kick out of Treasure Island, enjoyed The Hobbit (yes, it’s a children’s book; get over it), attended my seven years at Hogwarts, and love Carlos Ruiz-Zafón’s early novels. I’d even like to take a stab at the genre one day. It’s one of the few places where you can really let your imagination  run wild. But the themes and stories I’m interested in exploring as a writer are mainly for a mature audience. In the case of Sleeper’s Run, I doubt there are many kids, tweens or teens interested in politics, history, economics, etc.
Every now and then, I get a reviewer complaining about the book’s strong language. Mind you, these are grownups. And sure, we can make the case for different sensibilities, religious leanings, conservative views and so on. I get it. But to me, “bad words”  are words as well. They are in common usage, you find them in the dictionary, and like or not, they are a form of communication. Are they a valid form of communication in every single instance? Of course not. The way I talk when I’m with a group of male friends  at a bar is different than the way I express myself at a dinner party with my wife. This applies to both genders, by the way. A woman can be very eloquent at work and then curse like a sailor when she lets her hair down over a few martinis with the girls;  it's not a case of hypocrisy but propriety.
Now, if we look at it from a writer’s perspective, it’s a case of honesty. Part of a fiction author’s job is to create characters. These guys can have points of views in line with the writer or be as far removed from his own experience. For example,  if I were writing a story about racism, I’d have to get inside the mind of a racist. I need to try to justify their believes, understand where they are coming from, and portray them as real people. Sure, I could do what other writers do and turn that character  into a caricature, ie. “I have a bastard’s degree from evil university.” But that’s not my style. Characters should be judged by their deeds, not a mediocre portrayal.

The language issue as it pertains to Sleeper’s Run is no different. Eric Caine comes from the military; he’s a combat veteran. If you read or watch any account about those guys, then you’ll know how they communicate with each other. The use of curse words,  racist slurs, homosexual (or homophobic) references is common and blatant. So if some of my characters use colorful language under certain circumstances, it is not because of lack of eloquence on my part or an infantile need to shock my readers. I just strive  to be accurate and realistic within a fiction framework. And no, the language on the book is not as strong as suggested above. Also, for most of the narrative, you’re inside Eric’s head, which means you get to see his unfiltered train of thought. There’s a  difference between what may happen inside your head and how that content is edited for verbal expression.

I spent years working on Sleeper’s Run. There’s a reason behind everything that went on the page, and that includes how and why the characters express themselves. Nothing in my work is random.
Keep on running!

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