Thursday 14 May 2009

Revisiting the Right Stuff

Brace yourself. This is definitely one publisher's opinion
piece. If you're an author over the age of 50, then you'll
understand the points in this article, but if you're younger
than 50, you may not have a clue or be able to relate to
anything said here. ::Sigh::

Revisiting the right stuff. What is the right stuff?

There was a time when our vocabularies were more widely used in
our writing. (I do not speak of five dollar words here, but
common words used to vary sentences.) However, many of the books
today reflect a disease I call Hollywood-itis. This disease
encompasses using profanity in every other word of dialogue, or
nearly so. Even many of our cartoons use inappropriate language
and thus have become much less funny and some of them downright
distasteful. Most of our current TV commercials are appallingly
stupid, insulting anyone with even one side of their brain
working and the other side dead. There is such a thing as
producing something so stupid it's really not funny. It's
pathetic. Have I ever purchased anything after watching one of
those idiotic commercials? No. Never.

Many of the book signings and conferences I attend and
participate in become great forums for hearing what the buying
public wants. I constantly hear from people buying books that
they are sick to death of filthy language, among other things.
Many ask me about such content in my books before they'll buy
and I don't blame them for asking. I'm glad they do. Many of
them tell some of the books they've bought are not only
offensive, but distracting. It yanks them right out of the

"Oh, but our culture has changed," some of you shout at me.
"Our dialogue wouldn't sound real unless we incorporate trash
language into our writing."


Clear, concise writing and wordsmithing does not depend on
profanity for its success.

"You are moralizing!" someone just shouted at me. I can hear
you. Call it what you want. The fact is liberal profanity in any
written work lacks class and intellect in the rendering. Good
writers get their point across without the heavy overuse of it.
You have only to read the classics to know the truth of this.
They are still classics. Gee, I wonder why? Does it really take
a genius to figure this out?

I once received a young adult submission that was so chock full
of profanity, which is the way many young people speak today,
that I insisted the author make revisions or it wouldn't be
acceptable for publication in my company. Her argument was that
the dialogue wouldn't sound real. Again I say nonsense. Do you
mean to tell me that if a young person is reading a book full of
exciting, active words showing them a story they're really
getting into, that they miss hearing the filth? If it's a good
book, chances are those young readers won't miss what's not
there, but they will read and enjoy what IS there. If they can't
enjoy a book without that sort of language, then what does that
say for their upbringing, their mindset and education? Not a
great deal to recommend it, I'd say. How much of that stuff are
they hearing at home? This has become another facet of the
breakdown of our education in America. But that's a whole other

Authors, you have the opportunity to "Revisit the Right Stuff"
in your books. Show readers how really talented you are at
crafting a wonderful, memorable book that won't have to be
packaged in a plain brown wrapper and hidden from your children
or your grandmother. Encourage all your author friends to use
active verbs and engaging scenes in their works. Encourage all
authors you know into getting back to CLASS writing. If you're
showing anger, show it, don't shout it at the reader in the form
of disgusting profanity to get your point across. Give your
characters enough dialogue and animation to show us they are
angry or in a rage. In today's environment, this is a challenge
to many of you. Step up to it. Show us your right stuff.

The Exceptions

I envision a lot of tongues in cheeks out there at this point,
so let me further clarify. When I speak of disgusting profanity,
I am not talking about the occasional damn or hell used in
dialogue. Those expletives do not conjure up demeaning or sexual
images in a reader's mind and they are as common as apple pie. A
helpmate to blowing off steam. One still does not have to use
expletives, but these are far less distracting and offensive to
a reader than some of the other profane words, which I will not
mention here for obvious reasons. You've all heard and read

On the other side of the coin are authors and readers who tell
me they are not bothered by foul language in books. Fine, but
there are far more people who are, and why should we authors not
try to write our very best for them instead of turning them off
reading altogether? I've seen this happen too many times and
it's heartbreaking; it's also damaging to the industry as a
whole. People won't buy books, if they no longer read for the
sheer want of quality books.

I'm not saying books have to be syrupy sweet. Not by any means.
In certain suspense and thrillers, profane words occasionally
spoken by the villain or antagonist can be sometimes tolerated,
even by the most prudish reader, because those awful characters
would most likely speak that way. But the key word here is
occasionally. It is unnecessary to overuse foul language, even
in our dastardly characters. Hone your vocabulary, instead, to
draw your villain well without all that. However, your heroes
and heroines will rarely use profanity or they won't sound like
heroes and heroines.

One of the exceptions might be if a hero is about to be shot
full of holes. He wouldn't say "Oh, shucky darn," would he? No,
so let's be realistic here. In my thriller NIGHT FREEZE, the
word my main character uses as an expletive appears only once in
the entire book, and it's not the "F" word. Even my extremely
warped serial killer comes across as one scary dude without my
using a lot of profanity. A challenge to write indeed, but it
can be done. As a publisher and senior editor I long to see
higher quality writing that took some real thought, some real
blood, sweat and tears To make it the right stuff.

About The Author: Lee Emory is an author of ten novels,
numerous short stories and articles, who is also a professional
editor for 40 years. She is the owner of/Senior Editor for
Treble Heart Books Publishing. Lee teaches writing workshops and
speaks at numerous writers' conferences. Visit or email [email protected]
to learn more.

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