When I’m not writing, I’m often reading. There are so many incredibly talented authors out there that I consider the local Barnes and Noble to be a writer’s university. New ideas about composition, character development, point of view, and the other aspects of telling a good story occur to me while reading someone else’s good work.
I never deliberately copy another writer’s style or incorporate elements of a novel I read into a novel I write. I just expect that what I read and what I write will sort of mix in my subconscious and give me a richer palette the next time I set out to paint a story.
Lately, some of what I’ve been reading has taught me something that I have resolved not to do. Ever.
Mark the date and save this text. I will never use foul, crude, disgusting language or create explicit images of sex or graphic violence.
That statement probably doesn’t surprise people who know me personally or even just know a lot about me. I was raised in a family and culture where purity of thought, speech and action are moral issues.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m far from perfect. In fact, those same people who know me know I’m so far from perfection I couldn’t see it with the Hubble Space Telescope.
Here is a surprise for you, though. My values and beliefs are just part of the reason I won’t write from the gutter. The main motivation is something much more worldly.
I want people to buy my books. I want them to read one and then go out and buy all of the other ones. I want them to tell all of their friends about the great new writer they discovered.
The question I have asked and answered is this: Who is more likely to be offended, the reader who has to wade through prose that she finds offensive or the one who is disappointed that the book doesn’t include a good sex scene?
For hundreds of years, authors found ways to write about every aspect of life. Any fundamental conflict, tense or romantic situation, or other intense scene that a modern writer describes with crude language has a similar version written with clean, carefully chosen words.
My first novel, “The James Miracle,” includes a horrible car accident, several heated arguments and tense family scenes.
“Christmas Jars” is about an abandoned baby who grows up to lose the woman who raised her. She is robbed, cheated, betrayed and suffers another terrible personal loss.
The siblings in “The Wednesday Letters” argue and reconcile and deal with the death of their parents without saying anything much cruder than “Shut up”. The book includes other intense scenes and physical confrontations that might have been “easier” to describe had I used vulgarity.
“Recovering Charles” manages — with polite language — to describe three romantic relationships, several arguments, and the death and destruction that Katrina inflicted on New Orleans.
My most recent novel, “The Seventeen Second Miracle,” deals with teenagers, tragedy, family heartbreak and more. Yet I didn’t hesitate when my 11-year-old wanted to read the manuscript.
There is obviously a market for R-rated books and I have nothing against those who write them. But this writer hopes to make a living sticking with PG material. I trust my readers to use my words to build mental images that they find appropriate. I’m certainly not the only “clean” writer in the industry, but, if I were, that would be OK with me.
What do you think? Am I a prude pushing my standards on my readers? Have you ever put down a book because it was too vulgar? Too clean? I’d love to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org.