On Writing; language

Language is important. Words are important. That is why you can’t remove any of them from your potential toolbox. The object of fiction isn’t correctness but to tell the reader a story. As King says, ‘If you intend to write as truthfully as possible, your days as a member of polite society are numbered’.

I was watching a panel discussion recently in which someone asked the question, ‘when is it ok to say the word nigga?’

The panel hummed and hawed and eventually said that it was never ok to say it or even to write it. Trouble is, these were writers.

Let’s take the word nigga for example. I don’t know any more emotionally charged word. Cunt, perhaps comes a distant second, maybe tying with paedophile.

Why would you want to lose the potential emotional impact such a word might bring to your work? Please understand here, I’m not saying you should replace every other word with it and call your new opus Shakespeare. I’m saying that you can include it if you think it’s appropriate.

Maybe you’re writing a racist character. What better way to cement your readers discomfort than to have them say it in a casual manner?

There is an argument that you, as a creative type can create some other word to use. Sure you can. ‘Mandingo’ was invented to add another layer of horror to southern plantation life. This is all well and good, but unless you communicate the meaning of this new word your audience isnt going to get it.

When I was training for my teaching degree one instructor was looking over my weeks planning and said, “you don’t write enough in your plans. Why use one word when you could use seven?”

Because using superfluous words often hampers the impact of writing and can muddy the waters enormously. Language is about communicating, so communicate in the most efficient manner possible.



Remember, I’m looking at this from the point of view of language. This is not a declaration to incite a race war and gas the kikes.

See that feeling you just got from reading the word? I don’t know what it was, but you had one. Good, I wanted you to have a reaction.

The impulse behind political correctness is a good one; no one wants to be an arsehole. But like every good impulse it can be grotesquely distorted beyond usefulness – such as when people decide to scrub a word from their own vocabulary.

I’m going to quote George Carlin here, because I think he sums it up very nicely. ‘Remember, these are the white elitists in their customary paternalistic role: protecting helpless, inept minority victims. Big Daddy White Boss always knows best.’ And CS Lewes said something very similar; ‘Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies.’

But yes, this is about words. Words, as I said earlier, are important.

A lot of word policing comes from liberal-guilt and the fear off offense. Well, if you want people to get offended and have strong emotional reactions to things characters in your book say and do, then why would you hack away a tool that helps you do that?

Banning words makes them attractive. It makes them taboo. If you need any further evidence that people are attracted to taboo things then just look at the popularity of incest plotlines in the last decade.

Now, this is not a commentary – or at least it’s not supposed to be – on the use of the word nigga or who is allowed to use it in daily speech. I’m talking about writing and nothing else. If you want to walk up to a black police officer and say it then be my guest.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s