While writing How I Met Your Brother, I wrote a scene where the main character and her ex-best friend have a confrontation. In it, the ex-best friend is furious and she calls the main character a name. Due to her rage, it’s a bad name.
I wrote this post on facebook:
Moral dilemma. I’m writing an adult book instead of my usual YA–although I’m sure a lot of teen readers will read the book. I have one character angrily call someone a backstabbing whore. Is whore too strong of a word? I have so many mothers tell me that they hand my books to their twelve year old daughters without reading them first because they trust me. I’m honored, but at the same time, sometimes that sort of trust is hard to live up to. Bad characters say bad things. On the other hand, authors don’t have to put those words in their readers minds. I’m wondering if whore should be on that list. Thoughts?
I got a lot of comments ranging from, “I think it’s fine. Kids hear much worse at school.” to “You’re going to burn in someplace hot.”
Okay, I made up that last comment. Here’s a real one: Why are you having a character call another character such names? I don’t know your work, but this is a major turnoff for me. Too vitriolic.
I understand people who want clean books. I don’t swear myself, so really, I get it. I’m always telling would-be authors to avoid swearing if at all possible. Swearing limits your audience. Some people won’t read books with swearing, but no one has ever written me to say that my books could have used more cursing.
I guess I was just wondering if people considered the word ‘whore’ in the same category as swearing. Apparently many people do.
But this whole thing highlights one of the major difficulties for clean writers. Many people in the world don’t have our values. Villains especially don’t have our values. In some books, I write about characters who kill other people. I don’t condone that behavior. I’m not encouraging it. Just like I’m not encouraging anyone to call someone a backstabbing whore. If we wrote stories and pretended that everyone had our values, our stories would ring false. Plus they’d be very boring. Everyone would try to get along.
But then again, where does one draw the line of acceptability? As authors, we bend reality by the very nature of writing. We don’t write scenes where people go to the bathroom, pick their nose or flatulent. Those details aren’t needed and no one wants to read them. Do we need to put in swearing to be authentic?
Also, I can write about killing someone, and I haven’t really become a murderer. But if I swear in a book, I’ve really done it. Which is why I don’t swear in books. Well, that, and my children would never let me live it down. But is name calling the same? Where does one draw that line? Is skank acceptable but whore isn’t? Why do we have stronger reactions to some words than we do to other words that mean the same thing?
At this point you may be wondering if I decided to use the word in question or not. So here’s the truth.
Today while writing, I realized the plot needed some changes, and I cut the scene.Yep. Turns out I didn’t need to open that can of worms on Facebook at all.
So, carry on internet folks, carry on. All is well.