Thursday, January 25, 2018

Choose Your Words Carefully

In addition to writing erotic romance, I’m an avid reader. And sometimes, when my favorite authors are being slow in giving me new material, I turn to the internet to find new material.

Sometimes I hit gold – hello, Laura Kaye! – and sometimes I don’t. This week, gold was in short supply. I won’t name names, because I’m not here to jump all over other authors. And frankly, what doesn’t suit me as a reader will undoubtedly suit others. That’s the beauty of this wild and wonderful world we live in; there is something for everyone. But this particular book struck me as almost unbearably awkward. Not the premise, that was actually quite good. But the way it was written? *shudder*  There were lots of times where phrasing or word choice worked to pull me away from the story rather than pull me deeper into it, making it difficult to continue reading. For example, the use of the word ‘jism’. Cue gag reflex – this is NOT a word I want to read in a sex scene. EVER.

Though to be fair, I may be more sensitive about word choice than other readers - and don't get me started on how nuts I can be over it as a writer. I once had a week long fight with my editor over the use of the word ‘cunt’. You see, the Powers That Were at my old publisher had decreed that this was a Bad Word, only to be used in dialogue, and only by a male character. It could not appear in descriptive prose, and it could not cross the lips of a female character. It was deemed too crass, and potentially offensive. And I get the offensive bit – lots of people, especially women, dislike that word as its often used pejoratively. But here’s the thing; I chose that word for a reason, and when they told me to change it to something more acceptable like ‘pussy’? Well, I sort of had a fit about it.

Because those two words may be describing the same thing, but they are Not The Same ™. They don’t elicit the same emotion from the reader, and that was the whole point. I chose the word I did because it fit the scene, it fit how the people in the scene felt about what they were doing, and if I replaced it I was undercutting all of that. Watering it down, if you will. And I resisted – MIGHTILY.

I eventually caved, and rewrote a few sentences to fit within the guidelines and still convey what I wanted to. I wasn’t thrilled about it (a dozen years later, it still chaps my ass), but it was a good lesson for me. I figured out a way to make the publisher happy and still get across what I needed to, and things like that make one grow as an author. And I figured out that when you put your editor through hell, you send her chocolate afterwards, because really, her job is hard enough. And I learned that no matter how much I like what I’ve written, there will be people who don’t like it, and I might have to compromise to get what I ultimately want.

The author of the Awkward Book? Maybe she really felt that ‘jism’ was the best word to convey the emotion and state of mind of her characters. Maybe she felt the same way I did about the word ‘cunt’. Maybe nobody else shuddered in distaste when they read it. Who knows?

I did finish the book, though I cringed every time the J word popped up – and yes, it popped up more than once. And trigger words aside, it wasn’t a bad read. But I really hope I never see that word again, unless it’s being said by a drunk frat boy who is then immediately shamed by everyone in earshot.

I don’t think that’s too much to ask, do you?