I will keep this brief today because I'd like to have a conversation about something I have struggled with in my writing, and I’m wondering if you struggle with the same thing as a reader or writer.
Both internally- and externally-imposed.
I catch some heat now and then regarding certain phrases / words my characters use. Sometimes while I’m writing I’ll pause, back-up, and delete the potentially offensive phrase, knowing I could one day hear an earful over it. But usually, I put it back in, because I want my characters to be their real, raw, honest selves, warts and all. Some characters will even do the work for me, censoring what they say (but not what they think). I want them to feel real, to act and sound like people readers might know in real life.
As a young child, I was the poster kid for diarrhea of the mouth. I babbled constantly. I can’t tell you how often I was held inside at recess as punishment for chatting in class. But by the time I hit junior high, I grew quiet. I began to censor myself. A lot. I censored myself so much I think the parents of my first real boyfriend believed I was mute. In college, I rarely voluntarily spoke in class. I’m not sure if it was shyness, fear of looking like an idiot if I said the wrong thing, or the desire to offend no one. Maybe it was a combination of the three. I have also come to believe that a great deal of it was that I’d absorbed the message that ‘nice’ girls behave in demure, quiet, ladylike ways. They do not rock the boat and definitely do not drop f-bombs.
So maybe I’m making up for lost time by permitting the occasional character to verbally vomit something that perhaps is better left unsaid. And yes, some things are better left unsaid--particularly if you want to broaden your appeal and/or you’re writing in a certain genre. (I don’t see my grandmother reading Chuck Palahniuk, but he’s definitely found his audience!) There is a careful balance to strike between character likability, character integrity, and sensitivity. I’m still feeling out the rules on this.
What do you think? Do you censor yourselves in your writing? If so, how much?
Posted by Jess