Tuesday, August 21, 2018

When Did We Decide Books have to be Nice?

Kitties don't have to please society!
I broke one of my most cardinal rules yesterday. I immersed myself in a touchy e-debate. It was not one of my best moves, I wholly admit. However, I took careful consideration to the comments I added, making sure to listen to others, to not cheer or insult, but to post my opinions and bite my tongue. (I've been over them a few times now, hemming and hawing, thinking of ways I could have done better. But overall, I think I did okay.) I also learned a few things. Unfortunately, some others did not. Insults were thrown. Ears were closed.

My mom always said, "You catch more flies with honey than vinegar." If you want people to listen to you, you have to be willing to listen to them.

Anyway, the argument was about changing the use of the words, "crazy," and, "stupid," because they are insulting, as in saying, "That girl is crazy," or "This party is stupid." It's true. We're writers. We shouldn't be using these as fall back words. We've removed "retarded," "gay," and "lame," for the same reason, and with GOOD reason. It's time to retire "crazy," and "stupid," too.

But to put a ban on them? When we start talking word bans, my skin itches. It's one of those...is it really for the greater good if we're silencing ideas?

If you're using those words for filler or because you heard some teen at the Y calling her friend, "crazy," that's not a good reason for them to appear in your manuscript. But what if you're writing a story about a teen coming to terms with her anxiety, and in this process, she hears her friends mocking "crazy," and that becomes part of the narrative as her struggle. Is that okay?

And this is where the debate occurred. https://www.facebook.com/groups/KIDLIT411/?multi_permalinks=2320312721517671

Some were very adamant, "no's." Some were very adamant "yes's." I guess I fall somewhere in between. It's about using the words that are purposeful to your story and using them correctly. It's about being sensitive to your readers AND true to your story. Writing is art. I would never tell a painter to not make their bloody menstruation piece because that might offend some men, (and me. Those really gross me out.) I can recognize they serve a purpose. They create a stir, controversy, incite a discussion.

Some of the most powerful stories I've read/watched, were powerful because they didn't hold back. They made me angry and sad. They made me think. They made me ask questions and see problems from a new perspective. American History X, the Hate U Give, any story about Jews in Nazi Germany. Offensive language and ideas were required for us to see the pain and anguish that these people suffered. To make us all see the horrors caused and make sure they never happen again. But if you erase the mistake, what is there to discuss? If you kind-wash history, what is there to learn?

I almost feel like this is why I've been in such a reading slump. I love a good villain, someone who is truly terrible. A good villain makes a great heroine, but if we can't let our villains be truly terrible, then our heroines won't be truly great. They're all falling in between, trying to not step on anyone's toes or say anything offensive, and what we get are a lot of Mary Sue's with bland plotlines.

I'm not saying to go wild and start throwing out taboo terms to shake things up. I'm saying to be thoughtful, to ask questions, to decide on the story YOU want to tell and how it needs to be told. Who needs to tell it? What language needs to be used? Does it need to use this language to work? Or would another word be just as adequate? Are YOU the right person to tell this story? Sometimes the answer is no, and that's okay. But let it be YOUR decision. Not someone else's.

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