What’s in a word?

We interrupt the originally scheduled programming (which should have been a 100 word story) to bring you this random musing on the power words have, and how/why we choose them.

You see earlier today I was told that my last story (http://jayfaulkner.com/blog/archives/198) had shocked someone when they read it – especially as they had never heard me swear – and I was asked if I had really had to use ‘that’ word.

… for those wondering what ‘that’ word is I can only suggest that you go and find out for yourself as you will not only get to read the story but also decide if you think that choice of word is warranted.

Now, to take the challenge – as mild a one as it was – in two parts, I should point out that in ‘real life’ I personally don’t swear. The strongest that you will hear from me, ever, is damn … yeah, I know, I need to wash my mouth out with language like that, don’t I? ;) Seriously, though, I don’t really have anything against swearing/expletives but I also just don’t see the need for them myself.

However (as I pointed out in regards to the challenge) the fact that the story, and word usage, shocked someone was actually a good thing. Nay, a great thing. I wasn’t aiming to write a 50 word story that was light and fluffy but, rather, something that hopefully hit quite hard and made you think about it later. With this person, at least, I had achieved that. Plus, obviously, it wasn’t ‘me’ swearing in that story, it was a character; if it was so far removed from me that someone who knows me found it strange than that is also a good thing as it means that I created something outside of myself and my comfort zone.

As far as having to use the word in question, I had to think about that one. Obviously the honest answer is that I didn’t have to use that word. Even if I had wanted to write the exact same piece I could have replaced the ‘offending’ word with numerous other ones: sleep with, shag, screw, fornicate, have sex with, pound, penetrate, violate even. All of them could have easily been interchanged with the word that was used.

But the word that WAS used was because it WAS the word. It’s shock value, and harshness, made it exactly the right word for the character to use. It wasn’t as nice as ‘sleep with’, it wasn’t as funny as ‘shag’ and it wasn’t as emotive as ‘violate’ – though, to be honest, that is the same intent I was aiming for but (as ludicrous as this may sound considering the word actually used) I was trying to be more subtle.

I am not a woman, obviously, I have never been so desperate for money to feed a drug habit that I would allow other people to have sex with me. However I tried very hard to put myself in the place of the character that came into my head and, when I did, the word I choose is the word I ‘heard’ her use.

So, in answer to the question of did I really have to use that word … yes, yes I did.

4 thoughts on “What’s in a word?

  1. Ah I agree. What we all aim for as writers is for our characters to come truly alive, and in doing so we have to leave behind ourselves and let them speak. So yeah, they’re gonna speak and act contrary to the way we would. Sounds like a job well done to me. :D

  2. I still find it an amazing – and sometimes even a scary – experience when a character that I have create, in a scenario that I have deemed suits them, comes up with something completely different.

    I used to mock the idea that stories took on a life of their own and that charaters would somehow ‘tell’ you what should be happening to them but now, after writing more diverses stories with different characters, I am finding it to be very true indeed.

    … still scary, though. ;)

  3. It was a two-fold thing that led to the shock, I am told: firstly that it came from me as I was deemed a rther quiet and ‘nice’ srot so taht sort of language was out of character and secondly because it was ‘there’ so blatantly – maybe the reference to heroin and prostitution was subtle enough to get under her radar but the expletive wasn’t?

    I don’t know but part of me enjoyed the reaction.

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