Sunday, January 09, 2011

What's in a Word?

I recently joined American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) because my current WIP has a strong Christian theme and I'm not sure a traditional mystery publisher would be interested in it. I don't have a lot of familiarity with Christian fiction and thought I should investigate this channel, get to know these writers and their works, and submit my story for critiquing to see how it would fly there.

One week into my membership, a writer asked the loop if using "heck" in her manuscript would affect her reputation with publishers. Another poster was wondering if it was a problem for her character to step around a pile of dog "poop". Several list members suggested ways to get around these awkward words.

Huh? What have I gotten myself into here?

 Back in college, as a statement of my independence and a sign of the times, I used a lot of "colorful" language. Over time, those words have faded from my vocabulary. It's been a long time since I dropped an f-bomb into the conversation.

When I rediscovered my faith, I had to make a conscious effort not to violate the second commandment. I learned to substitute Jiminy Cricket for the other J.C. name that had frequently passed my lips in surprise or anger. Jiminy Cricket sounds a little weird and I got a lot of grins and outright chuckles, but that was okay.

But I still use a number of one-word expletives when the occasion calls for it. I thought substituting "heck" and "darn" and other similar words for the ones I would personally say was a major step in making my manuscript acceptable to the Christian market. It's like the way the characters in Firefly always cursed in Chinese so they wouldn't have to get the English words past the censors. But apparently they're too strong for the ACFW.

Obviously, they live in a different world than I do. Yes, I grew up in big, bad New York. I work in a male-dominated field. But I don't think I have a potty-mouth by any means. I talk the way people I know talk.

I can't imagine what these women say when they burn their hand on a hot pan or spill the cat's litter box on their clean kitchen floor. Is "golly" okay? How about "phooey"?

The thing is, while it would be nice for my work to be bought by traditional Christians, they're not my primary market. I think of my future readers as people like me, people who live in the real world, people who aren't perfect. Jesus didn't really come for the perfect people. He came for the sinners. And that's who I see reading the stories I want to tell. People who want to have more faith, but make lots of mistakes. People who can relate to characters who have the same doubts and fears and questions as they do. And I can't imagine those people having a problem with a character who says "heck" every once in a while.
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