Thursday, May 29, 2014
A Minor Crack in the Rules
I’m going to give a writing lesson this week. But first, here’s a censorship update: I finally found a brand-new copy of It at Barnes and Noble. The offensive word still exists throughout the text, just as it does in modern copies of Huckleberry Finn. So that answers that.
The follow-up question still remains: If a newbie writer submitted a book with such liberal use of That Word, would it be accepted and printed as is, or would political correctness necessitate a thorough editorial scrubbing? There’s no way to tell without writing such a book and sending it around to agents and editors and see what kinds of comments you get. Would they even give that as a reason for rejection? I’ll bet they’d cite something else. It’s like job interviews. They’ll say you’re over- or underqualified or lack a specific skill they need or don’t have enough experience, when the truth is the job went to the son of some friend of the owner’s or that girl who looks hot in a skirt. Nobody’s ever going to tell you you’re wrong, just in case the reason why can be used to file a lawsuit. You just weren’t as right as the other person. Congratulations! We finally live in a world where everybody’s perfect!
I wonder what writers of historicals do? Especially those trying to write Civil War era fiction. Set the story up North? That would be the easiest solution. Or they could follow Disney’s Tarzan example and simply not show a large segment of people who would have been living there historically. I’m all in favor of equality, diversity and inclusion—I thought Thor did an excellent job in subtly adding Asian and black gods to the Norse pantheon—but c’mon. Sometimes the contortions we’re forced to go through in order to avoid offensiveness get out of hand.
We make our living with words. Some of those words can be hurtful. Like “bitch” and “slut” and “cunt.” Those words are still acceptable. But that’s a different blog.
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I’m currently typing up a book I hope to send to a publisher, probably next week. It’s a ménage—one woman, two hot guys—and falls under the romance umbrella. Like all genres, romance comes with its own set of rules. I’m still in the second-guessing stage of the writing process, so now I’m wondering if I may have violated one of them.
In this case, the rule in question is, “Woman meets her perfect mate as soon as possible.” Chapter One is good. First page is better. First paragraph of first page is trickier to pull off, but can and has been done. My female main character doesn’t meet her men until Chapter Two. Chapter One is the setup; a minor character makes a remark that sets the plot in motion. So she meets the guys late for a romance, but it’s not necessarily fatal. And she meets two of them. That might make up for the late start.
Here’s the problem: Another male appears in Chapter One. My FMC doesn’t like him. With good reason: he turns out to be the villain of the story. But there he is, on page 2 already, and there she is, tossing insults at him. That’s also a standard romance trope. Some readers are likely to read this exchange, note his early intro and assume, “This is the one, this is the hero, this is the man of her dreams.” Uh, no. But try telling readers that once they’ve formed expectations. When she meets the real heroes in Chapter Two, a lot of folks are liable to feel betrayed. What’s a writer to do?
I could rewrite the entire beginning. Nah. Too much trouble too late in the game. I could change Chapter One to “Prologue.” Then Chapter Two becomes Chapter One. Any man you meet in the Prologue may or may not be important to the story. I can make my bad guy appear even slimier. Then people who assumed he was Da One will feel relieved when they meet the other two. I may have already helped things along by titling the book Jessalina’s Pets. That “s” on the end implies she gets more than one, so even those who invested in Chapter One Guy should be willing to switch allegiance after Chapter Two. Ditto for the cover. When/if I get one, it’ll show two men whose descriptions don’t match COG’s. That should also work in my favor. I hope so.
To top it off, one of the men she buys at the slave market has brown skin. Weren’t we talking about offensiveness in the first part of this blog? That’s easily fixed. I can just call him “tanned.” We’ll see what the publisher says.
I think I can skate by in the other case too. I need to intro the bad guy early so he doesn’t pop up out of nowhere later on. Readers would be even less forgiving of that than they would of a perceived bait and switch. I’d better make sure to emphasize she really detests this guy while she’s instantly attracted to the other two. That’ll make it go down more easily.
Dammit, this conforming to expectations is hard. Why did I want to be a writer again? Oh yeah, because it beats working. Back to the keyboard.