Saturday, June 26, 2010

Can you say "Pissed off?"

My breath rushed in when I realized what she was planning. “Oh, my goodness!” I said.

What? Oh, my goodness? How bland. How boring. You would have to work pretty hard to write that with any less emotion or tension. Have you ever had one of your characters say something like that? Or something equally innocuous? Sometimes it works. Other times it’s really painful, and it feels totally wrong to have to resort to something so weak. You know, and your reader knows, what the character should be saying. And sometimes it ain’t, “Oh, my goodness!” Sometimes it’s more like:  

My breath rushed in when I realized what the crazy bitch was planning. “Holy Jesus on a treadmill!" I yelled. "Have you lost what's left of your fucking mind?”

Obviously, it’s a little tricky saying what we really want to say in a middle grade manuscript. And, we’ve all been middle grade students in the past. If I remember correctly, we had a different vocabulary we used among ourselves when there were no grown ups around. Didn’t we? So how do you stay true to your character? How do you clearly convey what the character is feeling when you have some genre-imposed restrictions on your vocabulary? What's permissible? What's forbidden? And should those restrictions be lifted occasionally? You tell me.


  1. Excellent question. In my MG manuscript one 12 year old girl says, "Dumbass," and "Pain in the ass."

    That's it. Too much? I don't think so, and it's definitely true to her character.

  2. I'm struggling with this very thing right now. Most of the advice has been to stay true to the character.

    On the one hand, I fear that if I start censoring my characters, they will stop talking to me. Then I'm screwed.

    On the other, there will be adults who will find the book offensive - if it ever gets to the publishing stage, which is a major 'if'.

    So far now, I'm going to quit worrying about it and just let my characters speak to me and be true to themselves. If I'm fortunate enough to ever have an agent, and edits demand the language change, I know I can work around it.

    But for now I'm thinking no one is going to speak to me quite the way you've demonstrated at the beginning of your post, Michael. I snorted Sam's cola right out my nose when I read that.

  3. The most severe language I use in my MG manuscript is, "Hurts like hell.", which may not fly in some parts of the US, but I figure since there's magic and stuff as well the super-religious types would probably avoid it anyhow.

    However. There are workarounds, being forced out of certain types of language is actually an asset. Consider:

    "I was so pissed off at those bullies."

    "I shuddered with anger as the bullies walked away, then, balling up my fists I struck the wall, over and over until they bled, then, exhausted, I collapsed on the ground."

    Which one gets the point across better?

  4. If you worked with the bitches and assholes that I do every day you'd be saying more than "pissed off"!!!

    Sorry, had to vent. Now I'm ready to go back in Monday morning and face all the pricks again.

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. My character's in my MG and chapter books say things like, Poo! Bum! Poop! Old fart! Oh, and in one of my manuscripts, a seven-year-old girl says, "That's not a short cut. It's a damn brickfield."



Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.