To Censor or Not to Censor: August 2019 IWSG Post

5:05 AM Elizabeth Seckman 63 Comments


This month's insecurity: is it possible to write fearlessly? My mother was an avid reader and amateur literary critic. She preferred books to TV and if a story grabbed her, she could tear through it in a day. She was a true lover of books and she had a keen eye for problems. Her biggest complaint about my books was my lack of honest writing. There were stories and characters that needed to be cruder. Truths that needed to be spelled out more boldly. She accused me of writing with an inner critic on my shoulder. And she was right.

In Defying Reason, there was a scene with an alpha male character that screamed for an F bomb. Honestly, in the first draft, that word was there. Then I edited it out before sending it to my beta readers. I switched THAT word for screw it.

My mom immediately pounced on the change and called foul. In her opinion, my change was an obvious attempt to avoid any sort of public criticism and it ruined the scene. She sent it to my niece, another voracious reader, and she jumped onboard with my mother. I wasn't writing YA, sweet fiction, or Christian fiction. I write adult stories with adult themes, so they suggested I pull up my big girl pants and polish up my potty mouth and write some honest fiction.

I didn't. I rewrote  the entire scene, adding a child to justify the character biting his tongue.

Currently, I'm writing a story with a toxically crude alpha character. In the first draft the foul language is there, but I'm already feeling the tug to modify it. Not because it offends me or because I think the story would be better without them, but because I don't want to hear the tsk, tsk of judgment in my head.

What do you think...go where the story leads or try to find (hopefully) clever alternatives?

This month's optional question:
 Has your writing ever taken you by surprise? For example, a positive and belated response to a submission you'd forgotten about or an ending you never saw coming? 
I've never been that lucky to have forgotten about a query. But, I do occasionally stumble on a good review that gives me those warm, fuzzy feeling. As a rule, I don't often check sales or reviews. It can too quickly turn into a confidence killing obsession. 


Thanks to our leader, the Ninja himself, Alex Cavanaugh and this month's awesome co-hosts for the August 7 posting of the IWSG are Renee Scattergood, Sadira Stone, Jacqui Murray, Tamara Narayan, and LG Keltner!

Have you signed up for the  IWSG Newsletter? It's the best way to stay informed of news and updates. We also offer shout outs for members on their writing news too. If you have something you want shared with members, contact me at elizabethseckman(at)ymail(dot)com. Please add IWSG in the subject line.

Speaking of news...
Welcome Juneta Key to the IWSG team! Juneta is a writer, editor, and publisher
She's one busy lady! 

Also, time is running out to submit your short story to the IWSG anthology. Early birds get brownie points. Not really, but beating the rush does mean slush reading admins will have clearer vision before they go cross-eyed from the rush of last minute submissions.

The 2019 Annual IWSG Anthology Contest is now open for submissions!
Guidelines and rules: 
Word count: 3500-5000
Genre: Middle Grade Historical – Adventure/Fantasy
For those who are confused by the genre: 

Middle grade – suitable for 9 – 14 year-old children.
Historical – it must have historical aspects and be set in a time before 2000 or earlier. It just needs to be set in the past.
Adventure/fantasy – the subgenre can be either adventure OR fantasy. The fantasy genre is acceptable as there are many ancient cultures and times that believed in supernatural occurrences.
Theme: Voyagers
Submissions accepted: May 1 - September 4, 2019
How to enter: Send your polished, formatted (double-spaced, no footers or headers), previously unpublished story to admin @ insecurewriterssupportgroup.com before the deadline passes. Please include your contact details, your social links, and if you are part of the Blogging, Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter IWSG group. You MUST be part of at least one of those to enter.
Judging: The IWSG admins will create a shortlist of the best stories. The shortlist will then be sent to our official judges.

Image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay

63 comments:

  1. Your mother sounds like she was an awesome woman! Love her honesty and the fact that she was a bookworm.

    It seems like it would be a tricky thing to decide what to leave in in terms of swearing, sex, graphic violence etc. if you don't have strict genre conventions which guide those decisions (like sweet romance, cozy mysteries etc.). It will be interesting to see what you end up deciding to do.

    Cheers - Ellen

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    1. No, I don't have strict guidelines. That was one of my mom's complaints- that the story seemed to call for more realistic adult content, if I was going to address these sorts of characters and issues.

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  2. I couldn't write an F-bomb no matter how natural it sounds. Just not me. If it's not you either, stick to your guns and leave it out.

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    1. Oh, I totally disagree. If this Ahole of a crude character is that toxic, he's going to swear like a trooper, too. Now, you can tone him down a bit, but crude guys swear. It's just what we do :) Seriously.

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    2. Surprisingly, I have a bit of a potty mouth IRL. Not F-bombs, the hard C, or any use of JC, but the rest are fair game. I've tried to break the habit, but I'm still guilty. And in talking with people, hearing the F bomb doesn't faze me. Even my kids drop it like it's a conjunction. The only one I won't tolerate is JC- unless it's in prayer.

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  3. I think a lot of people are afraid to offend their mothers/family, meanwhile your family is telling you to write "cruder" - too funny! :)

    Go with your gut. You need to feel good about the story you put out into the world.

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    1. I do have a very unique family, that's for sure.

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  4. I think, probably, that in your kind of books, foul language is unnecessary. Of course people use all kinds of words these days which were not commonly heard a few years back. Alex is right, if you aren't comfortable with it, omit it.

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    1. You guys are right, I'm the boss of my made up worlds in the end.

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  5. Go with your gut instincts. Any submissions that come to DLP better be free of that heavy language. Otherwise it will get censored.

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    1. That is another consideration I hadn't thought about- DLP has a brand for wholesome, family-friendly stories and you need to protect that brand so that your readers know what they're getting. I have to think of my readers too. What do they expect from me? In the end, they are the true bosses.

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  6. I personally don't mind swearing at all, but I'm not gonna tell someone else to use that language if it makes them uncomfortable. I think you need to do what feels right for you, and for the story. I like that you changed the scene to have a child so that it made more sense for the character to censor himself. If he did it for no reason, then it probably would have seemed off.

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    1. Swearing doesn't bother me either. I grew up with it. I do think it's necessary to write a character honestly. I went and looked at how Sons of Anarchy worked around their censors and came away scratching my head at what we consider taboo and what gets a pass. They definitely pushed the censor envelope, but they were bikers who would kill you for a sideways glance. It's an interesting dance.

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  7. Your mother sounds just like me, if a book grabs me, I too finish it in a day.

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  8. I agree with others. Go with your gut instinct. Honestly, you don't need crude language to show a character is a jerk.

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    1. Very true. I've even written some very holy jerks. Jerks can come in all shapes and sizes.

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  9. Hi,
    I'm going to have to admit that I am a radical in that I believe in writing to what my gut is telling me to write. There are times though when I am challenged to stretch beyond my comfort zone. When I do stretch, I've noticed that I become more tolerant of others that don't think the same way I think. I hope you understand what I mean.

    All the best with whatever you decide.

    Shalom aleichem,
    Pat G @ EverythingMustChange

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    1. In my researching the topic, I've found most of the successful writers agree with you. They suggest you always do what's best for the story.

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  10. Hehehe, my critique group calls me out on my "fake swearing". But I just go with the excuse that they're from a different world, so of course they don't use our language. Granted, my main character was raised in an environment much like my own, so the bigger swearwords come out only occasionally. But they do come out. :)

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    1. Same here. I try to keep my mouth on the high road in real life, but it often slides its way right into the alley. (I won't say gutter because I'm not that bad!)

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  11. If you're not feeling the F-bomb then don't drop it. Having said that, if the F word belongs in the scene, it doesn't bother me.

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  12. It seems to be unanimous that you should go with your gut. You'll never please everyone. No matter what you decide, someone is sure to criticize your decision. So just be sure to your choice pleases you.

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    1. Seriously, right? Even in my own house- there is never a way to make everyone happy. But I am a chronic people pleaser, which is a royal pain in my...I'll go with butt.

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  13. I have a hard time with that F-bomb thing. It's so overused in some series I watch that I turn them off. Still, there are times--one comes to mind at this very moment--that it should be in a scene because it's consistent with the character. I like your idea of introducing the child and legitimately avoiding the issue all together.

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    1. I agree. Same with the gratuitous sex. If it fits the plot, great...if you're just wanting to ride the GoT bandwagon and shock me, I'm getting bored with it.

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  14. That's great that your mom is perceptive and helpful in giving you feedback. Sounds like going with your gut is best. And then, of course, get feedback.

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  15. I'm all for doing what feels right going with your instincts. I can use slang words but have a hard time using anything more, but most my stories don't call for that. Your mom sounds like a smart lady and sharp reader.

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    1. Most stories don't call for them. I was chatting with my Super Susie and we're leaning toward the hero staying the hero and the bad guy going all out. A sort of balance.

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  16. I think you have to do what right for you. But I love that they told you to polish up your potty mouth. I tend to shy away from crude language but do add it if I feel it authentic and needed.

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    1. My family is a bit twisted, I believe. But they're a lot of fun.

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  17. Hmmm... I suppose it depends on the genre, but when writing for the young there are sill many pitfalls. Having spent years in junior classrooms I am very aware of what parents will accept. Though having notice the success of people like Neil Gaiman, who goes against all the rules, I am tempted to be less cautious, Elizabeth 😊

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    1. I need to read more Neil Gaiman. I've been reading his quotes and I'm intrigued. Writing for youths would be tough. I would feel the pressure to be a role model over being true to the story. But then I think about being a kid and one of my favorite books was The Outsiders and I recall it was considered controversial in its day.

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  18. Nobody can judge the language you should use in your books better than you. I confess to not using any F-bombs whatsoever in my first book, and that was a deliberate choice, because I was afraid some of my former Sunday school students would read it and be shocked. (As it turned out, that was a needless concern. Their language is rather... earthy. HA!) So I was guilty of self-censoring. Not so much in the second book, as you well know, but I DID drop the number of F-bombs considerably in the final version. As for what you should write, do whatever feels right to you. In spite of what your characters may insist, YOU still control the keyboard. :)

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    1. You and me, lady. We're are rowing that same boat. I was worried about the same sort of thing. And both of your books were good, but the honestly written book is more, well honest. When I wrote Swept Away, there were some plot points that made readers cringe. Even my mother. She called me and gave me one of those Elizabeth Merry's...this better not be going where I think it is...lectures. But I realized, even though she cringed, she finished that story in record time. And in the end, isn't that what we really want?

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  19. I took a creative writing class many years ago. Our teacher (who had published many short stories and was working on a novel) said that she didn't curse but some of her characters did because it was appropriate for the book. I don't know if that's of any help.

    Love,
    Janie

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    1. That's a very big help. And quite funny. I don't do a lot of things that my characters do, to be honest. Some of them jog and most of them are skinny...

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  20. Now that's interesting BECAUSE I too am using the Bomb for the first time ever in my current WIP. I used it in the opening scene and probably won't use it again.

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    1. I think the answer is to do what's best for our stories. They'll have our name on them, no one else's.

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  21. Have to do what you feel is best for you indeed. But then one shouldn't stifle themselves just because they are afraid of what others think. Screw that. If a character wants to say fluck it, they will lol

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  22. Listen to your mother! I have a rigid self-editor that my characters struggle with daily. A few of them have managed to escape my language rating system and I confess - they're my favorites.

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    1. If you ever find a way to shut down that filter completely, please let me know. I hate writing with it on my shoulder.

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  23. You know the saying: you can't please everybody? Well, in order NOT to offend certain readers, you are willing TO offend certain others who believe you should remain true to your character's "character". That's my $.02 worth :)

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    1. Very, very wise two cents. I'd never really thought of it that way. I've since had another niece chime in...she's willing to buy twenty copies if I'll add the f bombs. They all agree the writing has to be honest or it's just not as good.

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  24. I'm an editor and contributor to the Carnal Invasion series, which is very explicit erotica, and I have a great deal of fun working on these projects, in part because the characters are nothing like me. I'm actually very shy and have the libido of roadkill. I do, however, have the ability to make a sailor blush with my swearing abilities.
    I'm not much for censoring, although I do try to keep the posts at Naughty Netherworld Press to a PG-13 rating. If people want the really explicit stuff, they can buy the books!

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    1. Don't even get me started on the sex dilemma. LOL. Those gals who write that stuff are a bold sort. I tip my hat to them. I would LOVE to be that bold.

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  25. That’s a hard call for me too. I grew up with a family who did not swear and I did not swear so when I read, swear words, they stand out like finger nails on a chalkboard. BUT I am not the norm :)
    I think your character should sound real though :)

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    1. I grew up in a family that never shied away from swearing, but my friends came from families that had the no-swear policy, so I always felt like my family was the naughty ones and I'd try to keep it clean.

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  26. If my characters want to drop the f-bomb, I let them. lol

    To satisfy your character and your inner critique, you could eliminate some of the curse words, but leave in half.

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  27. Hi Elizabeth,

    Geez.... the F bomb is part of our culture now. It's used as frequently as Hey.... I am not one for crude language all the time, but when it's needed, LET IT RIP! Growing up in NYC with very 'passionate' parents and family members, this word was often used to express emotion. Hearing it as a kid made me think it was fine to use and I DID, until my parents chastised me for it. Sadly, it's part of our culture, and it shouldn't be buried in YA or Adult for that very reason.

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    1. My family was the same. My husband is the king of the f bomb. I have to pinch him in public a lot. He uses it so prolifically, I don't think he even notices when he drops it.

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  28. Damn that inner critic. He is such a dick sometimes. He makes me doubt my post idea and watch hours of Netflix instead.

    Randomly found your blog through IWSG.

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    1. It does make it harder to write. I overthink every post and worry that I'll offend someone with something. I envy those people who just don't give a crap about the critics.

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  29. I love your mom, and I wish the three of us could go for drinks. As you likely know, or could guess, I let that f-bomb fly.

    Be well, my dear.

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    1. I wish we could too. You guys could have traded dating stories. After she was widowed, she started online dating. Totally blew my mind!

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  30. Who's your target audience? And what is the character's method of communicating. If his/her dialogue is full of swear words, then you could lose some readers. I've turned off a movie if the characters are constantly swearing throughout an excellent plot. It's too distracting. I don't edit out the foul language in my novels but I do keep it to a minimum and use other means of showing his/her low moral status, rage, etc.

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    1. I write adult women's fiction. And it's a minor character, only in the dialogue, so peppered about is more descriptive than profuse.

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