I’m a huge fan of strong language.  especially in my own writing.

I may be biased as a writer, because I’m absolutely in love with words, but I think we can all agree that they’re powerful.  harsh words can wound, kind words can heal.  they mean something.  they’re important.

no doubt this is at least part of the reason that the Bible is pretty clear about the types of words we should be using.  google supplied me with plenty of opinion on Christians and profanity, mostly in the form of blog posts.  I read a ton of them before I wrote this post.  the majority expressed entirely negative responses to swearing, even going so far as to say that “swear words” themselves are sinful.  the few that disagreed, however, almost championed the use of strong language by Christians for its edginess, if nothing else.

I take issue with either of these opinions.

(I hate to break up the conversation, but I want to get one thing out of the way: I don’t swear using the Lord’s name.  ten commandments, duh.  I don’t even say “jeez” or “oh my god”.  I don’t want my words to ever bring dishonor to God, so I’m extra careful about that.  but I actually don’t think that what we call strong language automatically does so.)

okay! “what-does-the-Bible-say-about-swearing” speed round (paraphrasing):

– Ephesians 5:4 – “no filthiness/foolish talk/crude joking.”

– James 3:9-12 – “we bless God with our mouth and then turn around and curse people who are made in his likeness.  blessing and cursing shouldn’t come out of the same place.

– Ephesians 4:29 – “no corrupting talk should come out of your mouths, only what’s good for building up, that it may give grace to those who hear.

(similar mandates can be found in 1 Peter 3:10, Colossians 3:8, and Luke 6:45, among others.)

a post I read on ChristianityToday . com called “The Trouble with Cussing Christians” said this, which I really liked: “our words should participate in hallowing, rather than profaning, the world.”

but I’d like to suggest that “strong language” can play a part in beauty.

I believe that art points to the creator and glorifies him.  the best stories are his, after all.  the most beautiful sunsets.  music, color, taste.  the sweet, broken people we meet and have the privilege of knowing and loving throughout our lives.  art is beauty, and good art glorifies God.

it’s easy to rag on low-budget, poorly scripted Christian films or obnoxious contemporary Christian music- I do it myself often enough.  I don’t want to go there too much now because I really do admire the men and women behind those mediums for their hearts, their intentions, and their boldness.

but art should be excellent, and sometimes I think that as Christians we shy away from hard topics and strong words in favor of niceness and “propriety”, and I don’t think that’s always a good idea.  if anyone should be telling the hard stories, it should be the same people who know what redemption looks like– the recipients of God’s great grace.

I believe words are as much instruments of art as paints and pencils and cameras and musical notes.  they’re meaningful.  they express things, feelings, thoughts.  and that’s what stories are for.  that’s why I write, to pull words that everyone knows into strings of sentences that didn’t exist before.  is there anything closer to magic out there?

words are things of beauty.  I was talking with a friend recently at lunch who said that her favorite word was “epiphany”- that she’d even written a college paper on it.  and it’s beautiful, right?  the way it looks and sounds, what it means.  I have lists and lists of words I love, almost as much as names- estuary, plunder, incandescent, cunning, pique.  (I actually really love to say the word bastard, but…yeah, that’s one I usually keep to myself.)

sometimes the only thing separating one word from another is the depth of what they’re expressing.  sometimes when you’re hurting, your usual verbal repertoire is not enough.  sometimes your pain just can’t be expressed in simple, G-rated words.

so.  fiction.  why should characters in a story be any different than you or I, in our moments of pain and trial?  to use my own writing as an example, why would a teenage girl who’s just been kidnapped, branded, bought, imprisoned, and raped call the man responsible a “jerk”?  would you buy her pain if she did?  would you feel what she’s feeling?

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(okay, but this was hilarious. best scene.)

the main point that people often bring up in this discussion is making the characters realistic.  many writers (myself included) agree that when they’re writing, the characters often speak for themselves.  I don’t plan a lot of what I write.  (I never planned for Isla to get kidnapped and then all of a sudden it was happening and then I had a book about human trafficking and bravery and loving yourself that was initially going to be little more than a piece of romantic fluff.)  when they get going, characters do and say things on their own.

if you don’t believe the people that I’m writing, if you don’t buy the characters, how is the story going to affect you?  how will it move you, or mean something to you?  stories need to mean something.  they need to touch you, show you darkness and light and humanity and good and evil.  and stories are made of words.  how can we tell a powerful story without the jarring contrast of strong words?

I certainly haven’t gotten it down.  in many ways my writing is still terribly immature.  and I’m not lobbying for gratuitous, unnecessary language in fiction.  but I do believe in feeling things.  and I think the fact that we even have the label “strong language” means something.  in my own novels, it sometimes means that Blue Reavely’s (my heroine’s) father calls her a little shit when he’s drunk.  and sometimes it means he tells her she’s worthless and a mistake.

strong words are the ones that pack a punch, not just the ones we call “swears”.  the ones that hit you hard, or stir your soul.

I think compassion is a strong word.  it happens to be my favorite.  it still means really means something, and makes you think, because people don’t throw it around.  this can’t be said for many other words that are losing their impact because of our readiness to speak them: “literally”, “amazing”, “tragedy”, “love” (to name a few).

words are important.  I’m trying to use mine wisely, and sometimes that means using the ones that hit people hard.

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so!  tell me what you think about “language” in fiction!  do you think it’s avoidable?  do you think it’s necessary all the time?  are there ways to abstain from it and still emerge your reader into a gritty world?  and do you think writing language down is different than using it in your own conversation?  talk to me!  I don’t by any means think I’m an authority.  this is just my opinion, and I’d love to hear yours!

 

p. s.  remember to be intentional with your words though.  to go back to the idea of taking the Lord’s name in vain, I have one thing to say: if God’s name were itself a curse, we wouldn’t be warned against using it wrongly.  instead, his name is a thing of power, impact, and importance.  when we use it as a curse, we’re taking it out of its intended context and doing him dishonor, because he (and his name, therefore) represents the pinnacle/measuring stick of goodness, beauty, and holiness.  I have a hard time believing that words are in and of themselves evil.  (crass, yes.  don’t get me started on crude and crass words/talk.  I hate hate hate all that.)

p. p. s. “you can’t blame a writer for what the characters say.” ~Truman Capote (because…Capote.  duh.)

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because it signifies their last night of freedom for an entire month.  for the 30 days following Halloween, we’re all doomed.

our fate can be summed up in one set-of-abbreviations-that-pretends-to-be-a-word: NaNoWriMo.  sound it out.  it works.

NaNoWriMo, if you’re unfamiliar with it, is short for National Novel Writing Month.  it’s a thing where writers all across the world (amateur, professional, delusional) band together and commit to writing for the month of November with a goal of 50,000 words by the end.  that’s a small novel (for most people- I’m cursed with a “knack” for writing 120,000 word novels.  I do not say that to brag, as I have much smaller chances of getting published with such a word count).  that’s an average of 1667 words per day, I think.

last year I participated (you, too, can make an account on the website here!) and used my 50K to finish out my first draft of Finding You and, when that was finished, work on Across the Lake.  I was up until about 11:30pm the last night.  it was awesome.treachery cover

but this year I think signing up might have been really stupid; 2014 has been the craziest year of my life, as many of you know because I’ve waited weeks to return your text messages.  I have my first grown-up job of my life, volunteer and church commitments, and – wait for it – a social life!  (disclaimer: what I call a crazy social life is seeing friends maybe two or three times in a week and it’s EXHAUSTING.  is this normal?  I just want to curl up in my bunk bed with my glow-in-the-dark stars above me and watch musicals and eat fruit gummies and avoid all human contact.)

I’ve decided to work on my complete rewrite of the first novel I ever finished, previously called Betrayal.  this time it’s Treachery (that just blew your mind, admit it), and you can read a bit of it on Figment, here.  my description “blurb”, if you’re interested, is as follows:

” a young woman is caught up in the dangerous world of espionage when she joins the plot to reinstate her exiled queen, all the while struggling with love and trust in the face of deception and betrayal. ”  (<– I’m terrible at blurbs.)

anyways, wish me luck.  I’ve set a calendar for myself, and I’m going to try and stay ahead of schedule.  we’ll see how that goes.

if you want to follow along, there’s a chance I’ll be adding some as I go.

thanks, lovelies!  comment and let me know if you’re doing NaNoWriMo, and if so, what your project is!  also, feel free to add me as a buddy on the site!  happy writing!  don’t die!!  (I already bought chocolate supplies…muahaha.)

(p.s. I actually never did celebrate Halloween as a kid; my parents were super careful about dark stuff and magic and ghosts and all that. then we moved to the boonies and nobody came anyway.  as a grown-up,

moral stuff aside, I totally see the need for a holiday where I get to watch Tim Burton movies (today was Beetlejuice – w00t w00t! totally dressing as Lydia Deetz next year) and eat pumpkin desserts and talk about fall leaves and paint my nails epically.  so yay!)

p.s.s. I totally did my nails.  I wasn’t joking.  10748609_10205056274468732_684370979_n

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the exquisite William Butler Yeats penned one of my favorite poems into existence somewhere around a hundred years ago:

A mermaid found a swimming lad,
Picked him for her own,
Pressed her body to his body,
Laughed; and plunging down
Forgot in cruel happiness
That even lovers drown.

cover that I made because that's my favorite

I am – and have for a long time been – so in love with this tiny poem as to consider tattooing a line from it on my body.  I have since narrowed down my tattoo plans, but that was just so you know how much I adore it.  it’s sad and beautiful, which all of my favorite poems are (don’t get me started on Annabel Lee – I melt every time).

all that to say, like many girls I have an interest in and love for the idea of mermaids, for whatever reason.  unlike many, however, I like the bleak, tragic side of those tales- the deaths, the retribution, the eeriness.  I love the siren myths, the old Norse legends of Rán- stories with hideous creatures singing themselves into the favor of unsuspecting sailors before drowning them.  while I enjoyed my fair share of Emily Windsnap books as a tween, the darker stories have always been that toward which I gravitate.  (we shouldn’t really get into what I think of the modern treatment of “vampirism” in recent “literature”.  I get a bit heated.)

I’ve had this story about a human-turned-siren in my head for a while, and in my secret boards on

pinterest for a while.  I tried writing it once or twice, and it fizzled out each time.  I think I want to turn every idea I have into a full-length novel and am only just now (um…maybe last week? yeah, it might be that recent) discovered that I can write short stories and novellas as well.

so yesterday I jotted down a few notes, and today I sat down at my laptop and recorded my first efforts.  it’s not that exciting, I’ll warn you up front.  it’s really just me typing and back-spacing strings of words and occasionally clicking over to pinterest for a refresher on something I’d wanted to include, or a dash of inspiration.  (I didn’t even spice things up with a trip to dictionary.com.)  so this is quite nerve-wracking, in a way, because you get to see that my writing process is really not that magical.  just in case you had been thinking that before.  which I’m sure you were.  so sure that I’m going to stop talking about it.

siren song pinterest screenshot

 

this post is also an opportunity to couple my new project with something that my lovely, amazingly-talented writer friends have been urging me to join in on: the newly invented “#WatchMeWrite” tag.  it took me a while to produce a sample because a) I don’t have a mac and needed my tech-savvy brother to help me find an alternate program and b) everything I tried to write “on camera” was coming out boring, awkward, boring, and did I mention boring?  hopefully this satisfies!

so here it is, my new project, temporarily titled “Siren Song”- because that was what I called the pinterest board, okay?  (p.s. bear with me on the tense in this piece – I cannot in words express my love for second-person-tense in fiction, when it’s done well, and preferably with longing and dismay.  however, this story is proving difficult in terms of remembering the perspective I’m supposed to be in.  I’ll work on consistency.)

thanks Sam Chaffin and E. R. Warren for making me do this!!  go check out their blogs/vimeos and watch their videos of the tag!  and to those of you who were tagged and haven’t participated, or haven’t been tagged but would love to make a video, get right on it!  it’s so much fun/pressure and I loved it.  make sure to tag it #WatchMeWrite and tweet about it, and feel free to share a link to it in the comments below!

(song: If I Had A Heart by Fever Ray (my love for this song is unparalleled.  that may be extreme.  but I love it lots, thanks to the epic show Vikings on the History Channel).)

(video assistance credits: introduction to and help with the program ChronoLapse from my big brother, video game developer extraordinaire, Jake Albano, and video/audio/slide work/help from my stellar film-editing-genius little brother Ben Albano.  they’re the best.)

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