The Words We Choose to Use

Larissa Ione and I were giggling earlier on Twitter about word choice, specifically tame swear words. Okay, I will admit my books tend to run on the colorful side where language is concerned. Luckily, I haven’t gotten any reader backlash about this but my mother often asks why I write like that when I don’t talk that way. (To which my hubby snorts and says, “She just doesn’t talk that way around YOU.”) I’ve never had a specific answer that pleases her, but the truth is I write what’s true to the characters. My adventure books tend to have a lot less colorful language because the characters in those books aren’t as dark as the heroes in my Eternal Guardians books. But the Twitter conversation got me thinking, and in retrospect, it’s interesting, the power word choices have on a book or situation.

Take, for example, the word “criminy”, which started this whole hilarious discussion. Now, it’s a tame swear word. One could choose to say crap, or shit, or the ever-colorful F-word, but those are less socially acceptable than “criminy” (especially in public when little ones are around). I have used the word criminy, maybe not as often as I should in place of other, more descriptive words, but it’s not an out-of-left-field word to me. Of course, there are those who will tell you “criminy” is out-dated. I sat in a writing workshop several years ago at RWA National where a very well-known NYT Bestseller said as much. “Who uses the word criminy? No one. Don’t use it in your books.” At the time I shrank down in my seat because my debut, STOLEN FURY, was about to come out and yep, you guessed it, one of my characters used that black-listed word. But guess what? People use it. Maybe not YOU, maybe not your close circle of friends, but it’s not a no-no word by any means.

A friend on Twitter said the image of a dark, yummy warrior using the word criminy made her giggle. I have to admit, it does me too. Which is part of the reason I think I’ll use it in my next EG book. Writers are always looking for ways to flip things around. Can’t you just see Zander or Titus or even Orpheus using the word criminy in the middle of a daemon battle? Totally unexpected, totally random, totally CLASSIC. (Especially for a smartass such as Orpheus.)

Of course, it’s this juxtaposition that makes the word work in a situation like described above. Where criminy would actually be entertaining and would fit a character like Orpheus, something like “oh, gosh darn” would never ever come out of his mouth. It wouldn’t even be said jokingly because it wouldn’t fit his character. It all comes back to being true to the characters, and that, ultimately is what writers strive to do. To make the dialogue and internals true to the characters so that no matter what words we choose to use, you, the reader, can imagine that character saying them.

Have you ever read a word in dialogue in a book that made you pause and think, “This totally doesn’t fit?”

3 comments to “The Words We Choose to Use”

  1. Raonaid Luckwell
    January 12th, 2011 at 6:34 pm · Link

    Have read Marked not that long ago, I could so definitely see it. And I would be giggling

  2. Hey Jen
    May 3rd, 2011 at 9:13 pm · Link

    I can think of one book, but the writing was very poor to begin with so I won’t even go there. In fact just thinking about the book makes me cranky.

    At any rate, what bothers me is when I see characters who come from “different walks of life” so to speak, but they all used the same colloquialisms. It’s just something that bothers me as a reader. And since I’m only a writer in my head, I try to pay attention to that sort of thing.

  3. Sarah
    June 9th, 2011 at 5:33 pm · Link

    I hate when people who aren’t Southern write Southern characters and they all say, “Well, I reckon,” or “Howdy, m’am,” or other stereotypically Southern dialect. Yes, we say y’all, but I don’t think I’ve ever said “Gosh darn it!” in place of another real swear phrase. Not all Southern dialect is the same, just as not all people above the “Mason Dixon line” all speak the same. You wouldn’t write about people from Ohio drinking beah, just because New Englanders do, right?

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