May I just propose that writing is an art? An A-R-T.
We writers use words instead of paint or stone or sound. And with those words, if we are good at what we do, we affect a manipulation of brain chemistry in our readers. We can invoke deep feeling. Deep thought. Anger, love, memory, discomfort. We can invoke questions. We can change minds. We can change lives. Or views of the world. Or turn, for the moment, fear or sadness into joy and relief.
There are so many elements that go into this: the very sound of the words, the effect that consonants close together have on the nervous system. The “subjective” meaning of the words, as understood in the now, or as they were understood fifty years ago, or a hundred years ago, or three hundred – all the layers are there, allowing us so many levels of meaning, so many subtle nuances. And then there are the emotionally charged layers – words that evoke emotional context – hot buttons, sorrow tweaks – tiny handles on our personal and cultural psyches.
Words have power. Even the quiet ones.
Crowds can erupt into violence for the sake of a single word, used in just the wrong (or right) way.
Audiences can be left sobbing. Or rolling in the aisles.
This said, may I assume that it should be obvious that good writers use words with finesse, choosing their hues and shapes delicately – working their magic with an adept hand?
And that bad writers tend to use a hammer instead?
As the world becomes more complex and worrisome, human conversation becomes truncated, less articulate, more emotional, and more emotionally violent. I have overheard conversations that were literally nothing but the name of God and the F term every other word. These were not conversations that had much real content in them, then – they were like violent handshakes, a mutual agreement of anger and frustration and maybe ignorance and narrow life view. These words are not meant to carry substance. They are thrown up like hex signs. They are display—an assertion that the world had better keep its distance. They are emblems of fear and pain. And of a lack of imagination.
Yeah, I know. Sometimes they’re just used for emphasis. But the more these kinds of words are used, the less power they tend to have. Which is why people have keep repeating them, sometimes several times in once sentence.
(And why would you be so rude as to spit out the name of someone else’s God? Or so stupid as to misuse the name of your own? Do you really want an all-powerful being having to pause and look down at you every flipping time you call him?)
Worst of all: words like this are the easy way out.
Like, instead of doing the actual programming, writers who drop this kind of language are trying to use plug-ins. Little pre-packaged units that do a job for you. And writing about sexual stuff is just the same. Say a bad word, get a reaction. Mention a body part, get a reaction. Not a specific, engineered reaction. Not a carefully directed one. Not one with any real content or meat to it. But hey –
Using this kind of verbal element is like doing a painting with a garden trowel. Art, it ain’t. Lazy, it is. Taking the cheap shot. Worse than playing on stereotypes. When you do it, you’re about on a par with those companies that use computers to call you and sell you stuff. Phoning it in. Except more violent, and to the fabric of our real human relationships, so much more harmful.
If you were here with me now, I would get down on my knees, clasping my little hands together, and I’d plead with you, eye to eye: write with class. Write with meaning. Give me something to digest. Make me think. Make me feel deeply. And if you do, you won’t have to sell me your next book; I’ll be waiting for it, money in hand.