Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Being Careful

Max Beckmann, Still Life with Fallen Candles, 1929 My son told me on Monday that he might “ask out” his friend Mimi.

Once I picked up my jaw from the floor (and tried to banish the mental image of me chauffeuring my son and Mimi around town in my minivan) I said, “Honey, you’re just too young to go out on dates!”

Uh-oh. I’d become infected with the condition I call “Instant Ancient” again.

“Mom! ‘Asking out’ is just what we call dating someone. We just wear each other’s sweatshirts and stuff.”

“Oh. We called that ‘going with’ when I was in junior high. You know…like ‘John is going with Amy’.”

Instant Ancient again. I wasn’t even going to ask him how he planned on surviving a middle school day while wearing Mimi’s pink Abercombie sweatshirt.

I try to carefully steer clear of words and phrases that put me in the older-than-dirt category, as far as my son is concerned.

Caution with dating ourselves is important for writers, too. And I thought of other things we should probably be careful with.

Being Careful with Slang:

I’m thinking about words/phrases like ‘swell,’ ‘groovy,’ ‘totally awesome,’ and probably ‘radical.’ If we’re not writing books that are based in older time periods, we shouldn’t use the words above. And, if we’re writing books set in the present, we need to tread carefully. What’s slang now may be dated when a reader picks up our library book in five years.

Those of you who write YA? I don’t know how you do it. You’re obviously a heck of a lot cooler than I am. :)

Being Careful with Profanity:

Here I think we should know our reader and know our market. Each genre has pretty set boundaries for what’s appropriate in regards to expletives. In cozy mysteries (my genre)? You’re just not going to see much of it.

Being Careful with Dialect:

I love getting a real sense of a setting that’s foreign to me—and I prefer it in dialogue instead of in description. But there’s a point where it gets to be too much. M.C. Beaton does it well in her Scottish-set books, but every once in a while the brogue will make me frown and try to translate the passage.

I think it’s best to go light on dialect and instead try using phrases, idioms, and word choices that locals of an area would use. For me, I’d rather stick with the rhythm of Southern speech than take a stab at phonetic spelling (which would be really tiresome for a reader.)

Are there other areas you’re careful about when you’re writing?