Wednesday, May 17, 2017

 So You Think You Are Writing to Shock: Think Again

Fortunately, my husband loves to listen to me reading to him.  We choose reading over what television has to offer most evenings once Jeopardy ends and on Thursdays I've seen "Doc Martin".  Wendell's taste in reading material is almost as wide as mine.  He has listened through many of Michner's thousand page ramblings.  We recently completed Chesapeake, and as a consequence know a lot more about slavery and geese.  Seven of Tom McDevitt's (a member of my writing group) short self-published adventures occupied about the same amount of our time.

Right now we are reading The Old Man and the Boy by Robert Ruark first published in 1953.  When we closed my parents' home, it was among the books no one else wanted.  We have read all those hardbacks, still have three Michners to go, and this thin volume came to my hand last evening.  A sentence on page 13 turned what promises to be a book worth reading into a valuable source of wisdom for writers: "Cussing is for emphasis. When every other word is a swear word it just gets to be dull and don't mean anything any more."

Why are contemporary writers so enamored of the "F" word?  Writers who sprinkle it throughout their novels are like the correspondent who lavishes her letters with exclamation points.  All it conveys is a dearth of vocabulary.  While reading aloud, I find that skipping the "F" word or a blasphemy has little or no effect.  We have become immune to the shock.  Saying or not saying the word goes unnoticed.  More than half a century ago, Ruark knew how over use killed shock .  Shakespeare knew it three centuries ago.  It's time today's writers learned it.

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