For Shock’s Sake


In light of it being Banned Books Week, I thought to write something related. I don’t plan on reading a banned book this week, though I’d like to, because I will be too busy writing my own novel; however, I think next year I will review one for my other blog, Cover to Cover.

Books are often banned for language, sexual content, or just being considered unfit. YA books seem to be the most popular targets for obvious reasons: parents and church authorities are very hyper-sensitive to what is taught to children. I don’t believe in banning books, and often wonder why books get so much heat, especially in light of what we see on television. Channels like HBO and STARZ bank on series containing sex, violence, and explicit language—the same things books get banned for. J.D. Salinger dropped the F-word quite a bit in Catcher in the Rye. Some of the same parents who support the ban of this book let their children watch television shows like Hells Kitchen that have the same, if not more profanity.

For the record, I’m not against sex, violence, and language in books, but I think others will agree with me when an excessive use of all of the above gets to be unnecessary, distracting, or down right annoying. The great George R.R. Martin automatically comes to my mind. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy his writing and I’m eagerly awaiting the next season of Game of Thrones, but if you cut out the sex scenes alone, his novels turn into novellas. I’m not offended by the sex, I’m just bored of it and it just begins to feel like filler.

A good writer uses explicit content to make writing real. When it’s not needed, it seems out of place. The same can be said if it is omitted where it belongs. After all, it would break the third wall if a death-row inmate used euphemisms like “darn” to replace stronger words. The reader will not be convinced; rather, the author’s inhibitions will detach the reader from the story. A good writer can distance their own moral or personal believes for the sake of a character or for their story.

In an effort to protect the reader, or due to personal biases, writers have tried to write around the F-word, using alternatives like frack, feck, or fudge. After all, their concern is that a reader may be thrown by the F-bomb, but euphemisms can be distracting, if not down right ridiculous. My opinion is either use the word or don’t. Don’t eat half a cookie. Cram the whole thing in your mouth like Cookie Monster, or leave it on the plate. Personally, I use euphemisms in front of my preschooler, not in my writing.

The other reason writers include controversial content is for shock value. I think we’re running into more of this as writers struggle to write something that hasn’t been done. It’s like the bully at school trying to provoke you just to get a reaction. Writers just want to see how far they can go. When the intent is to cause an intense or drastic feeling of fear, disgust, or shock in the reader, the result is shallow. The effect of this is often short lived and forgettable. Using the elements sparingly makes the effect more profound. Shock value is usually the result of a writer who is worried their writing will be boring. Just like any element of writing, when used to often, anything becomes boring. Do you hear that, George? I’m bored of boobs and butts!

Again, I am no prude. When I was in middle school, I was enthralled by The Woman in the Wall by Patrice Kindl, particularly the scene where the character starts her period.. To this day, I remember that chapter. It just goes to show a little can go a long way. I’ll also never forget when I read my first homosexual paring outside of fanfiction. Many writers avoid these parings because of their own personal biases. Some writers use them merely for shock. I feel that explicit or controversial content needs mature appreciation from both the author and the reader for it to be successful.

So how do you know when to use certain content? It’s an easy answer to a very controversial question. The answer lies in your readers. It should be based on your audience. You will never satisfy everyone. After all, if you are writing a gritty historical novel about the wild west or the Holocaust, you shouldn’t worry about your three-year old niece or your great grandmother. They aren’t your audience. Ask yourself, based on the demographic you’ve chosen for your book, will they be thrown, will they be offended, will they appreciate it. Right now I’m writing a novel that contains violence, sex, and probably a sprinkle of cussing here and there. The audience I’ve selected should be mature adults. Therefore, I’m not worried about whether it is appropriate for teenagers to read or the impact it could have on them. I don’t believe books should be banned (and I doubt mine is bad enough to warrant such a drastic measure) but the immaturity and impressionability of youth, and media’s impact on them is underestimated. Twilight. Need I say more. The reader is always in my mind. After all, I’m not writing for me. I’m writing for them. Listen to what your reader wants. Read customer reviews for books similar to yours. If they aren’t complaining about content, feel free to put in enough bad language to make Gordon Ramsay blush.

As I write, I’m going to keep my readers in mind. So when you get ready to write that steamy sex scene or throw in an f-bomb/d-word combo, consider this: are you being edgy, or just going over the edge?

Read to Write


ImageI’ve always been told you have to read to write. Never thought I would start writing because of reading old magazines. Some of these magazines were older than the ones at a doctors office, or the ones we used to use as coasters at the Kokomo Tribune, but within those dust covered, curling pages, I found three free writing contest to enter. So it’s time to stop reading and start writing!

Naturally, I enter writing contest for the chance of winning. The prizes range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars. Not to mention the gratifying validation that you’re writing is reader worthy and publishable.

Winning a contest would look great on my writing portfolio. Like a potential employer, a publisher wants to see evidence that you are a good writer and a safe financial risk. This can be proven with published clips and awards. My portfolio isn’t so bad: I’ve published in the Correspondent and the Kokomo Tribune, and I write for Textbroker, but I’m worried some of my writing experience may be getting a little dated. After all, I haven’t won a writing contest since high school.

This year, my sister submitted an entry as well. I told her it was good practice. She thought I meant writing, but I think it’s better practice for getting rejected. After a couple of years of not winning a short-story contest, you go from being depressed to just shrugging your shoulders. It may be a little premature to worry about rejection, considering I haven’t finished one of three books I plan to write, but I think it never hurts to prepare for that first rejection letter. I tell my sister, and I will see that she holds me to it, that I am going to frame every rejection letter I get. I hope I have enough wall space.

The Buddy System


Like someone quitting cigarettes or dieting, when it comes to writing, I’ve fallen off the wagon from time to time. I’ve gone weeks, months, almost a year without writing in the past. I’ve tried to create a writing schedule, a rewards system, anything to keep writing consistently.

Recently, I spoke with a client who was on a diet. She said she inspired others to lose weight and now they all get together and share their stories of success and frustration. Similarly, a friend of mine is trying to quit drinking soda. She has a small group on Facebook that encourages each other to stop drinking coke. They check up on each other with messages and post to keep on track.

Being a twin, I have a built-in buddy, so we decided to apply the buddy system to writing. We each created a writing goal chart outlining how many chapters we are going to write/edit a month. If we accomplish our goals we get rewards. The rewards vary depending on the difficulty level of the goal. It can range from getting an eyebrow wax to a new book or movie. Every quarter we are going to see who accomplished the most goals and that person gets a special reward. If I lose I have to paint my sister’s wall. If that doesn’t keep me motivated, I don’t know what will. In addition to setting goals, we meet every week to write and edit together and discuss our progress. We motivate and encourage each other, especially when we are feeling discouraged. If my sister falls behind, I am there to get her back on track and vise versa.

Why We Write


Writing is often a discouraging, overwhelming, and intimidating task, so why do we subject ourselves to do something that is seemingly akin to torture . . . or homework?

Ask any author and they will all admit to being compelled by some internal drive. It can be a stirring, like a gentle nudge or a whisper that we feel or hear deep within us. Or it can be a constant nag that reverberates like a hammer pounding.

For me, I’ve enjoyed writing since I was a child. Before I could write, I would draw pictures to illustrate the story I wanted to tell. I’ve long since advanced from crude drawings and misspelled words to short stories, poems, and my first real attempts at writing novels.

In The Midnight Disease by Alice W. Flaherty, the author states that Neurologist may have found a scientific reason we feel the need to write. The brain produces hypergraphia, which is an overpowering desire to write. It could have something to do with the structure of certain parts of the brain. So, to summarize, writing may be a mental disorder.

Whatever the reason we write, it is important to know why you are writing. If there isn’t a reason to write your story, there isn’t a reason to read it.

A Much Needed Holiday


In the words of Bilbo Baggins from The Hobbit, “I need a holiday . . . and somewhere quiet where I can finish my book.”

During the Labor Dbilbo-baggins-writingay weekend I got just that. Sunday, I joined my sister and her friend for a write-in. For those who are not familiar with a write-in, this is an event where writers get together to work on their novels.

Meeting with other writers can be very inspiring and beneficial. Take me for example: I got more writing done in one day than I did the entire week leading up to the holiday weekend. I don’t know if it was the coffee or the therapeutic clacking of computer keys, but I couldn’t stop writing (usually starting is my problem). Not that we didn’t take breaks from time to time. There were a few food runs (junk food mainly) and some much needed socializing, but it’s a good idea to keep the chit chat to a minimum so you can get some writing done.

Restaurants, libraries, and coffee houses make excellent venues for write-ins, but we met at my sister’s house, which was the perfect setting because it was quiet and spacious with plenty of room on the chairs, her couch, or even the floor to set up shop or sprawl like piles of dirty laundry.

Write-ins take place every year for NaNoWrimo. This November, I hope to participate in one if they have one close enough to home; if not, I’m sure my sister is more than willing to host another at her house.