Sign In | Create an Account | Welcome, . My Account | Logout | Subscribe | Submit News | Facebook | Twitter | Home RSS

The Writing Life - How far can I go?

March 6, 2015
By Michael Tidemann - Staff Writer , Estherville News

This is a monthly column on the writing process. Topics will range from books and authors to writing conferences and workshops to the writing process itself.

I still vividly remember when I took home a copy of Catcher in the Rye that I'd checked out from the high-school library and laid it on the kitchen counter at home. When my dear mother, God bless her soul, went to reach for one of her Old Golds, curiosity led her to pick up J.D. Salinger instead. When she saw the first "F" word, she went ballistic. When she saw a second, she marched me out to our 1965 Ford Ranch Wagon, Salinger in hand, and drove straight to my principal's home and demanded to know why such filth was being foisted upon someone as innocent as myself (I just pretended to be innocent when I was around Mom, if you want to know the truth).

"It's literature ," my principal offered sagely.

"Well what TYPE of literature?" my mother demanded.

My otherwise meek and mild mother was about as irate as a wounded badger.

"It's contemporary literature," my principal continued. "A lot of writers use language like that now."

"Even the word f___?" Mom said, stating the entire word.

"Yes," said my principal. "Even the f___ word," he added, also stating the entire word.

As we all know, the "F" word has been a part of the accepted literary lexicon for several decades now. It's not only a verb, but also an adjective, a noun, an adverb and a verb particle. It's here to stay.

A major reason for not using the "F" word, of course, is marketing. For example, you might want to go light on it when writing young adult or juvenile literature (though of course it's been used there too). And if you're trying to market your book in Christian bookstores, it might be best to not have a lot of profanity in it.

One of my favorite writers, T.C. Boyle, who is far from squeamish, used it just once that I recall, and I've read a couple dozen of his books, everything except his last short story collection. I own that but haven't read it yet.

As times have changed, so has the language that's considered literary. Back in the Sixties, the only place you could have bought Fifty Shades of Gray was in a smut shop in the seediest part of a city. Now, it's available at a lot of supermarket checkouts and it's spurred a whole new subspecies of the bodice-ripper genre.

To me, there seem to be two key issues when considering what type of language to use, particularly in fiction.

First of all, does it fit in the context of the narrative? If a character wants to act or speak in a certain way, then probably let the character have at it. To restrain the character would be unnatural.

The other is the audience you're trying to reach. If you think that audience would be offended, then don't put it in. If you feel your audience would understand, then leave it. Not everyone goes to movies rated R and not everyone has read Fifty Shades of Gray (well, not quite everyone).

And here's one more fact to put things into perspective. According to the March-April issue of Poets & Writers magazine, it's now California state law that schools must teach LBGTQ literature. Note that's not may but must. P&W says that's given groups like Lambda Literary a new audience for workshops in the San Diego School System.

Yes, literature has changed. The only decision writers have to make now is one of audience.

Michael Tidemann's author page is:



I am looking for:
News, Blogs & Events Web