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The Lonely One
02-19-2010, 03:15 AM
Recently a story of mine was accepted in which a character (non-narrator) used the word "retard" to insult the narrator. After the acceptance and re-reading the story, I felt it DID fit the character's persona, but went back and edited twice (I'm sure the editor hates me by now) to ensure readers got that the narrator didn't endorse the word, only responded to it. I didn't turn it into an after-school special but made sure the point was across that the narrator didn't use the word and thought the other character was "an insensitive kind of guy" for doing so.

My question to you all is, what impact does the use of this word have on: 1.) a story 2.) an author 3.) a publication 4.) the reading public? Should we avoid it altogether, or is it better to have unlikable characters say what they would naturally say?

I thought, if my narrator WAS the kind of guy to use the word, I wouldn't personally find that person worth following or writing about. He'd be irredeemable and readers wouldn't want to get behind him/her.

But what do you think? There's a campaign out there (I forget the specifics) that boycotts all media that uses the word. I'm not so extreme as to censor the use of words when they are necessary or important to story development, but feel it's important to...be extremely, carefully clear with what context you intend to use potentially harmful words like "retard, nigger, kike, faggot" etc. I don't use main characters that use words like that, but occasionally others around the MC do speak that way, and I feel it'd be wrong to censor them.

Where do you draw the line? How do you tackle this issue?

maestrowork
02-19-2010, 03:16 AM
I let my characters say whatever they want to. It's their stories I'm telling.


If my readers think I AM my characters, then maybe they should go read Winnie the Pooh.


In broader terms, I don't think political correctness has any place in fiction. That's just deceitful, and writers write about the truth. People use these words, and they MEAN by these words. We may not agree with them, but these people exist. As writers, I believe in presenting the world as it is, and not color-filter it to be politically correct. At least not in characterization.

The Lonely One
02-19-2010, 03:18 AM
Winnie the Pooh is great! :)

Slushie
02-19-2010, 03:23 AM
Reader sensibilities don't even enter into brane when I write. Somebody will always be offended by something, it seems. I don't even worry about it.

Also, I read Winnie the Pooh and I am offended by maestro's comment. :D

Kitty Pryde
02-19-2010, 03:37 AM
For me personally, it's not totally taboo, but I don't really like to read it. I think there are very few occasions where it adds anything to a work. If it did, then I think it's okay. And the way people use it in casual conversation is really, really nasty...and no amount of saying "OH BUT WE AREN'T REFERRING TO ACTUAL COGNITIVELY IMPAIRED PEOPLE" can change the fact that it's nasty. IMO the less it is repeated, the less people will use it.

For instance, the South Park kids call each other "retard" ALL the time, and while I don't really love it, it feels okay to me because 1. South Park rags on everybody and 2. South Park is one of very very very very few shows to actually portray cognitively disabled people as actual characters and not objects of pity to cheesily inspire the other characters. For example, Timmy, who only says two words and uses a power wheelchair --he travels through time, fronts a heavy metal band, acts in the school play, and his impairment is never really ridiculed, he's just another character. Or the "Special Olympics" episode, where a kid with Down syndrome is selling steroids to the other kids, and Eric tries to be a ringer but he can't beat any of the kids who have disabilities. Hilarious, and not mean nor cheesy.

kuwisdelu
02-19-2010, 03:38 AM
What Ray said.

kuwisdelu
02-19-2010, 03:41 AM
For instance, the South Park kids call each other "retard" ALL the time, and while I don't really love it, it feels okay to me because 1. South Park rags on everybody and 2. South Park is one of very very very very few shows to actually portray cognitively disabled people as actual characters and not objects of pity to cheesily inspire the other characters. For example, Timmy, who only says two words and uses a power wheelchair --he travels through time, fronts a heavy metal band, acts in the school play, and his impairment is never really ridiculed, he's just another character. Or the "Special Olympics" episode, where a kid with Down syndrome is selling steroids to the other kids, and Eric tries to be a ringer but he can't beat any of the kids who have disabilities. Hilarious, and not mean nor cheesy.

Not to mention how they'd further lampshaded this kind of use of language with their "faggot" episode.

I've known gay people use the word fag to insult people. I've known mentally disabled people use the world retarded to insult things, too.

Elias Graves
02-19-2010, 03:46 AM
I don't think it's right when a character commits murder but I'm not going to censor it either.

BTW, the proper clinical term du jour is "developmental disability."

EG

Kitty Pryde
02-19-2010, 03:47 AM
Not to mention how they'd further lampshaded this kind of use of language with their "faggot" episode.

I've known gay people use the word fag to insult people. I've known mentally disabled people use the world retarded to insult things, too.

The "faggot" episode didn't really work for me, though I usually agree with whatever point they are trying to make on that show. A group (straight obnoxious small boys) can't claim that an insulting name for another group (gay people) no longer means what it means. They would never try to say that about the n-word (even though south park has done an episode about the n-word).

mscelina
02-19-2010, 03:49 AM
When a writer starts to worry about writing with politically correct terminology, I feel that a layer of credibility is stripped away from the characters. I tell the authors I edit to just call it what it is--let the character behave the same way that people like him behave in real life. If he calls people 'retards'--and I'm thinking that just about everyone has used that term in casual conversation--then just let him do it. I have a character who's a whore--acts like a whore, thinks like a whore, smells like a whore and talks like a whore. That doesn't mean I am --

--whichever one of you is about to follow up at on that comment this moment, can it! --

--not in the slightest. What it means is that I, as a writer, have recognized the attributes of my character and are portraying them as accurately as I can with an eye to the integrity of that character and her world. Make sense?

Kitty Pryde
02-19-2010, 03:50 AM
I don't think it's right when a character commits murder but I'm not going to censor it either.

BTW, the proper clinical term du jour is "developmental disability."

EG

...except for when it's not. Depending on who you ask, it can be "cognitive disability", "cognitive impairment", "intellectual disability", or "intellectual impairment". And no, these words are not exactly synonymous. My partner works in the field and it's hard to keep up!

The Lonely One
02-19-2010, 03:52 AM
I let my characters say whatever they want to. It's their stories I'm telling.


If my readers think I AM my characters, then maybe they should go read Winnie the Pooh.


In broader terms, I don't think political correctness has any place in fiction. That's just deceitful, and writers write about the truth. People use these words, and they MEAN by these words. We may not agree with them, but these people exist. As writers, I believe in present the world as it is, and not color-filter it to be politically correct. At least not in characterization.

This makes a lot of sense, and I am as hesitant to censor my work as I assume you are. However, not regarding characters in general but MCs specifically: do you worry about the potential rat's nest--because you as an author chose this specific character as one readers should follow and root for, and yet they are insensitive to certain groups?

In my case, the character who said the word is an unlikable character, and is a secondary character as well. He's static throughout. But I, as a reader, can't put my own emotions and sensibilities into an MC that believes in speaking this way. I question the strength of mind of an MC to overcome adversity when they are so insensitive and childish in their everyday sensibilities. So perhaps that is why I wonder, what would one risk (in reader sensibilities) using an MC of this nature?

Or do you see a difference between the standard you hold to your MC and other characters?

The Lonely One
02-19-2010, 03:55 AM
In other words, I don't want to censor characters in general, but have certain standards of what kind of MC I think is worth pursuing and showing as a "hero." Characters say what they want, but when on the one hand a character in my story may say "retard," his choice to do so would (usually) exclude him from being MC material, IMO.

kuwisdelu
02-19-2010, 03:59 AM
I don't think it's right when a character commits murder but I'm not going to censor it either.

BTW, the proper clinical term du jour is "developmental disability."

EG

If so, that makes me a retard, too.


...except for when it's not. Depending on who you ask, it can be "cognitive disability", "cognitive impairment", "intellectual disability", or "intellectual impairment". And no, these words are not exactly synonymous. My partner works in the field and it's hard to keep up!

That.


The "faggot" episode didn't really work for me, though I usually agree with whatever point they are trying to make on that show. A group (straight obnoxious small boys) can't claim that an insulting name for another group (gay people) no longer means what it means. They would never try to say that about the n-word (even though south park has done an episode about the n-word).

It's about connotation versus denotation.

The way I take it is that trying to fight connotation sometimes is just silly, like telling two black friends to stop calling each other my nigga or something because to other people it's derogatory.

maestrowork
02-19-2010, 04:04 AM
We do have a choice to tell the kind of stories or characters we want. If you have a problem with characters who say "retard" then don't. However, if you do choose to write about such characters, then be honest about them, good, bad, evil... Like someone said, you don't have write about murderers or cannibals, but if you do, then don't sugarcoat them and make them something else, just because someone might find that offensive (however, your other characters could find that offensive!!!). Where would Hannibal Lecter be if Harris censored him?

Harris, however, is free to choose to NOT write about such a character. And readers are free to choose to read it or not.

Just one word of advice, TLO: stop worrying about who you should please and who will be offended. That's not your job. Your job is to tell a great story with great characters as best as you can, as truthfully as you can.



Characters say what they want, but when on the one hand a character in my story may say "retard," his choice to do so would (usually) exclude him from being MC material, IMO.

Is there some kind of tests? If you're politically incorrect you can't be the hero? Or main character? Or the love interest?

Where will that test be taken?

I mean, for crying out loud, Holden Caufield is considered one of most memorable protagonists in literary history and that kid is far from being cute, nice and politically correct. And yet there he is, a star.

Write the damned characters the way they should be.

veinglory
02-19-2010, 04:07 AM
If the character would really say something that offensive, then it's cool. The problem comes in when it is seen as more like "idiot" when it is actually more like the n word on the scale of nastiness.

kuwisdelu
02-19-2010, 04:10 AM
I just wish there were a more derogatory name for Injuns so I could throw it around more....

backslashbaby
02-19-2010, 04:10 AM
I put down books if we are supposed to identify with the MC, yet he is offensive to a certain level. I specifically remember an MC thinking about women often "as just holes". Nope, not if I'm supposed to like him.

The bad guys can be brilliantly bad, but a 'good' MC better not be too alienatiing.

kuwisdelu
02-19-2010, 04:11 AM
One person's idea of alienating is always different from another's.

backslashbaby
02-19-2010, 04:14 AM
One person's idea of alienating is always different from another's.

Very true. It's hard to balance, sometimes. But we were supposed to find this guy really cool, clearly. And that just wasn't going to happen for me reading thoughts like that so often.

poetinahat
02-19-2010, 04:16 AM
I just wish there were a more derogatory name for Injuns so I could throw it around more....

This one (http://www.uwec.edu/ais/Mascot%20Ethics%20Website/images/WashingtonRedskins3x4.jpg) always bugged me, but it doesn't bug everyone.

The Lonely One
02-19-2010, 04:18 AM
One person's idea of alienating is always different from another's.

That's a good point. That's pretty much what it's going to boil down to--both with writers and readers.

backslashbaby
02-19-2010, 04:31 AM
I think if a writer leaves it more ambiguous, it's fine. So no 'hero'. Just an interesting story about an interesting man. I love that. But many readers want an actual hero, one they can identify with, so that's a bit different.

kuwisdelu
02-19-2010, 04:39 AM
This one (http://www.uwec.edu/ais/Mascot%20Ethics%20Website/images/WashingtonRedskins3x4.jpg) always bugged me, but it doesn't bug everyone.

I call myself a redskin sometimes, too. It sounds more casual than Injun, though. "Native American" is such a mouthful when people ask me what the heck I am, and there are too many actually-from-India Indians around here for to just say Indian...

kuwisdelu
02-19-2010, 04:41 AM
I think if a writer leaves it more ambiguous, it's fine. So no 'hero'. Just an interesting story about an interesting man. I love that. But many readers want an actual hero, one they can identify with, so that's a bit different.

Yeah. The former is where I'm coming from. I never write about heroes. Just people.

Every character I write is the hero of his or her own story. I try not to write any characters I couldn't write a whole novel about if I needed to.

Ken
02-19-2010, 04:45 AM
... characters in novels needn't be verbatim clones of real-life people.

The Lonely One
02-19-2010, 04:47 AM
... characters in novels needn't be verbatim clones of real-life people.

I agree, but for clarification could you explain a little bit more what you mean, or to which argument you are taking by saying this?

Wayne K
02-19-2010, 04:54 AM
I've considered this because my book isn't a novel, its a memoir. The language of the times was what it was, so there are a lot of derogating terms. It gives the reader an accurate assessment of what the people, the language and the times were like.

Retard nigger Kike Dyke faggot spic, these are all just words. The thing to look at is the context. Some people say these words should be banned, but I disagree. They're part of language, so they'll never go away.

how do you teach your kids about the people who do use these words if you can't talk about the words themselves.?

maxmordon
02-19-2010, 04:57 AM
"With ABC deleting dynamite gags from cartoons, do you find that your children are using explosives less frequently?"
— Mark LoPresti

Characters are different entities than the author, yes, we're the puppetmasters that torture them for own little gratification and amusement (snickering) but nonetheless what works is not what is moral or what is not moral, but simply what fits in the character. Say, we have a 1940's Alabama sherriff who on weekends doubles as the Wizard of his klan chapter (yeah, I know it's stereotypical, but go on with me), and one day while he's eating donuts he sees a young black man with a death wish stealing his car, do you think he will chase him screaming "Come back here, you gosh-darn African-American gentleman!"? No, because it doesn't make any sense.

About heroes, I never understood while they most be likable. I mean, James Bond is always a bit of a prick in his earlier movies, and John Wayne isn't exactly Mr. Senstivity in most of his roles, but we follow them because they have an interesting story to tell and catches us. I mean, you have Michael Corleone who is a cold-blooded criminal mastermind or Eric Cartman who is a selfish racist kid and yet, we can't stop looking at them.

kuwisdelu
02-19-2010, 04:57 AM
Retard nigger Kike Dyke faggot spic, these are all just words. The thing to look at is the context. Some people say these words should be banned, but I disagree. They're part of language, so they'll never go away.

Yep.

Just read a short story where the narrator talks about how his grandfather only got jobs when the employers ran out of niggers and spics to use and decided to hire a Canuck. Just reflected how things were for his grandfather.

Ken
02-19-2010, 04:59 AM
I agree, but for clarification could you explain a little bit more what you mean, or to which argument you are taking by saying this?

... the use or non-use of one word in a 300-page novel is not going cause a character to be unbelievable. And even if readers do notice the absence of a particular term in a character's dialogue they'll grant the author the right to make such an ommision and pay it little mind in view of the fact that the author is making the ommision for a particular reason and not simply because they're being careless. If a writer wants to go there, fine. I'm just saying that if they are reluctant to they needn't and that that won't impact the credibility of their stories so long as the stories themselves are good and the characters, well conceived.

kuwisdelu
02-19-2010, 05:02 AM
... the use or non-use of one word in a 300-page novel is not going cause a character to be unbelievable. And even if readers do notice the absence of a particular term in a character's dialogue they'll grant the author the right to make such an ommision and pay it little mind in view of the fact that the author is making the ommision for a particular reason and not simply because they're being careless.

Sometimes. But if a character talks about "African Americans" in a nineteenth-century setting, I'll probably throw the book across the room.

maxmordon
02-19-2010, 05:03 AM
I call myself a redskin sometimes, too. It sounds more casual than Injun, though. "Native American" is such a mouthful when people ask me what the heck I am, and there are too many actually-from-India Indians around here for to just say Indian...

Since we call here people from India "Hindu/Hindi" and call the Indigenous people "Indians", it gets confused to separate "Hindu" with "People from India", added to the mix that your average Venezuelan mixes up Judaism with Islam.

A Mexican slur against the Natives in Mexico is "scratched-feet" since it was said it was the result of walking around with traditional native footwear. Just a tip.

maxmordon
02-19-2010, 05:06 AM
... the use or non-use of one word in a 300-page novel is not going cause a character to be unbelievable. And even if readers do notice the absence of a particular term in a character's dialogue they'll grant the author the right to make such an ommision and pay it little mind in view of the fact that the author is making the ommision for a particular reason and not simply because they're being careless. If a writer wants to go there, fine. I'm just saying that if they are reluctant to they needn't and that that won't impact the credibility of their stories so long as the stories themselves are good and the characters are well conceived.

This is true, but is a bit hard to pull it off. I mean, you can do it if you can do it and there's of course the suspension of disbelief, knowing your audience and whatnot.

I know it's not the best example, but you have Disney's The Princess and The Frog in which racism is hinted very subtle yet it tells an engaging story and doesn't feel out of place how it was told.

The Lonely One
02-19-2010, 05:07 AM
Sometimes. But if a character talks about "African Americans" in a nineteenth-century setting, I'll probably throw the book across the room.

Oh, I agree. And this is a different point that is important, too, about time period. In the southern U.S. in the 1800s I think nigger or negro would be pretty common usage. Also "boy" etc.

Perhaps less excusable in a modern setting? I guess it depends on the character(s).

kuwisdelu
02-19-2010, 05:11 AM
Perhaps less excusable in a modern setting? I guess it depends on the character(s).

It entirely depends on the character.

And ultimately, I'd be far more sympathetic with a loving, well-meaning, sympathetic MC who uses language like "nigger" and "retard," than a completely PC MC who I just plain can't relate to.

For example, a friend of mine's grandmother referred to the democratic candidates as "that dyke" and "that nice black man." She voted for "that nice black man," but those are just the descriptors that were present in her mind. She didn't mean them to be perjoratives.

The Lonely One
02-19-2010, 05:17 AM
.

Cranky
02-19-2010, 05:20 AM
To me, you need to be true to the characters, full stop. That said, I'm pretty sure that there are plenty of good alternatives to use, and I would make full use of them. But that's because I hate that word with an all-consuming passion. *shrug*

Ken
02-19-2010, 05:23 AM
Sometimes. But if a character talks about "African Americans" in a nineteenth-century setting, I'll probably throw the book across the room.

... that would not be the way to handle such a situation to be sure. I'm not really sure how one would, making me glad I don't write historical fiction. I have read numerous YA bios on heroes like Fredrick Douglas, though. And while hateful terms were included in accounts of their lives when the ordeals they had to suffer were being described the quoted terms were used very sparingly, with no loss of affect in what they had to suffer and endure. Surely if non-fiction authors can do so, fictional ones can find means of doing so too for the benefit of readers like myself who really don't care to hear such cr*p.

I never thought of that Disney story in that way Max. Will have to give it another look with this perspective in mind.

Elias Graves
02-19-2010, 05:27 AM
...except for when it's not. Depending on who you ask, it can be "cognitive disability", "cognitive impairment", "intellectual disability", or "intellectual impairment". And no, these words are not exactly synonymous. My partner works in the field and it's hard to keep up!

As do I. It is a challenge to keep up. The PC police who coin these terms (to assuage their own guilt in my opinion) claim they are changed to reflect accuracy in diagnosis. I suspect other motives, but that's me.
I work in one particular area of this field, what is presently know as assistive technology. Since I began working in this field, terminology has changed dramatically and I receive regular updates from professional organizations to keep me up to date on current definitions. It's quite ridiculous some days.
Here's a specific example. What was once an electric wheelchair became a power wheelchair, then evolved into a powered mobility device. It is now also part of a larger family that includes everything from a cane to a PMD that's known as "mobility assistive devices." I have to keep myself from laughing sometimes. You want a tray on your wheelchair? Sorry. You get an "upper extremity support surface." A seat belt? Nope. You get an "anterior pelvic support."
One could perform an entire standup routine based on nothing but terminology.

Back to the original point: If some neanderthal in the story says "retard," then they say "retard." That's all there is to it. I'd never keep them from saying it.
Were I writing the story, I'd almost certainly have another character call them on it or I'd make sure there was enough other stupidity coming out of his mouth that the reader could see pretty easily what type of insecure tool they were dealing with.

EG

kuwisdelu
02-19-2010, 05:33 AM
Plenty of times when people use offensive terminology, it's not always because they're stupid or tools. Often, they're perfectly well-meaning people who just aren't educated about the offense of that particular language, whether because it's the way they grew up or just ignorant of it or haven't ever had anyone be offended by what they consider everyday, inoffensive terminology.

maestrowork
02-19-2010, 05:37 AM
Very true. It's hard to balance, sometimes. But we were supposed to find this guy really cool, clearly. And that just wasn't going to happen for me reading thoughts like that so often.

It's one thing if you want the guy to be "cool" or "heroic" or whatever. Obviously a guy who thinks women are just holes wouldn't make it to my "cool" guy list either... the author must have something to say... clearly if you want to write some kind of HERO you may consider the conventional wisdom of what makes a hero hero.

Still, an MC doesn't have to be cool or nice or even heroic (at least not in a conventional sense). He could be a womanizer, even a misogynist but still fascinates us (think American Psycho).

Elias Graves
02-19-2010, 05:38 AM
I just wish there were a more derogatory name for Injuns so I could throw it around more....
That's funny. My grandmother insisted she was Choctaw and that's all there was to it. She always said "I ain't never been to India and I ain't goin either. I'm Choctaw and that's all there is to it."

EG

maestrowork
02-19-2010, 05:39 AM
... characters in novels needn't be verbatim clones of real-life people.

Writers shouldn't be afraid of language either, with it fits.

maestrowork
02-19-2010, 05:46 AM
To me, you need to be true to the characters, full stop. That said, I'm pretty sure that there are plenty of good alternatives to use, and I would make full use of them. But that's because I hate that word with an all-consuming passion. *shrug*

This thread reminds me of the thread about swearing... some people say, "the writer has the right to not use those words," and others would say, "you should let the characters be themselves..."

It's the same non-ending arguments all over again.

The thing is, if a character who should be saying "retard" is saying "imbecile," something is lost in translation there. Many readers may not pick up on it, but many would.

maxmordon
02-19-2010, 05:48 AM
It's one thing if you want the guy to be "cool" or "heroic" or whatever. Obviously a guy who thinks women are just holes wouldn't make it to my "cool" guy list either... the author must have something to say... clearly if you want to write some kind of HERO you may consider the conventional wisdom of what makes a hero hero.

Still, an MC doesn't have to be cool or nice or even heroic (at least not in a conventional sense). He could be a womanizer, even a misogynist but still fascinates us (think American Psycho).

Exactly.

Elias Graves
02-19-2010, 05:50 AM
Plenty of times when people use offensive terminology, it's not always because they're stupid or tools. Often, they're perfectly well-meaning people who just aren't educated about the offense of that particular language, whether because it's the way they grew up or just ignorant of it or haven't ever had anyone be offended by what they consider everyday, inoffensive terminology.

True. It completely depends on context. For example, were I setting up a wheelchair for a guy with a disability, I'd be run out of business if I called him a retard. A high school kid or anyone 30 years ago likely wouldn't give the term a second thought.
I was thinking specifically about a modern context. I would have a hard time letting that slide in my fiction without some reprisal or using it, along with other devices, to illustrate the character's flaws.

EG

kuwisdelu
02-19-2010, 05:52 AM
That's funny. My grandmother insisted she was Choctaw and that's all there was to it. She always said "I ain't never been to India and I ain't goin either. I'm Choctaw and that's all there is to it."

EG

Yup.

I'm Zuni, but most people would have no idea what I'm talking about if that's all I said.

On the rez, if we're talking about other tribes too, we just say Indians.

Ironically, one of the offensive words in our language translates to "feather-head," meaning you're from another tribe—one of those silly ones who wear feathers on their heads. ;)

Cranky
02-19-2010, 05:55 AM
This thread reminds me of the thread about swearing... some people say, "the writer has the right to not use those words," and others would say, "you should let the characters be themselves..."

It's the same non-ending arguments all over again.

The thing is, if a character who should be saying "retard" is saying "imbecile," something is lost in translation there. Many readers may not pick up on it, but many would.

To each his own, I say. I can think of other words that would work far better than "imbecile" that people use all the time. But that's my personal hangup, and I don't expect everyone else to abide by it. I'm just saying, if someone (the OP or otherwise) doesn't want to use that word, there *are* alternatives, and not ones that don't make sense for the character.

Elias Graves
02-19-2010, 06:02 AM
Yup.

I'm Zuni, but most people would have no idea what I'm talking about if that's all I said.

On the rez, if we're talking about other tribes too, we just say Indians.

Ironically, one of the offensive words in our language translates to "feather-head," meaning you're from another tribeā€”one of those silly ones who wear feathers on their heads. ;)

HaHa! I guess here in Oklahoma there are so many different tribes around and even the whites are familiar enough with the different tribes that most use tribal names.
In fact, I know a few guys who will get really pissed if you accidentally call them Cherokee when they are, say, Choctaw. It gets a little territorial sometimes.
Featherhead. I like that. Of course my grandmother's opinion of the southwestern tribes wasn't much higher. "Bunch of damn savages."
Man, people are screwed. I wonder how we've survived as long as we have.
On the other hand, I get a little defensive when the Baptists around here start telling Catholic jokes.
Sheez. I better get out of this thread now.

EG

kuwisdelu
02-19-2010, 06:06 AM
HaHa! I guess here in Oklahoma there are so many different tribes around and even the whites are familiar enough with the different tribes that most use tribal names.
In fact, I know a few guys who will get really pissed if you accidentally call them Cherokee when they are, say, Choctaw. It gets a little territorial sometimes.
Featherhead. I like that. Of course my grandmother's opinion of the southwestern tribes wasn't much higher. "Bunch of damn savages."
Man, people are screwed. I wonder how we've survived as long as we have.
On the other hand, I get a little defensive when the Baptists around here start telling Catholic jokes.
Sheez. I better get out of this thread now.

EG

Hehe.

Yeah, well my rez is in NM and I live in the midwest. So yeah.

maestrowork
02-19-2010, 07:18 AM
To each his own, I say. I can think of other words that would work far better than "imbecile" that people use all the time. But that's my personal hangup, and I don't expect everyone else to abide by it. I'm just saying, if someone (the OP or otherwise) doesn't want to use that word, there *are* alternatives, and not ones that don't make sense for the character.

But he did want to use it, and he did use it. He's just having second thoughts because he's afraid someone is going to be offended...

And we all know where it will lead if we're all so afraid of offending anyone...

That's all. Of course you can do whatever you want as a writer. You don't have to write American Psycho, but someone did. And readers will do whatever they want as well... some will read American Psycho, and some will read Winnie the Pooh, and some will read both!

Wayne K
02-19-2010, 07:22 AM
I don't think I would be capable of writing a publishable book if I censored myself, but I'd rather die penniless than do it, so I'll go ahead and take my chances with offending people.

Wayne K
02-19-2010, 07:26 AM
I want them to burn millions of copies

Wayne K
02-19-2010, 07:27 AM
We can make smores

kuwisdelu
02-19-2010, 07:30 AM
Yay!

maestrowork
02-19-2010, 07:42 AM
Stephen King doesn't have that problem, and he is far from politically correct...

Pesimisticus
02-19-2010, 08:04 AM
It scares me when we become so politically correct that people get all nervous about having a fictional character say an offensive word in a work of fiction. Seriously?

Sometimes I think people other think this crap. Write down the words, and what pops out will be the most natural word in that scenario. If it really makes your toes curl, change it, but do it on account that it is because YOU don't like it, not because you're getting a stomach ache worrying about the effect it will have on sales and what some random people will think.

maestrowork
02-19-2010, 08:49 AM
I agonized over the c word in my novel... I tried to make it relatively clean (since I want teenagers to read it, too). I changed it to everything else.... bitch, whore, slut, etc. and nothing seemed right. It just wasn't something this nasty little shithead was going to say. So I put the c word back in.

Hey, if I get a big contract and the agent or editor wants me to take that out, I will (but show me the money first). Otherwise, it stays.

nighttimer
02-19-2010, 10:44 AM
There's a scene in GoodFellas where a guy yells, "Two niggers just stole my truck."

I suppose if Martin Scorsese wanted to lessen the possibility of offending Black people in the audience he could have said, "Two black guys just stole my truck" or "two gentlemen of color just stole my truck" or take race out of the equation entirely and say, "two guys just stole my truck."

I think Scorsese got it right with the "two niggers" remark. Not because the word isn't offensive. It absolutely is. But is it in context? Is it used in a way that seems authentic? Yeah, I would say it is.

A character can say anything in fiction. If it's authentic and fits the character.

I hate Jews. Hitler's problem was he didn't go far enough. The Final Solution was only a good first step.

If the character is an anti-Semite how do you convey the anti-Semitics if it never is demonstrated? Perhaps another writer might get the point across with a greater degree of subtlety, but when a writer starts neutering their work in order not to risk anyone taking offense, they may succeed in being politically correct, but they will fail in being authentic and genuine.

kuwisdelu
02-19-2010, 11:06 AM
I agonized over the c word in my novel... I tried to make it relatively clean (since I want teenagers to read it, too). I changed it to everything else.... bitch, whore, slut, etc. and nothing seemed right. It just wasn't something this nasty little shithead was going to say. So I put the c word back in.

Hey, if I get a big contract and the agent or editor wants me to take that out, I will (but show me the money first). Otherwise, it stays.

Teenagers won't be the ones with the problem with it ;)

blacbird
02-19-2010, 12:02 PM
Real people use this word, and many others, all the time. If you're basing your characters on real people (generic ones, not specifically identifiable ones), you won't be truthful without letting such characters use words they use.

caw

seun
02-19-2010, 05:32 PM
A couple of years ago, I read a similar thread here about a character using (as the poster put it), the N word and if that would put readers off.

While we don't need to go out of way to offend people, what matters is the story and being true to it. If your characters use words such as retard, nigger, honky, paki, faggot or anything else along these lines, then for fuck's sake, use these words. People are unpleasant, racist and offensive so if you're writing about people, then be true to them.

scarletpeaches
02-19-2010, 05:38 PM
I don't think political correctness has any place in fiction. That's just deceitful, and writers write about the truth. People use these words, and they MEAN by these words. We may not agree with them, but these people exist. As writers, I believe in presenting the world as it is, and not color-filter it to be politically correct. At least not in characterization.Yep. This.

If this turns into another "Should I swear?" thread I'll kill myself.

So...of to read the other posts now.

seun
02-19-2010, 05:43 PM
Yep. This.

If this turns into another "Should I swear?" thread I'll kill myself.

So...of to read the other posts now.

I never use bad language in my books. It's the sign of a limited vocabulary. :D

scarletpeaches
02-19-2010, 05:45 PM
I never use bad language in my books. It's the sign of a limited vocabulary. :DThe more swear words you learn, the bigger your vocabulary, you recalcitrant twunt.

seun
02-19-2010, 05:46 PM
Twunt is my new favourite word.

Ken
02-19-2010, 05:48 PM
... writers have to make the choices that are right for their characters and right for themselves. I will never tell another writer how they should write. And by the same token I wouldn't want anyone telling me how I should write, myself, when it comes to the inclusion or exclusion of certain words. It's an individual thing that each writer has to decide for themselves.

maestrowork
02-19-2010, 09:14 PM
I certainly am not telling others how to write (see post #52). Just how I prefer to write and how I *believe* will make your writing stronger if you allow your characters (if you choose to write them) to be themselves without worrying about who you may offend.

Certainly, that's just a suggestion. Much like when Stephen King says, "don't use adverbs." Follow the advice or not, it's always the writer's choice. However, it's also good to hear the different perspectives and think on them. That's how writers grow, by getting out of their comfort zones!

lucidzfl
02-19-2010, 10:01 PM
Stephen King said above all else be true to your characters. If your character is using the C word or the N word or calling someone a 'tard, thats the way they talk.

Ken
02-19-2010, 11:08 PM
However, it's also good to hear the different perspectives and think on them. That's how writers grow, by getting out of their comfort zones!

... true :-)
My comment really wasn't directed towards you. Well maybe a bit. But overall, it was just a general remark that I thought needed to be made. It's good to get advice. And there's plenty of excellent advice and differing viewpoints to be got here! But it is equally important to be encouraged to follow your own instincts and settle on a path that suits your individual personality and aspirations. It's so important for all artistic pursuits to feel it's okay to do that.

And yep; King is correct. It is important to "be true to our characters," and to ourselves as well.

The Lonely One
02-19-2010, 11:09 PM
Okay you guys, I'm not being politically correct. Whoever thinks that is missing the point. I'm also not censoring the word. It still appears in the piece.

What I'm saying is, I realized, of my own sensibilities, I felt like the MC wouldn't have said it. The way I envisioned him, he's a jerk but not THAT much of a jerk. He's not going to kick someone while they're down--that's more the character of the individual who actually does say it. I just realized in my first draft it appeared as if the MC condoned its use, and in the second draft it is cleared that he is not the one saying it or condoning it.

But let's not accidentally get into the PC/censoring debate because I'm not saying one should censor, and I've never condoned censoring. I question the kinds of MCs a writer might deem worthy of follow, but that's just my sensibilities as a reader and writer. This is more what I'm talking about, though, not so much editing out words--just understanding and being cognizant and careful of their context.

For instance, I would never use "retard" with an indifferent narrator--but I might have a character say it. I'm all FOR realistic fiction. Seriously. But I'm not quite as insensitive as my characters, thus of course the word would highlight certain worries if not in the proper context.

And I also disagree that this is the same as the swearing argument. Whereas swearing has an equal opportunity of offending all people regardless of race, gender or disability (or not offending them), there are certain words--such as retard--as when seen in the wrong context can hurt a person due to no fault of their own.

I think none of us want to hurt other people, and it's of that desire I question the word. I'm not worried about offending, but I don't want to put something out there that's going to be harmful to the world.

The Lonely One
02-19-2010, 11:21 PM
On the flip side, having this conversation and seeing all the responses has helped me really figure out what I think my MC should be as a person and what standard I hold to him. He does some screwed up things in the story, but I think I can more clearly see where I draw the line in considering him the main character.

Since he's a modern character, and one I'd consider intelligent and a critical thinker, his using/condoning the word, I think, detracts from how I want others to see him.

The other character is actually a giant douche so I have no problem with him being the kind of guy to say what he says.

gilesth
02-19-2010, 11:47 PM
I thought, if my narrator WAS the kind of guy to use the word, I wouldn't personally find that person worth following or writing about. He'd be irredeemable and readers wouldn't want to get behind him/her.


Irredeemable? That's a bit extreme. I mean, Dexter Morgan is a serial killer and he's not considered an irredeemable protagonist. All protagonists must have flaws or they don't seem human enough for readers to accept them. I mean, we have characters out there calling people f***ing c*nts, and for some reason that's less politically incorrect than calling someone a retard.

With that being said, we need to remember that retardation is a medically recognized mental disorder that should neither be mocked or made light of. On the other hand, if you have a character of reprehensible...well...character, then perhaps the word was used to lightly. Maybe you could have thrown in a racial epithet to show just how despicable this character is...if that was your intent, anyway.

PC is all well and good, and we shouldn't do anything with the intent of offending people. I mean, we all deserve to be treated, at the very least, civilly. At the same time, humans still use offensive words. Even great role models make big mistakes or do things that we disagree with. I think the important thing is to make your characters honest, even if they disagree with you.

LOG
02-19-2010, 11:50 PM
In broader terms, I don't think political correctness has any place in fiction. That's just deceitful, and writers write about the truth. People use these words, and they MEAN by these words. We may not agree with them, but these people exist. As writers, I believe in presenting the world as it is, and not color-filter it to be politically correct. At least not in characterization.
QFT

maestrowork
02-20-2010, 12:07 AM
75 posts later... I just won't believe that a character is "irredeemable" and "unsympathetic" if he uses the word "retard." Really? If that's the worst thing your character does, I seriously doubt your readers are going to shut the book on him/her.

I mean, judging from this thread alone, I can say there are plenty of people who won't mind reading that book, if the character and story are well written.

I think this reflects more on the writer's own bias, values and sensibilities than the potential readers.

The Lonely One
02-20-2010, 06:13 AM
So...maestro, you're saying you'll read my story when it comes out in April? :)

The Lonely One
02-20-2010, 06:16 AM
BTW something I heard on NPR a few months ago...

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=112479383

This is sort of related so feel free to say what you think of the link.

maestrowork
02-20-2010, 06:35 AM
So...maestro, you're saying you'll read my story when it comes out in April? :)

"if the character and story are well written..."

;)

Sleepyhead
02-20-2010, 02:10 PM
BTW something I heard on NPR a few months ago...

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=112479383

This is sort of related so feel free to say what you think of the link.

Well, like Coates, I think that realizing the word describes people is the big issue. And I think it's a little sad that Savage can be so flippant.

People seem to think using the word as an insult is more okay than using the word to refer to those with developmental disabilities. Um, just the opposite.

My little brother has Down syndrome. And growing up, it wasn't uncommon for family members to refer to him as retarded or to his condition as mental retardation. Not as an insult, just as one of the accepted names (at the time) for his condition. "Retarded" still doesn't bother me in that context. My brother's development was slowed down, or retarded.

I find "retarded" extremely offensive when it's an insult hurled at a person of normal intelligence, though.

What it comes down to is this - those with developmental disabilities don't choose to be ignorant. Those of average or above-average intelligence who think it's okay to make an insult out of a handicap? They do choose to be ignorant.

Like Sheidlower said, you have the same issue with "gay." There's nothing wrong with being gay. Using "gay" as a synonym for "uncool," however, is small minded.

Okay, you said to feel free to comment on the link. That's my $0.02. As far as thread topic, though - I'd have absolutely no problem letting a character say "retard" if the character was the kind of person who would say it. Of course, I do think a character who would do so would be a piece of crap. That's my general feeling toward people who do.

[Edit: I myself am guilty of insensitivity. The word "uncool" above, in the comments about "gay"? I originally used the word "lame." So here's a question - when does something become such a part of the vernacular that we no longer associate it with its original meaning? I hope this doesn't happen to the "retard," but I'm guessing that for many, it already has. I might be coming down too hard on those who don't connect it with the concept of developmental disability. I certainly don't think of "lame" in the sense of "physically handicapped" unless specifically used in that context.]

seun
02-20-2010, 04:02 PM
75 posts later... I just won't believe that a character is "irredeemable" and "unsympathetic" if he uses the word "retard." Really? If that's the worst thing your character does, I seriously doubt your readers are going to shut the book on him/her.


I was about to say the same thing but Ray beat me to it.

maestrowork
02-20-2010, 07:44 PM
seun, you're so lame.

:tongue

The Lonely One
02-20-2010, 08:34 PM
I guess we're all coming from different walks of life, and have different points of view--so some might let it pass in an MC and some might not.

Like sleepyhead said, I too think a character should be allowed to say it but it wouldn't be someone I'd usually use as an MC specifically, probably a secondary character--because I'd think of the character as pretty much a POS and since I as a reader wouldn't want to follow him around, I wouldn't expect others to.

But like I said, if anything we should look at issues like this and maybe it can show us what we want out of an MC. Will we follow a modern-day anti-Semite around if they're that damned interesting? Maybe we would. I could see that being possible.

In any case this thread has been interesting and eye-opening. Thanks everyone and anyone who continues to post after this.

Sleepyhead
02-21-2010, 07:04 AM
seun, you're so lame.

:tongue

LOL!!! :D

I've been rethinking my position on "retard," "gay," and even "lame" being comparable, though. I think the article got it wrong.

With the last two, we don't associate them with their literal meanings. We do associate "retard" with compromised intellectual ability. So I'm still going to be more judgmental about its use.

I don't know that I wouldn't ever have an MC use it, though. I mean, I'd think the character using it was a POS, but I've used POS main characters before. Sometimes it's a challenge just to see if you can make a compelling story with a POS MC. :evil

kuwisdelu
02-21-2010, 07:48 AM
On the other hand, if I'm waiting and frustrated because something is taking forever, like the functioning of a bureaucracy or a late bus or train that's like a half hour off schedule or a line where it just seems like I've been standing there all day or the photons generally seem lazy about reaching my retinae, and I say "well this is retarded," I tend to assume everyone knows I'm what I'm talking about (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Retarded_time).

Stlight
02-21-2010, 08:36 AM
What is POS? Is it short for pose, poser?

MC's without laws aren't interesting. even they ones who don't exist to be redeemed.

backslashbaby
02-21-2010, 08:50 AM
On the other hand, if I'm waiting and frustrated because something is taking forever, like the functioning of a bureaucracy or a late bus or train that's like a half hour off schedule or a line where it just seems like I've been standing there all day or the photons generally seem lazy about reaching my retinae, and I say "well this is retarded," I tend to assume everyone knows I'm what I'm talking about (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Retarded_time).

:ROFL:


-- I believe POS is Piece of Shit. [Not Point of Sale - this is teh interwebs ;)]

Stlight
02-21-2010, 09:10 AM
thanks I never get the memos.

The Lonely One
02-22-2010, 05:51 AM
On the other hand, if I'm waiting and frustrated because something is taking forever, like the functioning of a bureaucracy or a late bus or train that's like a half hour off schedule or a line where it just seems like I've been standing there all day or the photons generally seem lazy about reaching my retinae, and I say "well this is retarded," I tend to assume everyone knows I'm what I'm talking about (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Retarded_time).

Nice :)

gothicangel
02-22-2010, 10:09 AM
Personally, if I came across a book with this type of language I would throw it against the wall, and never read another title by the author.

Ken
02-22-2010, 10:47 AM
... I know you're being sacrcastic, Gothic, but I'm going to take your words at face value. So, cool! :-)

Dorian W. Gray
02-22-2010, 11:33 AM
Don't be a retard. You are retarding your publication. People, who are trying to eliminate the use of the word retard, are retarded. Your persistent retardation of your publication might lead your editors to refer to you as a retard. You see?

:)

Ken
02-22-2010, 11:43 AM
... I think I liked you better when you were an inanimate portrait on a wall ;-)

gothicangel
02-22-2010, 09:47 PM
Not being sarcastic at all.

Is the word 'retarded' even a legitimate medical term? I'm sure doctors use terms like cystic fibrosis or dyspraxia etc.

To me there are better ways to portray character, than using questionable language.

P.S Who still uses the phrase 'you retard?' A bit 1980's don't you think?

Ken
02-22-2010, 09:59 PM
... ah, well in that case just 'plain cool' about you're chucking the book at a wall if it had that word in it. To me, words like these aren't so much achronistic as immature. The only time I really ever heard them used was back when I was in junior high school. So maybe they have a place in YA fiction if one wants to go there.

backslashbaby
02-23-2010, 06:29 AM
That's my first thought, too. What are they, seven? With 'gay' too. I think they are incredibly rude, but I also picture the people saying it as that snotty-nosed, awkward kid on the schoolbus.

I did work for The Association for Retarded Citizens back in the day, so if people mean it like that it's clear and I don't mind. And gay is cool for gay ;) :D

Kitty Pryde
02-23-2010, 06:38 AM
Not being sarcastic at all.

Is the word 'retarded' even a legitimate medical term? I'm sure doctors use terms like cystic fibrosis or dyspraxia etc.

To me there are better ways to portray character, than using questionable language.

P.S Who still uses the phrase 'you retard?' A bit 1980's don't you think?

"Mental retardation" used to be a legitimate medical term, but as was mentioned upthread, it's almost never used that way any more.

And I know people from preteens to thirtysomethings who say "That's retarded", "I'm such a retard", "You're so retarded", etc., "retarded" being synonymous with uncool, displeasing, or bad.


That's my first thought, too. What are they, seven? With 'gay' too. I think they are incredibly rude, but I also picture the people saying it as that snotty-nosed, awkward kid on the schoolbus.


Yeah, and ditto for "gay". Some (adult) people I know even say "That's so gay, and I don't mean homosexual," or "That's so retarded, and I'm not referring to the mentally disabled." I think they particularly say that around me because I am gay, and I teach skiing to people with developmental disabilities and they (rightly) assume that it bothers me a lot. But yeah, if you have to clarify that you don't mean what everybody thinks you mean, you're just kidding yourself about the words' meanings.

Wayne K
02-23-2010, 07:05 AM
What if the book is set in the 80s and the language is exactly what its supposed to be?

Does context mean anything?

Kate Thornton
02-23-2010, 07:06 AM
I don't like to hear "dumb" and "lame" used in this irresponsible way, either.

Writers should have a better command of the language.

Characters, on the other hand, should speak exactly the way they need to, even if it exposes them as stupid lazy-assed know-nothings.

Kate - who walks with a limp & a cane, and will kick your ass if you refer to her by any of the terms in question.

backslashbaby
02-23-2010, 07:32 AM
Let me add spaz, too.

But if your character would say it, that's its own thing. If you think every character thinks nothing of saying Spaz because you don't, not so sure about that...

Wayne, I never said retard back in the day, either (although I cussed worse than a sailor). Who would, who wouldn't has changed a lot, but think about what kind of character might avoid words like that even back then. But all those teen movies were pretty true, I thought. You heard it all the time.

gothicangel
02-23-2010, 10:13 AM
I was born in the early eighties and I hated the words 'retard' and 'spaz' even as a six year old. So I hated it even more now.

Taking an academic look at the use of these words, users are attempting to linguistically 'other' the recipent: 'I'm normal, you're not.'

The Lonely One
02-23-2010, 06:20 PM
I'm going to be honest--I didn't even realize the true, original meaning of 'spaz,' as it seems to have fully integrated into a more common meaning and then went out of phase.

It's interesting to see how words evolve in usage over the years. And someone mentioned 'dumb' as well--by that, do you mean 'mute'? According to Merriam-Webster dumb is also officially a synonym of stupid. Though these old words have seriously changed in usage a lot over time.

Slushie
02-23-2010, 10:26 PM
Yep. Another example is 'faggot'. Today it's a slur, but back in the day I think it used to mean firewood, or something like that.

Do Brits still call cigarettes 'fags'? I has no idea.

Semper Write
02-23-2010, 11:29 PM
I use the word a few times in dialog in my book The Dream Tide. I also wondered about this, but I would never take it out. Look at edited TV programs in our society. They will cut the word "shit", but show someone being murdered in the next scene. Stupidity and political correctness are one in the same and we cannot allow that to disease our works. Do you want real substance in your work, or something the word police would approve?

gothicangel
02-24-2010, 12:28 AM
Yep. Another example is 'faggot'. Today it's a slur, but back in the day I think it used to mean firewood, or something like that.

Do Brits still call cigarettes 'fags'? I has no idea.

Yes [not that I smoke!]

It isn't about political correctness, it's about responsibility.

aadams73
02-24-2010, 01:45 AM
It scares me when we become so politically correct that people get all nervous about having a fictional character say an offensive word in a work of fiction. Seriously?


I agree. Some people see offense in everything. It's almost like they want the attention throwing up their arms and going, "OMG, that's SOOO offensive!" brings them.

I believe in being considerate, but I won't bend over backwards to placate the finger-waggers--especially if the use of "retard," "lame," "dumb," "fuck," or any other "offensive" word is the perfect word for my narrator or characters to use.

There are things I find offensive, but I don't expect the world to revolve around me or my opinions. I'm wearing my big-girl panties to this party.

aadams73
02-24-2010, 01:53 AM
Do Brits still call cigarettes 'fags'? I has no idea.

Yes. Aussies do, too.

"Can I bum a fag?" isn't an offensive term there. It just means you want a cigarette.

The Lonely One
02-24-2010, 10:51 AM
"Can I bum a fag?" isn't an offensive term there.

I won't even say what that might mean in the states.

aadams73
02-24-2010, 01:29 PM
I won't even say what that might mean in the states.

I know exactly what it means because I live in the states now. I'm constantly amused at how most of us speak the same language...yet not.

Americans "root" for a team. If a woman is "rooting" for a team in Australia/NZ, she's *cough* a very friendly lass.

Sorry for the minor derail, folks.

seun
02-24-2010, 05:42 PM
Do Brits still call cigarettes 'fags'? I has no idea.

We do although I've heard fag used as an insult for gay more often for the last 15 years or so. It's been a long time since I've heard anyone ask to bum a fag and mean they'd like a ciggy.

I think it depends on age, as well. Older people are more likely than younger to mean smoking when they say fag.

kuwisdelu
02-24-2010, 09:32 PM
Yes. Aussies do, too.

"Can I bum a fag?" isn't an offensive term there. It just means you want a cigarette.

I use it in the states, too, but I hang out with Eurotrash and Canadians.

seun
02-25-2010, 02:46 PM
Personally, if I came across a book with this type of language I would throw it against the wall, and never read another title by the author.

If that's not a joke, then. . .wow. Just wow.