Morality vs the Written Word

Today a question was asked in one of my writing groups and as it’s not the first time I’ve seen a question of this nature when thumbing through the posts, I decided it merited an article of its own.

An author had used the word ‘lame’ in the context of a character replying to a proposed idea as such.


Character 1: “I’m going to skip the party and just chill in the library.”

Character 2: “Lame.”


The author in question had then sent their work on to beta readers, one of whom came back and informed the author that by using that word they were in fact being ableist.


[Ableism: discrimination in favour of able-bodied people.]


The author was addressing the writers group to get further feedback to ascertain how other writers viewed the issue so that she could make the decision on whether to remove the word from her work as the beta suggested.

Many of the group agreed that within the context of her work, the use of ‘Lame’ was perfectly acceptable and that for it to actually qualify as ableist, in any real sense, there would have to be the proper intent behind the use which was clearly absent in this case.

One member was brave enough to challenge the overall opinion, however, citing that people shouldn’t use the word because it could cause offense and went on to describe an occasion where a friend of hers had used the word ‘crippled’ in her presence even though she herself was wheelchair bound for much of the time.

She cited that language evolves alongside empathy and that we have a duty to bear that in mind when writing, and that she herself would never use the word ‘lame’ in her work for this very reason. Several of the points that she made were completely valid and in one sense I applaud her bravery for coming forward and defending her beliefs.

The word ‘lame’ is most often used in today’s society to describe something that wouldn’t be good or enjoyable. When you take into account that it used to be the most widely used description for anyone with mobility issues that does sound pretty bad doesn’t it?

I must admit that in my real life I usually choose to err on the side of empathy and common sense wherever possible. That being said, in my opinion it is also important as writers to understand that the worlds which we write and our real selves/lives often lie miles apart in many ways.

One of the hardest things for any writer to accomplish is the formation of three dimensional believable characters. Without these, stories are little more than a block of uninteresting text on a page.

If we all only wrote characters with our own moral values then stories as a whole would become very dull indeed. Basically, we would spend our days either writing stereotypical superhero’s or every story would end up containing miniature versions of our most pedestal-living selves.

Let’s face it, were that the case, no one would want to read a single word we penned down at the end of the day, no matter how much blood, sweat and tears we poured into the endeavor.

The key to a great story is to have a wonderful array of colorful characters who cover the whole spectrum from truest good to darkest evil. That being said our characters also need to be as realistic and true to their natures as possible, including when it comes to swearing, crossing the moral and ethical line etc.

In conclusion

Should you use ‘lame’ when referring to another human being in your day to day life, down at the local supermarket maybe? Or in the schoolyard?

Certainly not in my personal opinion. To do so could be hurtful and rude in the extreme.

In that case, should you worry about putting the word, in the not enjoyable/not good context, because your character happens to be a teen and that, like it or not, is the language frequently used by real life teens?

Not even remotely! Be true to your characters, warts and all, as realism above all is one of the building blocks of a fantastic story!!

Happy writing all 🙂

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