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.
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 🙂
As you have possibly noticed, the site has been rather uneventful for the past couple of weeks. While writers block and life are always presenting their own potential setbacks, my current issue is more to do with my rural lifestyle choice and its resulting crummy internet, than it is any mental blockages on my part.
I moved to Italy back in May 2014 and boy what an adventure it has been! It had been a good ten months or so between coming over to sign the final paperwork, and packing up all my worldly belongings, and animals too, and starting out on the three day drive through Europe, towing my ancient battered caravan.
When we arrived the neat garden and yard had turned into a veritable jungle of foliage and wildlife, perfect for an animal nut like me but not so good when it came to moving everything in to the property. Add to that the water to the property bad been turned off and we ended up having to utilize the well in the top field in order to ensure that the animals were looked after, and to give us some very rudimentary washing facilities!
To make matters worse, we arrived at around 2am in the pitch black…well sort of! I managed to, rather cleverly, get myself seperated from the rest of the family, who were accompanying me in my little old fiesta, to help with the moving in part. I am not known for my fantastic sense of direction!
Long story short, I found myself half-way up a road that was really only suitable for goats, on an incline far too steep for my 1.6 Astra to manage to pull the caravan up. Add to that scenario that the caravan was not only too heavy for the handbrake to hold in place, while I went off to find help, there was definitely an impressive drop off just behind me, and all my animals were sitting blissfully unaware in said caravan, and you will start to build a clear enough picture of exactly how stressed out I was at this point!!
Miracle of miracles, after around twenty minutes of hair pulling, frantic phone calls to my mom and brother, and with tears welling in my tired eyes, a face suddenly popped up at the passenger side window. It took me a while to realise that this must have confused the owner of the face some, considering that the passenger side of a British car is the drivers side of an Italian one!
‘buona sera’ said the man, who looked to be a little older than my dad, ‘tutto bene?’
My Italian is still rather sub standard even now, but that much I understood, and without further ado, I proceeded to burst in to tears, much to his shock and my own mortification…It had after all been a very long three days!!
‘no, no…tranqilla’ he said coming round to the drivers side and patting my shoulder reassuringly. He then went on to explain, that his farm was just a couple of kilometers down the road, and that his son would be here soon with his tractor to come and save me. My relief was profound to say the least!!
I was in the middle of nowhere, in a country that I still didn’t know very well and somehow I had managed to snag myself a passing angel.
Another twenty minutes passed and my panicked family finally managed to find me, I asked them to unload the animals first off, to make sure they were safely in the other car, and shortly after they had done so the mans son turned up in his tractor, and the two got to work hitching up the car to it.
2 hours, a cup of coffee and two rather nice glasses of homemade white wine later, we had met the angels entire family.
Italians are some of the best hosts you will ever have the pleasure to meet. It didn’t matter that it was 3am by the time we arrived at their house, and our insistance that we didnt want to cause any more of a fuss fell on determinedly deaf ears. Within minutes of arriving, we had been escourted up to their living room, with its cosy crackling fire, and all but ordered to sit down and relax, as they laid out coffee, cake, olives, salted beans and a caraffe of homemade white wine.
It didn’t phase them that our Italian was rudimentary at best, and we gestured and sketched our way through two hours of really pleasant conversation. Being British we, of course, tried to politely excuse ourselves a few times, in an effort to let them get back off to their beds but they were having none of it!
When we finally did get up to leave, we were led first on an impromptu tour of the farm and animals, before being taken down to their cool cantina. We thought they were just proudly showing us the fruits of all their hard work, but before we could even take it all in, we found ourselves loaded up to the elbows with fresh fruit and veg. It was to help get us settled in at the new property, they told us with beaming smiles, and the grandmother then procceded to present us with a bottle of their lovely wine as a housewarming gift.
It was like a strange but wonderful dream! we went from living in the U.K where you were lucky if your neighbours even noticed if water was pouring out of the front door of your house (but thats a whole different story!!) to some sort of utopian society, where people who you had never even met before behaved better, and showed more caring and genuine concern about your wellbeing, than many of those whom you’d known for years! 🤗
With the sun coming up over the horizon and bemused smiles on our faces, we drove off towards the house (the right way this time!) Needless to say my angel (and neighbour as it turned out) Vincenzo, and his wonderful family were presented with the most lovely flowers we could possibly lay our hands on, the moment we could got to the closest florists.
In the years that have passed since that night, my love and respect for the people of this wild, untamed land has only grown in measure. Yes the internet sometimes goes for weeks at a time with little to no signal, which is still definitely frustrating, but would I swap this life for the one I had in the UK surrounded by state of the art technology and consumer driven industry??
Not in a million years!! 😊
Are you a plotter? or are you a pantser?
As writers, we all inevitably fit into either of the above categories, maybe even into both as we move from one project to the next.
A plotter is someone who researches and plots out the entire project from beginning to end. Plotters ensure that, at the very least, they have a simple overview for every chapter, character profiles for any main characters that they plan to introduce and a clear idea of exactly what the piece of writing will be trying to say to the reader, long before they ever put pen to paper and start actually writing the piece.
A pantser, on the other hand, is someone who ‘flies by the seat of their pants’ as far as their writing is concerned. They don’t have a plan, or even a complete plot idea, at the point that they begin to write their story. They rely solely on the organic flow of their ideas, moment to moment, in order to create the necessary magic on the page.
From what I have seen, there is a pretty even split between the two schools of thought amongst the writing community at large. Both sides have their own list of pro’s and con’s and you can get some pretty interesting and heated debate going when you open the floor to the two warring sides.
In my writing lifetime, I have been both a plotter and a pantser. I did a degree in journalism and spent many years just writing organically with only the facts of the story and a word count to keep me in check. It seemed to work pretty well, and I found that I could work pretty quickly, without all of the tiresome plotting and planning getting in the way. This is a great plus when you have lots of hard deadlines to meet, so I figured, rather smugly, that I had picked the best side.
Then a couple of years later, I found myself moving on into full-length novel writing, and boy did it take me a while to work out how terribly wrong I was! Now I am not saying that there aren’t countless highly successful ‘pantser’ authors out there, but I can assure you right now, that I am definitely not one of them!
Two years, two unfinished manuscripts and hundreds of thousands of words later, I finally realised my mistake. For me, writing organically without plot or plan was the worst possible move. With each new chapter came new disjointed ideas, new writing styles and countless soul-destroying hours of obsessive re-writing in order to try and jam it all together into something that actually fit. Needless to say, by this point in the proceedings, this was a totally impossible feat. With each unsuccessful pass, I found myself steadily sinking in a lethal pool of writer’s block fueled mental quicksand.
After all of the heartache and work, all I had left to show for my efforts was a hacked to pieces 70,000-word mess. The most tragic part for me was that my beloved characters who started out so full of promise had become nothing more than two-dimensional hollow shadows of the fierce, independent personalities that should have made them great.
After a long break to lick my wounds, I finally stumbled across a fantastic idea for a female lead. Determined not to let bright and vivacious Penny suffer the same fate as her predecessor Mara, I decided to try a far different approach and jumped, lock stock and barrel, into the ‘plotter’ camp.
I now have a well-researched concept, plot overview and well-outlined chapters to work on, and most importantly of all, I have a great story which flows. My characters, even the side ones, are the kind of people that you would love to share a beer or a cup of coffee with and the crippling writer’s block is firmly a thing of the past.
The fantastic thing about having each chapter outlined in advance is, that no matter when or where you pick up your pen or turn on the computer, you already know exactly what it is that you need to write and what direction your words need to take in order to get your characters to the next stage in your plot.
Creating that outline also keeps your writing style more focused, as the outline for each chapter was created by the same writer, in the same mood and at the same period of time in their life. Something that won’t then change, even if actually completing the novel takes you another year or two. It turns out that this is crucial when it comes to writing anything approaching novel length work.
The moral of the story is that it is very important that you know who you really are as a writer from the outset. If it doesn’t seem to be working for you then explore new ways of working, don’t just try to smash it together in the hopes that it will one day fit. There is a style and a method out there that is ideal for each and every one of us, and once we find that magic formula, there will be no stopping any of us from becoming the fantastic writers that we all have the inner potential to be!
It is often a common problem, for writers the world over, to keep their creativity levels consistent from one day to the next. There are many things a writer can do to try and boost their level though. I find that researching images of characters, places and things that would fit into my story helps a great deal.
Another thing that you could try if you are really stuck is writing from word prompts. My flash fiction piece ‘Grace Departs’ was written from a three word writing prompt. I was provided with the words ‘grace’ ‘train’ and ‘whistle.’ You can get randomly generated word prompts from various sites online, or even by just by picking up a random book, choosing a number, and then use whatever word is on the correlating page and word number within the text there.
You could also join a writers group online. I am a member of a couple of writers groups through Facebook, and as well as being super useful for things like word prompts and generating new ideas, it can be really good to get the opinion of other people who are in the same positions as you.
Here is my 3 word prompt of the day just to get you started…
Enjoy!! Feel free to share the results in the comment feed if you feel inspired! :}
As you have probably noticed by now, this site is a work in progress. In time I am hoping to build up a nice selection of all of my work, which I will then keep adding to as I go along.
I am currently working on a new manuscript which I hope to have finished, at least in first draft format, some time towards the end of this summer. In the meantime I will try to keep on posting an interesting selection of my previous work as well as anything new that pops into being.
If you think of any questions you would like to ask me or suggestions on the content you would like to see more of here then please let me know. I am always open to new ideas, I wouldn’t be a very good writer if I wasn’t!!
Anyway, I hope you all have a lovely day, June is in full swing here in Central Italy and I am off to make myself a nice cool drink before getting back to work!!