“No legacy is so rich as honesty.” –William Shakespeare
The writing was going exceedingly well, with the words coming almost faster than I could type them (I am not the world’s greatest typist). And then came that word. It was a horrible word. It is a horrible word. I don’t exactly have the cleanest of language at times, and yet this particular word had only ever escaped my mouth in the most stressful of times. And even then, only once or twice in my lifetime.
And yet there it was.
I deleted it—retyped it—deleted again.
For a while I just sat, staring at the blinking cursor.
The more I thought about it, the more I didn’t want to use that word. I despise it. I hate it.
The problem was, it was the only word that fit—the only word that my main antagonist would use. So I did what any squeamish author would do, I looked for other opinions.
And in one-way or another, they all said, “use it.” Stephen King, in "On Writing" put it this way, “If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered.”
I still wasn’t thrilled with the idea. How could I be? Remember, I hate that word. Now there is only one other person I know whom I can trust implicitly and, coincidentally, who hates that word as much as I do. She is my most reliable companion, my best friend, and my support system. She is my wife.
She didn’t even hesitate. “Absolutely use it,” she said, “that is exactly the word he would use." And so I did.
And here’s the thing, writing fiction is an act of honesty. You have to tell the truth. I know it might seem odd that I am telling you to tell the truth about a lie of sorts—after all, that’s what fiction is, a lie, a made up story. But the ruthless leader of a violent street gang isn’t going to use the word “lady” or “woman” when he’s demanding a subordinate murder the woman. He’s going to use a vile, degrading, and violent word. And if I fail to type it out simply because I don’t like it, my reader will pull back from the story. They’ll decline to continue their suspension of disbelief, and I’ll loose my credibility.
That’s why the rape scene in Stieg Larsson’s “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” is so frightening and violent. It had to be. If he had censored Nils Bjurman’s violence or Lisbeth Salander’s reactions, we as readers would have lost our trust in him.
That’s what fiction writers do, we tell the truth.
William K Elliott
William is a member of that ever-popular group known as “Aspiring Writers,” also known as “unemployed.” He has been dabbling in writing for some twenty or thirty years, and has finally decided to “get down to business.” With inspiration from Steven King’s “On Writing,” and a lot of support from his wife, Kristy, he has been working on his first novel.