So my young mind learned her rule, and I was doomed. When I answered the phone and someone asked for me I’d never say, “That’s me.” Instead I’d respond “It is I,” thereby avoiding Miss Madden’s wrath that otherwise surely would descend. But at least her rule allows for such lively dialog as:
“It is I. Are they the Hancocks on the porch?”
“Yes, They’re they.”
If you’ve read all four of these sentences, you’ve wasted too much time. And wherever you found them you’d probably read no further (unless they were in this blog, of course). You know people don’t talk that way. They never did, and now less than ever. You’ve all heard commentators, talking heads, and guests on TV! I rest my case. I venture none of them were in Miss Madden’s class.
But when I started on fiction, I worried about such things, this being only the first of many differences between how I saw things and the real world.
For example, in school I learned “different” is followed by “from,” not “than,” but “different than” is the more frequently employed phrase.
I learned an event did not occur “at about five o’clock,” but it usually takes only a day of newspaper perusal to find professional journalists using the phrase on a regular basis. The problem is something happens either “at” a specific time (3:00:51, virtually impossible in the mathematical sense) or “about” a specific time (perhaps between 2:51 and 3:07).
Proper spelling was crammed into my head with huge word lists. But I remember distinctly a time in my youth when I accompanied my mother on a bus to the big department stores in Newark. We passed a woman selling “vegtupuls,” announcing her wares with a huge sign. It was an eye opener. I was young enough to think that once you were grown you never made spelling mistakes. I have learned to discount that theory.
I rarely swear, although with the current condition of our state, country, and world I admit to many a slip. But even when I was a teenager virtually all my male buddies issued choice words (never girls, at least in public). Now everyone does.
I literally feel ill when I hear someone use the “N” word, or derogatory terms for any ethnic group. I am saddened and disgusted by the sexual harassment accusations currently plaguing our state and nation, and of the denigration of women in any form. I am sickened by the destruction of tens of thousands of American lives every year as a result of the proliferation of firearms. I fear for our nation as politicians lie and squirm to achieve power and reelection, dispatching any attachment to moral values or the local or national good. Yes, the world is full of people acting in ways abhorrent to me.
So here I was, beginning my writing career. Was I supposed to write only about those like me?
The problem was I had this hangup. If one of my characters uses “bad” grammar, or swears, or makes a racial slur, or molests a woman; what will my readers think of me? I didn’t want to be thought of as embracing such actions.
“Bob, that’s plum crazy, and I ain’t kidding.”
Here I am almost at the end of the blog. I was sure I’d get through it without Elmo barging in. I would have thought he’d be happy to stay away after what he put out last week. Can you hear him laughing?
But, as is usually the case with Elmo, it’s worth listening to him. Because he’s almost always right. I’m telling a story. Any writer will wonder why I even worried. It indicates what a neophyte I was to the world of fiction creation and is just one of many areas we’ll cover in these blogs where growth was necessary.
I had to learn the most elementary of facts: If I’m going to tell a realistic tale, I have to have realistic characters.
I thought about authors who have written repulsive things. Not for one second did I ascribe the same thoughts to them personally. More often than not I felt they were showing up the character’s ideals for the crap they were.
I think I’ve learned. Bad grammar, intentional misspellings (sadly the unintentional ones creep in all too often), swearing all appear in my books. When a character issues an ethnic slur, as happens in Patriotism, I take an intense dislike to him or her, but I do not sugar coat it.
While I care deeply what my readers think of me, I no longer give a damn if my characters offend them. Just remember, if one does, he’s not me.