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Offbeat – 28 June 2012

Like many young people I used four letter words in place of punctuation. It is sometimes far easier for kids to get people to understand that they have their own needs when everyone stops to listen in shocked silence.

So, I finally got round to the point where I am writing stories. I spent a lot of time hanging around, waiting for an easy ‘how-to’ thing to show me the way, but although there are a lot of ‘how-tos’, they aren’t easy. The trick is you have to write, rewrite, revise, rewrite, rewrite… I’m sure you get my drift.
I like my stories. They have edgy elements in them. I told the story of a couple who are haunted by the ghost of an unhappy aunt and the suicide of an elderly uncle, every night at dinner. I also told the story of a desert farmer who keeps the dried out mummies of his wife and son for company and talks to them.
The stories that I write are fun things to play with, far more satisfying than crosswords and just as much fun as reading, if not more so. But I still have a lot to learn. Nobody told me that adverbs are not good style. I discovered that a couple of days ago, reading something very useful on writing by Stephen King. I have turned into a slayer of these extraneous words, walking along the sentences with murder in mind. I am also trying to get rid of the passive voice. Passive voice is a very Namibian thing. ‘Woulds’ and ‘coulds’ are, from what he says, not good at all. I read the results of my rewriting and I agree now.
I haven’t used any ‘wherebys’ yet, so I am in the clear on that front. If you are a Namibian like me and you use the word ‘whereby’, unlike me, stop doing that. It makes you sound like you don’t know any other way to express the content of that nasty word. The same thing applies to that hideous monster, ‘inter alia’. Just don’t. OK? Stephen King doesn’t have much to say on the topic of ‘whereby’, but I am sure he would have something to say if he heard it used three or four times in every conversation. Let’s skip that bit and get onto other interesting stuff.
One of the things that Stephen King says is that if your character is the sort of person who swears, then you should allow him or her to swear on the page. That was this week’s big breakthrough. I wrote a rather nasty expression in a story about a man being hunted to death by merciless Wednesday. As I said, I think the ideas are quite cool.
I am not very kind to my characters, and I made sure he got killed by Wednesday, but I did allow him four last words, one of which is definitely four letters long.
It feels as if it should be a breakthrough, but it has its problems. Use of that one word in one story doesn’t feel right to me. As real as that word sounds, my heart isn’t in it. It should be though.
Like many young people I used four letter words in place of punctuation. It is sometimes far easier for kids to get people to understand that they have their own needs when everyone stops to listen in shocked silence.
I put the brakes on that sort of verbal voodoo when my daughter was born. My stressy moments became peppered with ‘flower’ and ‘sugar’ and even ‘sugarsticks’, but only in moments of the greatest stress.
It paid off. So far, she doesn’t use the words: she knows that they are a sign of crudity, and only hauled out in moments of extreme stress, for instance when Daddy’s computer crashes for the umpteenth time in as many minutes as he tries to get a couple of flash-heavy websites loaded, or when I drop things on parts of myself.
She will probably hear them on the playground as adolescent boys struggle to make themselves understood and feel big and manly, even as their voices break.
For the rest of us, myself in particular in this case, it feels important to come to terms with the fact that four letter words that don’t resemble flowers or sugar, are quick ways to cheapen things. Even though my character is lying on the pavement, dying, I think that one dirty word spoils the story.
I can’t of the top of my head, remember any stories with profanities in them in a very noticeable way. I don’t think I want to remember this one except as a lesson. Perhaps, I’ll allow Stephen King to be wrong in this case.


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