Draw the Line (IWSG Oct)

Welcome to another month of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group blog hop, where we ask all the writing questions, pretend to know the answers (or not), and generally be supportive.

Thanks for joining us.

This month the awesome co-hosts are Jemima Pitt, J Lenni Dorner, Cathrina Constantine, Ronel Janse van Vuuren, and Mary Aalgaard. Do check out their blogs, and the IWSG blog hop!

The Insecure Writer's Support Group image with the name of the group and a lighthouse in the background in sepia

Each month we blog about our writing doubts and fears. Struggles and triumphs. We also answer an optional prompt question: this month it’s all about where we ‘draw the line’.

In your writing, where do you draw the line, with either topics or language?

Content Warning: Brief mention of sensitive topics including rape and paedophilia as examples.

This one is all about the audience, I think. If the writer knows what their audience will accept, they can write to that. They can also push the boundaries, challenge that status quo… and I think that’s important, too. Especially in regards to topic. In fact, I think it’s one of the most important things that a writer can consider. Their words are going to be read by someone. By a real person (most likely). And each person has their own identity and heritage, experience and dreams. When we read fiction (which is what I write, so where this is coming from) we can either:

put ourselves in the place of other people with different versions of those things. Learn what it might be like to experience the world from that different perspective. Perhaps gain some perspective of your own;

alternatively, you might end up reading about someone whose experience is a lot like your own, and that can help you to feel seen, to feel validated.

So I don’t draw the line, not yet. I realise what topics I want to explore, and why, but I don’t say that I will never write about child paedophilia, for example, or rape. But if I do, it will be with the audience in mind. It will be done carefully, sensitively, with appropriate research and discussion, and informed knowledge guiding my story. I would also be extremely hesitant to write from a perpetrator’s perspective, because to be honest, I wouldn’t want to get inside those heads.

As another example, I have an unfinished book in which I want to include Indigenous perspectives on colonisation impact in Western Australia. That’s not the main aspect of the story, and my main character does not fall into that identity–because I am not Indigenous, and such a perspective is not mine to tell–but I want to explore the topic from the outsider’s perspective and from that of an ally. So I have not yet written that story. When I originally envisioned it, I was not yet confident enough in my writing skills, or even in myself as a writer, to approach anyone to talk about the Indigenous parts. I am feeling more ready to do so now. Perhaps that will be my next topic to address… when I am finished writing my space opera trilogy, that is.

Which brings me on to language. I do swear in my writing. It feels authentic to me. If my characters would swear in a situation, then they do. BUT I try not to overdo it. There is such a thing as too much swearing, in my opinion. You want it to have meaning, to emphasise a feeling, not to be a shock factor or something that pulls the reader out of the story. (I do sometimes use made-up swears to reduce the glaring pulls-you-out-of-the-story part, actually: I find it can help with worldbuilding.) I rarely come across a character who swears constantly whom I enjoy reading. Or watching, for that matter. It has to be truly authentic to the character for that language to be required.

And you have to know your audience for this one, too.

Other than that, I do try to identify the level of language my expected audience would be likely to accept. As a speculative fiction writer, I am aware that many people find this genre difficult to read because of flowery, made up, and/or difficult to pronounce names in particular. This was a thing in the last century, and still does come up today. However, I feel that on the whole, the current work I read in my genres has started to come away from that. It’s important for me to be aware of such things, and be ‘on trend’ or at least ‘subvert the rule’ with purpose. When a character has called for it, I have used made-up language conventions for a sci-fi world that I have also made-up. But as long as it’s consistent–and interspersed with plenty of easy to read words–I think that’s okay.

Computer generated image of sandy dunes, a large orange sun, grey sky, a small figure with a long shadow, and a large rhomboid statue with a wide base ahead of them.
Image by Lukas Baumert from Pixabay

How about you? As a reader, what topics and/or language turn you away? What about as a writer? Where do you draw the line?


I have a new publication!

This week, Flash Fiction Magazine published my short story, “School Sports Carnival” over at this link. It’s free to read and I’d love it if you wanted to check it out and leave a comment!

This story started life as a flash fiction piece that was a single breathless paragraph. A few edits brought it up to scratch. It’s not spec fic like my usual stuff, but I hope you enjoy it.

Thanks for reading. Have a great October! πŸ™‚

Extra-large moon above deciduous tree silhouettes and the silhouette of a female figure with a pointy hat and a cat on a flying broomstick going across the moon. All in shades of black and white.
Image by Kevin Phillips from Pixabay
Header image byΒ AvizΒ fromΒ Pexels

14 thoughts on “Draw the Line (IWSG Oct)

    1. Thanks, Natalie. I’ve been reviewing that recently with a YA piece I’m writing, and comparing the language to some of the adult work. I think YA walks the line, and in some countries there are steeper rules than others. But Middle Grade would definitely be a no for swearing. As I’m sure you know πŸ™‚


  1. I appreciate your thoughtful response to the question of the month. Valid arguments for using, or not using, what might be considered “foul language.” It’s the same reason you might chose some words to say with friends, but others when talking to your grandma.
    Mary at Play off the Page

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I wrote a book where one of the characters swore – a lot. I cringed every time she opened her mouth. But I turned it into a minor plot point to lesson the gravity and make her look bad. Made writing her easier.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Congratulations on your big news!

    I agree about knowing (and being sensitive to) your audience. Especially with such sensitive topics.

    Regarding the view of the pedophile, have you read We Are Water, by Wally Lamb? He gets the reader right in the pedophile’s head. And Richard Ferrone’s narration of that character is unforgettable. Wally Lamb is a master of showing compassion for society’s worst.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, I haven’t read that – thank you for the recommendation. Some things are difficult to read/write, but it is good to know there are authors who do tackle those subjects with compassion πŸ™‚


  4. Congratulations. Knowing your audience is probably the best advice on this topic…that and if you are comfortable with it yourself. If you aren’t then I would think if would feel stiff and not very natural for your characters. πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

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