What You Write is as Important as What You Write

What you write is as important as what you write. No, that’s not a typo. It’s the beginning of something I’d like to discuss with you.

Writing inspiration comes in many ways from many different places, and if you’re like me, it never fails to arrive at a moment when you’re unable to grab a pen and paper to jot it down. Regardless of how you gain inspiration, you now have a great story idea in your head that you know in your heart must be released into the world.

The writing process usually begins with some plotting, perhaps a little research, and maybe a smidgen of editing along the way. Before you know it, you have a first draft in hand.

You love this piece of writing because it’s your creation from start to finish. When you dig in for the fine-tuning, you realize that your WIP could use something. It’s good, but it’s not great like when you first conceived it. Obviously, you don’t want to add superfluous dialog or excessive description that reads like filler. Still, there is something needed.

Hopefully, your writing journey has not led you to the dark side of writing. What I mean is the use of foul language and/or violence in any of its hideous forms as a means of ramping up your story.

One of the promises I made to myself and my readers was to realistically portray life in my writing. I don’t shy away from difficult topics. The tagline on my blog says as much: Writing Life One Word at a Time. With that being said, there are certain topics that, if written about, must be handled carefully and certain expressions that should be used judiciously and sparingly.

I remember several years ago attempting to read a novel about a violent assault on a young woman complete with some of the most callous description I’d ever read. The novel was highly acclaimed, but all I could think was Dear God . . . this very thing has happened to someone’s daughter, and here it is being written about most insensitively for use as entertainment. In addition to that book, there have been many other novels that I stopped reading because the language was so vile and added nothing to the story.

Do these scenarios happen in real life? Of course. Do people spew foul language for numerous reasons? Yes. Can a writer incorporate painful situations and extreme emotion into his/her writing without compromising quality? Absolutely. My point is that if you’re including violence and swearing simply for shock value, then your approach to writing is immature.

Another instance where writers need to exercise maturity is when writing about intimacy. I cannot tell you how many cringe-worthy sex scenes I skimmed until I could locate the storyline again. These books were often tossed aside because most people are especially bad at writing a sex scene.

Before you assume that all I read is smut, please be assured that is not true. Unfortunately, though, examples of what I’ve described slipped into otherwise terrific novels written by good writers. I have been shocked out of an engrossing storyline by such miserable scenes, and I had to wonder if the author had a moment in which he/she lapsed into poor judgment.

Is it because we live in an era where everything—no matter how vulgar, painful, or private—is made accessible that writers have allowed this into their writing? I would implore you to exercise extreme caution regarding what you set before your eyes because it becomes that which you take into your heart and mind. And there are some things that are not meant for entertainment.

To take the beautiful tool that is language, drag it through the mud, and slap it on the page for thrills is the shallow end of the writing pool. I encourage you to write deeper. Use your fiction to shed light on the complicated matters in life but do it without glorifying evil.

Gold Plated

The following short story was based on the visual writing prompt of the swamp.  While everyone in my writing circle wrote lovely stories, mostly fantasy, that would delight readers of any genre, I took one look at the picture and decided upon a different tale.  I’ll withhold my comments on why I wrote what I did until after you’ve read this piece.  I want your unbiased opinion toward the story, so please be sure to leave feedback in the comments section.


Golden Swamp

Gold Plated

Zach stomped into the clearing and threw his book bag on the ground with all the force he could muster. He proceeded to kick it hard, heedless of the laptop inside. Two more kicks landed the black canvas satchel on the edge of the marsh.

Frickin’ parents,” he screamed, straining his chest with the force.  It was the closest his upbringing would allow him to swearing.

He collapsed on the damp leaves, his legs crossed awkwardly beneath him, the sound of blood rushing in his ears, and sat perfectly still until his heart stopped racing and his ragged breathing slowed.

Feelings of self-pity began to sting Zach’s eyes, but he refused to indulge in tears. Instead, he stood to retrieve his book bag from the water. Soggy homework, folders, and the papers he had stolen that morning from his father’s desk were removed and littered across the forest floor. He inspected his laptop for damage. Moisture hadn’t seeped into the computer case which had been shielded between his algebra and chemistry books. The books had not fared so well; water leached an inch into the pages, darkening the edges all around.

“Whatever,” he mumbled, stuffing the laptop and ruined books back into the bag.

Zach slung the bag over his shoulder and took several deep breaths. For the first time, he observed his surroundings. The beauty of the golden foliage sickened him.

“Looks like freakin’ King Midas has been here. Too bad it’s so wet. This place would look great going up in flames.”

His mouth curled upward in a lopsided sneer, and his fingers caressed the lighter in his pocket.

The blaze would have been spectacular. Even though there wouldn’t be any witnesses, these events had a way of producing detailed accounts. People would be enraged when their forest succumbed to destruction at the hands of an unknown arsonist. They would swear they had seen the culprit and go so far as to describe him. Ripped jeans, a dark hoodie, both arms tatted up, and multiple piercings would be just a few of the descriptors they used when speaking with the local media about the tragedy. They would mention the exact brand of designer sneakers worn when the vandalism took place. Someone would inevitably mention that drugs were involved…probably.

The worst liars would make subtle remarks that cast aspersions on the perpetrator’s possible ethnicity.

Zach sighed, his anger spent. He brushed leaf litter from the front of his school blazer and swiped the sides of his mud-crusted dress shoes in a patch of grass. Then he pulled his iPhone from his pocket to check the time. He still had an hour before he had to meet Kevin at the library to study for the AP Chemistry test.

One more deep breath enabled him to set out for home where his parents, oblivious to his delayed arrival, would be absorbed in their own pursuits. The scent of decaying leaves reminded him of a smell somewhere between the cherry tobacco in his father’s pipe and his mother’s compost heap. A small flame of resentment flared in his heart, but Zach refused to let it take hold.

“Let ‘em divorce,” he said. “See if I care.”

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