Is That Word Really Necessary?

My first novel, Living the Dream,Living the Dream is currently in production to become an audio book. (Personally, I didn’t think there was much demand for audio books anymore, but when I saw the success Backseat to Justice had I decided to have the rest of my books done.)

Anyway – this morning I received the first 15 minutes of the book for approval. I was very pleased with the reading; the narrator has a great grasp of the voice in which I wrote the book (a sign that my writing accomplished its purpose!).

It’s been five years since I last worked on Living the Dream and, although I know it forward and backward, something still caught me somewhat off-guard as I listened. It wasn’t in the narration, it was a particular word choice in my writing – and when I heard it, I grimaced a little.

Before I divulge the exact word in question I want to ask a question…(maybe more than one)

When it comes to art…what is offensive? Where is the line and should artists worry about it? Or are they obliged to step over it with total indifference? (I told you it might be more than one question.)

I’m sure artists (whether visual, written or musical) have been offending people since day one – so in a sense my questions really need no answer – but I think it’s always a topic worth discussing.

Okay – back to my original thought…So I’m listening to the first chapter of Living the Dream and reliving the misadventures of Kurt (I had forgotten how funny they were!) when the narrator reads this passage:

Driving along listening to the song and remembering the dream did nothing to improve his mood. In fact it only made him remember how much he had wanted to hurt that little cock tease while he sat in his cell at the A.C.I. in Cranston. The minimum security adult correctional institution was a place that gave him lots of time to think of ways to get back at her. Between that and trying to avoid a six foot nigger named Bobo, who wanted Kurt to be his girlfriend, Kurt did not come away from his time with a good mindset.”

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you which word we are talking about here.

Anybody who knows me knows that I am not a racist and above all, I detest that word.

So why is it in my book you might ask…(it actually appears twice, if you can believe that).

The answer is simple.

Kurt – one of the books main characters – is basically an asshole. Most people who read the book end up liking him and calling him a lovable loser. Either way – he has a certain personality that lends itself to the use of constant profanity, including the n-word. So, I decided that it was necessary to include the word in the book in order to convey that aspect of Kurt’s personality.

It was not an easy decision and I recall the inner debate I had with myself as I wrote it. I believe I went back-and-forth between that word and other, slightly less offensive choices, but in the end I decided that it was the word Kurt would use and therefore, the best choice.

Apparently my concerns were unwarranted. Living the Dream has been very well-received and I personally know of at least five people-of-color who have read it and were not offended by its presence.

So, does this mean that an artist (painter, singer, writer) can use artistic license as an excuse to offend people?

Does the audience have the right to make assumptions as to the intent of the artist?

It’s easy for me to say ‘I only put it there because it helped the story’, but what if I did it because I’m a closet racist?

I worry about the height of the bar. If something is acceptable it only stands to reason that somebody will come along and push the envelope. Once done, it can’t be undone and eventually the new act becomes acceptable thus raising the bar.

Whatever your art is – you run the risk of offending somebody, it’s the way of the world…but should you let it influence your creation?offensive books

I’m probably worrying for nothing, at least I hope so – but still, I’d like to hear your thoughts…

As always…thank you for reading


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6 responses to “Is That Word Really Necessary?

  1. Great topic for discussion, Tim! I believe it’s the job of the artist to provoke, to make the reader/viewer uncomfortable – to make them think. And sometimes you do that by shocking the reader. In the case of your novel (which is a made-up story and not non-fiction – I just add that point for the benefit of those who do not understand the difference between fiction and non-fiction), it’s not you, the author, who is using the offending word, but your character, Kurt. My initial response to this character when I read the paragraph in question was, “That character is an asshole!” And that’s precisely how you were hoping the reader would respond, so you’ve done your job.

    Now, if every character in the novel was repeating the same offensive word – any offensive word – or if you, the author, were to use that word to describe a character in your narrative, that would be inappropriate.

  2. harrogate50

    Although I have known artists who seem to be hell-bent on being sensationalists, which can often mean being “offensive”, my opinion about art is that it is the expression of personal emotions and thoughts and we all have the right to freedom of expression (in this country). It is also the right of anyone to be offended because art is not only personal in it’s expression but, also in it’s interpretation. I may not agree with your opinion but I defend your right to express it! Yay 1st Amendment!

  3. I loved Living the Dream, and am looking forward to getting the others, signed of course. Can you tell me when and what the setting for the Castaways is? I would like to listen to it.

  4. Reblogged this on Palmcoastnow's Blog and commented:
    Another blog from Tim Baker

  5. Reblogged this on Heiditassone's Blog and commented:
    Tim Baker, Living the Dream

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