max (max1975) wrote,

on the mangling of words and the ethics of fiction

Am I a bad person for making up words?

I don't make them up out of thin air. But I'm writing a story in which there is a windowseat, and microsoft tells me there is no such word as "windowseat", and suggests "window seat", which looks and feels wrong to me, as does the alternative "window-seat." I don't like hyphens in general. To my mind a space or a hyphen puts a gap in the word that really shouldn't be there. It angers me and I defy Microsoft, and in so doing I also defy Merriam-Webster.

Given a strong argument and perhaps some strong liquor, it is conceivable that I could be persuaded to insert the demanded space in my windowseat. But I would not budge on "menfolk" if the gods themselves were to demand it. Hmm. Turns out, according to Merriam-Webster, menfolk is indeed a word, and there is no need for me to budge, so the gods can rest easy. Damn you microsoft for making me doubt myself!

On to a trickier one: Superstitiousness. Microsoft says there is no such word. Merriam Webster says there is no such word. I don't think I've ever heard anyone else use the word, and I actually dislike the word because it is rather cumbersome. I have struggled with this one for a long time. It has been suggested that I instead use "superstition." But the two words do not mean the same thing. Superstition is "a belief or practice resulting from ignorance," whereas superstitious is "of, relating to, or swayed by superstition" and so superstitiousness would be a the condition of being of, related to, or swayed by a belief or practice resulting from ignorance. It's not the same thing, dammit. The word may not be in the dictionary, but it's quite obvious what the word should be, so I'm gonna use it.

(It is an ugly word, though, with too many syllables, so if someone knows a good synonym, please share.)

Part of me believes that the spelling or existence of a word should be based not on what any dictionary says, but what the fictional narrator believes the dictionary says. Although if I ever habitually mistake "it's" for "its" please smack me, and if I ever habitually mistake "they're" or "their" for "there," please shoot me. (Mistaking "their" for "they're" is a lesser offense, in my opinion. At least those two are forms of the same word. There should certainly be some form of punishment attached, but probably something less drastic than shooting.)

Speaking of superstition (as I was before I got sidetracked) my next issue is being mean to my characters. Now, it's not really an ethical dilemma so much, because I believe it's pretty clearly not only my right, but my duty to be mean to my characters, if the story calls for it. And it usually does. I would say the biggest weakness of my own writing is that I'm not mean enough to my characters (which results in little conflict, little tension, little plot, little motivation for me to actually finish the damn story.) And I am rather proud of myself for just having been very mean to one of my characters, and not chickening out as I've done on at least one occasion in the past. (That was a crappy story anyway, so I don't care so much that I never finished it, but still I suck for having chickened out).

Anyway, I was mean to my character, and all depressed about it.

The difficulty here is that I believe my characters are real people, existing independently in an alternate universe, and I am actually discovering the story rather than creating it. The literal truth of this belief is of course highly dubious, but it is indispensible to me. If I don't believe they're real, I don't care about them, and if I don't care about them, why should the reader?

So actually it's not me being mean to my character. That would require me to be a sort of god in their universe, which would lead to a crappy story. I didn't make up what happened, it just occurred in my imagination, and it made more sense than any alternative, so I had to write it down. Could other, less terrible things have happened? Yes, in other alternate universes, but if I chose to write about those, I'd be sort of abandoning the poor girl who got the shaft in an independent reality that proceeds whether or not I write it down.

So, no real ethical dilemma. But I still feel crappy because that shit happened to my character. She got stuck with my worst nightmare, and she totally didn't deserve it.

Wonder how other writers feel about their characters...
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