Thursday, December 12, 2013

Perils of the Writer: Clavicle and other crucial word choices

This week's work on Banshee brought me to an interesting point, somewhat unintentionally.  In brief, my main character, Lt. Samantha Kengle, was injured on a mission (a nasty creature managed to bite her on the neck).  She loses consciousness, and when she comes to, she's being treated.

Initially I wrote that she would wake up with her uniform coat off and one of the aliens pressing her hand to Kengle's bare chest.  (Said alien can essentially function as a living diagnostic scanner). 

But then it hit me about the unintended implications behind that.  Sure, it's medical, but the point is my one female human character gets stripped down while unconscious, and wakes up being groped.  Sure, groped in a medical fashion by a female fish-alien, but still.  I had put in a layer of sexual vulnerability that I had never intended, and it rested largely on the word "chest". 

I re-thought the scene.  I needed the alien to be able to get at bare flesh and the injury, but keep it professional.  Leave no doubt, no subtext, that what was happening was anything other than medical treatment.

So I changed "chest" to "clavicle".  Made no difference in terms of the text of what was happening, but pulled away the subtext I wanted to avoid.

I'm not going to get all, "words are important, words have power", because I'm sure you all know that.  But word choice is crucial, and sometimes we make strange choices-- subbing in a not-entirely accurate synonym to avoid repetition, going for an uncommon word to avoid a common one.   And sometimes the words we choose have unintended consequences.

Fortunately, this time, I think I sidestepped it.  But there may be other ones that I'll fall into.

Back to the word mines for now...


Jack Giesen said...

This is a really good point, and I love how well it illustrates how important word choice is. Mind if I use the "clavicle vs. chest" example in arguments in the future?

Marshall Ryan Maresca said...

Jack- Have at it!