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The Writer's Mailbag: Installment 205

Updated on June 4, 2018

So Whatcha Working On?

Poor grammar, I know, but the question stands: what are you working on lately? If you have the time and the inclination, let me know in the comments. Why? I’m curious by nature but also, well, I care.

Have you ever noticed the number of people you meet who don’t respond in kind when you ask them how they are doing? I was raised to ask in return…someone asks how I am today, I respond, and then I ask them how they are doing. That just seems polite, you know? Sure, the skeptics out there will say it’s just busy talk, small talk, meaningless gab, but I think it’s an important first step in making a connection with another human being . . . show them that you care enough to inquire about their day.

So, whatcha working on?

Me? I’m working on this Mailbag, and here are the results of that labor.

Welcome to the Mail Room!
Welcome to the Mail Room! | Source

A Know It All?

From Eric: “So to it now. I think you do like I do and research about all the stuff you write about. Some things we know about through life and it gives us a start but to be true to our readers we have to be very accurate. As we correct our grammar we correct our facts. Are you a "know it all"?

Eric, you make me laugh!

I am a fountain of seemingly useless information. I think that comes from being an introvert but also from being curious by nature. So a lot of the things I include in my novels come from that fountain of facts and figures I have accumulated over the years.

Yes, I do some research. I wrote a novel set in Rosario, Mexico, last year, so I had to do some serious Googling to get the streets correct and find out a little history about that city. Usually I stick to places I have visited or lived in because, well, I’m a bit lazy when it comes to research, but with Rosario I couldn’t fake it.

Know it all? Not by a long-shot, but I do know a little about a lot of topics.

More on Responsibility

From Robert: “I think it was last week you talked about the responsibility writers have to the reading public…fiction writers should entertain, non-fiction writers should tell the truth. I was wondering about the flip-side of that question: what is the writer’s responsibility to himself or herself?”

And there we have another first!!!

What I find amazing about the Mailbag is the fact we have been going on for what, four years, and it seems like every single week a new question, one never asked before, shows up. It just happened again.

Great question, Robert! I can only answer for myself, but I would love to hear what other writers think about that question.

My responsibility to myself is to write the absolute best novel, or story, I am capable of writing at that moment. I have no boss. I have no supervisor checking my work. The quest for perfection rests with me alone. I am answerable to only one person, and that person, me, has rather high standards. I know I’m not going to be a perfect writer every time I come out of the chute, but I can be the best Bill at that moment.

My dad told me that if I was going to spend time and effort to do something, then I owed it to everyone to spend time and effort doing something as well as I could. Otherwise I’m cheating everyone, including myself.

I try not to cheat anyone.

I have a responsibility to myself to be the best writer and human being I can be.
I have a responsibility to myself to be the best writer and human being I can be. | Source

A Place for Slang

From Donna: “What’s your stance on using slang in your writing? Do you feel it adds to the flavor of a person’s writing?”

And we have another first-time question!

For my non-English readers, slang is defined as informal, non-standard vocabulary. It is as common as breathing for we humans. Instead of dying, someone “kicks the bucket.” Instead of being interrogated, someone received the “third degree.”

What’s my stance on it? I feel like a majority of people use slang daily in conversations, so to leave it out of dialogue in a story or novel would be a grave error. Fiction is supposed to ape real life . . . see what I just did? . .. so dialogue in fiction should be as real as possible.

But slang should be limited, in my opinion, to certain types of writing. Formal, non-fiction writing is probably not the place for street slang. On the other hand, I use slang quite often when I’m writing non-fiction social commentary pieces.

So there you have it! Yes, I do feel it adds flavor, and authenticity, but I also think it needs to be limited to certain types of writing.

I've written about these people often and never used their names.
I've written about these people often and never used their names. | Source

Responsibility to the Truth

From Sarah: “I’m thinking of writing a novel based on a particular incident that happened when I was a young girl. I’m wondering if I should use names of real people from that time? Isn’t it my responsibility to tell the truth and report accurately what happened to whom?”


How’s that for succinct?

Here’s the thing: do you really want to risk hurt feelings and/or a libel suit? That’s what you are facing if this incident that happened was of a serious nature. I personally don’t think it is advisable to do so.

You said this is going to be a novel. If so, just change the names of the people involved and thus put a buffer between you and those involved. An extreme example of this was the novel “Primary Colors.” There is no doubt that book was written about former President Bill Clinton, but real names were never used in that novel. Even so, people were angered by that book because it left very little doubt about the subject of that book.

Be very careful when writing books of this nature. Yes, it is important to you, but I just want you aware of the quagmire you are wading into.

Good luck!

The Song Is Playing in My Head

Eric posted an article this morning, and in it he mentioned a song from long ago, the Bugle Boy of Company B….I can’t get it out of my head. Catchy tune, played all the time in the 50’s when I was a young one, resurrected by Eric, and now taking up residency in my brain.

Thanks a lot, Eric!

Time to go! Have a tremendous, stupendous, ridiculously successful day, and thank you for being a part of my life.

2018 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”


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