Many of you are aware of the controversy surrounding this year's Newbery medalist, The Higher Power of Lucky, by Susan Patron. I didn't bother to add my voice to the hubbub because I felt like it was a tempest in a teapot and that my opinion on the matter was irrelevant. And even though I thought the opposition to the word "scrotum" (an anatomically correct word used in a non-vulgar context) was silly, I think any parent or reader has every right to avoid any book they don't think is up their alley. But I just read an article about it in a local paper that made me want to respond. So I appologize for fanning the flames, but I yearn to make one point.
Here's what I can't shrug off--the idea that some think Patron included the word in her book for "shock value." Wha....?! I don't know Patron, so I can only think about it from my own perspective as a writer. What a huge waste it would be to put a word in a book that didn't fit character or story just for shock value. I can't imagine any writer worth her salt stooping to such silliness. The only tools we have to tell a story are letters, punctuation, and spaces--odd abstract symbols. No voice inflection, no gestures. Just words. That's a tall order. Why would we waste a single one just to shock and risk ruining the story? Much of the labor of rewriting for me is trying out every single word, checking to see if it's the best one, changing them again and again until I get it just right. The writers I know consider words magical, sacred, powerful. I feel a reverence for the written words that are a storyteller's tools and try not to ever use them lightly.
It's risky to ever assume what a person's intent was behind their action. I think assuming some hidden sordid intent will often end in error, and what's the point? Here's Patron's response to the controversy. Really, controversies are so silly. All they do is generate more publicity for a book, make more sales, get more kids to read it. I'd include some shocking, pot-stirring word in my next book just for the free publicity...only, I wouldn't want to waste a single word.