When the majority of tv stations are filled with the claims of politicians these days we are reminded of the importance of the words we choose to convey our meaning.
Today is the publication anniversary of two books that have influenced many over the years:
- Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, the most widely read book after the Bible for over 200 years, published in 1678.
- The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, among the first novels in major American literature to be written throughout in vernacular English, published in 1885.
John Bunyan wrote an allegory describing The Pilgrim’s Progress from This World to That Which Is to Come; Delivered under the Similitude of a Dream. The names of his characters and places in the book directly convey elements of what they represent:
- Christian, the protagonist;
- Obstinate and Pliable, his sons;
- Evangelist, Help, Mr. Worldly Wiseman, Mr. Legality and his son Civility, a few of the men he meets along his journey.
- The City of Destruction, his hometown;
- The Celestial City, that which is to come or Heaven;
- The Slough of Despond, a boggy mire-like swamp; and
- The village of Morality; some of the places he encounters on his journey.
These are just a few of the names and terms Bunyan used to build his message. All of his language re-enforces his view of the journey of the life of a Christian.
Mark Twain had a different focus to his writing. He also used colorful descriptions of people and places, this time along the Mississippi River. The main characters are Huck Finn, a thirteen or fourteen year old boy, and Jim, a mild mannered slave. The two of them have multiple adventures while trying to escape a difficult situation in fictional St. Petersburg, MO. Attempts to “sivilize” Huck and teach him religion are unsuccessful. The two central characters end up in many shady situations and discover many dead bodies.
Mark Twain used what was considered to be coarse language at the time. Some of it probably still would be. The book was banned by more than one library due to “bad word choice” and Huck’s having “not only itched but scratched” within the novel, which was considered obscene.
More recently there has been debate about the appropriateness of the use of the words “nigger” and “Injun” in several places in the book. He wrote the book from the mid-1870s thru the early 1880s. Those words would have had different emotions attached to them then than they do now.
Something to consider in your own writing, when you are drawn to using the vernacular, is to guess how acceptable some of that language might be in the future. Language can be informal without being crude.
As you prepare to write your book, give some thought to the tone you want to set:
Each of those choices lends itself to a slightly different vocabulary.
* * * * *
Have some questions about the tone you want to set in your book? Give me a call at 843-593-0045 or use this link to schedule your complimentary Enchanted Book Session.