I’ve been shaking my head for more than a week now over the very idea of the Clean Reader app Greta mentioned in her post March 25. I agree wholeheartedly with all the things Greta said and cheer along with her the CEO of Smashword’s decision to remove all of its publications from the grasp of this censoring tool. Here’s hoping that iTunes and Google will follow suit.
Of course, we as writers are understandably outraged at this attempt to sanitize our writing and strip it of meaning. That is what happens when you change the words we choose with great care to some other random words chosen by computer—the sentences lose meaning. The characters, forced to say things they were not intended to say, lose cohesion. The book falls apart.
As writers we understand this. Readers who love to read understand this, too. They may not have taken classes to learn exactly how a novel is structured (or maybe they have!), but they recognize well-written lines, well-drawn characters, pacing, tension, setting, tone. All those things depend on the words we choose.
In the backs of our minds as we write, if we have been in this business for any length of time at all, is a consideration for our audience. I envision my audience as adults with a taste for action, suspense, otherworldly elements and hot romance. I don’t write for teens, a Christian audience, readers of sweet contemporary romance or, on the other end of the scale, readers of military thrillers, tentacle romance or LGBT erotica. I choose my stories, my characters, my scenes and, most importantly, my words to fit my target audience.
I wouldn’t be doing my stories, my characters or my audience justice by limiting myself to PG-13 words or scenes. That wouldn’t be authentic, based on what I know (or imagine) of life in that kind of world. The people in my worlds curse, they have realistic sex, they react violently upon occasion—just like people in the real world. I need the proper words to express those things. I believe my audience appreciates my effort to find the appropriate words.
I don’t expect a teenager or younger child to be reading my books. And just because they want to is no reason they should be allowed to. They can wait until they’re mature enough to handle the language and other adult content. Bleaching the language will not mean they can understand the rest of what goes on. That’s why I still won’t allow my teenage grandson to watch certain shows on television even if the “bad” words have been bleeped out. The content is still more than he needs to see.
So the parents who came up with this censorious Clean Reader app would do better to simply say, “No, you can’t read that yet.” Or, discuss why certain words are used in certain books. And adults who prefer to avoid certain levels of language, sex and violence can simply choose to read other books. There are millions of books out there, after all. Why alter my book when you can just read another that fits your taste better?
One good thing that appears to have come of all this is that clearinghouses for publications, like Smashwords, have become aware of the insidious nature of the app and have refused to participate. Since authors have little say over what their distributors do in matters like these, it is well that Smashwords is leading the way. With any luck Clean Reader will join the thousands of other useless apps in the trash bin of history.
To all the RWA® Golden Heart® and RITA® nominees announced earlier this week! This is the beginning of an incredible rollercoaster ride for the unpublished authors of the GH competition and a recognition for much hard work for the published authors of the RITA competition. Congratulations and good luck to all of you when the winners are announced at the RWA National Conference in NYC in July!