Chuckle of the day.

I’m writing a passage describing an angry man:  

“Shocked that he had not been part of the meeting with Connie and me, Jack went to Maren and threatened to quit. Maren thanked him for his service and accepted his resignation. Apparently not understanding that she’s the boss pro tem, he said he wasn’t gonna take no layoff from some ditzy broad and appealed to me. To be fair, I laughed more out of surprise then derision.”

I reread the passage. Hmmm. Broad? I remind myself that (a) I’m writing in near-current time, and (b) I’m an old guy. I am painfully familiar with the old guy word usage caution (OGWUC). It’s similar to the Indy 500 yellow flag, except it is the raised eyebrow of a younger critique group member. So I fire up ChatGPT and ask: 

Is “broad” widely used as a pejorative term for a woman anymore?

Chat GPT replies: 

” ‘Broad’ as a pejorative term for a woman has largely fallen out of common usage in contemporary times. It was more prevalent in earlier decades, particularly in the mid-20th century and was often used in a derogatory or disrespectful manner to refer to women. However, as societal attitudes have evolved and awareness of gender-based language has increased, terms like ‘broad’ are now generally considered outdated and offensive.”

Just make sure I understand—has ChatGPT already developed an old guy algorithm?—it scolds me:

“Language reflects the norms and values of a society, and there has been a growing recognition of the importance of using respectful and inclusive language, especially when referring to gender. As a result, derogatory terms like ‘broad’ have largely been replaced by more respectful and neutral language in modern discourse.”

Okay, but I still need a good pejorative for use by an angry guy. So, Chat, buddy, What are common pejoratives for women today?

“While the use of overtly pejorative terms for women has decreased over time due to societal shifts towards greater awareness and sensitivity, unfortunately, some derogatory terms still persist in various contexts. However, it’s important to note that using such language is disrespectful and reinforces harmful stereotypes. Here are a few examples:

Bitch: This term is used to insult or belittle women by suggesting they are aggressive, unpleasant, or difficult.”

Chat GPT gives me several other banal options, but “Bitch” at number one was, to me, priceless. ‘Broad’ to ‘Bitch’ in a time of “the importance of using respectful and inclusive language, especially when referring to gender.” One assumes AI hasn’t learned irony—yet.

Too Much Detail?

The mystery writer Allen Eskins spoke to the Minnesota Mystery Night* gathering a couple of days ago. In the question session, Eskins was asked:  When you write, do you think about the reader? Eskins said no, and his answer got me thinking.

I had never really analyzed my own process this way. On introspection, I realized I do not think much about the reader when I draft. I have the story in a rough outline; mainly, I live in the characters’ minds. Since my novels are to some degree techno-thrillers, though, I do think about the reader during rewrite. I need to put in just enough technical detail to convince readers that they can trust that the technology part is believable. After several years of help from fine critique groups, I know not to fulfill my inner temptation to show how astoundingly clever/knowledgeable I am and bore readers to death with detail. Then, of course, I run headlong into the question of how much is enough. Techies will want more detail; readers more interested in character arc will want less.

Two books I’ve read recently crystallized the issue for me. The first, The Rose Code, by Kate Quinn, is literary fiction traveling as a mystery. Marvelous writing, three strong female protagonists who work in various capacities at Bletchley Park, the WWII English code-breaking facility. You’ll want to read it. Quinn has every reason not to tell the reader how the people at Bletchley broke the Enigma cyphers because Bletchley was famously compartmentalized. The three protagonists each knew only part of the process. Yet the brief description Quinn gives of the actual code breaking was too little for me. (Here’s my Goodreads review.)

The second book will remain unnamed. It’s one I reviewed prior to publication. The central idea dealt with biotechnology. At one point, the text discussed “recumbent” DNA technology. (One hopes the author meant “recombinant.”) Of course, “recumbent” is a dictionary word; a dumb spell checker would find it perfectly acceptable. There were other hints that the writer hadn’t had the book copy edited, but even given that it might just be a typo, “recumbent” destroyed the author’s credibility with respect to the mostly unstated biological/pharmacological processes that were central to the plot. For me, at least.

My takeaways: 1) write to abandon in the first draft; consider what’s necessary in the second. 2) Get your work copy edited.

* Minnesota Mystery Night is produced by Midwest Mystery Works, a group of five of us who write mysteries and thrillers. If you’re in the Twin Cities, it’s on the third Monday of each month. You can get advance notice through my newsletter or on the MMW Facebook page.