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IWSG October - My line in the sand

 This is my Insecure Writers Support Group post for October 2021.

Alex's awesome co-hosts this month
Please stop by their blogs and say thank you


October 6 question - In your writing, where do you draw the line, with either topics or language?

Great question! I write Western Historical Romance, so this is definitely a consideration for me. 

Second to poor editing, my least favorite thing is anachronistic dialogue and behavior. If a historical is well written, it transports the reader back in time. But it can also be a slap to the face of political correctness. It's a fine line to walk for authors.

I make my historical characters palatable to modern readers, but I don't plop them into historical settings and then have them behave like it's the year 2010. My heroes are a bit chauvinistic--but, in a time when women were viewed as property, and men could legally strike their wives and demand sex without committing rape--they are tame in comparison to the real men of the 1800s. 

I often grapple with the use of period vocabulary, such as 'halfbreed' when referring to mixed-race characters (e.g. Hatchoq in Come Back). The term is considered derogatory now, but back then, it was acceptable. I usually keep them, though, because I strive for authenticity when it comes to word etymology. That said, I draw the line at using the N-word. Even if it is authentic to the setting year, it's too inflammatory.

I don't write Christian fiction, but many readers choose WHR for its old-fashioned values. My books typically have a couple of love scenes that develop the characters and move the plot along, and they occur almost exclusively within the bounds of marriage. My books also have mild language (d*mn, b*stard, etc.). A well-placed curse word can infuse quite a lot of feeling into a line of dialogue without dragging the prose down with a tag or beat. I make foul language fit the character and the setting year. Therefore, the well-bred heroines in my historicals do not curse. Well, only rarely, if they are very angry. 😃  (Seth: 26, Becca: 1)

I think just about any topic is fair game, if it's well written, and if the book's description contains enough details that readers can vet what they are buying. I don't cater to 'trigger warnings,' listing every little thing in the story that might bother someone, but I do put a content warning below the blurb that covers the basics (e.g. sex, violence, sexual violence). 

Whatever I write, I subtly weave social, political and religious details in to the story and let my characters be characters, without turning my novel into a platform for my personal beliefs. I'll put a book down if the author is using the story like a soapbox. Bits of ourselves will filter into our stories--that's inevitable--but I try very hard not to sermonize my readers.


IWSG is the brainchild of Alex J. Cavanaugh. It's a monthly bloghop that offers a safe haven for writers to express their feelings and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. It's also a venue for offering  support, both in the form of comments and positive posts. Writers of all kinds are welcome. 

We 'meet' the first Wednesday of every month. If you're interested in learning more, click on the link above. And don't be intimidated by the size of the group. We're not expected to visit everyone on the list


  1. Very well-written answer. I struggled with the prompt this month. You did a great job here.

  2. It's good you know the constraints you need to follow in writing historical westerns and how you have to make your characters accurate to the times. I wouldn't use the N-word either.

  3. It is a fine line you have to walk, but making it all PC would take away from the story's authentic flavor.
    And I used the word halfbreed in one of my books, but set in a galaxy far, far away, it's all right.

  4. Well said! I laughed out loud at Seth and Becca's respective "scores".

  5. You have a good set of principles for your work.

  6. Subtle is best. I've read some of your work and you do it well.

  7. Historical is hard, a fine line to keep it accurate but not over.

  8. Yeah, historical is hard because things have changed so much since the 1800s. It certainly makes me happy to be alive during the present day!

  9. Wonderful, thoughtful response to this month's question. It is tricky with historical. But, I wouldn't use the N-word either, or some other awful racial slurs.
    Mary at Play off the Page

  10. So happy about not keeping things totally PC. PC for the time period is great. It's quite different from what is PC today; and what is PC today won't be in tomorrow's world. The world is constantly changing.

  11. Historical romance is a tricky one, for sure. I know Regency authors run up against 'but what about the BODY HAIR' type questions all the time, LOL.

    Also it's one of my favorite moments when the well-bred heroine is angry enough to curse. It really drives home how mad she truly is!

    1. Most of the historicals I read don't mention body hair or lack of it, except facial or chest hair on the guy. The characters usually bathe more often than they really did back then, though.

  12. You are so right about trying to balance the voice of yore with PC. As a human, the last thing I want to do is hurt someone's feelings, but as a writer, certain characters require harsher language. When I drop a "dirty" word, it's almost always in dialogue and I blame the character.

    I was beta reading for a fellow writer and we had a discussion about the halfbreed term. I defaulted to keep it if it's dialogue, use a tribe if it's part of the narrative character description.


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