J.H. Muses

Did he really say that? Yeah, he really did

Once upon a time not so long ago, unfortunately, I heard an elected official say, “We need to move out everybody over 55 to make room for the young people.” Yes, he really said that. No, we didn’t report it at the newspaper because he was “off the recorBookcollogo3-2014d.”

Oh, the stories I could tell after 30 years in a newsroom. You make judgement calls every day about what you can ethically report.

In a missing child case, a close relative said, “That miserable low-down boyfriend killed that girl or sold her.” But the elderly relative was on serious anti-depressants and other painkillers due to her health. You don’t use quotes from someone who is impaired by drugs.

Once in a murder case where an obsessed boyfriend shot his ex-girlfriend, someone in the community said, and I quote: “Oh, that woman was such a … bitch. She deserved it!” We didn’t print it because it was a horrible comment to make about a dead woman. Her parents, children, relatives and friends were grieving.

And we didn’t use this: I had an anonymous phone call giving me a lead to another woman this guy had stalked years earlier. She was married, had a great life, and was off his radar. She was hysterical with fear when I called her. “Please, please, don’t put my name anywhere! He’ll come after me again!” No, I didn’t use it. My executive editor and I agreed that we would not use this information.

There were so many funny things said, too, along the way. The elderly lady told me her group was getting together and “knitting Africans.” The mother-of-the-bride brought in a wedding write-up that read: “The bridesmaids wore ruffled flounces on their tails.”

Now let’s get to those characters in your novels. Did he or she really say that? Yeah, they can. They will. If you let them.

But make it real. Don’t dress up the language. Don’t “fix” it. Make it sound like you’re sitting on the front porch talking with the blue-haired neighbor who is knitting Africans.

If the bridesmaids wore ruffled flounces on their tails, then let them.

And if that elected official says to get rid of everyone over 55, then tell it. That’s life.

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