Any writer knows that things can go wrong sometimes. Characters start to get wooden. Scenes won’t come alive. But the slipperiest dilemma of all –– because it’s the one least likely to be obvious when you’re re-reading the manuscript –– is when certain words turn out to have unintended consequences.
A fine example of this cropped up just now as I was reading “The Defector,” an excellent spy novel by Daniel Silva. Silva is describing the people who work in the Mossad’s Special Ops department: “Its operatives were executioners and kidnappers; buggers and blackmailers; men of intellect and ingenuity…”
Now it could be that Silva paired the word to which –– as I’m sure you’ve guessed –– I refer with “blackmailers” for a reason. Perhaps the dark arts of the Mossad, whose main office is a modest drive from where I live (though unmarked on maps, of course), include buggering people and then blackmailing them. They’re known to have used female agents as a “honey trap,” after all. Why not add to their repertoire the “chocolate come-on”? Or the “bronze bait”?
More likely, I’d concede, is that bugging someone qualifies one, in spy parlance, as a bugger. And I’d certainly agree that maybe this jumped off the page only because of the little bit of Benny Hill that lives on in me…
But it highlighted to me how a writer can be ambushed by words in many different ways.
Needless to add, for those who know Silva’s work, it didn’t put me off “The Defector,” which is a superb example of classy writing and thrilling pace.