At the beginning of the new version of “Scarlet’s Superpower” four bullies are introduced. I’ve been laboring on what I want them to say. As it turns out, what they actually say out loud doesn’t matter, because Scarlet can’t hear them. It is the act of making fun of Scarlet that is important to the story. However, the reader will take in the message of these characters.
As I dream up this fictional scenario, I am thinking to myself; What do I want the reader to experience? My method of writing in first person, present- tense is designed to create maximum empathy. The reader ought to feel what Scarlet is feeling. Am I bullying my readers?
And, once again I am totally over-thinking my writing! Time to blog.
First of all, according to the Anti-Bullying Alliance (n.d.), bullying is defined as “The repetitive, intentional hurting of one person or group by another person or group, where the relationship involves an imbalance of power. Bullying can be physical, verbal or psychological. It can happen face-to-face or online.” Is it even possible for an author to bully their readers? Why would they read the texts?
This idea of an author “bullying” readers is thought-provoking to me. I can imagine this happening in some texts. The reader is hooked on a cool book. They have “become friends” with the characters, enjoy the scenery of the setting, and feel enmeshed with the problems of the protagonist, when all of a sudden, things go awry! All of a sudden your imagination is getting pummeled from all sides, and there is no escape. I have read books that stress me out. A person who has suffered trauma could be triggered.
Most people probably know what they are getting themselves into when picking up a book. I listen to a lot of the books that I consume, and go through them faster than I can research them. It’s common for me to find myself halfway through an audiobook before I decide to look up some information on it. This recently happened to me when I listened to “Where the Crawdads Sing.” I’m deep in the “Marshland” of North Carolina, surviving on a truly minimalistic existence of mollusks, when the author takes every last thread of hope away from me! Kye is left with an impossible situation.
This is an awesome book, and I highly recommend it. The plot kept me guessing all the way to the end, which I love! I look forward to reading this again someday and realizing how much the poetry keeps me and Kye afloat throughout the text. If you’ve read it, you know what I’m talking about. Hints without spoilers.
Back to Scarlet’s book, though. I feel like one kid calling another kid a “baby” is a universal put down, and relatively painless.. Thus, I start off the bullying with a kid suggesting baby-like behavior, when in actuality he is just stating the fact that she is lying down in the room that has the youngest charges of the daycare. You can almost hear the cadence of his words, as though they were a chant, “Scarlet is sleeping with the babies.”
I give the kid braces to show his age. All of your grown up teeth have to grow in before you get braces. Perhaps he thinks he is older and more mature because he has braces.
I also have him spit the words so that you know that this kid, while stating a fact, is sharing it as a put down. He is “spitting” his message at Scarlet, whether she is able to feel it or not. I don’t particularly like the way the words work, though. I’ll most likely change or omit the “spitting,” even though I like the concept. I think I’d have to add another sentence to get the point across, and I don’t want the tiny text to be as cumbersome as this silly blog! Ha ha.
One thing that I think this scene gets across is that these four kids are real bullies. The fact that they are making fun of Scarlet on the other side of a glass door, where she can’t hear them, whether she had her coils on or not, makes it seem like this is not the first time that they have singled her out for ridicule. Also, does it fit the definition of bullying if no “intentional hurt” happens?
Here, I am faced with a serious dilemma. Scarlet HAS actually been the target of some unfriendly social situations this year. She has had difficulty making, keeping, and being friends. When Scarlet and I first came up with this idea of incorporating bullying as a theme of her story, there wasn’t even a hint of peer problems. Is our text beginning to touch true trauma, and will that be troubling?
The theme of the book is Scarlet’s overcoming obstacles and therefore becoming empowered through the acceptance of her limits. While my first text, written when Scarlet was in first grade, tackled the potential problem of Scarlet hating that she had to deal with her devices, and no one else did, this one could focus on social problems; Scarlet’s Superpower could morph from just “not hearing” to choosing to ignore. In this way, I am hoping to help my daughter, and readers everywhere, to find a power within them to look and live beyond the ridicule of others.
And now, I come to the word “dumb.” I chose this insult because it is so
dumb ignorant. Kids do not know the etymology of this word, but it wouldn’t hurt them to learn that words have histories. If you are still reading this, I assume you are educated enough to know that the word dumb means “unable to speak” (O’Conner & Kellerman, 2014).
I love playing with words, and that is what I am doing here. Rather than having the bullies bludgeon Scarlet’s character from a distance; something she can’t even feel; I have them discussing taunts. This is to paint the picture of peers plotting put downs. Especially, when I have one student explain that they were planning to use the term “dumb” to mock Scarlet, the idea of intentional hurt is clarified. The admittance of purposeful, targeted taunting seems to take the breath away from these bullies, because they, themselves are left “dumb” in the wake of it.
We think of bullies as people who pummel others with insults (words) and/or inflict physical harm on others. Prohibiting a person from being able to share can also be a form of bullying. Taking the power to communicate away from someone could be worse than labeling them something negative. It literally renders them powerless to affect their situation. When someone calls a target “dumb,” whether they use that exact word or not, are they really attempting to silence them? The bully is saying to those within earshot, “This person is not worth listening to.”
The irony of the bullies in my story muting themselves will not be understood by the youth the story is written for. Thus, I feel the need to explain it here. Scarlet is deaf, literally. She has devices that help her hear. When she has them on, she takes in every sound that hearing people experience. Not only has she taken her coils off to nap in this opening scene of this new version of the book, but she is separated from the bullies by a glass door. This is because the bullies do not understand that she can’t hear them, even if there were NO door. The reader does not GET this yet, either. It is explained later on.
The bullies are sharing insults with each other in mock bullying fashion, practicing what they might do if face to face with Scarlet. With the realization that insulting Scarlet on the other side of a glass door, where she can’t hear them (coils or not), it dawns on the bullies that their words haven’t even gone as far as falling on deaf ears! This transforms them, the powerful in numbers and insults, powerless. They have no voice without an ear to hear. They are the dummies.
Here is a taste of what is to come: Scarlet’s new improved superpower is to “Ignore the Ignorant.”
Clark. (2021, March 30). Common Grammar Mistakes: 11 Goofs You Might Know Too Well. Copyblogger. Retrieved February 9, 2023, from https://copyblogger.com/grammar-writing-mistakes/
O’Conner, & Kellerman. (2014, July 3). The Grammarphobia Blog: Speaking of dumb. Grammarphobia. Retrieved February 9, 2023, from https://www.grammarphobia.com/blog/2014/07/dumb.html
Our Definition of Bullying. (n.d.). Anti-Bullying Alliance. Retrieved February 9, 2023, from https://anti-bullyingalliance.org.uk/tools-information/all-about-bullying/understanding-bullying/definition