Our Words Have Weight

- by Joe Nassise

Our words have weight.

That’s something that I didn’t often think about when I started my writing career.  I was far more concerned with the story, of getting the characters and the plot and the action down in a way that will make the act of reading an enjoyable one than I was with the impact of what I was saying.  I didn’t think about the message behind the words or what I was trying to say through that story itself, at least not consciously and certainly not in the beginning of a project.

Case in point.  I’m primarily a horror writer.  Occasionally I’ll mess around a little with SF or fantasy, but for the most part I write thrillers with a strong supernatural edge.  My writing often deals with the epic struggle between good and evil that surrounds us on a daily basis.  My view is obviously influenced by my personal faith and the body of my work as a whole often reflects this.  RIVERWATCH was about sacrifice and the choices we make when we are the only ones willing or able to confront evil that appears before us.  HERETIC is about one man’s encounter with the supernatural and how it fundamentally changes him and his views regarding good and evil.  It’s also a story of love lost and how the memory of that love drives us to greater heights and, perhaps, lower ones as well.  My novella More Than Life Itself focuses on a father who will do anything to save his beloved child, even if it means stepping over that indelible line between right and wrong.  Looking back now it’s easy to see that these were the themes I was focusing on when writing these works, but at the actual time of writing them, I didn’t give any of it much conscious thought.

But our words have weight, whether we recognize that or not, and sometimes that weight can land in the most unlikely places.

In southern Florida there is a group of teens who are awaiting trial for a variety of crimes.  These are serious crimes – robbery, rape, homicide, armed assault – and these teens are being held in an adult prison as they await their time in court. They are not allowed visits from their families except by teleconference.  If convicted, they will be transferred into the adult general population of the prison when they turn eighteen.

In that prison is a man named John.  John runs a program called Literature N Living.  It’s a book club that gets these kids to read, some for the very first time.  A book is chosen, the group reads and discusses it.  They are required to pass a test on the contents and to give a short speech about what they thought of the book’s story, themes, etc.  If they do the activities and pass the test, they get a reward – a visit from their families and a chance to eat a home cooked meal together with them as a group.

That’s a pretty big reward for a fifteen year old kid locked up behind bars and facing a very uncertain future.

Several times over the last few years my works have been selected for use in the Literature N Living program.  Knowing that the words that spilled out of me and onto a page are actively being used to try to give these kids a better future, to teach them to think about right and wrong and the consequences of their actions – that’s especially humbling to me.  And it reminds me that what we write can have far greater impact than we ever believed possible.

Our words have weight.  That’s something I won’t forget for a long time to come.


  1. Your post reminds me of something I heard years ago from the mystery writer Carolyn Hart, who said, “As writers, we are responsible for what we say.” Carolyn also said, “You never have to tell all you know.” Both these bits of wisdom have proven helpful in my writing, and in life.

  2. Wow! Great post. Very thoughtful. I’ll definitely have to check out your books…

  3. Great post. And what a huge compliment to have your books used in that way. Who knows, you might even inspire one of them to write their own story.

  4. @CurtisAnn – Both are excellent pieces of advice. Thanks for sharing!

    @Kathryn – Thank you. I appreciate the support.

    @Sasha – It was quite humbling, let me tell you. Fan mail has never made me cry before, but the package I received from John with all the essays and pictures of the kids eating with their families sure did it.

  5. This blog has some great tips for my next speech. Thanks for the info!