Blogger: Wendy Lawton
Every once in a while the subject of profanity comes up in Christian fiction writing circles. “Why can’t we have a character simply come out with an expletive if that is true to the character?”
Many writers chafe at the strictures put on inspirational fiction. And yes, there are lines drawn. For the most part, these would be:
- Sex must not be gratuitous and any sexual scenes must happen “off stage.”
- Violence must also not be gratuitous and when shown should not be shown in graphic detail.
- Readers don’t want to find offensive language in a book they’ve bought in the CBA market.
I know you can point to books in the CBA that have broken some of the above strictures and seemed to have gotten away with it. I’d argue that:
- It was a veteran author who is so loved and so trusted that it was overlooked. A new or emerging author is crazy to push the envelope in that way. It’s not worth it.
- It probably hurt sales. There are some large chains who won’t carry a book that breaks those rules no matter who the author is. The reason? They have customers who bring those books back for a refund if they find something objectionable in it. They believe those customers lose trust in the store, the publisher and the author each time this happens. We could argue that those customers are completely out of touch but I’m telling you– those are core CBA customers.
But for me the biggest reason to avoid questionable language in a book is that it is usually lazy writing. It’s like telling instead of showing. Rather than just put a cuss word in a character’s mouth, there are so many more powerful ways to get the attitude and language across. No one has said this better than Donn Taylor, who taught English literature for eighteen years at Wayland Baptist University and Jamestown (ND) College. (His latest suspense novel is Deadly Additive, and he has also authored Dust and Diamond: Poems of Earth and Beyond.”) Here’s in part is what Donn said:
We shouldn’t confuse realism with literalism. Fiction is not reality. It’s an artistic construct that gives the illusion of reality. We do not have to include every detail simply because it’s there in real life. That’s why we don’t have to begin every fictional day with the hero shaving or the heroine applying eye shadow. And real life dialogue wanders all over the place; fictional dialogue is shaped to move the story forward, but it gives the illusion of real life. So we don’t have to report the exact words that a specific kind of character would say in real life. It’s quite enough to write “He cursed” and get on with the story.
While we’re on the subject: Lazy writers in the ABA market use cusswords to create the illusion of conflict. But genuine conflict is built into the structure of the story.
We should spend less time wondering what we can get by with and more time working on plot and character.
I couldn’t have said it better.
So what do you think?
The CBA fiction forbidden three: profanity, sex and violence. Why it’s no great loss. Click to Tweet.
No cussin’ in inspirational fiction? No big deal. Click to Tweet