Blogger: Wendy Lawton
Last week I came across an interesting post on a Christian fiction discussion group. The writer opened with “I am in the process of writing a disturbing book. The Lord laid it on my heart that our country is headed in a dangerous direction, and the church needs to be warned of what may lay in our future. I think most Christians agree that things are going from bad to worse in America. The message I received from God is to project where our country will be fifteen years into the future given the current rate of degradation into sin.”
He continues, “As a result of this mission, the book contains depictions of evil people engaged in evil deeds. . . While I am striving to stay within the bounds of decency, I must nevertheless remain faithful to the subject matter, which is the nature and practice of evil. Consequently, parts of the book contain references to heresies, sexual perversions and abuse, questionable language, and condemnation of people living out these lifestyles. . . It is shocking–and deliberately so.”
I asked his permission to address this here and he graciously gave his permission. I’d like to talk about the concept of “writing real” because it is a struggle many writers express. Let me just address this today from an agent’s point of view– a commercial point of view– not taking into consideration the fact that this writer sees this book as a mission. I’m not comfortable arguing with someone about the task to which he feels God has called him, so I’ll leave that to another discussion.
Problem #1: If this writer sat across from me at a conference and presented his book in this way, the first thing I would say is that the market does not want what we call issue fiction. If a writer starts out describing the social problem the book addresses– “it’s a book about abortion,” or “it’s a novel that addresses the issue of over consumption”– an editor’s or an agent’s eyes will glaze over. A novel is about characters. Writing real is about developing a compelling story around those characters. The writer who sits down and begins spinning a story about characters understands fiction. For a writer longing to address an issue, nonfiction is the appropriate vehicle.
Problem #2: This book could not be sold in the CBA (Christian) market. No matter how many times authors will argue that evil cannot be shown without graphic situations or that bad characters cannot be written without appropriately bad language, the fact remains that the buyers of Christian fiction trust that the publishers are going to give them a hopeful read, free of profane dialogue, graphic sex, and graphic violence. I could write a whole book about this subject. I get so weary of writers taking about “pushing the envelope” and going on about how simplistic Christian fiction is. It’s a sophomoric argument. It’s far more simplistic to let a character spout an expletive than letting the reader see the subtle, complex acts that cause that character to explode in anger. Some of the most exquisite fiction ever written falls within these confines.
Problem #3: This book could not be sold into the general market because it is about the failure of the church and the nation. It is about sin. In talking about the content the writer describes “condemnation of people living out these lifestyles.” Yes, graphic sex, language and violence is okay in some ABA circles but to call it sin is seen as judgmental and intolerant. As described, this book is too Christian for the ABA market.
A number of writers might answer this writer’s question with the advice to “write what God has put on your heart.” Or, “It’s important to write your passion.” But I would argue, as writers, we have to decide at some point whether we’re writing for publication. If we are, then we need to write within the strictures of the market. That’s what I call writing real.
Let’s discuss this further in the comments section below. I’m guessing many might disagree with me and others will offer sage advice for this writer.