There are discussions among Christian writers as to whether or not certain types of language belong in Christian fiction. The debate seems to circle around the question, “how far is too far?”
I happen to believe that there’s nothing wrong with vigorous debate, until that debate becomes disrespectful. The problem is we’ve raised a few generations of people who don’t know how to discuss issues without taking things personally. Such a beginning point makes “agreeing to disagree” a noble yet nearly impossible goal.
Another part of this equation–for me–is that I don’t know if there is a one-size-fits-all answer to the question of using strong language in our Christian fiction. The reason is I can’t find the definitive list on what is and isn’t considered improper. Oh sure, I know there are the “really bad” words like **** and ****** and even **********. But what about *****? In some parts of the country people consider that a compliment. But what about the terms that are only kind of offensive, like ******, *******, and ****.
In all seriousness, there are Christian people on both sides of the language debate. Each is just as committed to good fiction as the other. Each seeks to produce powerful stories that will honor the light of the truth without ignoring the reality of the darkness into which that light shines. Some want to write characters–especially non-christian characters–who represent accurately the fallen humanity that lives around us. Others believe that capturing the ungodliness of the carnal world can be done without resorting to their vocabulary.
Personally, I am not comfortable in using “curse words” or four-letter words in my fiction. My reason is simple: I just don’t need to use those words. I believe that I can be creative enough to find other words that will show the same emotion without planting unhealthy seeds in a readers spirit. Do they encounter–perhaps even use–such “bad/unchristian” terms in their daily lives? Perhaps. That’s something I can’t control. But I can control whether they’ll encounter them in my books.
Which is more likely to happen: readers will stop reading my books if I DO use “bad” words or readers will stop reading them if I DON’T? Does slipping these words into my fiction repel of draw a reader?
Friends, in the spirit of Christian unity, let us be very careful about how we treat one another while carrying on this uncomfortable discussion. And when it comes to how we talk about one another, and our choice of vocabulary words to place in our books, perhaps Ephesians 4:29 can guide us:
Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.”
Okay, so the title to this post sounds like the beginning to a bad joke, but that’s not what I have in mind. For several years, however, I was both a preacher and a licensed funeral director in Kansas. It reminds me of the joke about the frustrated preacher who left his ministry to work for the local funeral parlor. Someone asked him why he quit preaching to become an undertaker. “When I straighten people out now, they stay straight,” he replied.
I’ll wait for the booing to simmer down before going on with the post…..there, let’s proceed.
You may not be tempted to leave your work as a writer to become a mortician, but perhaps frustration is boiling under the surface. Maybe you are being tempted to quit…to give up on the responsibility of being a steward of story.
Before you do, please do me this favor: take a minute to finish this sentence…”I love writing for God because______________________________________________________________________________________________________.
How has your answer changed since you felt the first spark of passion as a writer? What do you think caused the change? Is it too late to get the original spark back?
I wonder…when I tell someone I’m a Christian Writer, is either of those descriptions hard for them to believe.
While being a writer may not be as obvious as being a Christian, both should be believable. The person I’m talking with shouldn’t have to stand there with a “no, seriously” grin. My relationship with Christ is what makes me a Christian, and my responsibility to Christ is what makes me a writer. I can prove I’m a writer by showing people my writing. I can show I’m a Christian by letting people see my life. But neither being a Christian, nor being a writer can only be something I talk about…I must “walk the walk.” There are lots of people who claim to be Christians and writers, but who aren’t willing to pay the price to live the life required by such claims. And there are plenty of people willing and able to critique both claims.
To be a Christian I must believe in and submissively follow Jesus Christ. To be a writer, I must write. There are no shortcuts or substitutions. And, in a sense, both following Christ and writing for Christ are daily. Am I that devoted to the cause? Are you?
As I sit here in a hotel room and type this post, there’s a realization tugging at me: I need to be clear on how I define “success”. To apply this to the writer’s conference that I’m currently attending (the American Christian Fiction Writers conference), I’m praying that I stay focused on how blessed I am to be here.
I do have several concrete goals I’d love to achieve while here, but sometimes writers can be “all or nothing” people. We come to conference with a list of goals/dreams, and the temptation is to walk away feeling discouraged because we weren’t able to check them all of our list. The tragedy in that mentality is that we’ve set ourselves up for failure since achieving all of our goals with crisp perfection is impossible. So when (not “if”) the first disappointment comes, the rest of the conference is endured and not enjoyed.
The other mistake is to have a prioritized list of goals, where the goals lower down the list are dependent on the ones at the top of the list. When this happens, we are unable or unwilling to fully embrace the lower goals with a mindset of gratitude. We don’t thank God for them because they’re not “the real” big goals–the ones that really count.
I think Christian writers have the ability–because of the Spirit that’s within us–to be able to see the whole picture. It’s simply a matter of whether or not we use that ability. Such an attitude of gratitude won’t happen accidentally. It must be intentionally nurtured every day.
The fact is: just being here at the conference is an achievement for which to be thankful. Here are some other signs that the conference is a success:
- You’re able to reconnect with old friends
- New friends become a part of your life
- You realize that we have great food and plenty of it (much of the world would love to trade places with us).
- You were used by God to encourage another person
- You listened when God said “no”, even though it wasn’t on your list
- You learned something that will make you a better person, and a better writer
- You met writers you admire
These are just a few. Notice that “getting a contract” or “getting an agent” isn’t in the above list. Do I want those things? ABSOLUTELY! But even if they don’t happen while I’m here, this conference has already been a success.
How do you define success as a writer? As a person?
Okay, as you read this, I’m heading to Dallas for the American Christian Fiction Writers conference. Months and months of hard work have gone into preparation for these next few days. I’ve written a book that I’m going to be pitching to agents and editors…and anyone else I can trap in a corner or on an elevator…err, I mean anyone else who wants to hear about a thrilling suspense novel.
Equal to that anticipation, however, is the excitement of seeing old friends. I’m already looking forward to hugs and handshakes, smiles and laughter, and everything that goes with being face-to-face with people I have learned to care about and admire. I’m going rub shoulders with incredibly talented writers, who’ve never heard of me but I’ve sure heard of them. It’s an honor.
But it isn’t all fun and games. This is also a time to dig in and learn how to become a better writer. If I can’t be teachable, then I’m wasting my time. I don’t plan on wasting my time. I plan on growing, on building new friendships, and on doing more listening and less talking.
It’s a wonderful opportunity. And when I get home on Sunday might, I want the Lord to look back over the way I spent my time and energy, and say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”
And as thrilled as I am to be going to Dallas, I’m more thrilled to be coming home to my wife and children.
Can you imagine what our gathering in heaven is going to be like? Wow! Talk about a homecoming! Are you ready?
Intimidation: Writers face it all the time. Whether it’s a blinking cursor on a blank computer screen, a snarky remark in a critique, red ink from an editor, rejections…lions, and tigers, and bears…oh my!
We can be shaken by these types of things. But I’m learning that it’s not the presence of the intimidation that is key, it’s the way I choose to respond to it that matters. For the most part, I can’t do anything about the presence of intimidation. But I can control how it impacts my psyche. Criticism or critiques can be a sharpening stone that turns a dull knife blade into a sharp tool, or–if used improperly–it can nick and ruin the blade. Red ink can scream, “What makes you think you’re a writer? You can’t do this!” or it can say, “Try harder…you CAN do better. I believe in you!”
I’m in the process of getting sample chapters and a pitch ready for the American Christian Fiction Writers conference. And at meetings with agents and editors, I’ll be trying to keep from letting intimidation choke me while I tell them about my book. That’s if I even make it to the hotel at DFW. (I’ve heard that traffic and road construction are a snarled mess. I may spend the entire week circling Dallas trying to find my way into the airport complex where the hotel is located….opps, there goes intimidation again).
As a writer, what things intimidate you? How do you handle them?
“What’s your story about?”
It’s a question that I’ll have to answer when I get to the American Christian Fiction Writers convention in Dallas next week. Shouldn’t be that hard…right?
The problem, it seems to me, is that I have a tendency to go from one extreme to the other in attempting to answer the question. It reminds me of the preacher who preached a thirteen point sermon one week. Afterwards he realized he’d overdone it, so the next Sunday he began his sermon by saying, “In light of last weeks thirteen point sermon, this morning’s message will be pointless.”
I’m really trying to get my answer to fall in between the multi-pointed and the pointless response. I want to say enough, but not too much. I want an agent/editor’s eyes to open wide, not gloss over. So what am I going to do?
Simply this: I’m going to practice, practice, practice. Not that I’m going to strut around ready to spot my elevator pitch to anyone who even appears to be forming the question, but I do want to be able to be clear and concise.
My testimony as a Christian should be much the same way. When someone asks me a reason for the hope that is in me, I should be able to give a short and focused answer. AND I should be prepared to follow that up with a more detailed explanation if the opportunity presents itself. Both require preparation.
Two sentences or less: Why are you a Christian?
Writers write from their brokenness. Our stories are littered with characters who understand pain and disappointment, not just because “that’s life,” but because difficult times have been–and still are– a part of our lives.
Sometimes the hard times are self-inflicted, and other times they are the product of someone else’s doing. There’s a point where knowing the source doesn’t matter. We just have to deal with the pain. And writers often write as a way of dealing with troubles.
But isn’t that why some readers read? To either escape–even if briefly–from the rat race and be carried away by a good story, or to find a story that will show them characters that dealt with similar trials?
It may sound crazy but there have been times, when I’ve been writing a scene involving certain characters, and I’ve had to walk away from the keyboard for a while because the turmoil and pain in the scene was too raw…too real. But after some time, I found that the experience of writing that scene was good for me…perhaps even therapeutic.
It’s great to know that God has an answer for our pain. He doesn’t just redeem us, He redeems our broken-world experiences too. He cleans it off and says, “Now use this as a testimony of my grace and love.”
Praise God for His ability to make beauty rise from ashes. So if the pain I experience in life makes me a better writer, than glory be His name.
The reason that Christian fiction will never die is because truth is eternal. The forms used to express truth may be altered by culture, but the basic “nuts and bolts” of every story are the timeless truths that stay relevant from one generation to another: love, faith, honor, redemption, forgiveness, etc…
Even secular novelists rely on these staples of morality…these elements of a civil society. Most of the time, however, secular novelists are not looking to discover the source of those moral underpinnings. And since they are not seeking to discover that, their readers most likely won’t find them either. At least not in anything more than abstract ideas.
More than just wanting efficiency in the craft of writing, Christian writers hope to honor the God who gave us the truth. We stand upon the Bible, and seek to be faithful. We know our stories are vehicles. But we also know our stories matter on a level beyond this realm. And we know words are not just words…they are powerful tools, entrusted to us by God for the purpose of communicating His redemptive agenda.
Christian fiction will always be relevant because truth will always be relevant.