Thursday, October 19, 2017

Your Turn: Edgy Vs. Squeaky Clean Fiction

Lately, I have been reading a lot about where to draw lines in Christian fiction. Should Christian fiction deal with controversial topics? Can characters use offensive language? Most importantly, how do we, as authors, portray Christ's message and still engage with the world around us?

In Zachary Totah's article "On Behalf of Young Christian Readers Who Don't Want Clean, Unrealistic Stories," posted on the August 8, 2017 edition of Speculative Faith, he says,
"Don’t give us stories filled with characters peering down from their ivory towers, removed from the struggle and mess and brokenness of living in a fallen world.

Rather, give us stories with real, raw, vulnerable people. Who deal with hard situations. Who live in realities where life beats them down and doesn’t always work out as planned. Stories that aren’t afraid to use fantastical elements."

Totah continues,

"And that’s exactly where stories by Christians enter the picture. If they can stop the obsession with making sure nothing offensive, scandalous, or challenging gets within 100 feet of the storyline, they can offer hope.

They don’t live in a timid, perfect world that can’t emphasize the brilliant light of Truth because it refuses to acknowledge the darkness plaguing the world and the characters themselves. They live in stories where rough things happen. Where characters make big mistakes and there isn’t always a clear right answer."

So, what do you think? Is there a place for edgy fiction dealing with tough topics that uses realistic language (read: swearing) in Christian books? Or do you think Christian authors should steer clear of controversy and language? Let us know both what your opinion is and why you hold it.





  1. This is a difficult topic, to be sure. I think it's okay for Christian fiction to use some swearing- in dialogue and in characters' thoughts. After all, Christians hear that type of language out in the real world. Unpleasant as the words may be, people say them, and if a character is the type to swear, having them actually swear is the most honest thing to do.

    That said, I don't choose to use profanity when talking, and I don't like it when others do. So I wouldn't want to read a book with constant, casual swearing. I think authors should use profanity only when it truly feels like the only thing a character would say in that situation- which will happen sometimes with some characters.

    Because I write high fantasy, sometimes I can get around this issue by having characters "swear" in their own (made-up) language. That way what they're saying is just a random combination of sounds without an offensive meaning. But for most authors this is not an option.

    As far as other "edgy" content, I think the real issue is how it is treated, rather than whether it's featured in the story. Fiction should reflect real life, and real life is filled with complicated, messy issues that people don't always like to talk about. However, I think fiction written from a Christian point of view will never glorify sin or portray it in a positive light. And I'm against graphically detailed descriptions, which I don't think are ever necessary. That being said, I don't think any issue mentioned in the Bible (pretty much every issue ever) is off-limits for Christian writers to explore, provided they do it through a Biblical lens.

    However, all of this is just my opinion. I'm certainly not infallible, so I could be mistaken on this issue. Also, there's a difference between what I think is acceptable for someone to write and what is acceptable for me, personally, to read. I don't know that I would read fiction dealing with certain "edgy" issues, just because I, like everyone, have my own struggles, sensitivities, and personal convictions.

    I'm very curious to hear what other people think on this topic!


  2. Great question, Erin! This is such a tough issue because Christians view it so differently! Make a book too squeaky clean and it's a turn-off to Christians who have struggled with real hardship and temptation in their lives, but make it too edgy and a whole segment of the Christian audience won't even touch it. I agree with Brenna that it's all about how it's done. I don't like violence, profanity, or other "edgier" content purely for the sake of being edgy or for unnecessary shock value. But when it's handled with sensitivity and adds depth, authenticity, and an opportunity for more meaningful themes of hope and redemption in the story, then I'm all for it.

  3. Thanks, Laurie and Brenna for starting out this conversation. I like your last line, Laurie, "when it's handled with sensitivity and adds depth, authenticity, and an opportunity for more meaningful themes of hope and redemption in the story, then I'm all for it." And Brenna, I agree that there are some issues I choose not to read about, simply because of "my own struggles, sensitivities and convictions," as well. I do value authenticity and redemption, so I would love to see more fiction that reflects the power of God in real life situations.

  4. I personally try to keep my writing clean, mostly because I don't use swearing in my daily conversation. Up to this point, I haven't felt the need to have my characters swear either (& contrary to popular belief, not all teens swear). Also writing fantasy allows me to make my own swear words. ;-)
    Another facet of this issue doesn't lie with readers or writers --it lies with the publishers. There are plenty of traditional publishers that won't touch a manuscript with swearing in it. They don't want to offend their more conservative readers, even if it's how that character would speak. It'll be up to the indie authors to pave the way.

  5. Thanks! I have a hard time finding mainstream YA fiction these days without swearing, but I like the more creative approaches. :-)


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