Saturday, August 21, 2010

Damned if You Do, Damned if You Don't

I'm a Christian and not an I-do-my-best-on-Sunday type but rather, one who's striving to grow. I'm also a writer who primarily pens secular YA. In YA these days, anything goes, as long as it's in moderation. Maintaining a junkfood mentality is best. You can show grit, violence, sensuality, sex, racism, drug abuse, alcoholism, profanity, cutting, pregnancy, even incest or other taboo moderation. And I like that this door has been opened. It allows writers to show reality as well as fantasy.
Teen readers don't WANT to be shocked, they want works that get them, that don't preach, that take them somewhere they've never been or let them experience something they'd never dare or get or want to in reality. YA readers are the most passionate readers out there. They know when you're being fake, when you're cutting corners. They want characters they can identify with, books that aren't afraid to tackle or talk about the issues they or their friends are dealing with. Because, frankly, not everyone has a rosy life, and no one lives in a bubblegum world.

And when I'm writing any given book, especially for this age group, I'm never thinking, how can I maintain my moral center in these most awesome words? I just write. I let loose and let my characters be however they are. If I'm thinking at all about what I'm penning, it's ALWAYS, what would a character truly think, feel, do, say? What's true voice here? What's real? And when you write in that rawness, someone, somewhere will be offended.
Am I trying to be offensive? No. And I going for shock value? No. Am I being lazy? Um, do you know me at all? Have you not heard my almost daily rants and raves about excellence? High-throned, Christian writers who are opposed to profanity in works like to use the "lazy" tag. "You told when you could have shown...You could have been more creative, like the air around him turned blue." Ugg. Well, sometimes swears are woven into what someone is saying. Sometimes they're not isolated or anger-driven or derogatory, like, "What a bitchin' day." Sometimes there are no suitable euphemisms. You try and come up with one for "wiseass" from a teen's mouth! There isn't one. Wiseguy? I think not. I can't use smart aleck either. The character it's said to IS Alec.

You call your brother a jerk if he plays a joke on you. But what do you call or say to the guy who shoots your best friend in front of your face? What would you really say and do? Would you really be thinking What Would Jesus Do in that moment? Come on, be honest.

If you want readers to feel as your POV character does, if you want to show the scene for all its worth, you show what's real and organic.
If you're writing about gangs or prisoners or skinheads, or teens even, "showing" bad language all the time is not only tiresome for the writer but the reader as well. You have no credibility when you do that. You, as a writer, are too present in the work. Readers are constantly aware that YOU are censoring and playing morality cop, that you're bending over backwards to avoid using bad language. If you put in substitutions that you KNOW shouldn't be there, you're a cringe-inducing wuss, let's be real. If you have to overthink what you're writing, it's not organic and true.

Readers can read the whole work, even think it was all right, but they'll never identify, they'll never truly "feel" it. I'm not saying you HAVE to use profanity or violence or sensuality or go against your comfort level. I'm saying you should be daring enough to be real and true to the characters and story, however that is.
The Bible is full of sensuality, violence, bad language and grit so that it can make its point, so that the good and bad in humanity can be shown. So, why can't I do that? Why can't I express the fallen world we live in? I'm not afraid to tackle issues that other Christian writers shy away from.
For instance, I'm writing a Christian novel now with a husband and wife on different pages sexually and it contains frank sexual dialogue. Why? Because it's a REAL issue. Because marriages are breaking up over it. Because spouses are being tempted to cheat or are filling voids in wrong ways. I'm trying to show life how it is, not make people blush. I'm trying to present this very real struggle and demolisher and provide a springboard for communication and show the danger in NOT communicating. So what if it's not sterile or morally approved! So what if it's not your cup of tea! If this sort of conflict is not an issue for you and sends you running off for Q-tips to clean out your tainted ears, fine, the book's not for you then, but that doesn't mean others aren't dealing with it. This book may even be too edgy for Sheaf House, so I may have to self-pub it, and I'm okay with that. A book like this has to be honest and frank, otherwise it makes no impact.

If you write, if you dare to pick up that pen, you'd better be prepared to deliver whatever the story demands.
I know I am going to be judged by many Christians and that when I do publish they'll say hurtful things. I know many of my friends will NOT like my work. But I cannot dilute or censor a story just because a few people will get ruffled feathers. There are times when I show grace and redemption, characters making bad choices, grappling with guilt, leaving darkness. If I don't dare to be real and credible in all things, then those more important spiritual matters will never be taken seriously. None of my writing will be.

~ Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.


  1. [...] This post was Twitted by cvwriter [...]

  2. Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.
    Ecclesiastes 9:9-10 (emphasis added)

    God does not expect all of us to follow the same path; the Lord Christ did not exempt Himself from mixing with those of the world when He walked in it. Why do Christians expect other Christians to abandon everything the world offers and live in a bubble of sub-culture, of which the first century believers KNEW NOTHING?!

    You're touching -- and I see it's a powerful topic for you too -- on something which has bothered me for as long as I've been Christian. The head-in-the-sand mentality of Christendom, and the self-inflicted ignorance of Christians as they try to hide from everyday life. They misunderstand the Bible's edicts to think about lovely things, holy things, wholesome things and instead over-react and try to hide away as much as they can from the world at large. Like they can catch a case of Evil or Satan by being in the world. Those same Christians don't speak out at work when their religious views are subjugated to the altar of Political Correctness, and they don't scream persecution when only Muslims are allowed to practice their faith at work, or display it. No one screams discrimination. Yet they so value their "Christianity" they'll go home from work and literally try to shut the entire secular world out of their lives.

    Chip McGregor has a great article on this on his blog from yesterday; about how Christian authors CAN'T write non-Christian books, and why the converse isn't true either. This is why I don't write Christian books. I can't. I don't know how. I can't avoid the grit and reality of a world which has cut me, torn me, bled me, abused me, formed me, and I can't ask anyone to read a book written like that. I wouldn't know the first thing about writing a Christian book. Not the first thing. ESPECIALLY fiction.

    I swear. I drink occasionally. I speed. I belch, fart, and spank my kids when I think I need to. I'm pro-life, pro-gun, pro-America, and I love and worship my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ the Risen God Who came to earth as a man and lived among us. Not apart from us in His own little sub-culture -- except for being here specifically for Israeli Jews at the time -- but IN THE WORLD. Part of the reason He was murder was because He hung out with "sinners", drank, ate, laughed with them. Some converted, but not all.

    God gave you this talent, Courtney. He wants you to use it with all your might. He is honored when you do, whether or not what you write is deemed "Christian" by the sub-culture.

    Keep on keepin' on and know that I, like you and others I've known, are in your corner.

  3. Thanks so much for that insightful and honest post. Made me laugh too. I'm glad I'm not the only one who thinks and writes like that. Oh. And I love that verse. It's going in my motivation notebook for sure.

    When I heard about Westboro Baptist Church protesting Comicon AND military funerals, it makes me ashamed to call myself a Christian. When a family is suffering from severe loss because two sons just died in a bomb blast in Iraq, to say they're mugging for cameras (yes! someone said that!) and glad for the parade is disgusting. THAT is the perfect time to minister, to try and offer some comfort. Try love on for size. And who cares if someone wants to dress up like Batman! I mean, really? That's your issue?

    In 1990, the church I grew up in had this visiting teen group show its evangelistic program. Some of it was human videos with Carmen songs, some pieces of the play I was going to direct called Friends Forever, with bits of choreography and also some skits. Now, teens in the youth group had invited friends to come to this. And 75% of the people in the congregation got up and walked out, MOST because they wanted to look as holy as so-in-so. Did anyone stop to consider how that would look to the unsaved visitors or how our guests would feel? Um, no. I really wish Christians would get it, think first.

  4. Courtney,

    This was a very REFRESHING piece. Truly honest. It is clear you have a firm grasp on what you need to do in order to make a story work and are not in the habit of compromise as far as that goes.

    Bravo. Preaching to the choir here, but I certainly know a lot of people that would benefit from reading this.

    Honest writing is honest writing. Period. And when it's not - whatever the genre or age group you're writing for - it's glaringly apparent in the prose.

    Jeni ;)

  5. Thanks, Jeni. I'm glad you found it to be a refreshing piece.

  6. Courtney,

    Thanks for stopping in. I printed out your post a couple of days ago and made some notations, so here goes.

    I finally got around to writing a curse words in one of my novels because the situation and the character called for it. In revising, the 'f' word startled me when I came across it, but then it didn't seem odd, simply because the character was under severe stress and couldn't express himself any other way.

    If you stick with all the 'rules' your writing will be sterile and unable to reflect what the world is today and if the reader can't identify then they'll throw the book away in minutes.

    Our beliefs constrain us more than we know. My novel that deals with adultery gave me a hard time to write and then there was the opinion of other people who thought my characters were just wrong. But I had to tell the story, irrespective of what others thought, without making it all preachy,

    Being true to our writing and our beliefs may conflict us at times, but there's nothing for it but the write the story the way it's meant to be told.

  7. Yeah. I have to cut the chord sometimes, and just write. If I didn't, I'd be nitpicking every little moral point. I felt squeamish about having a few swears in Kings & Queens, but removing them didn't enhance my story, it weakened it, so I put them back in.

    Replacing a lighter one like "damn" with "he cursed" is not only out of character, it makes readers think it's a grittier word.

  8. For the craft it's necessary to envision a world outside ourselves, and that includes people who do not think or act in ways that we condone. The best moral lessons that can be communicated are those that use real life to demonstrate WHY that morality or course of ethics is valid.

  9. So very true. Thanks for reading and commenting. It's far too limiting and unrealistic to write about a safe little bubble world with people who mind their manners and speech.

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