Grammar

21st-Century Writing

I’ve been writing and publishing for a long time. Just look at me: a lonnnnng time.

During those many years of experience, I’ve learned a thing or two. Maybe three. And among the things I’ve learned about writing for publication is that writers in the twenty-first century must do things differently than writers in previous centuries.

Sure, generally speaking, the rules of fiction and nonfiction remain the same; but this twenty-first century requires twenty-first adjustments for writers—and perhaps for Christian writers in particular.

For example, I began to realize decades ago that I could no longer refer to and cite the Bible in ways that graduates of “sword drills” and “Bible baseball” like myself would understand and appreciate. I could no longer assume that a reader would understand what “1 Thess.” means. So I long ago began writing out biblical references and even, more recently, started introducing biblical material in ways that would be accessible to readers with no Bible knowledge. So, for instance, I might introduce a passage as “an ancient prophet once wrote” instead of “as Isaiah 40:1 says.” Similarly, I might mention “a first-century letter to a pastor named Timothy” instead of simply referring to “1 Timothy.” Sure, it takes more words; but it seems a small price to pay for avoiding confusion.

I’ve also disciplined myself to use (in most cases) “human” instead of the universal “man” and “humanity” for mankind. I admit that I still cling to “he/she” rather than the singular “they,” which I regard as an abomination; but we all have our little quirks, right?

Another twenty-first century adjustment for writers is the assiduous avoidance of “Christianese”—that is, Christian slang and jargon (also, it’s probably best to avoid phrases like “assiduous avoidance”). So, I use the phrase “blood of the Lamb” only when quoting Scripture or hymns. I don’t write about “being saved” but prefer to use more explanatory phrasing, such as “experiencing new life by turning from sin and following Jesus,” or something like that. Again, I know it’s wordier. But the time is long past when Christian writers can assume even the most basic knowledge of Christian terminology.  

On that note, one other twenty-first century adjustment is the enlistment of sensitivity readers into your critique circle. So, for example, if you’re unsure as to whether your writing contains “Christianese,” ask someone with no church background to read and critique your drafts. If you’re a male writing scenes that depict female characters (or vice versa), enlist beta readers who can help you determine if your characters all sound suspiciously unlike the opposite sex. And if you’re depicting people of different race, ethnicity, and nationality, a sensitivity reader can help you to make sure your depictions are fairly accurate and appropriate. (Be aware, however, that this is a bit of a minefield these days.)

These few twenty-first century adjustments I recommend merely scratch the surface, I know. (Maybe I should have mentioned avoiding clichés, too.) I’m confident the sharp readers of this blog can suggest a few others. Or protest mine. That’s why we allow comments.

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