In Christian fiction, how do we balance keeping the message strong/not watering it down while still wanting to reach readers beyond Christian bookstores or churches?
Thank you Carrie for a great question.
This has been an ongoing discussion ever since Christian Fiction became a significant part of the publishing landscape in the late 70s – early 80s.
The issue as it has been presented to me is “Why can’t there be ‘edgy’ Christian fiction?”
My answer stays the same and comes in the form of a couple return questions. “How does one define ‘edgy’?” And “Who defines it?”
There are three main areas of dispute: Sex, Language, and Violence.
For some readers any sort of sexual tension, even sensuality is off limits. Even the description of a woman or man’s body could have a limit. But for others the threshold is much different. They think books that would get a PG-13 rating or even R are acceptable. Bedroom scenes, body part descriptions, etc. are all fair game.
For some readers any sort of coarse language is off limits. But for others they say that the lack of coarse language is unrealistic and therefore it should be used all the time. But that begs the question of what constitutes “coarse”? (In movie ratings, the use of the f-bomb as an expletive, between one and three times, will be enough for the PG-13 rating. But, according to this article, if it is used as a verb, one time, the movie will receive an R rating.)
As for violence? How much “blood splatter” is considered too much? What about description of the aftermath of a terrible car accident? What about head shots by a gun? What about war novels? What about suspense or thriller novels? Should Christian fiction instead all be “cozy mystery” where you don’t see the dead body?
I love how one Christian writer uses “language” without using it. In his recent novel Flags Out Front , Douglas Wilson has a scene on page 181 where it reads, “He dumped out two buckets of cuss words onto the carpet, and then spent a good ten minutes kicking them around the room with his cowboy boots.”
In that example, there is obvious coarse language being used but I didn’t have to read the words. And the description of the tirade is funny but still gets the point across without diving into the cesspool of offensive language.
There is a market for clean fiction. There is no disputing that.
The problem is defining “clean.”
I’ll let you draw your own conclusions from my thoughts. Feel free to discuss below.
Please read some of our other posts on the topic: