Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Dilemmas of a Christian writer, part 1

I'm a Christian. I'm a writer. (Well, I write, which may not be the same thing.) But I'm not what you would call a "Christian writer". I loved Patricia St John's books as a child, read them over and over again, and on some of my holidays in the South of France an American pastor's wife used to lend me Christian equivalents of Little House on the Prairie, and then a detective series. (Anyone know either of those?)

But that was the last time I read any Christian novels. Until, that is, I picked up James Scott Bell's Deadlock, having been pointed to it by his book on Plot and Structure. I loved it, I have to say: I didn't know there was such a thing as well-written, decent "Christian fiction" that was not only intelligent but also set in DC. So, all in all, perfect for me at this stage of my life.

Anyway, I digress, because my point is that I am not writing a Christian novel, and this brings me a couple of issues. I've made my peace with the fact that since my characters are non-Christians in their early 30s, living in the 21st century, they will probably not be signing any abstinence pledges, for example.

But dialogue. Dialogue is a whole other situation. I don't usually swear, except in dire emergencies such as when I lose my shoe running for the train, or the doorbell rings in the middle of a Josh and Donna scene. So writing in swearing does not come naturally for me, and I'm not sure we need much of it, anyway.

Here's the thing, though: in real life, people swear. Particularly the guys in my story - I see them swearing, but more than that I see them saying "God" a lot. Americans seem to do that, possibly more than the British. (And they are Americans.)

I'm really not comfortable with blasphemy, even what must seem very mild blasphemy. What do I do? Will the novel seem fake if I don't use those kinds of expressions? If no one ever blasphemes, and hardly anyone ever swears?

Readers, what do you think? And writers, what how about you?


mrsmodcs said...

My first response is don't do it, but I get what you are saying about it seems to fit the characters. Can you make them have interesting quirks, and include that in their language? True it seems we Americans say "God" a lot, but I know a lot of 20-30 somethings Christian and not who use much more creative, fun phrases. Pray about it. I'll be praying that God shows ya what to do.

Anonymous said...

Interesting questions. I've never been of the mindset that because an author has a fictional character doing certain things, that means the author endorses that behavior. (A lot of the sillier controversies over fictional works result from people not being able to make that distinction.)

Not everyone (Christian or otherwise) swears frequently. Nothing wrong in my view with writing characters who don't. However, if you feel that some of your characters WOULD be the types to swear a lot, then my opinion would be you should probably write it. Maybe you could have them get chided for their swearing by others, in order to at least hint at some disapproval.

And yeah, I'd say the previous commenter's suggestion to pray about it is always good advice.


David A. Bedford said...

A book is not a TV or movie script. Often a novelist can say something like: "You did what? You (Blake swore bitterly)." And so on. Dialogue in novels is not realistic. In real life people don't patiently take turns talking nor do they use such coherent grammar as do characters in novels. Another thing to keep in mind is that Elizabethan British people swore with absolute incontinence but then a more pietistic mood gripped the country. People stopped reading much from that period and much was lost. Now the country has gone back to foul language (though not so colorful or clever as the Elizabethans). Things always come and go and there will be a future time that turns pietistic. We need to write for all times as best we can, which means moderation. My new release, Angela 1: Starting Over is written to be acceptable to a wide audience of younger readers and their parents. The offensiveness of certain characters comes through loud and clear without resorting to facile "swearing." If interested in knowing more about the book, please click on my name and follow the link to my website. Also search my name on YouTube. Thanks!

Graham said...

Hi Claire

I just wrote a lovely long comment then it disappeared. I think I will write the next one in word and copy it in.