I’ve got to admit it. I really just write what I want to write. There’s a lot of discussion out there about exactly where Christian authors should draw the line in content. There’s a lot of disagreement. I’m not going to give you a do/don’t list for this. Instead, I wanted to focus on the attitudes and reasons we include some things and omit others.
I don’t think there’s a clear-cut universal answer to this question. So much depends on presentation and context and how well the author can pull it off. But most of all, your reasons for writing certain things into your story is what makes the difference. Here’s where I try not to call it on other authors I read, but sometimes, as a reader, it feels distinctly like the author is just trying to shock, or imitate some popular author’s style, or make their writing “more relevant.”
I think most authors, even non-Christian authors, agree that when it comes to content, you’ve got to draw the line somewhere. A lot of readers don’t appreciate graphic gore and gratuitous slashing throughout their reading material. Most humans have a certain threshold for witnessing violence, which is a good thing and should be respected. Pushing this threshold too much is just going to contribute to the amount of trauma and desensitization in the world, which I don’t think is something authors should be doing.
Apparently, a lot of authors, even YA authors, have a little trouble knowing when to stop on sexual content. This is something I don’t expect to see at all in Christian fiction—but it still happens. Why, people? There are certain things that basically never contribute anything to the story, and nobody should ever have to watch. So, can we not? (This is part of the reason I don’t read romance. The other reason is because I find them exceedingly boring and predictable.)
Swearing is one of the items on my personal Rather Long List of Things That Are Stupid and Unnecessary. It isn’t that I haven’t heard every possible variation of the F word in real life. I have. And I still think it’s obnoxious and rude. And I tend to expect a certain amount of swearing from secular media. But I have slightly higher standards for Christian writing. Use profanity in your Christian novel and you’ll earn an instant eye-roll from me. Why? Because you don’t need it and you know it. It is not hard to exclude, and contrary to what some might try to tell you, you will never hurt your art by leaving it out. Do it right, and nobody will ever miss it.
But I’ve ranted enough. Let’s get to the bullet-points.
· Let’s face it, it’s your story, you alone control the content. Don’t let yourself make the excuse that you story, your characters, or your genre force you to write certain things. You literally have control over every letter that goes into your book. It’s a whole universe at your command. You can manipulate every detail to your liking. You never have to write anything that goes against your conscience. You’re a creative genius, you can find a skillful way to avoid it, and make your book even better by doing so.
· You have your own mission. Imitating some other author will never win readers’ favor. If you think you need to include certain things in order to write a masterpiece “in the tradition of” some big-name author, you’re missing the point. God made you unique, and your writing should reflect that. Be true to yourself in your art.
· You are not restricted by the same constraints as a non-Christian author. Something that I think we de-emphasize too often is that Christians are actually freer than the average Joe. We get to write clean fiction. We are not under the pressure that mainstream authors are. No Christian should ever have to write profanity compulsively. You do what you want. Your audience is going to root for you. He’s not going to one-star your efforts to do what’s right. He’s cool like that.
· Here’s a mental trick: Think about this. For every gross detail you choose to include in your fiction, there is some better author writing deeper, cooler, more popular books who didn’t include that. Clean content is an advantage. If you forgo it, you’re denying yourself that advantage. Do you really want to do that?
The fact is, your book will never please everybody. There will be people getting offended by the tiniest thing on one hand and people calling you cheesy for not including offensive content on the other. That’s how people are. So, don’t focus on pleasing people. That will be depressing. Focus on pleasing God. If you wouldn’t write it with Jesus looking over your shoulder, don’t write it.
Because, don’t look now, but he’s watching.