There are at least two ways of approaching this topic. One is from an academic, literal position and the other from (I’ll call) an aesthetic position. If you chose the former, the question you might be asking is;
- What is the driving force behind my story? Is it a mystery or plot driven story or, is it a character driven story?
- In my opinion, the plot drives the characters, who in turn respond to the plot morally or immorally as the plot unfolds. That’s putting in the simplest terms, I know, but argument sake, I’ll leave it there.
The other approach is to ask this question;
- Is it moral for a Christian writer to include immoral acts: lying, stealing, murder etc. in his or her stories? Some would say in order for your characters and story to be “real” you must include the darker side of humanity.
- The answer to that question is as varied as the authors you ask.
That opens up a whole can of worms. How far do you go with that? Should your story use foul language? Blasphemy? Graphic Immorality? Some say yes, because that’s life in the “real” world.
- That may be true, but do we (as Christian writers) want our readers minds sullied with such things? I am reminded of the verse in Phil. 4, which says; Whatsoever things are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous, praise worthy, to think on these things.
On one hand, we as Christian authors have a responsibility to our Lord and to our readers to maintain a high level of integrity. On the other hand, there is the constant pull of the world to be like it. So how do we strike a balance between writing bland, Pollyannic mush and hard hitting, strike at the heart stories without comprising our standards? One of my readers told me he’d read all of a noted author’s books, and noticed the language was getting progressively worse. He wrote to him and told him he would not buy another one of his books. He got an email back from the author stating that it was the editors who insisted on including the X-rated content. My reader friend went on to tell me that this author took his letter to the editors and as a result, his next book was cleaner. There is a market for good, clean, exciting and compelling mystery novels without the sex and language. A good writer can shape the content to keep it realistic and imaginative without going there. That’s why it’s called “Christian Fiction.” That’s not to say I don’t use other less noble character traits to define my characters. Some of them lie, steal, lose their temper, and yes, kill, i.e. murder. But the difference in Christian novels is that the character guilty of such acts either undergoes a transformation or pays the consequences. Never are such acts endorsed as acceptable behavior. It takes much prayer and soul searching, but with God’s help we can and must. It takes more work to “show” your character’s darker side than “tell” it using foul language.
- Isn’t that the essence of good writing … “Showing” not “telling?”