Sex, Violence, and Cliché in Christian Fiction

All Christian fiction authors delicately dance around sin on our keyboards. Each of us knows sin, but how do we speak of sin without making an editor or reviewer angry? Living in a fallen world, we sense, feel, and live sin. Authors are challenged with realistically portraying sin in our fiction ministry. How can we paint decent literature without crossing the Christian Bookseller's Association image of good wholesome fiction? I know some authors who won't even submit to CBA publishers, because the American Bookseller's Association is the only hope for their fiction.

Politics is a going-concern for the Christian artist. The difference between sex and violence lies in the nature of these ”sins.” We know He designed us to be sexual creatures, and in the marriage bed, sex isn't dirty. Unless one is a sociopath, onlooking readers may be inspired to, but aren't tempted by violence. So, how do we write a Biblical “kissing” scenes and a Biblical “action” scenes? Let's role-play this comparison. You're out for an evening stroll. Your eye catches movement inside a window . . .

The movement happens to be a fornicating couple. The fornicator's sin matches the lusting viewer who can't tear eyes away. If this is a married couple who forgot to pull the shade, then the sex is Godly, and only the Peeping-Tom is in sin. If we’re going to realistically include sex in our fiction, the most we can do is catch a glimpse and avert our eyes. Invading intimacy is wrong, and graphic sex in Christian literature is a contradiction in terms.

The movement is one human mercilessly beating another. Unless an author's intended readership are either sociopaths, or conscience-objector-Pacifist-Quakers who'd have let Hitler take over Europe—witnessing violence is a different moral issue. It takes a special kind of person to witness violence through this same evening-stroll window and not intervene by calling 911, or by hammering on the door.

Neither sex nor violence are sins. These topics carry different contexts, and each must be written with different levels of propriety. And then there's the usual . . .

Ever read Christian Fiction where a believer is the antagonist? Yes, secular fiction beat this horse to death in the eighties and nineties. I think it faded away not because of political correctness, but because of cliché. Our Biblical character, by definition, has to be a protagonist in Christian fiction. But divorce is more common inside church walls than outside. Christian abortion, addiction and suicide stats match secular demographics. The organized church is shrinking because it's plastic. People need real answers for real issues, not smiles and handshakes one day a week. What about a seeking or skeptical character?

Write real, in good taste, and let Him worry about business. We're His artists, and our job is to tell the tale of the real world—no matter what the setting. Let the Editor-in-Chief worry about the rest.

Write well,



driftwood said...

People need real answers for real issues, not smiles and handshakes one day a week.

Ok, what if the smile is every second? Err... I guess that would be tiring? Ok, I'm just playing :D

Well anyways, why would a Christian be explicit in detailing the act of having sex? Unless it's the whole point of his story. But then, who would have it as the whole point of one's story?

If the point of detailing it would be to describe the shorter version that they love each other, well then, there are other things to describe love. A stare with a hint of a smile, toying with her hair, feeding a paralytic partner, or cleaning his feet... endless ideas.

Now with violence, I have a problem here. I am leaning towards detailing a murder point by point. I guess because in the deepest and nastiest part of me, that's what I really want to do to people acting so superior and so full of self. Only, I can't do it in real life.

Am I out of step here? I don't know and frankly, I don't care. This is how I feel. People always shut me up but they can't stop me writing.

I'm sorry if this blog has turned into being my frustration bowl. It's just that, I'm so full of everything that I'm about to burst, and yet, I'm not allowed to talk.

Ok, I'm in the verge of crying here. Better stop. Don't want them to see.

Donna Sundblad said...

Well said, Frank. We don't need to write plastic fiction either.

By the way, I read your post to family and my hubby asked if he could quote your blog entry in his next newsletter.


Daniel I Weaver said...

Amen, Frank. People have issues. Deal with it. The "hero" in When Nightmares Walk is far from perfect. Backslidden, VERY angry at God, living out just about every sin he can... but its his story and I wouldn't do it justice to make him a saint.

Plastic melts, and the Holy Spirt burns within the passion of every artist in this guild. It's only a matter of time before "they" start recognizing that no one wants to read about a perfect world. Very few people want the "Waltons" anymore, they want the real world where characters touch their hearts.

Sex has no place in our writing. Love does, and there wouldn't be anything wrong with showing love appropriately. But there is no place for graphic sex in our writing. This is one boundry that no one should push. Sex happens everyday, but that doesn't mean we should show it.

Violence has its place because it's real, but that doesn't mean it has to be graphic. You could say "the stalker stabbed her" without saying (sorry) "the stalker drove the dagger into her arm, shredding the fleshy sinews, tearing throgh her muscles, burrowing into bone, dousing everything in blood, and revelling in her pain." To try and entirely skip over violence and act like we live in a utopia is ridiculous, but there is no reason to forget tact. Writing horror, I know I may come across this issue more than others, but you won't find tactless gore simply for the sake of gore in my writing. Violence has it's place, and like all things, should be done in moderation.

As always Frank, you give us someting to rally around. Great post.

Anonymous said...

"conscience-objector-Pacifist-Quakers who'd have let Hitler take over Europe"

Well, I'm not a pacifist, but for all the fine Christian Quakers and Mennonites I know, I have to say: HEY! That's not being fair. They also would kept out of BAD wars, not just "good" ones.

Andrea Graham said...

For the most part, great stuff, but I must ask, where do you get your statistics on divorce? The statistics I've read indicate, while divorce is as common between those who *say* they are Christian and those who are not, the more frequently a couple attends church, the less likely they are to divorce. Along those same lines, couples that pray together regularly have a divorce rate somewhere in the ball part of zero.

The reason you have statistics like you listed is most people who claim Christ wear his name like a get out of hell free card and continue living however they please. It is a shame on the church that so many tolerate, and god forbid, encourage this Kool-aid version of the pure wine of the gospel.

Driftwood: *hugs* I hear that bleeding heart, sister, but I have to warn you, that kind of anger would probably fall into the category of having already committed murder in your heart, wouldn't you think?

Weaver: Considering your position, I'm glad you were so positive about how I handled it when Gabrielle was abused in Heaven's Mark.

Some would say, with the main point of the looking in the window, that it's irrelevant in POV writing, where you're not watching, you are the character. But, to me, that's even worse. You're not just leading your reader in and letting them watch. You're lying them down on the bed and...... and leading them directly into the realm of sin even if the couple is married in the book, the reader is certainly not married to the POV character's spouse!

I try to be very careful to avoid that. I know what a stumbling block that would be for many people. This is giving it away, but most of the time, if I've got a bedroom scene of any detail and I don't cut out or summarize over it, the romantic interlude is likely to get interrupted by a plot turn before things get heavy.

Violence, while desensitization is a very bad thing, it's not nearly as big a stumbling block, not the way the other topic is.

uc said...

Are your readers the same kind who would read Genesis (violence) and Song of Solomon (sex)?