Honesty is supposed to be one of the bedrocks of the Christian author. Then why don’t we allow our characters to be true to character? Intentionally scrubbing our cast members of their necessary nastiness can compromise a story. I mean, if we’re not telling the truth about our characters, what else are we fudging on?
The absence of profanity in Christian fiction has always struck me as a bit dishonest — especially when the characters call for it.
Let’s say I’m conniving a story about a hit man whose conscience is catching up with him. Sure, he entered the profession as a means of necessity, not inhumanity. But whacking guys has taken a toll on him and his religious roots are starting to re-emerge. He wants out. If I’m writing Christian fiction, however, his resignation might lead to dialog like this:
Conflicted Hitman: “I got blood on my hands, Joey. I’m done, quittin’ the ‘fellas!”
Mafia Boss (Christian version): “The heck you are! I’ll be darned if I let ya fly the stinkin’ coop. Try it and we’ll kick your butt!”
Okay, so it’s a little over the top. But does this not strike you as, uh, unrealistic? Mob bosses cuss. A lot. And I don’t mean poop, dang and shoot. So how in the world can a Christian write honestly — and that’s the operative word here — about mobsters without portraying the profanity? Nevertheless, Christian fiction is notorious for sanitizing the sacrilegious and filtering the filth. But isn’t this untruthful?
In speaking about character dialog, Stephen King, in his book On Writing says:
As with other aspects of fiction, the key to writing good dialog is honesty. And if you are honest about the words coming out of your characters’ mouths, you’ll find that you’ve let yourself in for a fair amount of criticism. Not a week goes by that I don’t receive at least one pissed-off letter (most weeks there are more) accusing me of being foul-mouthed, bigoted, homophobic, murderous, frivolous, or down-right psychopathic. In the majority of cases what my correspondents are hot under the collar about relates to something in the dialogue… (pgs. 185-186 emphasis mine)
Maybe that’s why Christian authors can the cussing — we’re just trying to avoid “criticism.” We don’t want to appear “foul-mouthed, bigoted, homophobic,” etc. That and, if we’re aiming for the religious market, every expletive takes us one step closer to the rejection pile.
Hey, I have no problem with limiting curse words. Sometimes IT IS lazy writing to let the expletives fly. I also think it’s appropriate to say He cursed or She swore in order to avoid an R-rating. But one can only do that so much without appearing, uh, dishonest.
Which leads me to another question: How can Christians ever hope to persuade the unsaved when we can’t even stand to listen to them talk? Many of my co-workers cuss. Hard. Like f-bombs every other sentence. Am I supposed to pretend they don’t talk that way, walk around with earplugs in, so I’m not bespoiled by their nastiness? Likewise, why should we not expect our non-Christian characters to act — and talk — like non-Christians?