Monday, September 7, 2009

Edgy Fiction Redux

As we discussed way back in June, a number of publishers and novelists are making "edgy" their focus for fiction. And that's fine, so long as we do it with skill and craft. Without using easy outs. Yes, expletives can be powerful. And yes, people use them all the time. But in our writing, we have to be better than that.

I've been hearing more and more lately about books--yes, Christian fiction--that employ graphic descriptions or language. Not one of those conversations have been about how much the readers enjoyed the story. Rather, it's as though the story was forgotten, pushed aside by language or scenes that so disturbed readers they couldn't receive the intended message of the book. And I'm not talking about readers who are older. I've heard this from twenty-somethings and my generation alike. As I've seen the impact on these readers, it's confirmed my "vote," so to speak, on all of this.

That kind of edgy fiction--the in-your-face, I-can-swear-if-I-want, who-cares-if-this-explict-sex-or-violence-isn't-necessary-to-the-story writing--crosses a line. And it seems (dare I say it?) arrogant. As if the author puts those things in to stick it to those readers who, in their opinion, aren't "facing real life as it is."

If you've ever read Francine Rivers's Redeeming Love, you've seen the perfect example of evocative, edgy writing. The prologue to that book shows innocence destroyed in the depths of depravity, and does so with eloquence and grace. (And, may I point out, not a single obscenity.) And when you hit the last line of the prologue, you know exactly what's happened and are sickened by it. But what sickens you is man's depravity, NOT the writing.

While many don't like to read about how deep human evil is, some stories have to be told. Stories like Redeeming Love. The beauty of that story, and the way it's written, is that when you reach the end of the book, you're encouraged. Inspired. And more aware than ever of our world's need for a Savior. I don't think the book's message would have been as powerful without that dark prologue setting the stage. But I'm bettering if the prologue had crossed the line, that very message--a message that has brought prostitutes to Christ because they saw in Angel's story that God does, indeed, love them no matter what--would have been lost. Short-circuited by language or scenes that were more concerned with being "edgy" than with moving and transforming readers. And those women who were saved from the very darkness the protagonist faced? None of them missed the obscenities or said the book wasn't real life. In fact, they've said the opposite, that Angel's story was their own.

So yes, let's be authentic in what we write. Let's show life and faith and humanity in all its gory, glory, and substance. But let's also be "wise as serpents, and innocent as doves" in how we do it.

That's my vote, anyway.



rick said...

Amen! As a church librarian it has frustrated me lately the turn that "Christian Fiction" has appeared to take. If I want to read Koontz or King, I will and I know what to expect. But when I want to see the power of the Almighty God working in someone's life, I don't need to have expletives, etc. forced down my throat. It really puts me in a bind trying to determine what should be in the library and what shouldn't. As my pastor preached one sermon, "We have to be different in the church then those outside of the church. We set the example of how we expect the world to live, not the other way around." And that's MY vote, anyway :)

Lynn Squire said...

Amen! Thank you, Karen.

Pam Halter said...

I agree, Karen. Of course, I write for children/MG/YA, so I tend to read those books. However, I also enjoy some Dean Koontz. He not only shows evil for what it is, but he weaves a story that captures you ... without sex or (for the most part) profanity.

Nicole said...

Amen, Karen. Redeeming Love is a legend in its own time and a perfect example of the ugliest situation told in a perfect way. Not ignoring the horror and ugliness but not exploiting the the way to tell it.

People can tell their stories the way they choose in my opinion, but the real skill comes in executing the horror and ugliness without easy graphics.

Steve G said...

I tend to think people who swear just haven't a broad enough vocabulary to express themselves. Swearing is an easy way out, in writing and in life. Imagine if a couple used swearing as the basis for communication. "You cut of what with what? Speak English, so I know whether to take you to the hospital or the vet!"

In my books, those people can take their ball and go home - What flows out of a person originates from somewhere within. Even though it may not be on the radar of POMOs or Emergents, holiness is a still a big deal to me.