Saturday, March 5, 2011
Guest Post by Bill Myers: "Writing Edgy Christian Fiction."
Bill Myers has sold over 8 Million books worldwide and is a master of suspense in the general market as well as the Christian market. I love working with talented writers and Bill is one of the hardest working authors I know. He works his craft every day and it shows.
Thanks Bill for the post and all the best.
I’m still not sure what that term “Edgy Christian Fiction” means. Edgy for Christian readers? Edgy for the world? Edgy for me? Edgy for Christ ? All relevant questions that I’ve been kicking around for 25 years and would no doubt offend both liberals and conservatives with my answer. So I’m not going there. This will not be a list of no-no words and no-no scenes. That’s what the religious and irreligious Pharisees on both sides of the aisle want.
Let’s assume our desire is to go deeper than that. Let’s assume we’re Christian writers who have already prayed earnestly over what we’re writing and are serious in glorifying God – which doesn’t necessarily involve evangelizing, challenging or affirming Christians, or making money . . . though any and all would be nice. It does mean in whatever arena we work, our goal is to subtly or overtly, somehow, someway glorify God. There’s plenty of other good writing, but if you’re going to slap the term ‘Christian’ on it, that had better be its purpose.
As far as morality, I’ve read ‘safe’ Christian novels that are as poisonous as novels with profanity, sex, and violence. To me, some of the Christian romances are unhealthy in that they encourage the forty-something reader to be just a little more dissatisfied with her husband by comparing him to the strong, sensitive, compassionate man the heroine in her story is falling for. In some cases this is nothing more than female pornography. I also believe nice, tidy endings can be equally immoral -- those stories that say the Christian life should always end in “happily ever after.” Seems to me that Christ often promised just the opposite (at least in this world). Enough of either poison and the reader grows dissatisfied or even resentful toward God and the life He has given them.
That said, and thanks for letting me get it off my chest, this is how I’ve learned to write what some call, “Edgy Christian fiction.” I simply ask myself if I am being honest. Now before you jump to conclusions, hear me out. Honest is not the same as graphic. There’s no more honest book in the world than the Bible, but it is never gratuitously graphic.
Let’s take a sex scene. Am I stirring something up in the reader that shouldn’t be stirred? Am I making them disillusioned and dissatisfied with their own relationship? Is there another way to say the same thing without creating unhealthy desires? There have been times I’ve written a scene so well that I’ve had to go back and tone it down or, and this is better yet, I’ve had to go deeper to show the devastation happening inside the participant’s souls as they sin. I’m still hitting the same story beats, but much more deeply and honestly. I’m showing sex in its entirety. When producers accuse me of being dishonest about today’s values and say I’m afraid to be real about sex, I say, “Okay fine, I’ll write you a sex scene, but let me be honest and also include the sexual transmitted disease the boy gets, the agony of the abortion she struggles with, and the fear and burden of teen pregnancy. You say you want honest reality, I’ll give you honest reality -- not some false, painted up version of half truth, but the whole thing.” Isn’t that how the Bible handles sex? It never cheats and defrauds the reader with tantalizing half-truths. Instead, it is completely honest.
The same can be said about violence. Drama is conflict. The most overt conflict is physical violence. And the Bible is full of it. So how do I handle violence? Do I show all of its evil consequences? Or do I give half-truths, encouraging my reader to justify his own desire to resolve a conflict physically? Do I revel in it so the audience enjoys the vicarious thrill of getting even? Or am I honest and show it in its entirety? Do I laud David’s violence and stop there? Or do I also write about his broken heart when God said he couldn’t build a house for Him because of hands that shed human blood?
Finally there is language. My first adult novel, “Blood of Heaven” was on the best seller’s list for nearly two years. The first third of the book takes place on death row. Language doesn’t get any grittier than there. Yet there is not one word of profanity in the book and no one has missed it. In fact a secular producer who has bought the movie rights thought the scenes were so real that I must have served time in prison. My secret? I didn’t run from edginess. To be honest, I didn’t give it much thought. I simply faced it head on and (this is a little trick I learned from the Bible) as cleverly as the Scriptures. It’s amazing what you can do with the words, “He said with an oath.” Isn’t that how Peter cussed out the people around the fire when Christ was arrested? We didn’t hear him go into graphic detail, but the author didn’t sugar coat the moment, either. Instead, we have something like: “’I don’t know him!” Peter said with an oath.’” Brilliant. Same power without indulging in the sin.
And that’s the bottom line . . . catch the truth and power of the moment without stumbling your reader, causing them to indulge in the sin. There are portions of the Bible that may be offensive to the more tender ears. But never are the immoralities glorified. There may be portions in some of my books that are offensive to the more tender reader. But the immoralities are never glorified.
Edginess can be an important tool in story telling, IF it is used properly in the hands of a sensitive and thoughtful writer. Like the Bible, Christian writing should be pure and powerful and honest . . . more so than the world. And, if you slap the word ‘Christian’ on it, then the motivation must be the same – to, in one way or another, bring glory to God. If that is your purpose and you approach your work prayerfully, there is no such thing as ‘edgy.’
©Copyright 2011 Bill Myers