Thursday, July 8, 2010
Profanity in Print by Terry Burns
This is a topic of conversation with writers all of the time, particularly Christian writers. Many believe that strong emotions simply cannot be shown without it, or that really bad men can't be portrayed without it. I agree, bad men use bad language, and I show that all the time. But I never use the language, I simply show them doing it. People know what the words are, they don't need me to spell it out for them, they just want to see the emotions and the body language, to see the people using the language.
But people disagree with me, I get that. So there is a more pragmatic argument. Most Christian publishers simply will not take a book that contains profanity, graphic sex or violence. This seems to anger the people who feel that is taking realism out of the books. They miss the point. Christian publishers are trying to walk the line between taking on relevant, current subjects, and presenting them in such a way that they are appearing to condone the behavior. Showing people in a book using bad language is being realistic, but using the language itself is an appearance of condoning the behavior.
Shouldn't we as Christian writers be looking at it the same way? Shouldn't we be wanting to get as much realism as possible into our work without at any point be appearing to condone what we are presenting in our writing? Shouldn't we want to take on the tough subjects without glamorizing any inappropriate behavior?
Secular publishing houses don't have to worry about trying to walk this line. As an agent I have a very low tolerance for inappropriate material and don't want to have my name attached to it. I am quite frankly more worried about my Christian witness than about making another publishing deal. The Bible is very clear about our being a stumbling block for others and I surely don't want to do that even if it is a work I didn't create myself.
I guess what I'm saying is we talk about whether these things are or are not needed in a work, and that discussion could go on ad ifinitum, but the bottom line is we are ruling out an entire market if we do it, the fastest growing market in the industry today. Can we tell the story just as well without it? I think so. So why turn these readers and publishing houses off if it isn't necessary?