Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Decent and Edgy?

Hello again. I've been trying to work more on my novel in progress, and have been dealing with a little blogger's block. I've had a few thoughts, but haven't known how to get them out. Time to get back on the horse!

So is it possible to have edgy AND decent fiction?

This has been a run-around topic for CBA fiction for a while. Christian fiction has been evolving over the last several years, perhaps not as fast as some would like, as there continues to be a debate about "edgy" Christian fiction. In fact, the term has become so loaded it is hard to define. For this post consider "edgy" as portraying real life without any filter on it (CBA is known for no cussing and no intimate scenes, not even between spouses).

By the way, I was partially inspired by Mike Duran's blog deCOMPOSE because he offers a lot of thought-provoking content, usually about the state of Christian fiction. A recent post asks, "Am I responsible for what my characters say?" with the question being, "If my character says something mean, racist, sinful, etc., am I responsible or is the character responsible." He also had a well-noticed post about "Christian fiction and the new edgy". That post noted that some people's edgy are other people's obscene.

How can obscene be decent?

Perhaps "decent" is a loaded word too, considered a Puritan standard that isn't realistic in our day and age. Maybe I'm looking at the word wrong, or using the wrong term. I'm thinking of decent as in the motivation one is using when writing something that may be edgy.

Much of our current pop culture fare comes with a shock value intended to gain notice. The edginess is just to catch people's attention. Britney Spears continued a trend from Madonna, then Katy Perry picked up the baton with songs like "I Kissed a Girl," and this was quickly followed by Lady Gaga and her wild antics. The motivation on doing something is, quite frankly, only to gain some kind of attention in our oversaturated world.

All media forms are subject to this, from movies, comics, books, TV...the list goes on. The motivation is caught between catching attention and/or flaunting old standards.

Is it possible to write something challenging, edgy, without leaving behind decency? I'd better use an example. I picture a story involving a rough-edged detective and a prostitute trapped in her circumstances that doesn't pull punches showing the rawness of their lives. The point of the story is not to wallow in dirt, but to show the contrast of redemption against such bleak context. The motivation is good. The details are not used in a gratuitous manner, but to paint an accurate picture. The author keeps a standard of decency in their heart, writing things to serve the story rather than to shock, even if it means some cursing, a closer look into the prostitute's life, or the violence on the streets.

Maybe I'm reaching with this. I don't expect stardard CBA fare to embrace this of course. But is it possible to be honest with where the story needs to go, show just the details that are needed to establish credibility without wallowing in it, and keep a pure heart? I think so. I really believe a lot of what is done in pop culture is for the purpose of vulgarity alone, without adding value to the final product other than saying, "Look at me! I am worse than the last guy!"

I'm not even the guy that would want to read all of this. But as Mike has said before, showing someone violating God's standards can be a powerful tool, even if it is uncomfortable reading about it.

Am I making sense? Am I out there on this one? Hey, your thoughts on this would be most appreciated!


  1. Absolutely, you're making sense.

    Sometimes, I get frustrated with Christian fiction because there's a naivete, or a disconnect with reality, or there's an artificial gloss that covers or denies the ugliness, the harshness, the troubles of real life in a fallen world. How can the light shine, how can truth shine, if we Christian writers are not honest in the stories we tell?

    Not that we should write smut or vulgarity -- just that we shouldn't shy away from the ugly, because then we can contrast it with the beauty and glory of God.

  2. Thanks for your thoughts Keanan. I don't know if decent is the right word for what I want to say. I guess it goes back to the motivation. If a writer is cussing just because he likes it, or is *trying* to be edgy, that's not in line with Christian fiction.

  3. The continual battle for using the right word(s) continues--only because they mean so many different things to different people.

    Jason, I think the "edgier" portions of CBA lit are reserved for the thriller and some mystery/suspense/legal/political genres and mostly relevated to violence and minute language. However, when it comes to romance: a big NO WAY. Ironic to me since that's where all people are challenged sexually. And sexual issues are force-fed to anyone who has eyes to see, a television, reads magazines, etc.

    I'd like to think I strike an acceptable (decent) balance in my work, but, alas, falling into the contemporary romance genre (but they're really love stories) doesn't bode well for me even though they're redemptive.

    I'm not sure Redeeming Love would've been published today if Francine Rivers hadn't been a known and successful entity. And look at how it continues to sell. The 20th Anniversary addition came out in hardbound and I bought two of them--one for a gift. Child rape, prostitution, etc. A classic and beautiful story.