When I was a teenager, I spent a lot of time writing books. I finished a few of them, and they’re still bound in one-inch binders, stacked in my basement. More of them remained half-finished on my desktop, but there was one theme that ran throughout all of them, completed or not—they were Christian novels, with a very clear redemption storyline.
I grew up in the evangelical tradition, and a fairly conservative one at that, so swearing and sex and all those kinds of things were off-limits when I was writing, and I felt an obligation to have a prominent Christian theme as well.
But if you’ve read Remember Us, you know that it’s mainstream romantic fiction. There’s sex and swearing, and no mention of God or church or faith or anything like that.
I still consider myself a person of faith, although what that looks like has admittedly changed significantly since my teenage years (which is not really a discussion for this blog, is it?), but I no longer feel the need to write “Christian” books anymore. I’m an author who is a Christian, but I’m not a Christian author. Don’t expect I ever will be.
I wrote a long post on my personal Facebook page before I released Remember Us, preparing my friends and family for the content of the book. I was concerned that they’d be upset by parts of the plot and the language. Because, well, it gets a little salty. For the most part, it was really well-received, but I did have a few comments about the language I used, and I wanted to share some of my reasoning around that, especially since my next book will be very much the same, and even a bit darker as far as the storyline goes.
I know there are people who believe that swearing is lazy writing, that sex and violence are gratuitous and inappropriate, and that they don’t add anything to a book, but for me, it’s about believability.
My characters swear because that’s what people do. For me to write a book, especially one that revolves around a troubled, falling-apart marriage, without swearing, would have been ridiculous. And, not for nothing, there are only so many physical descriptions I can use to describe anger, when a well-placed f-bomb does the trick nicely.
I don’t have graphic sex scenes in my novels, because it doesn’t fit with my genre; same with violence. But unless I’m writing YA fiction, or there’s extenuating circumstances, adults are having sex. And if I choose to ignore that fact, my book is going to suffer. And we all need to remember that novels are fiction. My characters are making choices that make sense for them; it doesn’t necessarily mean that I’d endorse that behaviour or make the same choices myself, or that I speak the same way they do. It means that I’ve created characters who live, act and speak a certain way.
My job as a writer is to tell the best story I can. It’s to create a world my readers can immerse themselves in. It’s to develop characters they love or hate, but who make them feel something. It’s to invite them into a well-crafted world for a few hours, and one way I do that is to write the most believable world I can, with characters I think could exist in real life.
Readers obviously always have the final say in what kinds of things they want to read. I don’t read graphically violent books because the content really bothers me. I skipped whole passages in The Hunger Games and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, for example, because of that. But I understand why it was there; I understand what it added to the book. And that’s the only thing I’d ask of readers who are wondering why an author uses the language they do, or includes violence or sex or other uncomfortable content. Why is it there? What is it telling you about the character? Most writers have very good reasons for why they include certain language, scenes, character traits, and I wouldn’t assume it’s to be offensive. If it’s not for you, that’s okay—we all like different things. But don’t villify authors for content choices; after all, it is just a book.