Monday, October 30, 2006

Does "realistic fiction" mean wallowing in filth?

Some authors are able to write honestly without writing obscenely
"I didn’t flood the books with gratuitous gore or punishing violence. I didn’t pepper the dialogue with obscenities to convey the characters’ desperation or bitterness or anger or despair--though there was plenty of all that. I didn’t elaborate on the savagery of murder or give a clinical description of a rape scene or make any other attempt to write down to my readers as if they wouldn’t understand the effects of such horrible disease or what took place during such deprivation, violence, and destruction. I made every attempt not to underestimate those who bought my books, and for that reason I found it altogether unnecessary to push the ugliness in their face."-- Author BJ Hoff

BJ Hoff became, and has stayed, one of my favorite authors ever since a friend loaned me her Emerald Ballad series several years ago.

BJ writes on her blog about how she faced the challenge of portraying one of the most horrific eras in Irish history without resorting to graphic depictions of ugliness.

Her message is one that needs to be heard by those who are producing Christian fiction today. Apparently there are those who feel that the boundaries as to what Christian writers can or cannot write should vanish, or at least be pushed to the outer limits.

A vivid example of such a debate--albeit in mainstream fiction, not Christian--took place in the news just this past week, when Republican Virginia senate candidate George Allen pointed out controversial passages in the fiction books written by his opponent, James Webb.

Even some conservative pundits are saying that it was dirty pool for Allen to leak those passages so close to the election. Honestly, I don't have a dog in that fight. All I know (and I don't care if this makes me sound unsophisticated, gauche or un-intellectual) is that I found the passages vile and disgusting, and I wish I had never read them.

Even John Grisham, who seems to be able to write about bad things without forcing readers to delve into muck, defended James Webb (he's actively supporting his candidacy.) Grisham said something (I wish I could find the exact quote!) about writers having to honestly portray life as they see it.

As I told BJ Hoff in her comments section, "The first book in the Emerald Ballad series (a series which I've often said is one of my favorites, ever) is indeed sad, pulling no punches about that time in Ireland's history.

"I, too, was dismayed by reality that was portrayed, but that basis had to be established for the rest of the series to make sense. And it NEVER violated my desire as a Christian to focus on things that are uplifting and beautiful--while not ignoring the reality of sadness and ugliness in our world."

Christian fiction writers, don't apologize for illuminating beauty and goodness instead of ugliness and depravity.

You can write honestly about the horrors of life without, as BJ writes, "I could reel off any number of other authors writing in the Christian market who have done the same thing, who have written about different eras and about different events using different characters--to tell a story the way it needed to be told, honestly and realistically--without sickening their readers or beating them over the head with gratuitous brutality and viciousness and gore-galore. It’s called honest fiction."

I couldn't say it any better.

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