Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Cursing in Christian Fiction

I recently read a novel (which shall rename nameless) published by a book publisher known for publishing Christian works that took me by surprise. I have read from this author before, always enjoying her stories and her unique perspective on life.

This story wasn't my favorite of hers (It was predictable and somewhat cliched, the characters were well-developed though unlikable, and the plot meandered. I ended up skimming the book.) but that's not what surprised me. Rather, it was the amount of cursing she used -- b- words, sh- words, and others.

I know cursing in novels is an oft-debated topic among Christian fiction fans. Should the author be authentic and use the course language a particular character would likely use? Or should the author write around the language?

As a writer, one thing that's drilled into me is that each word in every sentence, scene, and chapter matters. These words are meant to draw the reader seamlessly into the story and should make an impact, yet they shouldn't pull us out. In the case of this novel, I felt her word choice did the latter.  The use of swear words was infrequent, but still unnecessary. It didn't add to the character development. It didn't help define the scene or the setting, but it did make me blink--I'd stop and re-read the sentence to confirm the author actually wrote that. Not once did I think her choice was warranted, thus tugging me out of the story.

Now someone how reads mostly general market fiction wouldn't think twice about the word usage and would label me a prude. But, the Christian market is different, and since this was published by a known Christian publisher and written by a Christian author, the assumption is that this book is written for the Christian market. It will be interesting to see how the typical Christian fiction reader responds.

Do you believe there should be no cursing in Christian fiction? If not, in what instance(s) would it be acceptable to you?


  1. Touchy subject in recent years, Bren. Cussing and swearing - what to do with it in Christian fiction? If it surprised you and pulled you out of the story because you didn't expect it, it probably didn't accomplish its purpose in this particular book. If it had been alluded to in previous scenes and then finally appeared in print, it might've done less "damage".

    I'm one of those that think it can be written around or insinuated by letters with blanks following - my preferred method. I think the intimation of cussing/swearing can be essential to a character/situation. However, to give a definitive yes or no to this issue depends on too many factors.

    1. Definitely a touchy subject, Nicole, and the opinions are all over the place. For me, the words need to fit the genre, the story, and the characters. In my opinion, this book didn't meet any of those criteria and could easily turn off its target market.

  2. Hmmmm...don't know how old this post is, but I'm catching up and weighing in. The whole cussing issue is one of the things that pulled me away from 'regular' fiction so I'm a staunch, "no it doesn't belong in Christian fiction" advocate. There are always ways around coming out with the actual word and I've read many a clever author who has kept the scene authentic without being explicit. And I applaud them for their ingenuity.

    1. Kav, I'll tend to agree. I've rarely discovered raw language to be necessary. That's why the book I talked about above perplexed me. None of it was necessary and only took away from the story.

      When someone reads Christian fiction intentionally to get away from the bad language, it can completely ruin the story for them. As writer's we're constantly told to consider our audience. Like you said, there are clever ways around it. Perhaps authors are just being lazy.