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How do you guys, as Christian authors, deal with characters who wouldn't hesitate to use language that would make you blush if you ran into someone like them irl? We're talking one bad mammajamma. Abusive, controlling, no respect for people, doesn't value human life...

 

I have a character in my current book who is necessary and only actually in one scene (he gets alluded to in other scenes), but unfortunately, the only way I can see the scene working is through mostly dialog. In the romance genre, a breakup is expected, and without this character's intervention, I would have to rework the entire book, and it really wouldn't be the book I envisioned if I do that.. I tried to tone down the language as much as I could, but I feel torn because I'm writing to a Christian audience, but I also want to be authentic. A person like this wouldn't call a baby conceived out of wedlock a love child. 😐

 

Soooo...any thoughts or advice or "I've done this" would be helpful. I wrote the scene yesterday, and I haven't even wanted to open my laptop since, because that one solitary word that I wrote that I would NEVER say. It keeps niggling at me, and I think I need to rework the scene, but I don't want this villain to be to vanilla. He's supposed to be bad.

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Personally, I'd just say he cursed or that he described something in a way laced with profanity. There's really no need to write it out verbatim. If you're writing for a Christian audience, they'll expect you to keep it clean.

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Depending upon the way it's written (POV, voice, verb tense, circumstance, dialogue style, etc.) you could have the antagonist diatribe and then when the sentence where he uses the curse word comes up, you could switch to the protagonists inner thoughts and by describing the protagonists reactions and insinuate the word the antagonist used.

 

I've personally used the strategy Rebecca described - when an antagonist called the protagonist, I wrote out most of the conversation, and then when the antagonist loses his temper, I have my protagonist hold the phone away from his ear as a way to describe the antagonist cursing. 

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17 minutes ago, Jared Williams said:

I've personally used the strategy Rebecca described - when an antagonist called the protagonist, I wrote out most of the conversation, and then when the antagonist loses his temper, I have my protagonist hold the phone away from his ear as a way to describe the antagonist cursing. 

Interesting. In this case, it's an in person confrontation (the characters are or were both homeless and didn't have phones), but I think I could work with that by maybe cutting him off at the worst of it with an elipses and going back to commentary like "She flinched (cringed..or whatever) when he said that about his own child" type thing, then picking back up the dialog with an elipses in front of it. It would be easier to do in first person, but I write in 3rd person. It'll be tricky to make it all work, because his cruelty is literally the most important aspect of the scene. The reader needs to believe it would be bad enough to make her leave without having to actually be subjected to the worst of it. 

 

I appreciate the insight. This has really been weighing on me considering how much I hate even mildly suggestive scenes (other than kissing) when I read Christian romances, and make that known in my reviews. Different conundrum, same idea.

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Would anyone reading this object to the word sl_t coming from the same character or do we feel even that might be crossing too much of a boundary? I honestly haven't encountered a similar character in my Christian fiction reading, but I'm fairly new to limiting myself to only Christian fiction, so I will admit, I have a lot to learn about what lines shouldn't be crossed. 

 

This is probably one of the more "edgy" storylines I will have read in the genre, even though the two MCs themselves aren't edgy once they meet.

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1 hour ago, jayjay said:

How do you guys, as Christian authors, deal with characters who wouldn't hesitate to use language that would make you blush if you ran into someone like them irl?

I can't stand cussing in Christian fiction, so I've made it a point not to use cuss words in my own writing. I've had plenty of bad characters, but I stick to saying "he cursed" or something like that. You can make a character sound plenty mean without using profanity. Maybe think about including more body language/aggressive behavior in the "angry" scene.

1 hour ago, jayjay said:

A person like this wouldn't call a baby conceived out of wedlock a love child.

Yep, couldn't see that happening! 😄 Maybe you could have him call the child a "brat." That sounds demeaning, but I don't believe your readers would object.

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I quickly lose interest in anything I'm reading if there is too much foul language, even if it's mild, and I usually put the book down. When I wrote my novel several years ago, the opinion was that your characters had to match 'real life' even if they were Christian. But I couldn't bring myself to write that way. My friends and people in my life don't have to swear or curse to show their anger or frustration. There are many interesting and creative ways to show emotion without foul language. In our writing, we want something better than the world. It takes work, but I find my writing has improved with the effort.

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1 minute ago, SkeeterFranklin said:

I quickly lose interest in anything I'm reading if there is too much foul language, even if it's mild

It's literally only one scene toward the end of the book, but yeah, I get it. I left a negative review once because something billed as a "clean" romance had unmarried characters alone in a motel kissing. That's exactly what I'm trying to avoid.

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3 hours ago, jayjay said:

A person like this wouldn't call a baby conceived out of wedlock a love child. 😐

Interesting dilemma here.  If you're talking about the word "b_ _ _ _ _ d" in the above, I personally wouldn't have a huge problem with it.  But all the same, I get what you're trying to do, and I respect that.

 

When I write, I never have my characters curse because that's just not how I talk or write.  But then, I've never really tried to go all out with a nasty, foul-mouthed character.  It's something I need to give more thought to, and perhaps I will focus on the question more when I get around to seriously creating the strong villain my book needs.

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4 hours ago, HK1 said:
5 hours ago, jayjay said:

A person like this wouldn't call a baby conceived out of wedlock a love child.

Yep, couldn't see that happening! 😄 Maybe you could have him call the child a "brat." That sounds demeaning, but I don't believe your readers would object.

or "the mistake" ... or "the make an insinuation of how the baby came to be? - like "the fruit of your loins", but phrased more menacingly...  I don't know the context, so hard to tell. 

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10 hours ago, jayjay said:

How do you guys, as Christian authors, deal with characters who wouldn't hesitate to use language that would make you blush if you ran into someone like them irl? We're talking one bad mammajamma. Abusive, controlling, no respect for people, doesn't value human life...

 

I think it all depends on what genera you're writing in. Specifically, if it's Christian Fiction, use of actual bad words is a no-no. Some other genres will limit it.

 

In life I run across foul language in all people - good and bad. Cursing isn't reserved for just for the bad guys.

 

 

 

 

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1 hour ago, suspensewriter said:

 But I say that the issue is your audience.  

As Christian writers, we have One Audience that supercedes all others... God sees what we do, He knows what we write, and we will give an account for it. 

 

"For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” -- Matthew 12:37

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1 minute ago, suspensewriter said:

I don't think so, @Tommie Lyn, if you'll forgive me for saying this, but the Lord specifically told us to go to the unsaved, too, and I think that applies to us as writers.

Indeed, we are to go to the unsaved. But we must be mindful of the language we use, whether we are communicating with the saved or unsaved. Jesus said that words are important, and as writers, our written words are as weighty as (or maybe more weighty than) our spoken words.

 

"You offspring of vipers, how can you, being evil, express any good things? For the mouth speaks from that which fills the heart. The good person brings out of his good treasure good things; and the evil person brings out of his evil treasure evil things." -- Matthew 12:34-35

 

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If we have a character, a bad character, who swears, I think that we can safely say it is part of their presentation, not that we are endorsing it.

 

Otherwise we are just presenting stick figures, instead of a realistic portrayal of the character, and we will lose our message to the unsaved.

 

But I think the danger is that we will get carried away with it.  Swearing has to be put in context, like everything else, so that we can get the Gospel message out.

 

Anyway, that's just my opinion.  What do you think?

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16 hours ago, jayjay said:

How do you guys, as Christian authors, deal with characters who wouldn't hesitate to use language that would make you blush if you ran into someone like them irl? We're talking one bad mammajamma. Abusive, controlling, no respect for people, doesn't value human life...

 

I have a character in my current book who is necessary and only actually in one scene (he gets alluded to in other scenes), but unfortunately, the only way I can see the scene working is through mostly dialog. In the romance genre, a breakup is expected, and without this character's intervention, I would have to rework the entire book, and it really wouldn't be the book I envisioned if I do that.. I tried to tone down the language as much as I could, but I feel torn because I'm writing to a Christian audience, but I also want to be authentic. A person like this wouldn't call a baby conceived out of wedlock a love child. 😐

 

Soooo...any thoughts or advice or "I've done this" would be helpful. I wrote the scene yesterday, and I haven't even wanted to open my laptop since, because that one solitary word that I wrote that I would NEVER say. It keeps niggling at me, and I think I need to rework the scene, but I don't want this villain to be to vanilla. He's supposed to be bad.

 

Generally, I use either "he cursed," or "she cursed," and leave it at that.

 

I honestly think there is some wiggle-room for curse words, but I find that even when striving for realism, the machine-gun stream of F-bombs is as annoying to read as they are to write.

 

Edited by Jeff Potts
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3 minutes ago, Jeff Potts said:

I find that even when striving for realism, the machine-gun stream of F-bombs, I find, is as annoying to read as they are to write

I agree. I would never go that far...

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4 hours ago, suspensewriter said:

If we have a character, a bad character, who swears, I think that we can safely say it is part of their presentation, not that we are endorsing it.

 

Otherwise we are just presenting stick figures, instead of a realistic portrayal of the character, and we will lose our message to the unsaved.

 

But I think the danger is that we will get carried away with it.  Swearing has to be put in context, like everything else, so that we can get the Gospel message out.

 

Anyway, that's just my opinion.  What do you think?

I think that everything we write, characters, scenes, etc. comes from within us, and as such we are responsible for it. As the scripture from Matthew that I posted showed, the Bible reported that Peter cursed. BUT it did not say which words he used, it merely reported it. We can follow that example. 

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8 hours ago, suspensewriter said:

If we have a character, a bad character, who swears, I think that we can safely say it is part of their presentation, not that we are endorsing it.

 

Otherwise we are just presenting stick figures, instead of a realistic portrayal of the character, and we will lose our message to the unsaved.

 

But I think the danger is that we will get carried away with it.  Swearing has to be put in context, like everything else, so that we can get the Gospel message out.

 

Anyway, that's just my opinion.  What do you think?

Sorry to disagree, @Tommie Lyn, but I agree with @suspensewriter.  It may be true that we are responsible for all that we write, but I don't think we are liable (judged) for the denotation of all that we write, and this nuance takes a bit to explain. 

 

It may not have reported what word Peter cursed with; however, it is also true that we probably would not recognize the word if he had described what word Peter used. However, that is a side note... one thing I would like to point out in counterargument is that Jesus himself used a derogatory term when he said in Matthew 5:22 - "Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’[d] is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell."

 

Raca is an explicative insult... like calling someone the b word... (from my understanding of it) 

 

Likewise, the old testament is filled with stories of immorality. God does not endorse these acts of immorality, but they are described, some in stark detail, for us. This does not mean God endorses these or that it comes from God, even though we see the Bible as God-inspired and God's word and inerrant and perfect. Some examples would be daughters or relatives disguising themselves and fooling their fathers so their father will impregnate them, David's son raping his step-sister and then a step-son killing the son who raped his sister - who also was the one who raped David's wives on the top of the palace, in view of the people AS WAS prophesied by God's prophet Nathan that that would happen due to David's own sin..., when a brother died without providing a child with his wife, the young brother (who was to take responsibility and provide an heir) spilling semen on the ground and being subsequently killed by God for it... the list can go on and on. These are things that Christian writers would balk and quake at and would NEVER put into their books; however, God included them in his Holy Scriptures. True, it is a historical account of his people and it is NOT prescriptive, but descriptive. In the same way, we can describe base, sinful, non-Christians within a Christian book and still call ourselves Christian authors and still fulfill our purpose and calling in writing for Jesus and bringing him glory. 

 

Now, that being said, like I mentioned before, I try my best not to use cursing, ever, in my writing, but that does not necessarily mean that doing so is a sin. If we are responsible and held personally responsible for the words we use to describe an antagonist in our books, then we will be just as responsible for the ACTIONS our antagonists are portrayed as doing since their descriptions come from us as well. That is a slippery slope that I do not think can be defended....

 

On another note, as mentioned before, we also need to know our audience and we must be careful NOT to lead anyone into temptation or cause any one to stumble. As a perfect example of this dichotomy, Romans 14 says we should be careful not to let anyone stumble. There are those with weak faith and those with strong faith and - in the biblical example - food served to idols is nothing, because there is nothing behind the idol; however, some saw eating meat served to idols as idolatry. Paul himself said, " I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean." Thus, it became a point of conviction. I have a conviction that when I pray, I am to lay my head bare, and so further than taking my hat off, I take my glasses off too to show my reverence to the Lord. Not everyone has that conviction, and it is not bad in any form or way to keep your glasses on when you pray; however, for me, to keep my glasses on is to breach an agreement I have with myself to show respect to God. The important thing in deciding upon right and wrong in terms of conviction is whether or not someone will stumble because of it. Paul said that if he could save lives because of it, he would forgo eating meat altogether. 

 

I hope this made sense... 

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@Jared Williams thanks for the thoughtful response. I know it was directed toward an earlier response, but I found it really insightful. This particular scene was one of the two I lost in the "My words didn't save to the server for two days" debacle, but I think this will help when my heart is over the loss and I go back to it.

 

That said, much like your not wearing your glasses to pray, I don't think my conscience will allow me to print even one swear word. I sat with the ba____d word in my story for one night, and just couldn't leave it there. Hopefully I can begin to stretch myself as a writer enough to make an honest portrayal of my character without compromising my personal conviction. 

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@jayjay

I write middle-grade, so no cursing. But I'm a sister who grew up with two older brothers, (who taught me every curse word I've ever learned, even to this date), and two parents who would not go beyond the word crap, and we had better have a good reason if we said that word. (Not even damn, until we were in our late teens.)

 

So how did two older brothers curse me out with my parents in the room and they rarely knew it? Body language. (If they got caught, they regretted it. If I gave them away, I regretted it.) Talking isn't a requirement. Especially for guys. I don't know if that's universal, but guys say more with body language than with their mouths, and I still use that in my writing.

 

As for portraying "bad mammajamma, abusive, controlling, no respect for people, doesn't value human life" goes? If you want to see that kind of person in real life who does not curse, start watching the politicians on Capital Hill. (Is C-Span still around?) If you're into watching politics, you see that behavior every day without a single curse word said. (Unless a mike is on and someone didn't know.) And if not there, how about pro sports players? Seems like one or two per team.

 

Think in ways other than speech, and yet, still dialog. (One of the guys in my story "talked." He raised his fist and stomped to the girl he thought insulted his family. Six characters talked and yet that was his say in the conversation.) It's doable. Just think of other ways to do it.

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1 hour ago, jayjay said:

I sat with the ba____d word in my story for one night, and just couldn't leave it there.

Thesaurus is still your good friend. I also thought of a less-than-stellar, but not a curse word for little child -- rug rat. You can thesaurus that. Truthfully, in this day and age, not knowing who your dad is is common enough that it usually doesn't hurt long. If you want to hurt the mom through her kid, what other words would make you want to punch the guy?

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