Ask the Agent: Colorful Language
I’d like to discuss the taboo of cursing in Christian fiction. It seems that many writers and publishers are willing to include rape and murder, but shy away from the occasional well chosen curse word. Personally, I think it can be a great literary tool. I do understand that it is often overdone and that many people are offended by cussing. Yet I tend to think that sexual violence is much more disturbing. Forgive me if this seems naive (I’m still learning), but isn’t it better writing to have a character throw out a foul word than to say, “David cussed?” You know, the whole showing vs telling thing. Why is it ok to push the envelope with violence but not with language in Christian fiction?
Okay, I have to laugh, considering how I was called on the carpet last week for using a curse word on my blog: “cripes.”
If you want to know why Christian publishing still doesn’t allow cursing, look at how I was subtly chastised for using a word that seemed innocent enough to me. (I think it’s obvious I didn’t intend to use the Lord’s name in vain.) Imagine if a Christian book contained a word that was worse… an actual curse word or an actual use of the Lord’s actual name in vain… then multiply it by thousands of readers. Can you imagine the outcry?
Then ask yourself whether any Christian publisher or bookstore wants to deal with that. Do you think they can financially afford to deal with that?
Like my blog commenter who went to the trouble of looking up the history of the word cripes just to confirm that I was wrong to use it, MANY Christian book-buyers would return the book to the store and demand a refund if they found a “well chosen” curse word somewhere in it, no matter how true to the situation it is.
Once again, these restrictions don’t emanate so much from the publishers but from the consumers, sincere good-hearted Christians who don’t want to pollute their minds with bad words. Some editors agree with you about the “well chosen” curse word. But it simply can’t be done without a consequence.
Personally, I’m of two minds about this. One part of me chafes at the seemingly gleeful way in which Christians call each other out in the face of a perceived transgression. That scares me.
But at the same time, I’m also in the camp that believes this restriction forces you to be a better writer. If you’re replacing all your curse words with “he cussed” then you’re probably not being creative enough. And there is something to be said for scriptures like Philippians 4:8, Ephesians 4:7, Ephesians 4:29, Luke 6:43-45, Matthew 15:11, Matthew 12:34, Proverbs 10:31 and many other verses that speak to the idea that as believers, we not only represent Christ but we exhibit what’s in our heart by what comes out of our mouth.
Why do we allow violence but not cursing? Good question. There is a saying amongst CBA writers that you can have your bad guys kill all the innocent people you want—just don’t let them swear while they’re doing it. I think one Christian rationale is that the Bible contains plenty of violence. But Jesus didn’t go around using curse words to make his point.