Friday, August 31, 2007
Violence in Christian Fiction
Last week F&F interviewee Andy Meisenheimer threw a monkey wrench in the works with his comment about seeing too much "unnecessary violence" in Christian fiction. Some of you reacted.
So did I--privately. After all, I'm a suspense writer. I live by violence.
Thing is, Andy's not the first person to make this comment. Others have simply referred to the issue as "too much violence." Every time I hear such a comment, it pulls me up short. First thought: Do any of my books contain too much violence?
Awhile back I wrote a two-part post for Charis spelling out my take on "edginess" in CBA fiction. Basically what's edgy for one reader ain't nothin' to someone else. I think the same applies to the amount of violence. So I know I can't please everybody. Still, I'm always re-examining myself.
To date, I haven't read any Christian novel (and I read a lot of them) that hit me as containing "too much violence." Violence-filled? Yes. Maybe more than even I want to read? Occasionally. But I figure that's merely my taste. Plenty of other readers seemed to enjoy those books just fine.
As with many hot-topic discussions, it's important that we're talking about the same thing. There are really two different issues here. The first "amount of violence" has to do with events. The second refers to graphic details of those events.
On the second page of Dead of Night, the killer, whose POV we are in, cuts off a victim's earlobe in order to take a pierced earring as a souvenir. Violent event? Yes. Graphically detailed? No. Yet the reader has no doubt what's happening. (You can read the scene here.) Dead of Night is an intense story. It also packs a punch about the power of prayer over evil. (I've received many letters from readers about how this book changed their prayer lives.) I don't think its theme about prayer would have been as strong if I'd cut back on the evil that prayer was combating. I figure--hey, if a reader makes it through the prologue, he'll be okay. I let him know what he's getting into right up front.
As I see it, these two different issues--events vs. details--are the reasons for the fallacies in certain arguments against violence. (Or if not fallacies, at least misunderstandings amongst the debaters.) Andy said he'd rather see some mild curse words in our books than read "unnecessary violence." Which kind of violence, events or details? Because comparing the use of actual curse words (although I'm thinking of the more heavyduty kind) to violent events is comparing applies and oranges. I can say a character "cursed" without spelling out the words. The reader will know what's going on. I can supply body language, vocal tone, ice-cold sarcasm, total hard-heartedness, and on and on to help characterize the person and the scene. Using the actual curse words does compare logically to spelling out graphic details of a scene. In Dead of Night if I'd focused on the knife blade cutting through skin, the sound of it, the smell of it, etc.--that would be more than the reader needed to get the point (sorry for the bad pun). That would be the same as using actual curse words.
I'd like to hear your thoughts on the subject.