Don’t Step in the sh–, er, why earthy talk is needed in fiction…..

Much to my chagrin, my Rob Bell mini review got sidetracked by the whole “profanity” discussion. While I disagree with the rebukes in regard to my language, I realize a good, learned defense on why “earthy” language in fiction is needed. Especially as my upcoming novel, 3 Gates of the Dead, includes characters who actually curse. I’m guessing it will raise more of a furor than my post on Rob Bell.  To that end, here is why I use earthy language in my novels.

Be warned, I’m actually going to use said naughty words and not redact them.

I think some clarity must be brought to the term “profanity”. In my thinking, profanity refers to using terms like, Hell (a serious subject), God Damn, Jesus Christ, or any other use of God’s name in vain. Or to put it more directly, to use the holy things of God’s name in a flippant, casual or cursing way. I MAY use it in fiction to illustrate the grossness of using those words. Stephen King said it best; a writer has to be honest and portray the world as IT IS, not as he/she wishes it to be. The facts are people talk this way. Someday, a character will speak this way in my work. This doesn’t mean I condone it, it means I’m holding a mirror to the world. As for my every day life, I really try not to use “profane” language.

So what about words like “shit” “bitch”, and the queen mother of dirty words (for some reason), “fuck”.

Look, I know Christians want to bury their head in the sand and not think people use earthy language. The fact is, they do. As an artist and a writer I feel compelled to have my characters use earthy language. Does that mean I go “Stephen King” in my books? No. Of course not. As much as I love King, even I think he goes overboard. On the other hand, I worked in a lumber yard for a summer after college. Let’s just say my semi-virginal Christian ears heard word combinations I never knew existed. Maybe King is on to something.

People say shit when they’re hurt, surprised, or incredulous. Having grown up in Southern Indiana, my grandpa would tell me, “don’t step in the shit” when we walked through a field. In small farming towns, it’s a pretty commonly used word. Further, I hear people use it in hipster regions, the suburbs and just about everywhere else I’ve roamed. People use shit. A lot. Then again, it CAN  go too far.

So, my characters will use it.

So, what about fuck? The word is harsh, no question. Sometimes, it’s used as a reference to gratuitous sex or an expression of extreme dismay. I’ve heard people argue this is the worst word you can possibly say. I don’t understand this attitude because it’s not the worst word. (See previous discussion on profane). It’s certainly not polite, and I wouldn’t exactly use it in everyday conversation. However, in fiction it can and should be used in EXTREME situations. It annoys me when fiction of any stripe just casually throws  in a “fuck” here or there. It’s distracting and shows a lack of creativity.

My point in all this? A writer who is a Christian has an obligation to tell the truth. The Bible tells the truth. It’s the only “Christian” book that actually does. The Bible doesn’t look away from the utter brokenness of people. It’s an honest book. Any faithful fiction writer will follow its example to demonstrate honesty, integrity and make a point about our world.

And yes, sometimes, that means using language some people may not use in their  everyday life. Discuss below….

photo by: tomas belardi

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About Jonathan Ryan

Jonathan Ryan is a novelist, blogger and columnist. His novel, 3 Gates of the Dead, published by Open Road Media, is in bookstores everywhere. The sequel, Dark Bride, will be out in April 2015