Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Write It Raw

I have read many blog posts and Facebook discussions lately about Christian fiction and why it seems to be substandard compared to secular fiction. A lot of people--Christians and non-Christians alike--find it contrived, hokey, watered down, unrealistic, and pretty much overall wimpy. There are some amazing Christian books out there, but they are few and far between. Even some of the ones I like very much don't really compare to the truly powerful secular books out there.

Why is this?

It seems that many Christian writers hold back. They are afraid of putting raw emotion into their writing. Partly because so many Christian readers don't want that in their books. They read for "escape" or "entertainment"--they want to get away from the harsh realities of life. I can understand that to a degree. I like fun reads. But I also like to be touched, to be torn part by books.

I just finished reading a secular novel that did exactly that. It's called Hold Still, by Nina LaCour.

It is the story of Caitlin, a sixteen year old girl dealing with her best friend's suicide. Talk about raw emotion. This book holds nothing back. It deals with some serious issues in a touching and believable way. It's beautifully written, full of "voice"...but it is not pretty.

I can't imagine finding a book like this in the Christian section of the book store. Not just because it doesn't even come close to addressing spiritual matters, but because it shows life in all its ugliness--and portrays certain types of people in a way that would never make it in the mainstream Christian market.

What do I mean?

Well, first there is cussing. Yep, the f-bomb to boot. Quite a few times. You know what, though--it's true to the character. She's not being raised in an obviously Christian home. She's sixteen and angry.

Second, there is sex. Not a lot, not in detail, but realistic. It's not shown in a way that glorifies teen sex either. It actually quite well illustrates the dangers of it. But most Christian books would never dare something like this. Which bugs me to no end. Christian romance has no problem with heat and passion as long as sex isn't involved. This book takes it the other way, and shows just how a worldly view of sex distorts what it was meant to be.

Third, there is a gay character. She's not stereotyped. She doesn't seem shoved in there as a "token gay" either like so many TV shows, movies, and other books seem to have. There's nothing in the book that is leading in any way, nothing that screams, "Hey, you must accept this kind of person!" Yet she is real, compassionate, loving, interesting, and necessary to the story. Could you even imagine a mainstream Christian book staying neutral on this? Is there a single Christian book out there that would not use this as a soap box?

I was moved by this book, and nearly brought to tears at times. I'm quite sure many readers HAVE been brought to tears by this book. (I think maybe the only reason I wasn't is that I'd already read a teen suicide book called Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher, and kinda gotten some of that emotion out of the way already. If you'd like to read my review of 13RW, click HERE.)

My point with this post? When the Christian market starts putting out books like this, books that hit real emotion, that are raw and deep and passionate, that deal with sex and can show it without making it porn, that can work in controversial topics and people without preaching, then the secular market will start taking it seriously.


Chila Woychik said...

Totally agree here. Sometimes I'll pass over a book or a manuscript because for my immediate purposes I /don't/ want "angry" or "funny" or whatever it is that makes that particular story work, but overall, yes, Christian books in general lack realism.

I'd love to see a huge dose of that "raw" in our stuff. Of course, most would then classify them as crossover rather than Christian, don't ya know? But then that's why we've added another crossover imprint at our publishing house.

Yep. You've hit the nail on the head, Kat. Good show.

R. L. Copple said...

Good points, Kat. And very true. Emotional reaction is what fiction is about, in one form or another. We hurt that impact when we pull back too much out of fear of offending someone.

Anonymous said...

Well said, Kat!!

KM Wilsher said...

Nice post, Kat. I hopw to write things that make others say, that's how I feel, or that's real --- I've been there!
I will go unpublished before I compromise reality and "raw emotion" ;)
( I may go unpublished anyway, huh? LOL JK)
Btw, your blog's new look is outa sight man! WOW!

SherryT said...

Great post, Kat! I'm glad that you mentioned it on the LGG list.

Lewis's "A Grief Observed" is probably the closest I've ever read to a Christian dealing with the death of a loved one is a realistic way. It had the note of authenticity not because of cursing but because Lewis essentially transcribed his thoughts after the death of his wife. He was really shaken for a while, and that comes across.

Sorry for the aside! I wasn't intentionally trying to draw a comparison between Lewis and "Hold Still". They're different works aimed at different audience. It just so happens, as you pointed out, that Christians can be edified in some way by both of them.

I know that I have been edified by secular books, a blessed side effect that the author certainly never intended. But God works that way sometimes.