The F-Bomb and Two Camps In Christian Fiction Writing

Every once in a while a discussion erupts among Christian fiction writers that proves to be incendiary. The use of the F-bomb, naturally, is one of them. That I’m continuing with this discussion here proves I’m terminally stupid.

First, I’ve never used the F-word in any of the books I’ve written (three to be exact, all unpublished as of yet). That said, if the F-word were to be uniquely organic to a scene I’m writing and there was no better word in the entire dictionary, I’d use it. However, and this is a HUGE however, I don’t think that will ever happen. Aside from turning a manuscript into an R-rated work, which isn’t the best route to go in Christian publishing – the F-word is inarticulate and played out.

I’m a crime fiction fanatic. Read mostly mysteries and thrillers – Christian and secular. To be honest, most of the secular authors I read use the F-word, albeit sparingly. I just read a new secular author, who need not be mentioned. He’s a good writer and I wanted to see how he plotted along until his villain was exposed. However, I almost put the book down due to his over use of the F-word. Not only did he over use it, he didn’t use it creatively. That might be an oxymoron. The F-word isn’t a creative word by it’s very nature. That said, this author put it in the mouths of his gangbangers, police detectives, local and state politicians, and his widow in the very same way. If an upper class widow uses profanity (as his did) within hours of the death of the husband she loves, I don’t think she would be using the exact same verbiage his gangbangers used a few pages earlier. What a pity. He had the talent to write better than that.

As to Christian crime fiction…I’ve never read a Christian novel containing the F-word. J. Mark Bertrand’s Back on Murder is fairly gritty, portraying cop culture authentically. I loved that book, but he didn’t have the need to put the F-word on paper. He got the mood across without it.

So what’s all this about edgy Christian fiction, a camp I’m pretty sure I’m in as a writer. Well, if you’re gonna write crime fiction, I don’t think you can be that sanitized. After awhile I’ll lose interest in a police procedural that doesn’t have an autopsy. Call me ghoulish, but I like a little blood spatter at the crime scene. It doesn’t feel real without it.

As to sex, I’ve never written a sex scene (not sure I’d know how) though I’ve read more than a few of them. If they’re extremely detailed, I’ll either skim it, skip it, or put the book down. It all depends on the quality of the writing and how much the book has grabbed me up to then. I will go for a suggestion of sex, a hint of sensuality. Hey, I live in the real world and I like my reading material to reflect that world accurately.

I think Christian women’s fiction writers, or those writing chic lit, can make a stronger case than the crime fiction writer for the need of sexuality in their works. After all, it is the female gender itself that is the central component of those works and females are very involved in all aspects of femininity, sensuality, womanliness.

Lastly, I have to say Christian writers and readers seem to be split into two camps. Those Christians who want their reading material to be safe and comfortable populate the traditional camp. They want white picket fence towns as a setting, noble Christian characters with a few flaws, but not many. The second camp is populated by those who want to read and write edgy Christian fiction. They do not want scenes in the book to be sanitized. They want it straight.

I don’t think as Christians we’re called to be either safe or comfortable. Perhaps Jesus came for the opposite reason. I also don’t think one reading/writing camp is more Christian or holy than the other. Iit’s a shame that some in both camps think they are better Christ followers than their brothers and sisters in the other camp. Perhaps the best thing members in either camp can do is pray for the other side. Not pray, as one woman is doing for me, to change me into something more acceptable. No, rather pray to understand those in the other camp. Pray to see that those others are indeed just as Christian as anyone sitting in the pews.

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About NikeChillemi

Nike Chillemi has been called a crime fictionista due to her passion for crime fiction. She writes literature that reads like pulp fiction. She likes her bad guys really bad, and her good guys smarter and better. She is the founder and chair of the Grace Awards, a member of ACFW. She has judged numerous literary awards including the Grace Awards, Carol Awards, Inspy Awards, and the Eric Hoffer Awards. View all posts by NikeChillemi

25 responses to “The F-Bomb and Two Camps In Christian Fiction Writing

  • Kelly Mortimer

    I'm wondering why portraying the real life of Christians has to be called 'edgy.' Anyhow, I'm in camp #2.Nothing worse than the holier-than-thou Christians who have more planks in their eyes than Mother Hubbard had children.I crack up when they play the old, "I'll pray for you" card, as we know they don't have our well-being at heart. Shame on that lady! [Hope she's not a friend of mine….]Write what ya wanna write, and read what ya wanna read. And don't use prayer as a tool to show how pious you are. You ain't foolin' me, and you ain't foolin' God. [Don't worry; us edgy Christian writers will pray for you.]Smiles,Kelly MortimerThe Extreme Agent

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  • Nike Chillemi

    Hi Kelly, Thx for stopping by. I know I should learn to keep my mouth shut. But some things have to be said.I've never met an edgy Christian writer, and I know tons of them (published and unpublished) who don't spend a great deal of time on their knees. Most ECF writers seek God about subject matter and agonize over wording. They're not writing lightly.

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  • Rhonda Clark

    That's well said, Nike.

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  • Nike Chillemi

    Thx Rhonda. I appreciate you stopping by. 🙂

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  • Donna B

    Nice job, Nikke. I belong in camp #2. I do a lot of praying and spend a lot of time on my knees praying for others and myself, but that's between me and God. I'll tell someone I'll pray for them if they ask for prayer or have a serious situation they're dealing with, but in the world we live in it ain't the saints running the show and we all need prayer. As far as writing goes, nothing will turn me off faster than repeated use of the f-word. I see no need to use it profusely even if it is in character. You can get the point across without saying it. Interruptions work great!I write multiple genres, and it's just another case of "let the buyer beware". Check out what you read before you pick it up. If you want clean writing, stick with sweethearts and inspirationals. They still keep you out of the muck, even when they are edgy (which I prefer).Jesus came to reach the sinners, we should too. If we're trying to reach the unsaved, most of them aren't looking at sanitary unrealistic stories. Life is messy. Clean it up a bit, but keep it real.

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  • Nike Chillemi

    Donna, I always try to read an excerpt of the book on Amazon before I buy. I'm usually looking to see if it's gritty enough for me. What I mean is the atmosphere of the mystery authentic to the crime (murder). But if I see the F-word 20 times in the first pages, I'm likely not to buy the book.I have to say, and this is absolutely true. In the east coast corridor, it seems that law enforcement personnel can't hardly get through a sentence w/o using the F-bomb. If you're talking to a NYC, NJ, or CT cop, hold your ears. So, when writing a book about east coast law enforcement the author's got to get that over to the reader, or it's not authentic. Does the author have to use the actualy word? Probably not. But other characters should comment about the gross language.Where as the actual word F*+k can't be used in Christian fiction. I don't see why the words "F-bomb" and "F-word" can't be used. They're not profanity. Another character can comment. "Boy that guy can't complete a sentence w/o the F-bomb."

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  • Anonymous

    Good article Nike. I'm in camp #2 and agree with your portrayal of camp #1.Leann (I couldn't remember my good account password, so it comes up anonymous)

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  • Nike Chillemi

    Thx for your comment Leann. I think camp # 1 tends to pray a lot for us poor souls in camp #2 to amend our ways.However I've heard writers in camp # sounding off arrogantly, saying they were praying for those in camp #1 not to be narrow minded. I think Kelly Mortimer said it all. Prayers like that don't have the other person's well being in their minds and hearts. Let's be more Christ-like to one another. I just got a direct message from a Twitter Christian telling me I should take this discussion down. I asked if he'd read the article?

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  • Gina Welborn

    I like how Donna said, "Life is messy. Clean it up a bit, but keep it real."As far as which camp I'm in…well, I'd like to think I'm not living in a camp at all. Too many bugs. Too many people grumbling about the temperature.Although…the Israelites camped out in the desert for 40 years and neither their shoes or clothes wore out. Hmm, maybe I wouldn't be good with that becuase I do like change. ;-)Great summation, Nike!

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  • Nike Chillemi

    Gina – Thx for coming by. Yep, life is messy. If we sanitize it too much those struggling in the goo will think they're never going to be able to be "real" Christians. I say, yes you can be a real Chrisitan, mess and all. He saved us while we were still in our sin.As far as what camp I'm in…most people I think put me in camp #2 because I'm soooo outspoken. I have to laugh cause I've never used the F-bomb, or other profanity. I did use "pissed off" and that caused a stir in some circles. I've also never written a sex scene. I think some just assume I have and that's what my writing is all about. Well you know what they say about assume.

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  • David Arp

    It's a shame that we, as a people, or a world, think what was originally an abbreviation/acronym on a police report or written on a piece of parchment and hung around a person's neck while he or she did their time in the stocks is a verb, adverb, noun, and adjective. And sometimes all of them in the same sentence!

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  • Dina Sleiman

    Given the two choices, I'm certainly an edgier Christian fiction writer. But as laid back as I am, I'd be shocked to see the F word in a Christian book.I've found it quite easy to be realistic without actually putting any swear words in my books. I just use narration and have someone comment on the swearing without recording it on the paper. If I really wanted to say that a character used the "f-bomb" I would use that term, the "f-bomb" and depending on the point of view character it could be explained as no big deal or as shocking or even hurtful. In fact, I feel like I've seen other authors do that.Okay, I did use "bloody" in my British historical. Shhh. I'm hoping no one will notice.

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  • Nike Chillemi

    Dave – Thanks for stopping by. You're so right to point out the four letter word in question was originally an acronym on a police blotter. What makes so many best selling authors believe it has great literary value? Why think it can be used as several different parts of speech, interchangeably?I generally think of the word as one a person with an articulation challenge would choose.Of course we do have characters like that. We don't have to use the word, but we do have to show how inarticulate and hostile the character is. 🙂

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  • Nike Chillemi

    Dina, I agree that what we have to do is create the climate in the scene as realistically as we can. We don't have to use the four letter word itself.I think it's perfectly acceptable to have another character comemnt on the use of the F-bomb.As to bloody, I think I've heard that used quite a bit in the Golden Age of Hollywood cinema. Don't really think it's profanity.

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  • S. R. Van Ness

    I thought that was you in the bunk above mine! We sure have fun here at Camp Terminally Stupid–but wow!–they should really keep the blood pressure cuffs close by when the discussions start flying! HA!Great post, Nike.

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  • Nike Chillemi

    Shawna – Yep that's me across from you at the fire burning my fingers roasting marshmellows at Camp Terminally Stupid — ain't it fun???This discussion really took off. It went from a forum (loop) to more than one online site and blog. This one has legs, so to speak.

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  • S. R. Van Ness

    Nike–I added a similar post to my blog and put a link to your post there!Happy Blog Tour Eve!-Shawna V.

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  • Nike Chillemi

    OK Shawna – I'm coming over to see exactly what you learned at Camp Terminally Stupid. I hear you were in the eagle scout program there. LOL

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  • Tammy Doherty

    Great post, Nike. You are such a troublemaker – LOL!I think actual swearing doesn't belong in a Christian fiction novel. But a book could be written by a Christian, presenting an overall Christian world view, but not actually be a Christian novel (i.e. sold in secular market). Like Narnia, my daughter points out, which is funny, because I was thinking of C.S.Lewis who said we don't need more Christian writers we need more writers who are Christian. I think that means our faith and beliefs can shine through no matter the material.I've read books in which the author wrote, "he swore" (usually under his breath!). Or perhaps "a string of profanities…" (flowed from his mouth, or whatever). That works for me. Because I know nonbelievers swear all the time, and even the believers do when under stress. I used to swear horribly when I worked in a very stressful job. Now, I'm much better (though I still utter a few less than appropriate words when upset!)Yeah, I guess I'm in camp #2,but there's a need for both. Some people only want to read "nice and sweet" stories. Some people even lead "nice and sweet" lives. Lucky them! I don't live in an inner city environment, or any city for that matter, but my life is peppered with colorfully speaking people. I like what I read to show that kind of diversity as well. As for the lack of creativity of the f-bomb…I had a friend in high school (actually, my cousin's best friend) who didn't know there was any other adjectives or adverbs available. Every other word in his conversation was f***. I counted one day – so I'm not exaggerating! Another former schoolmate used that word all the time, even in classes. He was constantly told to stop & vowed he would. A few minutes later he used it again but when it was pointed out, he hadn't realized he did! Some people are just that way. We just have to be tasteful about the way we portray them :DCan I visit camp Terminally Stupid for bonfire night? I like toasting marshmellows?!Tammy

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  • Nike Chillemi

    Tammy – As far as profanity…I think we have a default position. I was saved only 20 years ago. And of course many know I'm only 39 again. LOL So, if you pencil in actual age numbers that leaves almost the same number of years saved as unsaved.My default position on profanity was installed growing up in a home where there wasn't much swearing, but my dad had a few he'd let rip when angry or incredulous. So, I had no great prohibition against it…except he thought ladies shouldn't that language, but certainly didn't enforce that after I turned 18.With a default position allowing for profanity if the pressure is ovewhelming, I can let out of few rare ones. Some how that doesn't extend to the Lord's name. After being saved, no matter what the pressure I don't take the Lord's name in vain.I know a few folks who use the F-bomb as a part of speech w/o realizing it and they're good, generous people. They just have a repeat in their profanity default.Tammy – You can visit Camp Terminally Stupid any time you like. You'll recognize a few of the writers who camp out here. I understand you've attened Remedial School For Blondes on more occassions than you'd like to admit. Through the wonders of Clairol, I'm officially not blonde anymore (been brunette, red, blonde, now red again). However there are times I could swear (that word) I was sitting in the chair next to you in that classroom. LOL

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  • Andrew

    I have written a couple of screenplays in which the main objection was that they were unrealistic since the bad guys didn't use profanity (that from Disney, lol). Had I been a more skillful writer, they should not have noticed. Regardless, fiction and movies are not realistic by definition. If you think it takes profanity to make your character believable, it just means your character is cardboard. One of the first maxims of screenwriting I was taught was, "Show me, don't tell me." I think this is specially true of dialog whether for the screen or a book. Let the words mean something, move the story along. Let the profanity ooze from the character. Let the obscenities glare from the eyes, lace the words with vile or ominous tone, twist the countenance with hate, disgust or fear. Great literature and classic movies managed to capture their audiences without profanity. I think we are just lazy. And I believe that many writers of good movies and interesting stories lose a large audience of religious and nonreligious people who love a good tale, but do not want to subject themselves or their children to a barrage of objectionable language. IMHO(This is my rule of thumb on the profanity debate in general. But, as always, there are exceptions to a rule, and I have seen profanity used in a few rare instances which enhanced both character and story.)

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  • Nike Chillemi

    Andrew – Disney does mostly PG-13 now, with some G. You're talking secular movie moguls. Don't kick yourself for not being a good writer, they'd notice. They have a formula. You didn't fit. Maybe you needed to pitch your movie to Disney for a younger audience. The Home Alone movies didn't have any profanity, but they were geared for a younger audience and up to teen. I love those movies. Don't recall if Disney did those or not.Everything's geared to a formula. I can't watch the comic channel cause they can't go an entire sentence w/o using the F-word. Take that word out and the joke's not even funny.What about indie film makers? Maybe you can pitich it there.I think you're right that many movies loose the religious audience and the family oriented audience, but they don't seem to care. An indie movie maker might want to attract that audience.I also hold out against making any fast rule. I've also seen the occassional use of a foul word that worked.

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  • JeanKinsey

    Nike I agree with you that even Christian fictian should be realistic. I say let the sinners be sinners and the Christians be Christians. Clean it up but don't white wash it. That being said, i think we as Christian writers can get our point across without using dirty profanity or explicit sexual scenes. I have never and will never use the f-word, but I've read scenes that called out for it. I try to avoid such scenes.

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  • Nike Chillemi

    Jean, I've never used the F-word either, but I do know what you mean. There are scenes that cry out for it. Then you either have to alter the scene or leave the scene out completely.I can't tell other writers what to do. So I can't say there must be a hard and fast rule that the F-word can never, ever be used in Christian fiction. It's a tough call when the scene that naturally flows out of what has come before screams for the F-word. Each Christian writer has to make that decision for themselves.I certainly won't try to imply that a Christian fiction writer is less Christian than I am who makes the decision to include the scene crying out for the four letter word in the book, and they go ahead and use the word. I won't get all pious about it. I'm sure that when a Christian writer makes this tough decision, they've agonized over it.I usually don't get rid of my very gritty scenes. I usually try to find ways to create the atmosphere of the profanity without using the word. To me the F-word is an inarticulate word that is often said with violence of thought. I try to convey that in the scene and omit the word.

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  • Marcy G. Dyer

    Nike, I agree with you. I don't write sanitized. My current WIP opens with a very brutal murder. Life isn't sanitized and as a reader, if a book is too sanitized, I don't get past a couple of pages.I'm not saying the other camp is necessarily wrong, I think it's more a question of preference and I prefer gritty, edgy – I don't like foul language on every page but I do read some secular authors who use colorful language. If it's done well, without being foul for the sake of being foul, I don't mind it. I love Ted Dekker and he does such a good job of being edgy without using foul language.

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