|See no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil?|
I was thinking about this the other day when somebody at church asked if I wrote Christian novels. I don't. I've always assumed that it's a cheesy and bland genre, dominated by the wives of American pastors. I'm wrong, apparently, and I'm glad to hear it. But it got me thinking. Some people don't like to read books if the content includes things they consider immoral (a definition that we would all assign to different things I'm sure!). That's fair enough, of course - we all choose books and films according to our own personal taste anyway - morality is just part of that. But as a writer I find it hard. My level of tolerance towards the stronger elements of literature is lower in myself, than in the authors I read.
Few novels I consider great contain much that I also consider immoral, but I don't get particularly offended at swearing, sex or violence in books. An excess of any of them is rarely necessary and I wouldn't choose to read a book based on violence or erotic fiction, but as a realistic part of an interesting plot - fine. But I'm less happy to include them in my own writing. Partly this is artistic, but partly it's discomfort. Until my characters have come to life and are doing their own thing, it still feels "wrong" to use language that I wouldn't use myself - particularly when it comes to blasphemy, which litters "normal" conversation now.
But fiction is fiction, right? Crime writers don't have to condone murder. My parents have a wooden sign in their house saying, "The opinions expressed by the husband in this household are not necessarily those of the management." Well, I feel like I need to put a similar one at the start of my work, saying, "The opinions expressed by the characters in this book are not necessarily those of the author". Some people don't seem to get that.
I wonder though, whether I should know where my cut-off point is. Of course I want my writing to be realistic, but is that an excuse? I may be writing a scene that requires foul language to be "real", but it was my choice to write that scene in the first place. I tell people that I don't write erotica - but that's only the extreme end of sex in literature. What about everything up to that point (for example)?
Whatever your personal standards or beliefs, do you avoid certain things when choosing your reading material? If you're a writer - do you have double standards between other authors and your own work? Have you already decided how far you are willing to go in your writing?
[Some good has come out of this common dilemma. Several years ago a handsome man wrote a post on our church blog asking for people's opinions on this sort of thing. I replied saying that I was writing something - the first thing I ever wrote, actually - that I was worried might be blasphemous. He offered to take a look and give an opinion... and we've been married for three and a half years now. If you end up getting married as a result of this blog post, I expect cake.]