Dealing With Profanity in Christian Fiction

By Dan Walsh, @DanWalshAuthor

People swear a lot these days.

They swear when they’re angry, and even when they’re not. In recent years, it’s not uncommon to hear the F-word, for example, tossed around in casual conversation as almost the adjective-of-choice for everything and anything people are talking about.

The prevalence of profanity is just a sad fact of life. Well, here’s another one. There’s no swearing allowed in Christian Fiction. Period. None. Nada. I learned this rule very early on after signing with Revell, the primary publisher of my traditional fiction novels.
I was told there’s something of an “unwritten contract” between CBA publishers and Christian fiction readers. Regardless of the widespread use of profanity in secular books and movies, our readers expect to find a safe harbor when they open a Christian fiction novel, a “clean read.”

As it turned out, this wasn’t a hard rule for me to swallow. I was a pastor, had been for over twenty years. Swearing and profanity wasn’t a part of my life (even when I got angry). But as I continued to write novel after novel, I realized the unique challenge this rule presented. All my novels had bad guys who did bad things and SAID bad things (at least they would in real life situations). The challenge was: how do I create sufficient tension and conflict in the bad guy scenes so they came off as credible and realistic?

What I discovered was, it can be done. It takes more work, more thought, and more creativity (IMO), than simply letting my bad guys swear as much as they please. I have to figure out how to inject tension and emotion into the scenes themselves, as they unfold, since I can’t let the anger come out through the dialog.

To me, the challenge is similar to the early scenes in the hit movie, Jaws. I watched a show where Steven Spielberg explained that his plan was to have the big monster shark show up almost at the beginning of the movie, but they couldn’t get the prop to work. So, he had to figure out how to create the tension and fear he needed during the first 2/3 of the film without the shark. To his delight and surprise, NOT having the shark actually shown in those scenes worked out better. People were totally terrified anyway (I can hear the tense, scary music in my head right now).

I still write this way (no swearing) in my indie novels, even though “technically” I no longer have CBA publishers and editors looking over my shoulder. Here’s an example from my latest book, Unintended Consequences. Keep in mind as you read, the whole book is not like this scene. This is a moment where my hero and his friend, Joe, are trying to rescue some French people who’ve been captured by Nazis, and are now being tortured. They are sneaking through the basement of a Nazi headquarters.

Jack was so glad they hadn’t hurt Renee, but he didn’t have the heart to tell her what they had done to her brother, Philippe. He was locked in the room next to hers. Clearly, he had been severely beaten. Bruises all over his face, his lips split. One eye swollen shut. Jack knew he was still alive. He had moved slightly when the little metal door slid over, but he didn’t even look up.

“You ready to do this?” Joe said, his pistol held at the ready.

“Let’s end this,” Jack said, referring to the horror going on through the open door.

The sound of a whip striking someone’s back. A shrieking scream. A man shouted some vicious-sounding French things with a German accent. Another crack of the whip. Another scream.

Joe walked through the doorway first, his pistol leveled in front of him. Jack was right behind. “Hey Fritz,” Joe yelled.

There were two Germans in the room, an officer seated in the corner like an observer and a massive soldier with rolled up sleeves, holding a whip. The Frenchman was facing the wall tied to a post, his back a bleeding mess. The Germans turned to look at the intruders.

“Englanders!” The officer screamed as he stood.

“No, Americans,” Jack yelled and shot the man between the eyes as he reached for his sidearm.

The big German was unarmed except for the whip, which he raised toward Jack and Joe. His face filled with hatred.

“Here you go,” Joe said and shot the man twice in the knees. The man screamed in pain and dropped the weapon as he fell to the ground grabbing his legs.

“How many bullets I got in this thing?” Joe asked Jack.

“Five bullets a clip.”

“Okay Fritz, here’s two more.” Joe shot him in both shoulders. The bullets sent the man flying backwards against the wall. “How’s that feel?” Joe walked right up to him. “Hurts, doesn’t it? You shouldn’t hurt people, Fritz. Don’t you know the golden rule? I only wish I had more time so you could feel some more of the pain you dish out on others. But we gotta go.” He raised the gun and shot the German between the eyes.

And see? Plenty of tension and conflict, but no swearing. Let’s get a discussion going. Share with us how you have handled this issue in your novels.

TWEETABLES


Dealing With Profanity in Christian Fiction by Dan Walsh (Click to Tweet)

What does leaving profanity out have in common with the blockbuster movie Jaws?~ Dan Walsh (Click to Tweet)

Unintended Consequences:
Jack and Rachel leave Culpepper for their long-awaited honeymoon trip, a driving tour through New England. On day three, they stop at a little bayside town in Cape Cod to visit Jack’s grandmother. After he gets called away to handle an emergency, Rachel stays and listens as Jack’s grandmother shares a remarkable story about how she and Jack’s grandfather met in the early days of World War 2. It’s a story filled with danger, decades-old family secrets, daring rescues and romance. Jack is named after his grandfather, and this story set the course and direction for Jack’s life to the present day. After hearing it, Rachel is amazed that anyone survived.

Dan Walsh is the bestselling author of 17 novels including The Unfinished Gift, The Discovery and When Night Comes. He has won 3 Carol Awards (finalist 6 times), 3 Selah Awards and 3 of his books have been finalists for RT Review’s Inspirational Book of the Year. A member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and Word Weavers International, Dan writes fulltime in the Daytona Beach area. He and his wife Cindi have been married 40 years. You can find out more about his books or follow him on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads or Pinterest from his website at http://www.danwalshbooks.com.

When Going Green Isn’t a Good Thing

by Dan Walsh, @DanWalshAuthor

In recent years, the idea of “Going Green” has become a pretty popular and positive thing in the US. I say “recent years” because I can easily recall a time (in my youth) when the thought of focusing on the quality of our environment was no big deal. No one talked about it. The topic was rarely in the news. No one ever recycled anything or cared about “sustainability” (they wouldn’t even understand such terms if they heard them).
There was, at least, common agreement that tall factory smokestacks belching out thick clouds of black smoke was probably a bad thing. But that’s as far as our environmentalism went. No one ever thought about Going Green as a good thing.

Today, I want to talk about a more traditional form of Going Green. That is, the greenness of Envy. Why do we associate the color Green with Envy and Jealousy? Some say it goes back to the time of Shakespeare (Othello, Act III, Scene 3: “O, beware, my lord, of jealousy; it is the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on“).

A few days ago, I was reading some comments on a Facebook writer’s group when someone posted about their struggle with Envy. Specifically, the envy of other writers’ success. She was, in a way “fessing up” to something she wanted to be free from. Very quickly, a large number of other writers jumped in, identifying with her and admitting to ways they struggled with the same thing. At some point, one of the contributors noticed only women were sharing, so she tagged me and other male authors she knew, asking us to weigh in.

I read all the posts, then struggled about whether to respond. The reason? For many, their primary struggle with envy had to do with their lack of book sales compared to all the work they put into the effort. Many expressed a strong desire to have at least enough success (i.e. book sales) so they could at least earn a “livable income” from their writing alone.

See — as I shared in my Novel Rocket column last month (CLICK HERE to read I Make Up Stuff For a Living) — I’ve had the good fortune and a sufficient measure of success to write full time for the last 7 years. I was concerned that if I shared my situation on this FB group, rather than encourage these writers, I would simply provide a fresh temptation to become envious again (by being envious of me).

I had a second big concern with responding to this FB post. That is, even with my measure of success, I can still struggle with Envy. I imagined most of the writers who had just shared their envy-struggles would have a hard time imagining why I—after all the success I’ve had—would still struggle with it, too.

But I do. I don’t want to. But sometimes I still do.

So, I decided to jump in and share my struggle, such as it is. Here’s what I said:

I actually still get envious of other authors. Which authors? Those who sell mega-books, or those whose books have been turned into movies (which then resulted in them selling mega-more books). I’ve had one of my better novels optioned 3 times by 3 different production companies (something always happens to short-circuit the process). I keep wondering, when will one of my books finally break away, so that I don’t have to work so hard at making this livable income? I’d like to drop down to writing 1 book a year (and not have to market so much). I’d like to be able to travel and research fascinating locations in person (vs going there on Google Earth). I’d like the freedom, just once, to work on a book that I’d want to write, just because it interests me and stirs my imagination, without worrying once about its sales’ potential. I fantasize that THIS is the book that will finally break away for me, but it can’t happen, because I can’t write it, because I’m stuck on this production treadmill, writing books that will help me keep writing books that will keep earning me this livable income.

So you see? It never ends. What’s that Proverb? “The leech has 2 daughters: Give, Give.”

I think, because of Adam’s fall, we are all hard-wired and prone to Envy. If we ever get that thing we’ve longed to have for so long, we soon find ourselves longing for the next thing. And social media—for all its benefits—easily serves up fresh bouts of envy, as we read about one author after another experiencing levels of success that have still eluded us.

Why God? Why them, and why not me?

Why? Well, for starters…that’s the wrong question to ask. It springs from a heart that’s looking in the wrong direction altogether. Contentment never springs from a heart that’s comparing its lot with others. I’ve heard it said, contentment comes not from getting what you want, but wanting what you have. When I focus on that, I find spreading out before me a growing list of things to be thankful for. As I begin to thank God for those things, the green-eyed monster quickly flees the scene.

I’ll start off with how thankful I am about the launch of my newest book (my 18th overall, my 5th as an indie, and 3rd in my Jack Turner Suspense series). It’s called Unintended Consequences. Sales are going extremely well and the early reviews have been spectacular.

So…why don’t you jump in here? Share some of your struggles with Writer-Envy and, perhaps, follow up with an equal number of things you are grateful for.

TWEETABLES

Unintended Consequences:
Jack and Rachel leave Culpepper for their long-awaited honeymoon trip, a driving tour through New England. On day three, they stop at a little bayside town in Cape Cod to visit Jack’s grandmother. After he gets called away to handle an emergency, Rachel stays and listens as Jack’s grandmother shares a remarkable story about how she and Jack’s grandfather met in the early days of World War 2. It’s a story filled with danger, decades-old family secrets, daring rescues and romance. Jack is named after his grandfather, and this story set the course and direction for Jack’s life to the present day. After hearing it, Rachel is amazed that anyone survived.

Dan Walsh is the bestselling author of 17 novels including The Unfinished Gift, The Discovery and When Night Comes. He has won 3 Carol Awards (finalist 6 times), 3 Selah Awards and 3 of his books have been finalists for RT Review’s Inspirational Book of the Year. A member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and Word Weavers International, Dan writes fulltime in the Daytona Beach area. He and his wife Cindi have been married 40 years. You can find out more about his books or follow him on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads or Pinterest from his website at http://www.danwalshbooks.com.

Title Photo Copyright: rtimages / 123RF Stock Photo

I Make Stuff Up for a Living

By Dan Walsh

I should start off my post today (in an effort at full disclosure) by saying my inspiration came from reading my friend Rachel Hauck’s Novel Rocket blog post a couple of weeks ago on April 19th, called, It All Boils down to This… I’m a Writer.

I’ve been writing novels full-time now since 2010, part-time 2 years before that. I’m just about to release Novel #18 on May 15th. I’m not sure, but I think Rachel’s been writing quite a bit longer than me and has more novels published. Still, as I read her blog, I was nodding constantly in agreement.
This is an odd thing that we do, writing novels.

The number who have the good fortune to do this for a living is even a much smaller group (I’ve read it’s only about 5% of published authors). So that makes what I do for a living even more odd.

Other than the author friends I’ve met online, at writers’ conferences and at other various writing events, I don’t know anyone else who does what I do for a living. No one in my church. No one in my family. And I think you could count on one hand the number of people who do this for a living in my town (the greater Daytona Beach area). Now, there may be a handful more who write for a living in my town, but not people who write novels.

Lately, when people ask, “So, what do you do for living?” (this question gets asked in small talk on occasion), I’ve started telling people, “I make stuff up for a living.”

You can imagine the look on their faces. But really, that’s what I do. At least 5 days a week. And I’ve been making stuff up every day, full-time, for the last 7 years. And Lord willing, I intend to keep right on making stuff up for a living for many years to come.

When you stop and think about it, it’s the craziest thing. Imagine people paying you for something like this. And thankfully, paying enough so that for the last 7 years I can do this as my primary “work.” See, even that, I felt the need to put the word work in quotation marks.

Why? Making stuff up hardly feels like work. The crew of guys who sawed down and hauled away the 4 dead trees on my property this week…those gentlemen worked. And what did I do while they were out there doing this work? I sat inside, in the air conditioning, making stuff up.

Perhaps I should feel guilty. Perhaps, on some level, I do.

But I have no plans of letting such latent guilt ruin this good thing I’ve got going on. I’m having way too much fun. I love writing novels. I love coming up with stories that move me, and intrigue me, and provoke me to go looking deeply into things. Deeply enough, that it almost seems like I’m not really making stuff up, but I’ve actually been there myself and lived through everything my characters are experiencing as the story unfolds.

But I’m not. At any moment, I can hit the pause button, step out from some intense scene I’m writing, pet my dog on the head, go out into the kitchen and make myself an ice coffee. Such a thing is only possible to those who make stuff up for a living.

Like me. I write novels. That’s what I do.

Thank you, Rachel, for helping me shed some of this latent guilt for having such a crazy job. We’ve got nothing to be sorry for, right? Making up stories and writing them down for other people to enjoy (and, hopefully, be inspired by) has been going on for ages.

Maybe we should start a support group. Or, since we live so far apart, a blog on the internet. Where other writers who make stuff up all day can come and share their experiences with each other and with other sojourners considering a similar path.

We could call it something like…Novel Rocket.

Well, my time’s up. What better way to end this than with a shameless plug? I’m about to release (as I said) Novel #18 in a couple of weeks. It’s called, Unintended Consequences. Click on THIS LINK to get a preview.

And yes, when you’re reading it, everything will feel like it’s all true. Like it really happened. But don’t be fooled…I made the whole thing up.

TWEETABLES
Don’t be fooled…I made the whole thing up.~ Dan Walsh (Click to Tweet)

Dan Walsh is the bestselling author of 17 novels, including The Unfinished Gift, The Reunion and When Night Comes. He has won 3 Carol Awards (finalist 6 times) and 3 Selah Awards. Three of his books were finalists for Inspirational Book of the Year (RT Book Reviews). Dan is a member of ACFW and Word Weavers. He lives with his wife, Cindi, in the Daytona Beach area where they love to take walks and spend time with their grandkids. Click here to connect with Dan or check out his books.

Getting Rid of the Parts Readers Skip

by Dan Walsh

We’ve all done it. You’re reading a novel that’s captured your interest and, before long, you find yourself skipping several paragraphs to find “where the story picks up again.” The writer writes well. That’s not the problem. The problem is they write too much. Sprinkled throughout the interesting, exciting parts you find a lot of blah-blah-blah.
Like you, my life is pretty busy. When I get to read fiction, I do it to be refreshed and entertained. If a book has too much blah-blah-blah, I put it down for good. Guess what I don’t do after that? I don’t recommend it to others and, likely, won’t buy another book from this author. Neither of these are good things.

I’ve published 17 novels in the last 8 years; 13 with traditional publishers, the last 5 as an indie. My books have received over 6,000 customer reviews on Amazon. One of the most consistent comments I get (and one of my favorites) is: “Once I started, I couldn’t put the book down.” That’s the reaction an author wants from readers, no matter what genre you write in.


Readers who feel this way about your book, will tell others about it and buy your other books. If you’re not published yet, agents and editors will offer you contracts.

As I look back I believe I owe a good deal of my small measure of success to my favorite writing quote by the late NY Times bestselling author, Elmore Leonard:

“In your writing, try to leave out the parts readers skip.”

I latched onto his advice when I first started writing and have followed it ever since, not just when I write but especially when I edit my work. Here are 3 practical tips I’ve learned about getting rid of the parts readers skip before sending in your manuscript.

1. See Research as a Spice, not a Main Ingredient
Whether we write historical fiction or contemporary, research is a part of our writing life. We should be devoted to it if our stories are going to come across with relevance and credibility. But our tendency is to imagine that all these fascinating details will be as interesting to our readers as they are for us. It’s not true. Really, it’s not. Figure that 90% of your research will be blah-blah-blah to your readers. You spent all that time to find the 10% you put into your book.

2. Descriptions? We Don’t Need No Steenking Descriptions

We are writing books for people who live today, not fifty years ago. We live in a video/visual generation. Most of our readers have watched hundreds if not thousands of movies and TV shows. Most of the words we write describing locations or what our characters look like are wasted. After a few lines our readers have already formed pictures in their heads and skip past everything else we say.

3. Resist Over-Explaining

At a social gathering, have you ever found yourself stuck in the gravitational pull of someone who talks too much? Don’t you hate that? Sadly, many writers suffer from the same malady. Not with our speech but our pen.

Say what needs to be said well, but only once. Resist the urge to explain the same thing over and over again to your readers in different ways. It’s all just blah-blah-blah. As writers, we need to see the cutting room floor as our good friend.

Think of it this way: the words lying there on the floor after you edit needed to be written so the better words could find their way. That’s the only thing that should wind up in our manuscript, the better words.

* * *

OK…I started the discussion with 3 Slicing/Dicing Tips. Share with us some others you’ve discovered. And for extra points, here’s a Quiz Question…who knows what movie I’m quoting (paraphrasing) in Tip #2 about the “steenking descriptions” and what’s the actual movie quote say?

TWEETABLES
Dan Walsh is the bestselling author of 17 novels, including The Unfinished Gift, The Reunion and When Night Comes. He has won 3 Carol Awards (finalist 6 times) and 3 Selah Awards. Three of his books were finalists for Inspirational Book of the Year (RT Book Reviews). Dan is a member of ACFW and Word Weavers. He lives with his wife, Cindi, in the Daytona Beach area where they love to take walks and spend time with their grandkids. Click here to connect with Dan or check out his books.