Friday, October 4, 2013

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How Much Is TOO Much?

As an author, I am constantly faced with the all important question: How much is too much? How much detail about the era do we really need? Let's face it - there are just some things we as Christians don't need to be reading about. 

For my medieval trilogy, it was fairly easy. The Roman Catholic church required high purity standards. Chivalry was an additional asset. I am not saying all the rules were obeyed (there are many instances where they weren't), but rampant promiscuity wasn't a huge issue I had to deal with.

Not so with my current writing project. 

As many of you know, I am writing about ancient Rome. Incidentally, it was one of the most lascivious, immoral eras in history. You think our culture is bad? In ancient Rome, purity was virtually unknown. Fornication and homosexuality ran rampant, particularly as it was highly endorsed by Emperor Nero (we won't even talk about his lifestyle). Additionally, slaves had no rights. There were no laws protecting them from their lustful owners or even on the auction block.

So how do you deal with the temptations ordinary people were blatantly faced with and still create a pure story? One that causes the reader to focus on Christ, not cringe? 

Even if you are writing about a Christian character, the lascivious lifestyle of the Romans was so intense they couldn't possibly have been unaffected by it. They were faced with gross temptation every day. And, chances are, even a Christian character probably wasn't necessarily physically pure. After all, they lived in those oppressive circumstances before they were saved. One becomes new in Christ, but a character's past is still a reality. And temptation just doesn't go away after one comes to Christ. 

So what's the limit? 

I think the answer is found in the example of Paul under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. He address the church at Corinth and rebukes them for their sin. Bear in mind, these were Christians. Paul talks about what they were doing, but doesn't go into grotesque details. You see the temptations, the problems, and the solution, but are not disgusted with too-intense scenes and depictions. For myself, that is similar to the stance I have taken. 

I believe authors can tastefully depict the overall facts without being gory or grotesque. I believe you can show a struggle in a character's heart to do the right thing without being rampantly detailed. Does a character have a sinful past? You can say just enough to give the general picture without wallowing in the world's lust. After all, to an extent, we are to be innocent of the world's sin. Quite honestly, there are some things I know as a history buff I will never speak about and will never put into a book. It simply is not profitable information, even if it's true.

Think of the overall spirit a book portrays. Do you feel uplifted and hopeful? Do situations point to Christ, even when they are dealing with sin, the lusts of our flesh, and out and out cruelty? Or is the spirit oppressive, dark, and angry? Do you feel hopeful or guilty?

It's an interesting problem. For myself, I have seen Christian authors who took it too far. And I have seen some who were very tactful and wove Christ-honoring principles around tricky, real-life situations. For me, the latter is my goal. You can't shut your eyes and create a perfect environment for your characters. In fact, I highly disagree with books that falsely beautify situations and create perfect environments. Let's face it - we as Christians experience some pretty dark stuff. But you can apply Scripture to the problems and deal with it discreetly.

What about you? Do you know any books that took it too far? What is your personal standard for reading and writing?


  1. Can I just say... I agree! Being an ancient history nerd myself, I've often compared us with Rome and Greece and been amazed and not a little concerned by the similarities! I think realizing the similarities can help with points like the Christian who has an impure past from before Christ. There are plenty of brothers and sisters in just the same place today. How does one deal with it today? How can that transfer back in time?
    Good thoughts... :)

  2. I think you have answered your dilemma perfectly with using the Bible, God's word.(Ie: Paul, as you stated for one example) I do believe it can be handled in a tasteful way while still letting the reader know the temptations being dealt with and the struggles of the day. I too, know of authors who have taken it WAY too far. It is very distasteful and completely unnecessary nor is it edifying, to go into gross details of any sin or era! I also do not appreciate God's name being taken in vain. That for me crosses the line, even though I know many do and have and while it may be "more accurate", for me I don't like or want to read a book that does that. Thank you for your very well written and though-provoking article Alicia! Keep up the great work and never lower the standard to pl;ease a readership!!! God Bless you.

    1. Yes that's not good. Although I have to say that in Shakespeare's day and the Medieval times that did have a habit of saying 'by the saints' or 'by' the Lord or other such things like oaths. Is this taking god's name in vain, or was it not intended to be in this time and context?

  3. I believe it is important to be 'real' without glorifying the evil. I agree with the idea of imitating how Paul did it in the Bible. I have often said that if the Bible were made into a movie with the standards of today, it would be R-rated, because of the world's desire to show every detail. The description of David and Bathsheba is enough. The temptation for many is go into detail on what he saw, exactly what he felt and thought, but it is enough to know he saw her and was tempted.The details of Sodom and Gomorra that are given in the Bible are enough to make us sick to our stomaches over the sin, but not enough to make us visualize too much. You cannot ignore the sins and problems of the day, but you can do it tastefully. I think you could really help someone with similar issues, if you deal with real temptations and struggles in a biblical way.

  4. This is something that has discouraged me with lots of other "Christian" fictional titles out there.
    There are many other creative ways to show and tell, but draw a line somewhere in respects to immoral content and remaining historically accurate.
    What the underlying problem is, I think, is that too many Christian authors incorrectly try to appeal to today's culture. It's a noble idea. Maybe a few non-believers who read the book will actually get saved?
    But ultimately, it deters many Christian readers and the few unbelievers who do actually read the book, remain unchanged and unrepentant. Be not conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind (Romans 12:2a). This culture has a growing fascination with darker immoral content. Think of the kind of books that were written back then and compare them with the ones written today (Think children's books, Gulliver's Travels and Swiss Family Robinson vs the Harry Potter or Twilight series).
    The same principles also apply with film-making, so thanks for the reminder Alicia!

  5. Great post, Alicia. I'd have to agree with you. I think looking at the focus is really important. Like you said, is it pointing to sin or Christ? Sometimes we get caught up in a story and think "I'ts Christian, the guy gets saved at the end" or whatever, but that is not an excuse to dwell on the sin or glorify evil and destruction. We really have to be SO careful these days!

  6. I get what you are saying, though I think it many ways the Medieval church failed as the moral compass of society, and could in itself be one of the most lascivious institution, considering the notoriety of some of the popes.
    Geoffrey Chaucer and others for instance did not always depict churchmen in a positive light. That said, he did seem to commend good, upright and godly clerics.

    Though I'm not a writer, I think its possible to mention and be honest about such things, without going into gratuitous detail. Also I think perhaps the standards of acceptable behavior of the time should be taken into account, as in some cultures and societies it wasn't done to flaunt such behavior.
    I read one Christian Medieval series in which one of the main female characters did flaunt her promiscuity in such a way, and though from early on that such would never have been deemed acceptable for a woman of her status at that time.


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