Bridgette has a sharp tongue and doesn't hesitate to curse and use profanity. (See yesterday's post, "Why I Love Cheerwine" (Part 5): A Story). As I was writing about her, that's who she became for me. I haven't met too many women like her, but the couple I have met surpassed her eloquence and were like that all the time. In contrast, I think Bridgette's just had a really, really bad day. I'm not sure yet what she's like on a good day. I'll see where it goes from here, where her character takes me.
But using profanity does, of course, bring up the issue of whether a Christian writer should ever use profanity in writing a story. Someone may accuse me of "unwholesome talk" (Eph. 4:29) or admonish me to pay heed to Phillipians 4:8, which commends us to focus our thoughts on what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, and praiseworthy. I know the argument well. I've thought about it all before. The response, of course, is that I am writing what is true, that to be true Bridgette has to curse. That is who she is and to write it that way is to be true to the reality of who she is.
At dinner tonight , my 12-year old daughter surprised me by saying that she read my story and I said a bad word: D-A-M-N. I was surprised that she saw it and, to be honest, I was uncomfortable for a moment. However, it was a good opportunity to explain to her how while I don't approve of such language and try not to speak in that way and certainly don't want her to. characters, like people, sometimes do. I also told her that there are people in stories who do bad things, say bad things, and think bad things all the time, to which she said she knew all that -- she's reading the Redwall series and the vermin in those stories do all kinds of vile things. I also told her that some stories weren't intended for children because some children lack the ability as yet to discern what is appropriate behavior. (For that matter, some adults lack such ability.) Of course, I'm really getting into this discussion and she looks at me and says something suddenly off subject like "Can I have a dog?" Discussion closed.
God also inspired men to write a Book full of vile doings and bad language. You know that, because like me, if you ever tried to read through the Bible with your children there are some parts that make you cringe and some (like Song of Solomon) that you'd rather not have to explain. There's embarrassingly realistic things in Scripture. It's not sanitized.
So yes, I know all the arguments. And yet, realism gives me some discomfort. If Bridgette does in fact cuss like a sailor, do I fill the story with such language or merely give a taste of it and intimate more subtly that it's a fundamental flaw in her character? And what if Bridgette has a relationship with a man? How do I talk about that? Or do I? (I'm not sure I want to, you hear that, Bridgette?) Perhaps subtlety is called for, but she doesn't strike me as a subtle person.
Then maybe a story that reflects life is meant to cause a writer discomfort and tension because life itself causes tension and discomfort. We live and work around people who often say and act in ways that are discomfiting. We turn on the TV or see a movie and it's filled with the profane. I remember one summer in college I spent working in a furniture stockroom with eight guys who were as profane as any I've ever met since. It was uncomfortable. But then, maybe I won't write about them anytime soon.
These are good questions to wrestle with. I need help. I need the Spirit, just a little of God's breath in what I write.