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The definition of "clean" fiction

Forums Fiction General Writing Discussions The definition of "clean" fiction

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  • #96340
    LRC
    @lrc

    Alrighty everyone! A lot of you don’t know me but I would love it if you would join in on this discussion anyway 😀

    I’ve seen a lot of talk about “clean” christian writing, and found it rather interesting how everyone seems to have a very different idea of the word “clean.”  Some have used it a good sense, saying that they wished there was more clean books that they could share with their friends and family. Others (a LOT more others, at least from what I have seen) have used it a bad sense, saying that clean stories are too bland, too sickeningly sweet, too easily resolved, and pretty much just uninteresting.

    Of course I understand that people have different standards of what they would read/write in their personal life, but I don’t think that’s the problem here. You and I might disagree with the types of things we read, but that doesn’t mean that the definition of the word changes, does it?

    I just think there may be a misconception of the  word “clean” and what it means in a book. Either that or I am way out of the loop when it comes to the writing world. 🙂

    Here’s what I always thought a “clean” book was: no sex/lust scenes (obviously), going easy on describing kisses, and having little to no swear/crude words (I leave that one open a little more because I know there’s a debate around here about it…anyway). So…pretty straight forward?

    Oh and by the way, NOT having those things in a book doesn’t stop you from tackling mature, hard topics like adultery, mental illnesses, abuse, politics, terrorism, or anything else along those lines. It sometimes bothers me that people associate those things with “unclean” books. That’s not what makes books unclean, in my opinion. It just makes the books more for mature audiences—and they often can be beautifully deep if done in the right way.

    (But please don’t dirty up my book in order to teach how bad something is…come on now. You’re just starting to take part in the worldliness you claim to avoid.)

    Anyway. So that’s why I’m making this topic, so the Story Embers world at large can discuss what they think the world  “clean” means. Have fun friends! I shall disappear into the mist from whence I came. 😀

    *throws rose petals at you and leaves*

    #96358
    valtmy
    @valtmy

    @lrc

    A “clean” book can deal with mature topics but I suppose it depends on how they are portrayed and how much they dwell on the “details” as opposed to the consequences.

    #96374
    Josiah DeGraaf
    @josiah

    One of the challenges I found when doing research on this subject for our Tricky Subjects series is that many people mean many different things in their use of this term, leaving a plethora of various definitions behind. The closest thing to a generic definition I could come up with in the article series is that clean fiction is fiction that does not contain acts or words that might bother readers–with each reader defining that somewhat differently (https://storyembers.org/dear-christian-novelists-cleanness-is-not-next-to-godliness/). I think there are many readers who would agree with your definition–but I’ve also seen readers who would put things like abuse or adultery in the “not clean” category. A lot of the question comes down to whether or not “clean fiction” is supposed to define a market genre for a general audience or a moral standard that we should all strive to meet as Christian storytellers. I interpret it as the former (hence my above definition), but you may certainly disagree with me on that front!

    Lit fanatic. Eclectic reader. Theology nerd. Writing fantasy at https://josiahdegraaf.com

    #96382
    Princess Foo
    @princess-foo

    @lrc It’s funny because there are different categories of clean even within my own meaning of the word.

    • There is “Not clean, I am not reading this book.”— there are five swear words within this first paragraph and they talk about sex a lot. The MC has a LGBT relationship, or someone else does within the first two chapters. (Funnily enough, violence and graphicness has never been something I have thought “This is too much.”)
    • There is “I will read this but I won’t recommend it to anyone else.”— By the time we get to the objectionable stuff, I am already emotionally committed. I don’t really notice curse words anyways and I can skip the sex scene. If there is an immoral relationship I will ignore it’s existence (tactic does not work if they are the MC, but luckily it is usually clear from the description so I can avoid it in the first place.)
    • “Books I will recommend to my friends with a warning label.” — There was a sex scene. There was probably some swearing but I didn’t notice because I was engrossed in the story.
    • “Books I will recommend to my friends but not my younger siblings.” — Books with graphic violence and a serious romantic subplot. Storylines featuring abuse and adultery that has not been extremely sanitized.
    • “Books I will recommend to my younger siblings.” — clean…?

    So are what point has the category switched from “clean” to “not clean”? If I were to say, “I want more clean books” I would mean less sex, less cursing, and less immoral relationships. But that doesn’t mean that it is good for kids.

    Also, I would say that curse words do not include made-up curse words. “Stars Above!”, “Shattered Prisms!”, and “shutter it!” would all be appropriate. There are cases where a word is clearly specially made to replace a real-life curse word, like it is one letter off, which counts as a curse word.

    I think that people who say,

    clean stories are too bland, too sickeningly sweet, too easily resolved, and pretty much just uninteresting,

    mean a different kind of clean. They mean sterile. The bad germs have been cleared away but the good ones have too. It’s different, even if we are using the same word.

    The cake is a lie. acaylor.com

    #96388
    Sarah Inkdragon
    @sarah-inkdragon

    Like Princess-Foo said, there’s many different definitions of cleanliness. Would you classify Lord of the Rings as perfectly clean? Sure, there’s no sex scenes, swearing, or super excessive violence, but it still tackles very dark themes at times and it also has characters like Gollum or Orcs that can be quite scary or even demonic at times. But do we every classify Lord of the Rings as an unclean book? No, because there’s a difference between cleanliness and reality. Cleanliness, to me, means that I’m not going to stumble across a sex scene or some weird cult, or have to sit through 400 pages of swearing. Cleanliness does not mean that we can’t handle things like mental illnesses, abuse, injuries, war, etc. It shouldn’t mean that we can’t handle these things.

    The whole purpose of “clean” fiction is to offer us something to read that we don’t have to worry about worldly things being portrayed in a positive light that isn’t the character’s perspectives. In clean fiction, a character may think, for example, sex before marriage is okay–but their opinion should be clearly defined as their own and not the author’s, or be pushed on the reader. I may have a character say he’s done drugs before, and that they’re great–but does that mean I support them? Absolutely not. It’s the meaning behind the portrayal that really matter, the purpose. In non-Christian fiction, a lot of times sex/drugs/alcohol is portrayed as normal, cool, and maybe even good. Now, I could put those topics all into a Christian novel–but even if the characters thought they were fun and cool, I would be clear to show the negative effects as well and show why we know it’s bad.

    To be honest, most of the Christian fiction I’ve read is very bland, boring, and white-washed to the point that even saying the word “drugs” might get you called out for sacrilege, it seems. The few books I’ve read that don’t whitewash some things were amazing, but still had some sense of the “clean” appearance too them. Not that that’s bad–but I think that we should portray the world as it is in it’s fallen state, not glorify it to be better than it is. Showing the world as an okay, alright place isn’t write because that’s not how it is. It just isn’t. Things might be good about it, but it itself is not good. We’re not good. Whitewashing that does nothing except make yourself and your writing seem insincere and cheesy, in my opinion.

    Does this mean I think that books with more mature content should be labeled “clean” and allowed to be read by not mature enough kids(and adults)? No. I just think that we should realize that whitewashing the world into something it’s not isn’t doing us any benefits. You can write a world that’s simpler and easier than ours, but don’t try to fit ours into the simple and easy box. It doesn’t work that way.

    "A hard heart is no infallible protection against a soft head."

    - C. S. Lewis

    #96416
    LRC
    @lrc

    @sarah-inkdragon

    Welllll, I haven’t read LotR, so I can’t comment on that one, lol. If it’s just as you described I would consider it clean, yet maturer in theme. Oh, and you said

    Cleanliness, to me, means that I’m not going to stumble across a sex scene or some weird cult, or have to sit through 400 pages of swearing. Cleanliness does not mean that we can’t handle things like mental illnesses, abuse, injuries, war, etc. It shouldn’t mean that we can’t handle these things.

    which I ompletely, completely agree with 😀 That’s what I was trying to say, to point out that a book being clean and a book handling mature themes are not mutually exclusive…was I clear enough on that?

    However, you kinda lose me here…

    The few books I’ve read that don’t whitewash some things were amazing, but still had some sense of the “clean” appearance too them. Not that that’s bad–but I think that we should portray the world as it is in it’s fallen state, not glorify it to be better than it is.

    If a story hasn’t been whitewashed, and yet still has a sense of what is good and what is evil, isn’t that a good thing…? The way some have talked about “portraying the world” really seems to throw off warning signs in my head because I have no idea what you’re talking about. It’s very vague.

    #96418
    LRC
    @lrc

    So, it seems that a lot of people connection “clean” books to “books for children.” They are recommend as such and they are marketed as such. Examples:


    @princess-foo
    said

    So are what point has the category switched from “clean” to “not clean”? If I were to say, “I want more clean books” I would mean less sex, less cursing, and less immoral relationships. But that doesn’t mean that it is good for kids.


    @sarah-inkdragon
    said

    Does this mean I think that books with more mature content should be labeled “clean” and allowed to be read by not mature enough kids(and adults)? No.


    @josiah
    said

    I think there are many readers who would agree with your definition–but I’ve also seen readers who would put things like abuse or adultery in the “not clean” category.

    All of which I completely agree with—there’s great books that  my younger siblings have to be older to read—but that has nothing to do with the cleanness of the book, it’s what topics are discussed. Basically what @valtmy said.

    A “clean” book can deal with mature topics but I suppose it depends on how they are portrayed and how much they dwell on the “details” as opposed to the consequences.

    Personally, I think we, as a community, should start to market books as clean-but-handling-mature-topics (if your writing has them, which most of ours probably do).  Put a suggested age limit on it or something.


    @josiah
    , you also said that you side with the idea that

    “clean fiction” is supposed to define a market genre for a general audience

    Do you really think that is the best definition, or should we as a community attempt to change that? Why are we excepting the general audience’s definition of clean (whitewashed for all children) and unclean? Why can’t all of us write relatively clean books, call them “clean”, but then market them as for older readers, or readers of a specific age range?

    Older readers ought to watch what goes into their mind too. There ought to be market, or at least an openness, for clean-but-mature fiction. Why don’t we try to move the marketing in that direction? Do you think it would be too hard?

    Oh, and if you all want an example, The Count of Monte Cristo is a great one. It’s clean, yet mature. It deals with the darkness of the human heart, adultery, death, and mentions a host of other things that are in the world. Yet it is portrayed as sin. (I could go on and on…I love that book.)

    • This reply was modified 2 years ago by LRC.
    #96428
    LRC
    @lrc

    Anyway. I don’t have enough time to keep up with SE most of the time, so while I look forward to seeing all your guy’s replies, I can’t promise I’ll be around keep the conversation going 😀 Just know it’s because I’m really busy, not because I don’t like you all 😉

    God bless!

    #96470
    Sarah Inkdragon
    @sarah-inkdragon

    @lrc

    That was a bit confusing, let me clarify.

    I like complex stories. I like stories that have a lot of complex, detailed, and hard to solve problems. Typically, “clean” Christian fiction doesn’t have that, which is what I meant by it not being as whitewashed but still more in the general “clean” genre that is defined by Christian fiction currently. Most of the Christian fiction I’ve read is relatively simple and doesn’t have any intriguing ideas behind it, so when I say “clean”, I’m referring to the general mindset that clean books have set. They’re completely devoid of complex ideas such as, for example, immigration or the cycle of war. Even the less-whitewashed books I’ve read still don’t have the level of complexity that novels like The Count of Monte Cristo, Les Miserables, Lord of the Rings, Narnia, etc. have. They are good books, but they’re not great books. If you get my meaning.

    In my opinion(and many teachers!), books should have ratings. I want to know if this 15+ novel is going to 15+ for discussing war, or 15+ for sex scenes. A “clean” book should be able to be read comfortably by a Christian reader, but still portray the world as sinful and humans themselves as sinful without compromising the book’s cleanliness. I want complex, well thought out ideas that are intriguing and though-provoking, not a simple story line that is easily solved.

    "A hard heart is no infallible protection against a soft head."

    - C. S. Lewis

    #96481
    Josiah DeGraaf
    @josiah

    @lrc So, I don’t think it’s practical for a couple people by themselves to realistically change how a culture tends to use a word–and I’m not terribly attached to the word itself to want to do it either. I’d rather talk about “virtuous” fiction or “moral” fiction as a Christian storyteller than “clean” fiction since I think both those words better describe what I believe we should be aiming for as Christian storytellers. Those also come with the benefit of not being confusing to readers if they expect one thing from your book (if you say it’s clean) and then realize it’s not clean according to their definition.

    I also think this is better for Christian readers who don’t want “clean fiction” if “clean” means unrealistic or whitewashed. For those readers–as there are several in this thread!–hearing that a book is “clean” may turn them off because in the past “cleanness” has had all of those connotations. So from a marketing perspective, since I personally may write stuff at times that probably would not be considered clean by several standards (whether it be dealing with tricky/dark topics or being willing to include a couple curse words in a character’s dialogue to depict them accurately), I’d prefer to talk about writing virtuous or meaningful fiction since I think that more clearly communicates my intent without having to jump through additional hoops to do so.

    I love Count of Monte Cristo BTW! Haven’t read it since high school, but it’s a fantastic book. 😀

    Lit fanatic. Eclectic reader. Theology nerd. Writing fantasy at https://josiahdegraaf.com

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