To tone down or not to tone down?

Forums Fiction Themes To tone down or not to tone down?

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    R.M. Archer

    (This might make a duplicate, in which case I apologize, but I think I accidentally deleted the original trying to edit it to get a tag right. XP)

    My main character makes a lot of bad choices as part of her arc (negative and then recovering from that negative arc) and I have two themes that I want to emphasize: 1) People need people. 2) Bad decisions result in negative consequences.
    One of my character’s bad choices involves a guy, and I’m not quite sure how to handle it, because their relationship is an important thing for her arc and the themes and it’s intentionally a bad relationship, but it’s gotten a tad graphic. Not too bad (and I have tight standards on physical romance), but enough that it has me second-guessing myself. I don’t want to tone it down for risk of losing a key part of their relationship and emphasis on how negative it is and contrast between this guy and a friend of hers who actually legitimately cares about her; at the same time, I want to have a reputation for writing clean YA fantasy (something I wish I saw more of myself) and I don’t want to ruin that before it really begins, as this is part of the first series I’d like to publish (with the prequel in the works editing).

    Is it better to tone it down and risk compromising the themes or should I continue, making sure it doesn’t get any worse, and fix it in edits if I need to? :/

    @daeus-lamb @ethryndal @consciousdreamer @aster @snapper @kate @morreafirebird

    Speculative fiction author. Mythology nerd. Worldbuilding enthusiast. Singer. Fan of classic literature.


    Just wondering, have you ever read Martin Hospitality? I absolutely love that book. It deals with a similar theme, and it never ever got graphic. Part of the reason is because the gal is pregnant before the book starts, so all that is in the past.

    So when I was 13, I read The Last Diciple and The Last Sacrifice. They are not children’s reading material, so it was no wonder that I was rather horrified by some of the scenes portrayed. No, it never had any big “scenes”, but it got awfully close to some. I did not like those books, and had no desire to read the third because of all the sensuality in the first two.

    Then I read Pearl Maiden (the centennial edition). It was an epic, epic book. It did not cut slack on some of the themes, and did it plenty of justice. The same with The Brethren.  They both included some lines and situations, but they were so much better. I prefer having to sort of guess at what is going on than having to trudge through it. So, I say less is more on this particular topic.

    Tek an ohta! Tek an cala!


    @r-m-archer I think it depends on your definition of  ‘clean’. Even the Bible has horrible stories in it, stuff my parents would never let me read in novel form, and yet we gain meaningful insight from that. (Plus those stories were true, but that’s not the topic here.) So I think if you’re still getting biblical insight across, as is your intent, it would be okay. I think it also depends on the age range. Song of Solomon was restricted for Hebrew children until 13. If you’re writing books for, say, twelve year olds, I’d keep it as clean as possible, but if it’s for 16 year olds or older, I would keep it clean, but not so innocent that they feel treated like a baby. I find Christian YA fiction for older teens that purposefully tones down content (i.e. “He wielded his sword against him” versus “He ran his sword through his chest”) particularly bland. For older Christian teens, there should be a little gray area between graphic and innocent that we operate in. I mean, the world’s a graphic place and there’s no reason to avoid that unless our minds are being dirtied by that.

    So if your character will be positively changed and regret her actions, and you make it clear you don’t endorse that kind of innapropriate behavior, then it should be fine imo.

    I know where you come from though, I can’t stand a book with even borderline sexual content. Ted Dekker’s Green, though Christian, was about as far as I go with that kind of stuff.

    • This reply was modified 4 years ago by Samuel.

    No one reads these anyway

    Daeus Lamb

    @r-m-archer I think, like filmmakers, we can include a lot of content in our novels by inference rather than by showing. In fact, films might be good inspiration for you in this area.

    👖 🐢🐢🐢🐢🐢

    K.M. Small

    @r-m-archer so long as it’s portrayed in the right light, I think it’s fine. A lot of the problem with YA these days is that things like that are glorified and encouraged, rather than shown to be sin. So if you’re portaying this character and the relationship as bad and showing the true results, then I’d say it’s fine.

    But like Daeus said, there’s a lot that can be revealed without actually showing stuff, if that makes sense. I’m personally pretty touchy when reading stuff like that, no matter what light it’s portrayed in (though I’m fine with Biblical stories, since those instances are summarized rather than described in detail). So from a thematic point of view I’d say don’t tone down, but try to infere rather than show, but from my personal persespective, I’d say do tone down. In sum, as long as it’s portrayed as bad and not overly detailed, it’s fine, but perhaps remember that some readers might be put off by it.

    Hope that helps 🙂

    "Beauty will save the world." - Dostoevsky

    Josiah DeGraaf

    @r-m-archer Everyone else has said a lot of things I would say about this issue. In general, I wouldn’t sacrifice your story’s theme just to get a “clean” label. Christian storytelling is most powerful when it’s authentic and addressing real issues, and real issues aren’t always “clean.” Instead, if there’s a way that you could deal with the same themes just as powerfully by using inferences or vague descriptions more (instead of toning down what’s happening), that may be preferable depending on your audience & your conscience.

    In general, I would draw a distinction between toning down your themes/characters actions and toning down the language you use to describe them. The latter may be a good move (hard for me to say without specifics), but I wouldn’t recommend doing the former. As long as you’re using those themes & actions wisely, I think it’s important for Christian stories to be able to address all aspects of human life–the good, the bad, and the ugly–and shine the light of Christ on difficult situations.

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

    R.M. Archer

    @ericawordsmith @samuel @daeus-lamb @morreafirebird @josiah

    Thank you all for the input. (Sorry it’s taken me so long to respond. XP) I think I’ve been able to find a good middle ground (not toning down the content but using less description), but the more “romantic” scenes are something I’m going to focus on in editing to make sure I’m comfortable with the balance. It’s easier to gauge stuff like that, at least for me, in editing. But I’ve tread pretty carefully so I’m hoping I’ll still think it’s well-balanced when I edit. 😛

    Speculative fiction author. Mythology nerd. Worldbuilding enthusiast. Singer. Fan of classic literature.

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