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Sierra Stevenson

  • You’re absolutely right about how easy is to internalize the speech patterns of others, Maddie, regardless of whether it’s in print or in person. That’s why I almost always avoid using strong language. I’m just not prepared to rule them out entirely given the select biblical occurrences we see.

  • I appreciate the thoughtful comments and respectful manner of those who disagree! You hit several good points, Jackson, but as Daeus summarized, I see them as strong cautions instead of absolutes. Overall it’s been amazing to be a part of the intelligent discourse throughout this series and I respect those who’ve shared their differing views.

  • Editor’s Note: This article is the fourth installment in our five-part series on how to portray tricky subjects in Christian fiction. To learn why we’re doing this series and how we’re approaching these topic […]

    • This is so good. I 110% agree.
      I don’t use real swear words in my writing. Occasionally I’ll use a word like crap or friggin, but that’s it.
      My fantasy worlds use made up curse words.
      There have been times where I really debated putting a real cuss word in because it would perfectly convey what I was going for with the scene, but I’ve always decided against it because I struggle with cussing in real life, so I don’t want to embrace the idea that a cuss word says it better, even in fiction.

    • Thank you so much for this post!
      I had always wondered how to include swearing or even if to include it, and this definitely provided me with new insight.
      I’m looking forward to the next one.

    • Thanks for commenting this!

    • Thank you, Sierra!

    • I tend to agree with Jackson’s comment. I know that for myself, if I’ve spent too much time listening to unbelievers talk or reading too much swearing in books, my mind starts using those words, and then, in turn, I almost speak them. I stay away from using swear words in my writing because I always end up speaking like my characters, and those are not words that I need to be dwelling on.

      I understand, however, that different christians have different convictions. This is simply my conviction on the matter.

      • You’re absolutely right about how easy is to internalize the speech patterns of others, Maddie, regardless of whether it’s in print or in person. That’s why I almost always avoid using strong language. I’m just not prepared to rule them out entirely given the select biblical occurrences we see.

    • Something I think should be kept in mind is that people who are like me are very uncomfortable around swearing in books. I would prefer the writer simply state, “he cursed”, or something of the sort, instead of spelling out the slander in words. I completely understand trying to make our novels realistic and not shying away from tough realities, but I think as far as Christian writing, this is something that doesn’t need to be done. I don’t think it weakens a book in any means to avoid saying perverse words, and if it’s crucial to the story, then I think it can be approached in a different way (like mentioned above). And I believe, as Christians, our stories should be significantly different than those of the world’s, and I feel like using words like that diminishes that effect. But, thank you very much for this article, and for sharing your perspective on this tough subject. It is much appreciated!

    • This is some great advice on language in writing. I appreciate your thoughts, especially in concern with guidelines for imagined fantasy swearing. Thanks for taking the time to address and share this with all of us!

    • I have never really had trouble with this.
      I read a great book that had a person who swear in it and the all the author did to tell you of this was to say; the man swear savagely or, the word that came from his mouth was not worthy for anyone to hear. The person had been in the army and was old and not a professing christian. When I read it, I never had the impression it was Good or write but a sin and flaw to his character.
      Thank you for addressing the subjects you have and will cover and I look forward to reading them on Mondays.

    • I find it interesting that this is such a heated topic in Christian writing. I agree with the conclusion of the article itself.

      I try very hard NOT to use swear words in my writing, and I work hard to find options around it, until doing so would be disingenuous to the character and/or the story. Using “He cursed.” or “She swore.” works 99% of the time, and there are other ways to work around it. However, when

      I also fully accept the knowledge that by using such words, I risk alienating a portion of my readers.

    • Hey Jackson! Thanks for popping in with your perspective.

      I thought I’d comment because, in many ways, my views align with these points. The difference is that I see them as strong cautions, not absolutes. I thought I’d explain and then see if you have any further helpful insight.

      The #1 hurdle for me was where the Bible instructs us not to use any word except for edification. How on earth could swearing be edifying? My thought process ended up something like this.

      If I were to instruct a younger sibling, “The reason we don’t say ***** is because it means ***** and using it mocks the gravity of the word”, we would actually call that edifying, even though I “used” the swear word because the swear word wasn’t the point at all. Now, say I wanted to write a story about a woman learning to forgive her abusive father and I start with a scene from her past where her father is in a drunken rage. Without including at least a tiny bit of serious verbal abuse, I would be left hampered in that area of my theme. It is truly hard to address a character’s wound when the wound is “off stage” so to speak. My attempt to bring healing (edification) to that area would be hampered. I think we could also safely say that the use of the swear word was not my point but the wound caused by its uses.

      So while swearwords themselves aren’t edifying, I do think their use in the story could result in it if handled very carefully. The question then is — is it really necessary? That’s a tough question. In the example I gave above, I would say it’s worth using, but in many cases other alternatives will work quite fine. I use swear words in my writing about once every 100,000 words and in some cases not at all.

      As far as our witness to unbelievers goes, it is my personal opinion that if a Christian writer uses swear words in a way that they are seen as negative and uses them only as a last resort, that quite starkly separates them from the rest of the world.

      And I do believe that the tone in which a writer uses language can strongly affect how it affects the reader (like with violence). For example, a personal opinion on the devolution of language:
      G.K.Chesterton — decently good handling of words
      A.S.Peterson — doesn’t feel filthy, but quite excessive
      Brandon Sanderson — mildly filthy on occasion and generally excessive.

      As far as not causing a brother to stumble, I inquired into this subject in depth in this article: https://kingdompen.org/can-you-keep-a-pure-mind-while-reading-about-darkness-in-literature/

      I think that covers it. Any thoughts?

    • I’m also curious if you think it would be a bad witness to translate the portions of scripture Sierra brought up literally in the sense the Hebrew and Greek indicate?

    • This was a really well written and sensitive approach to a really controversial topic. Great job, guys. -applause-
      Another post sort of on the topic of this series that I like to refer to/sort of pertains to the conversation is here: http://hannahheath-writer.blogspot.com/2018/08/depicting-violence-swearing-sex-in-Christian-fiction.html

    • Very well done, Sierra! Honestly, I’m not entirely sure where I stand on this subject. 🙂 Your article was very clear and thought provoking, but I’m gonna have to do some thinking on this subject for awhile.
      I can say though, that personally, I am very hesitant to use any cursing/foul language in my writing. It’s repulsive to me-when I hear or read people using “bad” language-so I don’t really like using it in my writing, but that’s just a personal opinion and choice that I make. I’m open and willing to hear others points of views, because I know there’s a lot I need to learn.
      I also appreciated Daeus’s comments on showing reverence to God’s name. That is so important.
      Thanks!

    • @daeus-lamb

      Thank you for your response! I do think that tricky subjects often require a bit of hashing out to fully understand and utilize to their best extent.

      Before I address anything, I would like to point out how no writer should violate their conscience! If something does not sit well with you, don’t do it. It is better to abstain from something than indulge and mar the conscience God has given you. I’ve had points in my writing career where I’ve had to exclude things or tame them down due to conscience (although not enough to undermine my theme).

      As for your first point (considering absolutes vs. strong cautions), we are faced with the realization that God’s perfect word (divinely inspired), includes situations and words that would be deemed unsuitable for reading or writing (violence, sex, and other issues, not just swearing).

      This logically makes us consider why God would include such things in his word! Could it be that there are ways to include these elements in our writing that do not mar our witness? I would have to answer yes—but we must be 100% positive that we are handling them appropriately and with a lot of prayer.

      Basically, we must be skilled in the art of realistic, yet appropriate portrayal, and always include God in the process!

      Let’s turn to the example you gave about a scene with an abusive father and his daughter—would it compromise the theme if you purposely manipulated the circumstances so that no cuss words were used?

      I would have to say no.

      Showing the abusive father beating his daughter, destroying the house, screaming at her that she was a mistake, and that he’d rather watch her be run over by a car than see her face again—in the hands of any skilled writer, that will very much affect the reader. Not to mention dwelling on the emotions, thoughts, and feelings of the daughter herself!

      But let’s say that not cussing would be unlike the character we’re portraying. Is it unhelpful or an obstruction to truth if we simply state “He cursed under his breath”? Such a sentence, when added to the abusive scene above, I believe would continue to lend credence to the situation, rather than detract from it.

      Not to mention…

      If you’re writing historical fiction or fantasy, using old-fashioned insults (for example, fop, dotard, imbecile) can substitute for more modern swear words (and more fun). 🙂

      As for translating the scriptures Sierra brought up in the original Greek and Hebrew… Since this website is public (meaning nonbelievers can access it freely, without our knowledge), I would leave that up to your discretion.

      Once again, I mean no offense to any of the Story Embers staff! You all are great and offer a great community for Christian writers!

      Does this answer any of your questions and/or concerns?

      – Jackson E. Graham

    • I don’t want to sound boring and say I agree with everyone else, but I basically do 😛 I’ve never used official swear words in my novels. A “he cursed” or “he swore” does the trick, along with made-up fantasy words or a “darn/blast.” I avoid swear words mainly because I find them extremely irritating and distracting from the main point of the sentence. Like The Maze Runner. “Bloody” isn’t exactly a swear word, but with how often the characters used it, it was nearly impossible to figure out what they were saying. It was nearly a more offensive version of “like” (i.e. “he, like, was so, like, angry…).
      A few milder swear words usually don’t turn me off too much in writing, though it does alter my opinion of the author a bit if the words are thrown in randomly and for no good reason. If they’re there, they shouldn’t be the *most offensive* ones you can find and they should have a purpose. Though I completely reject using God’s name in vain in fiction.
      This was a well written article 🙂

      • I didn’t realize that either, Sarah. I haven’t used it in writing, but thank you for letting me know about that. I’ll steer clear of it 🙂

    • Hey Jackson. I should mention here I do agree about following your conscience and normally when I consider adding a swear word to a story conscience prompts me not to.

      What still eludes me though is how an abusive father swearing (maybe twice) at his daughter constitutes “reveling” in cuss words. Rather, I think (and this depends on how it is handled) the writer could write the scene in such a way that we feel aghast at the father. To me, this sounds like saying that a writer of war stories revels in violence just because he mentioned one of the MC’s buddies getting blown in half by a shell.

      If a Christian writer really does handle it well so that it is okay for another Christian to read, then I don’t see much difference with a non-Christian reading it. The old and New Testaments have always been read (even in Biblical history) in the presence of the young, which of course statistically includes many unconverted (and these readings would have been in the original Hebrew and Greek for the most part).

      Also, HF is very nice in letting you use words like imbecile and all that.

      I’m writing a character at the moment who has the right beliefs and convictions, but is fairly world-weary, gruff, and not super good at handling his emotions. I’ve settled with him snapping out with “Confound it,” since it’s a great word for expressing his not-so-patient attitude without being filthy or making him less loveable.

    • It’s nice to read an article about this that is so straightforward and clear. This is a tough topic to navigate sometimes.

      On the one hand, we have verses like “Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving”, from Ephesians, which command Christians to abstain from such.

      And yet we also have the power of fiction and storytelling at our fingertips, with which we can illustrate why things like foul language are lesser than thanksgiving contrast darkness with light. On top of that, the instances of Scripture using extreme language are also interesting.

    • I appreciate the thoughtful comments and respectful manner of those who disagree! You hit several good points, Jackson, but as Daeus summarized, I see them as strong cautions instead of absolutes. Overall it’s been amazing to be a part of the intelligent discourse throughout this series and I respect those who’ve shared their differing views.

    • @daeus-lamb

      Ha! Love “Confound it!” One of my characters from my book series yells that out all the time, and it’s become a running family joke in my house. 🙂

      I guess what I was aiming at with the mention of “reveling” in swear words is this:

      It might be easier for a nonbeliever to look at occasional (and perhaps even necessary) cussing in writing as (faulty) evidence that the author’s Christian identity is no different from a worldly view on the matter.

      Whereas, a Christian writer writing a non-graphic violent scene might not elicit that response. Then again, it varies per person and I cannot know for certain how every nonbeliever would respond in such a case.

      My focus was more on making sure we present a Christian identity that is different than what the world experiences daily. Due to my personal conscience, I would not include cussing in my writing (and be excessive in any violence, etc.) so that I personally exhibit what I feel would be the most compelling difference to the world’s mindsets and behaviors.

      That is my opinion, and I don’t expect everyone to adopt it.

      Again, I am glad fellow writers can discuss such matters on Story Embers with respect and thought without worrying about offending the other or causing division.

      Oh, and Daeus, I read Edwin Brook, and I really enjoyed it! Very Monte Cristo-esque and reminds me of a lot of the literature reading I did for school. Great job!

      – Jackson E. Graham

    • Hmm, good thought. If it’s okay to swear in our BOOK when we’re trying to make a point, what’s the difference with swearing in REAL LIFE when we’re trying to make a point?

    • I have just started school recently, after being homeschooled for 8 years, and I am APPALLED at how often kids swear these days. I was raised in a Christian family, and although my parents swear (by accident), us kids are not allowed to ( I’m 14, by the way). In my writing, because I know it’s part of the English language, I throw in an occasional “he swore”. I am a very avid reader, and when I come across a swear word in a book, I cross it out with pen, whether it’s a library book or not. I love when authors use old rude words like Warrior of the Realm said. I think it’s hilarious, and it gets its point across. I also like using a fictional word to fill in for a swear word. Or, like in Guardians of the galaxy, “He says ‘Welcome to the frickin’ Guardians of the Galaxy.’ Only he didn’t use frickin’.” this also works.

    • This was a great article in my opinion, though I must admit that I’ve never really had trouble with this before. I’m honestly not a very squeamish or sensitive reader, whether it’s violence or swearing, etc, unless it’s something like sexual situations, which I don’t think anything other than implications need to be in any book, YA or adult. Strong swearing, like the f-word, etc, is something I’ll probably never put in a YA novel, but I’m yet to decide whether or not it’ll go in any adult novel I write someday.

      Taking that into consideration, 90% of the time I tend to hang onto the trusty phrases “He swore/She cursed,” since anything other than that tends to upset a lot of Christian readers. In all honesty though, I think that some conversations just wouldn’t have the same effect without swearing. True, there are many places where you shouldn’t use swearing, but there are also some conversations that need to have an edge to them, if you know what I mean. There are some places in fiction that I think can benefit from a curse word.

      Also, understanding that, I will never take God’s name in vain in fiction. That I do not think has any place in fiction, especially Christian fiction. 😉 So there’s my opinion. Anyhow, great post, guys! I’m really looking forward to the next one(and really any future posts you guys have.) XD

    • Thank you so much! I’ve believed this for a while, but I’ve never had empirical evidence to support it. Thank you again for writing this.

    • Wow, you guys have challenged me greatly to re-think the level of today’s ‘offense standard’. Thank you so, so much for doing this! Christians really, really need to be thinking, talking, writing, and discussing this topic.

    • If you ask me, swear words lessen your reader count.

      If someone who’s against swearing in books (like me) read said book, then not only will I stop reading it, I’ll tell other folks that it has swearing, which starts a chain of avoidance of not only the book, but the author themselves.

      People want content that more family-friendly these days. The best way to depect swear words is “&%@!^%#”

      End of story.

    • I am not a formal author and haven’t published anything yet, so this may not be the best idea for a real, going-to-be-published books, but I black out or redact nonsense words or more friendly exclamations (Think words like ‘darn’ or ‘heck’) to imply swearing.
      Depending on the reader’s personal take on my story, they can mentally add whatever swear or funny word they’d like in the blacked-out space.

  • I love this ridiculously <3 The raw emotion building to a confident trust at the end is just beautiful.

  • I would argue that it’s not only more than a girl’s book, but one of the greatest novels ever written. I hope you do!

  • Fortunately, writers’ minds run primarily on imagination and hope; otherwise the obstacles that bar publication and the unlikelihood of prosperity would discourage most from picking up a pen.

     

    These im […]

    • Fascinating.

    • Brink replied 4 years ago

      I have a copy of Pride and Prejudice, but have never read it, thinking it is just a girl book. This makes me want to read it. Maybe I will when I’m done the series I’m on.

      • I would argue that it’s not only more than a girl’s book, but one of the greatest novels ever written. I hope you do!

      • Definitely not just a girl book. In fact, I believe it’s one of Josiah DeGraaf’s favorites! Mine too; it’s amazing!

      • Brink replied 4 years ago

        I guess I’ll read it then. Can’t promise I’ll love it. I’m more the fantasy type.

    • I never thought of it that way. Many thanks.

    • It is a truth universally acknowledged that a bookworm in possession of a sane mind must be in want of Austen!

  • @elizabeth They sell swimsuits here too, in Janunary/February weirdly enough… I assume they’re for all the shoppers fleeing to Florida during those months.

  • Snow Shoe

    @elizabeth Snowshoes can look like tennis rackets, but the pair I got from Costco is a little bit more modern 😀

    I’ve only been to Florida once *looks sadly at the jar of shells on my windowsill against the backdrop of snow outside*

  • @grace-tolkienista Welcome! I’m into editing as well. Proofreading court documents mostly — not the most thrilling work, but hey, at least I get to flex my vocabulary  😀 What sort of temp work are you into?

  • @j-a-penrose Welcome! Also, I agree. Chai tea is concentrated happiness in a mug.

  • @cindy @daeus-lamb Can we start a petition to make the Story Embers Great Hall a thing?

  • *shakes off accumulated snow from my bearskin cloak and heads straight for the warm hearth of the Story Embers Great Hall* *grins with a touch of madness*

    Well, I’m back. For those who don’t know, I’ve just returned from a trip abroad in more temperate climates only to find my freezing wasteland of a country (also know as Canada) in the throes of…[Read more]

  • I love this (and your new bio!) so ridiculously much.

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