One writing project I’ve been working on over the years is a middle grade historical fiction novel that takes place in the antebellum south. A white boy befriends a slave while they both work on a plantation. In the story, the boy hears the slave being whipped. I don’t believe I was overly graphic about it – the character (and therefore the reader) doesn’t even see the event happening. He only hears it.
I had my 12 year old son read the book to get his feedback on it. He enjoyed the story very much and had no problem with the whipping scene. My 10 year old daughter read it, got to that scene in the book, and came to me in tears asking why I had written it. Yikes!
It really made me stop and think. As a writer, how much violence and what kind is OK? What I wrote about was the type of thing that really happened. Far worse happened to those slaves that I didn’t include. The last thing I want to do with my writing is to reduce little girls to tears! But does that mean I should shield them from the truth of that time period?
Around the same time, I read Joel Rosenberg’s trilogy “The Twelfth Imam”. I found it all fascinating, and in many ways it reminded me that God’s Word is true and His story of history is unfolding in the news each day. There is some pretty heavy violence in the book and some very disturbing scenes. I almost put it down several times because I wasn’t sure if I should be filling my mind with the images the book created. And yet they were all true things. Those disturbing things described really do happen in the Middle East. (I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who wants to read it.) It’s true and should cause me to pray for those involved in the real Middle East (not Rosenberg’s fictional Middle East, although they’re not far apart!). But should I fill my mind with that kind of violence?
I also started reading a book by Ted Dekker, another Christian author. This book partially took place in the Middle East as well and included some very disturbing violence. That one I decided to set aside and not finish. Again, the violence was something that truly happens in that part of the world, but do I need to know about it? If I don’t know about it, am I just sheltering myself in my cozy, safe suburb and turning a blind eye to the evils in the world? That can’t be right, either…
So both as a writer and a reader, I struggle with this. In my fiction, I enjoy writing about redemption. How does God change people from being against Him to for Him? Many times, that transformation is messy. The situations that He redeems us out of are messy, ugly, and disturbing. Should Christian authors write about that? But it really happens…
“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” Philippians 4:8
But what if that which is true isn’t lovely?
I don’t have an answer to this one. I would welcome your thoughts!