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Would You Let Your Mother Read It? Measuring Appropriate Fiction

What is your standard of appropriate fiction? Today, the question is often scorned. What’s wrong with writing a book full of sex and swears? Well, that is a question for a very different kind of blog. Today my question is more about what do you use as your measuring stick?

As a Christian woman, I do have some things I don’t feel I should write about, but many may be surprised to know I’d be alright writing a rape scene if it was really needed to tell the story. So what to someone like me, who you’d expect to scream sinner at the first author to write such a horrible thing, use as my measuring stick?

Well, it goes back to one of my favorite authors, well the author of one of my favorite books really. Orson Scott Card, who also is a member of my same faith, dealt with a lot of judgement for writing the book I love so much Ender’s Game. If you’ve read it, you know it has some nasty crude language in it. Language many people of our faith, his former target audience, found offensive. But he puts it best in his speech “The Problem of Evil in Fiction”. It’s about why the evil is there, not that the evil is there.

Is the rape scene there just to inspire lust? Does it drive the plot or theme of the story? Sometimes, it’s needed. A good example is the crude language in the book Ender’s Game. Without it, it might be hard for us to see what typical, trash talking, ‘sailors’ the school is turning these children into. We may lose the crude character of Ender’s elder brother in contrast to the sweetness of his sister. Sometimes, depicting evil is key to a developing story.

A lot of people in children’s or Young Adult fiction use a pretty high bar for measuring if a book is appropriate. They’ll ask themselves “Would I let my mother read it?”. I don’t know about you, but that bar is way to high for me to write proper fiction. Not because my mom is above reading certain fiction. She’s a huge Michael Crichton fan. But if I wrote a book worthy of Michael Crichton, I think I’d be in trouble. And I bet that’s the case with a lot of authors.

So no, I actually would rather my mother not read a lot of my fiction. (Though if she wasn’t my mother, I’d be very happy to offer her a copy. Exact same person and all, just not my mom.) My standard might sound really high to you, but – no joke – I do a WWJD. Would I feel comfortable letting Jesus read it?

Yeah, I ask myself that as I read and edit my books. My standard is high perhaps, but it’s not has high as would I let my mother read it!

So what standard do you use to measure your reading or writing? Tell me in the comments, and maybe we can get some constructive conversation going.


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