BC: “Safe” Christian Fiction—My Take: Part 1
Recently I received a furious letter from a reader who felt utterly betrayed by me. This reader let me know in no uncertain terms she no longer “trusts” me and will never pick up another of my books. “I know bad things happen to good people,” she said, “but I don’t want to read about it in my pleasure reading.”
Surprisingly, this woman wasn’t talking about any of my suspense novels. She was referring to one of my women’s fiction titles in the Bradleyville series, published a number of years ago. She was mad at me because of a turn of events that happened to a likeable character, which changed everything in the story after that. The whole ending was wrong, wrong, wrong in her eyes. She cared so much for the characters that this upset her terribly. She wished she’d never read the book. She even went so far as to suggest that this was a deliberate “power play” on my part, done merely to make readers feel miserable.
This person—I’ll call her GR, for Gentle Reader—is absolutely right. She can’t trust me to not upset her world. If she couldn’t handle my women’s fiction, no way is she gonna handle my suspense. My books for her will never be “safe.” I am happy to know that I can recommend to GR many very competent Christian writers who write for her type of audence. Those books she can read and enjoy—and feel safe while doing do.
GR’s opinion is one I respect and honor. Each reader brings to a story her past experiences, her personality, the sum of who she is. This is why each reader responds so differently to the same novel. While I disagree with GR’s opinion about my book, I do think her opinion is spot-on right for her. Further, I respect this desire of hers: “I don’t want to read about it in my pleasure reading.”
Unlike nonfiction, readers don’t pick up a novel to learn something. They pick up a novel for entertainment. A reader has every right to “not want to go there” regarding certain subjects that may upset him or her.
There’s a club of folks who can’t read my suspense novels. I’ve teasingly dubbed it the Big Honkin’ Chickens’ Club (BHCC). Many of them read my personal blog and are friends of mine, but when it comes to scary, intense fiction, they say, “I don’t want to read about it in my pleasure reading.” Why should they? If they find a story truly upsetting, if it gives them nightmares and makes them queasy—I’d hardly call that entertainment for them. Of course they shouldn’t read my suspense.
Definition #1 for safe Christian fiction: A story that includes content and events that will not emotionally upset the reader beyond his/her boundaries.
Sure, my suspense might sometimes scare my core readers—but they like that. Sure, a women’s fiction title might move a reader to tears—but she likes that. I’m not talking about being emotionally impacted by the story—that’s a necessity in good fiction. I’m talking about stepping into territory upon which readers don’t want to tred.
Readers have a right to expect the fiction they choose to read to be safe according to Definition #1.
When we write about some of the more difficult subjects, we need to understand that some people won’t want to “go there.” This not only applies to suspense that contains murder and other forms of violence. It also applies to subject matter that’s hard to read about—sexual abuse, child slavery, physical abuse of the elderly, graphic drug use, etc. In this sin-ridden world, we are bombarded with stories about horrible happenings. We hear about child abuse and murder and rape and drug overdoses every day. Some readers will choose not to revisit these topics in their “pleasure reading.” We have to respect that. It’s not right to say these readers are hiding their heads in the sand in regard to these difficult topics, and they need to be shaken up. We can’t judge that. In fact, a reader may be very aware of the subject matter, may have suffered it in his/her own life, or may be actively working with victims in a day job or contributing to charities who do. For that very reason the reader may not want to immerse himself in said subject during his few hours of entertainment reading.
But the readers who don’t want to “go there” aren’t our target audience anyway. I don’t write suspense for those who are too upset by suspense to read it. I write for those who gobble the stuff up. For them, my fiction is plenty Definition #1 safe. Those who wouldn’t find my suspense D#1 safe—that’s fine. I turn them away from my books, suggest something else that better suits their taste.
Seems to me that our discussions of “safe fiction” can tend to hover around D#1. And because this involves our writing—our passion—emotions quickly become involved. Those writing about the more difficult issues or events can become upset at readers who don’t want to read their books, as if these readers are simply shallow and/or are wrong not to choose to be shaken in their entertainment hours. Those who write fiction that would be labeled D#1 safe by most people can judge the other side for containing too much difficult, “unseemly” content—whether violence or some specific subject matter. Each type of reader needs to understand he is right in that private opinion—for himself. He is judging according to his boundaries of D#1. We shouldn’t judge someone else’s boundaries—because we haven’t lived that person’s life.
But all this is only one part of the equation. There’s a Definition #2. It’s a separate entity and needs serious consideration. We’ll look at that tomorrow.
Seatbelt Suspense™ author Brandilyn Collins blogs Monday through Friday at Forensics and Faith.