On Drawing Lines and Staying Behind Them


Violence! (Photo credit: Rickydavid)

There’s comes a time in every writer’s life when you have to decide where you’re going to draw the lines on certain, let’s say controversial, subjects.

Like Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon drawing their famed line between the north and south, we must determine where the line of demarcation is that separates our conscience from our craft.

We writers are called to above all else tell the truth. The challenge is deciding how we tell the truth while remaining true to our own convictions, beliefs, and set of morals.

We can speak loftily about  writing truly and honestly and delving into the depths of man’s psyche but sooner or later everyone has to make the call: how far is too far?

And it’s a process. I’ve published six books now with #7 soon to be released and I’m still exploring and establishing where those lines are. Sometimes they won’t stand still long enough for me to hammer them down.

Here are some thoughts about where I currently draw the line on several touchy subjects.

  • Regarding violence, I’m always mindful to include enough details so the reader is not lost, so he knows what’s happening, but so as not to glorify the violence or draw undue attention to it. I’m not opposed to violence (after all, our world is full of violence of the most dispicable nature) but I’m also not into shocking the reader with excessive gore or details. After I write a scene I go back and read it over and ask myself if the point was made without overstating it.
  • Along with violence, I will not write about sexual violence directed at women (or men, for that matter). I know some have tackled that issue with great poise and tact but it’s just not for me. I may hint at it, or introduce it in a very roundabout way, but as for writing about it directly, I’m not going to go there, not even interested in going there. I’m not saying those who do are wrong; for me, it’s a no go. That line is pretty firm.
  • Regarding language. Personally, I can tolerate a certain amount of vulgar language in the fiction I read. Some would say that’s wrong, that I shouldn’t introduce it to my mind, and maybe their right, I don’t know. But I won’t write it myself. Honestly, there are times I’d like to, times when it would fit in the context or with the character, but I simply chose not to include it. Oh, I know my publisher would never let it fly even if I did but I write a lot that doesn’t go through the filter of my publisher. The opportunity is there if I wanted it. I just don’t want it. I choose to find more creative ways to get the point across.
  • Regarding matters of faith, I draw a loose, very negotiable line at being preachy, or at least what I perceive as preachy. I want the story to read as organic and the characters to resonate so I’m careful at the way I package the faith element in my stories. I am mindful of being over-bearing or heavy-handed but at the same time realize that the more you water down the message, the more murky the waters get.

Question for you: what are some lines you won’t cross, either as a writer or reader? We all have lines, share some of yours.

(Please check out my other blog as well: www.michaelkingbooks.wordpress.com)


About mikedellosso

Mike Dellosso is an author of wide-eyed suspense. He writes stories that not only entertain but enlighten.

Posted on June 28, 2012, in Writing craft, Writing Life and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. iambelievinggod

    There is a particular “secular” fiction writer that I like (I’ve read all of his books up to now) and for the first 10 years that he wrote he never used foul or obscene language, but the last book he wrote contained some pretty obscene words (in my opinion). My only thought was that he waited until his daughter turned 18 because it coincided with that event. I was disappointed that he had so far eliminated them and could have continued to do so as his books are always #1 on the bestseller’s list for awhile. I can and do, however, tolerate the use of obscene language from a secular author (though I have a difficult time when I know he/she is a Christian) up to a point. It must fit into the context and they shouldn’t be used as every third word (there is one author I refuse to read because of that). I guess that seems hypocritical, but unfortunately I expect Christian writers to uphold biblical standards because they know better. If I review a book with obscene language, I always put a disclaimer at the beginning for those who may be offended by the use of certain words. Thank you, Mike, for standing firm on your standards. It is one of the reasons I was so impressed with your work. The use of some words may have been “appropriate” for the world to use in some of the situations you put your characters in; however, we need to learn that there are other more constructive and polite ways to handle our frustration.


    • Thanks for your thoughts, Jill. I know many believe my standards are too stringent, too buttoned-up, but you know what? I have to listen to my conscience and I would expect everyone else to do the same. I appreciate you sharing where your lines are.


  2. When I read I draw the line at excessive violence, especially aimed at children or animals. I am what we call around our house “a sissy”. I can’t tolerate anyone being tortured or see a lot of blood. I like going to movies occasionally and won’t watch anything past pg13. Some of that stuff is too much for me. Back to reading. I can occasionally deal with swear words. Not the raunchy ones. I love reading Terry Brooks and he doesn’t really cross the line. I am glad your conscience has dealt with you on this and you don’t use swear words. Your writing description is so good that you don’t need it. Honestly, in Darlington Woods some of your descriptive sentences blew me away. I felt like I was right there watching it with the characters. I am also glad you passed on the sexual violence thing. That is something I could not read. As you say, if it is done tastefully and in a Christian book, that may be all right for some, but I could not read it.


  3. I think Christian authors face the hardest challenges in writing, especially in our ‘gotta do it bigger and more shocking than that one’ mindset that’s so prevalent today. The talents behind Christian fiction speak volumes that you can still captivate and excite a reader from behind those lines and the responsibility you keep to your integrity is a powerful light to those who look for Christians to fail. As Chris Tiegreen wrote, “If we treat sin casually, it’s public affirmation that the ways of the world are the ways of everyone.” We have a higher calling to not fit in to this world and I admire your steadfastness.


  4. I really appreciate your thoughts. I agree that there really is a tension between not coming across as overly preachy or losing the message in the fog. Non-believing readers are quick to dismiss the former and yet if the message is too watered down, what will they get? It’s the three bears all over again, looking for what’s “just right.” Thank you for looking.


  5. I can’t handle writing a child murder scene. I have read books w/them, but I can’t handle WRITING them. I also don’t write vulgar language/obscenity. And no titillating sex scenes. I basically try to follow how the stories are written in the Bible. Plenty of sexual, horrifying stuff, but never graphically described. Just matter-of-fact. And of course, there’s violence in the Bible, just like (sadly) in real life. I try to address these issues without being overly graphic.

    And once a book gets overly (and really, almost gratuitously) “preachy,” I tune out. The whole book is lost on me. If it’s not something organic, that I believe the character would really be saying/thinking, it’s just ridiculous.



    • You’re absolutely correct, Heather. Lots of people want to point at the Bible and say, “See, the Bible has all kinds of violence and sex in it.” But the Bible doesn’t dwell on those things. It states them very matter-of-factly and moves on. We, the reader, know what took place (a murder, rape, incest, whatever) but there isn’t the overkill that you find in some fiction.


  6. I think you set it pretty well. I pretty much agree, On language, I don’t think certain words belong in a Christian novel at all, and its just as wrong to put it in a book as say it in conversation.
    I don’t like graphic descriptions of violence, and feel you do a great job handing that. Violence against kids is a big turn-off, I don’t like to read it even in fiction


  7. Reblogged this on Michael King and commented:

    This applies to my contemporary drama (as Michael King) as well as to my suspense (as Mike Dellosso). Where do you draw your lines?


  8. As a reader I seem to have the same guidelines as yourself. I don’t cope with blatant sexual scenes, sexual inuendo, or sex as a main part of the plot. Swearing, taking the Lord’s name in vain, also angers me. Graphic violence is another.

    To me all these things seem to weaken the plot, and show the motive of the author and his/her standards in life.

    As a Christian reader, I find that you have to be very discerning especially if you are reading fiction that is not Christian based and/or written by a Christian author. There are many safe author’s who are not Christian such as Clive Cussler, Robert Ludlum. I can only list a few here, as I don’t follow many like this as my main reading preference is Christian authors and Christian fiction.

    i do applaud/appreciate and support authors such as yourself who have standards/guidelines as you have outlined in this post. Then I know I am going to be safe, uplifted in my spirit, mind and in my walk with Christ.

    I see it as a responsibility of a Christian author to be a positive, God honouring/glorifying example to your readers, just as it is for all of us to be a good witness of Christ to everyone we meet and interact or have a relationship with in whatever form this takes.

    Just a few thoughts.


  9. It seems we are all along the same lines as yourself Mike. And like the others, I dislike anything sexual, and language. My main concern in the area of language is I do not want to see our Lord’s name taken into vain. If I ever run across that, I won’t even finish the book. Sorry, it is just the way I am built.

    I like the idea of the story not being too preachy, but like the undertones of faith. I love to see the contrast between good and evil.


    Mike Eagle
    TDS Member


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