Jaimie Krycho

sugar and spice
and copyrights


3:18 pm on Thursday, August 1st, 2013

The Philosophical, Prurient, and Profane

As I begin to write my second fantasy novel, I find myself thinking about the definition of art in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, and one aspect in particular which I agree with. The philosopher describes art as an imitation of reality that helps us understand reality better, even (perhaps, especially) when reality is disagreeable. It attempts to reach past an external thing to represent deeper meaning contained within it – it does not simply copy the object it sees, but fills in gaps, so to speak, to make sense of how that object fits into a larger picture.

Fiction is like that. Characters and places, dialogue and theme, show us a type and shadow of everyday life. However, a fiction author has room – the whole world, in fact – to play around with the circumstances in order to expose the currents of thought and feeling flowing beneath what is outwardly said and done. Plus, since the reader is sufficiently removed from fiction, he is better able to understand those currents than he would be from observing his own day-to-day life.

Anyway, I say all that as a foundation for saying that I don’t always agree with what I portray. As a Christian, I feel the tension (particularly in treatment of sex and profanity) that drives some Christians/writers to become Christian writers – that is, writers who stick to explicitly Christian fiction, that neither expects nor tolerates things like fornication or profanity. However, because these things are part of our world, and because I am a “secular” author, I choose to use them from time to time.

This is not to say that I sanction the pornographic or gratuitous use of either sex or (potentially) offensive language. There is a balance, I believe, between creating a realistically “rough” world and creating rough-toned art. I am also not beyond the idea of secular art without sex or profanity – how can we forget the masterpieces of J.R.R. Tolkien? – though that kind of storytelling lends itself better to particular genres and styles.

What do you think? Does this bring to mind anything you’ve recently read or written? Do you hate what I’ve just said and think it’s bunk, or do you agree? Give me a shout-out, dear reader!

Readers' thoughts (4)

  1. At 3:32 pm on August 1, 2013 , Sarah replied:

    When I was first drafting my novel, I started with morals and lessons I wanted my characters to learn. As I began to write, it became clear that the fruits of my labor were nothing short of garbage. It was seriously a craptastic mess. When I instead created authentic characters with real conflicts and goals, and allowed them to interact with their world, it was so much better. And the result – the characters learned amazing lessons along the way and I hope would better the heart and mind of a reader.

    I totally agree with you though on the frustration of the Christian Fiction market. One of my character’s mother is a drug addict. It’s not glorified, it’s a real problem with negative implications for my character that he must work through. But because of references to drugs, my book is completely disqualified from the Christian market.


  2. At 4:17 pm on August 1, 2013 , Stephen replied:

    I wonder about this too. My first novel-writing excursion had a lot of profanity and two scenes of sexuality (although neither would get above PG-13 rating) because it was about a rock band. I read it again recently, and I felt more upset at my poor plotting than my use of those elements.

    But I remember when I was writing those scenes and elements that I had a prurient interest in those topics: I wasn’t socially allowed to go around saying or doing those things, so it was fun to make my characters do them. I think that was probably a poor reason to include them. Could I have written it just as well (or better) without the sexuality or language? I don’t know. It would have had a very different feel, like you note. I don’t like plastic worlds, but I also don’t like gratuitous ones either.

    Going forward for me, I am choosing to write stories that lean away from romance as the main theme so as to avoid needing sexual encounters as critical plot elements. On the other hand, I’ve chosen to be frank with language, and I am okay with profanity that fits the character. I think the balance is different for each author and even each story.


    • At 1:51 pm on August 14, 2013 , Jaimie Krycho replied:

      I feel you on that, Stephen. I approached some of my first short stories in a similar way. As I touched on in the post, I think that the inclusion of (these particular) vices really depends on the story you’re telling. I guess what I was trying to say is not necessarily that profanity and sexuality have to be in a story, but that if you’re attempting to depict a realistically human world, remember that language and sexuality are part of the warp and woof of the world, for better or for (as we’re talking about here) worse, and they should be kept in mind as part of the fabric of your characters. There are nuances here, for sure. I didn’t do the topic justice in a short post, but there’s my off-the-cuff opinion. 🙂


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