I’ve never been shy about being a Christian writer who dips into adult content. The Bible is Rated R, so there’s more leeway than you think. And I’m certainly not writing to children, not this time at least. Plus, I self-published this novella. I can make my own rules, right?
So…why did I change my tune and edit out my own work?
When you’re writing edgy content, you have to ask yourself two questions: “Why am I writing this?” and “Is it worth it?”
Problem #1: Naughty, Naughty, Naughty
In Ferryman, there is a side character named Venus. She’s a shapeshifter who uses her powers to become any man’s desire and thus get some money off of him, whether a free, flirtatious meal or a night to remember.
So sex was always going to be a topic. I couldn’t shy away from it without diluting the character and her relationship with the protagonist.
However, I wanted to do it right. I had no intention of writing smut or erotica. I wanted to tantalize, not titillate. What’s the difference? Tantalization is a silky dress. Titillation is a thong.
That may be a bad metaphor since the character is sometimes entirely naked, but the point was I wanted the presentation to be highly sensual without crossing into raunchy territory.
Blurry line, right?
So, I aimed for poetry. More simile, metaphorical imagery, indirect description, that sort of thing.
As usual, she looks like she wasn’t constructed, but ladled out like melted chocolate and smoothed into shape with a spoon.
But then, one single line suddenly crossed that blurry line. It wasn’t poetic or sensual, but rather described an actual, sexual act. No silk, just flesh.
At first, I paid it no mind, since there’s way worse stuff out there. But in the end, I realized that wasn’t the kind of line I wanted to write. And it would certainly make more people uncomfortable. All for what? A line I didn’t really care about?
In editing, you need to cut everything that doesn’t fit, whether it’s a joke that doesn’t match a character, a scene that clashes with the theme of your book, or a line that jumps into strip-club territory when you were aiming for jazz bar.
Problem #2: Potty Mouth
There’s a bit of cussing in this book, which is fine because I was aiming for PG-13 (very, VERY hard PG-13). However, I once again forgot what maturity is for and dropped in an F-bomb just to be edgy.
Now I’ve had a few words about Christians and cuss words, even how I’m personally not offended by the F-bomb (more on that here), but I know that word jumps the content rating up a notch, and pushes many people’s tolerance.
So what, right? They don’t like it, they can put the book down. I don’t mind losing a few sales over…one…easily-changed…word…
If the whole book had been filled with R-rated language, one more would have made no difference. But here, it was the only one, and when I examined myself, it was really just for shock value. It didn’t need to be that particular word. True, the character herself (Venus again) was no stranger to cuss words, but the crux of the line, the joke I was trying to make, didn’t hinge on an F-bomb.
“Venus!” I shout. “You okay?”
“I’m good,” she calls back. “But if you don’t kill every bitch and bastard in this building, then we aren’t friends anymore!”
The joke was her over-the-top reaction. So while adding a few “bad” words fit the character, I didn’t have to use that particular one. Two PG-13 words would be easier to swallow than an F-bomb, and the awkwardness of the line actually added to the humor in a way the F-bomb couldn’t.
And you know what? Nobody’s complained about that line.
Wisdom Is Your Friend
Question 1: Why am I writing this? Because the character is an edgy one.
Question 2: Is it worth it? Not if two tiny, easy fixes can attract more readers.
Venus is still a sexual being and she cusses on occasion. I didn’t change her, just the presentation. Another book might have gone that extra mile, but I didn’t need to and I didn’t want to.
And some people will still be offended or upset by the material I kept. I can’t help that without fundamentally changing the characters and the story itself.
But so far, it seems to have paid off. Amazon and Goodreads reviewers have cautioned readers about the adult content, but still said they liked Ferryman. Imagine how one raunchy description and one F-bomb might have set them against my book, or had them warning people away from me.
Or how those little things might have misrepresented my future books, many of which are far less mature in nature.
Find the line for your particular book and be careful not to cross it.
Tell me in the comments if you’ve ever had to do cautious editing like that, or if you wished someone had.