Friday, January 1, 2016

Calling All Writers, Novelists, Screenwriters: Dianne's Challenge for 2016 and Beyond - Go Rogue!

A Challenge in the Wilderness
Image by
I've been thinking about this for a long time, and I decided the beginning of the New Year would be a good time to share my thoughts and a Challenge with you.

I've been thinking about the state of the United States and our world. I see us -- that is, human society -- in decline all over the world. I see the United States in decline -- morally, which affects us politically, spiritually, and in every other way -- and that makes me very sad.

But it's not just the United States. I see the same in the whole world. The results are increasing threats and actual events of violence, terrorism, crime, rumors of war, and more. The world has been simmering for a while and seems to be on the brink of boiling over.

The Power of Writers

So what does this have to do with writers and writing? I've been thinking a lot about our Power as writers. (Tweet that!) That Power has been used well in many instances. However I've been thinking more about how that Power has been mis-used: used for wrong, for bad, and has contributed to the moral decline.

I notice the Power of Writers more when I'm watching TV or a movie, but I believe other writers have just as much power (Tweet that!) -- whether writing novels or nonfiction, for magazines or newspapers, editorials, opinions, or even blogs. Even commercials ads in print or video involve writers. And so I want to talk to all writers of every type, whether I've listed you here or you write for another venue.

Writers are the starting place for so much of what the world consumes (Tweet that!): Books. Newspaper articles. Online articles. TV shows start with the creators and the scripts. So do movies. Not only the main show, but all the commercials or ads in between. Even the news shows begin with a writer putting something into text to put on the teleprompter.

As consumers we probably watch a lot more TV that movies. TVs are in our homes and most of us have them on every day, watching our favorite shows every week, taking in and digesting stories every single day.

Famous line used in Spider-Man.
Those of you who are avid readers may have your nose (and mind) in a book, newspaper, or tablet computer more than your TV on.

Whatever your preferred method of receiving information and entertainment, that's a lot of hours.

That's a lot of influence. That's a lot of power.

What is Being Done with The Power of Writers

If you are anything like me and my family, who prefer to watch more of the family-friendly material with what many now consider "old fashioned values," then it's hard to watch much on TV or in the movies any more. I know a lot of Christians who lament the state of television and movies. 

In the past few years there has been a surge of Christian and/or other faith-based movies -- some wildly successful, some flops. I believe we're only seeing the beginning of that trend and I expect there to be more coming in the future. This is a direct result of the many Christian groups and organizations that have taken root in Hollywood in the past decade or so. We are beginning to see the fruit of their labor and their prayers. Also, many production companies have taken root outside of Hollywood, in other parts of the country, and have made Christian faith-based films that have seen a huge audience.

But still, much of what we watch has content that offends our Christian values. Different families have different tolerance levels for different content. While my family may tolerate more violence than others may want (favorite movies of mine include "Terminator," "Die Hard," and "Lethal Weapon"), other families may tolerate more sexual content that I want. 

The type of content that bothers me the most is the sexual content in TV shows and movies. TV shows have, in my opinion, "normalized" sexual conduct that according to Christian values is not acceptable at all. Yes, I'm talking about characters having sex outside of marriage. This is nothing new in TV or movies, but now days I fear most people, including Christians, watch it in their living rooms and take it in without much thought.

I didn't watch The Big Bang Theory for many years for this very reason. I'll admit I've been watching it the past year or so. I love the humor. I love the characters. They have endeared themselves to my heart and I love what the writers do show after show. But the fact does not escape me that in nearly every single show sex is not only freely talked about, it is experienced. Many of the characters have slept with many different partners. Sex with anyone at any time is commonplace. I find this disturbing.

In more recent years, homosexual relationships have become commonplace in TV shows. As a matter of fact, it seems to me that all TV shows now seem to think they need to have their "token gays." Every show seems to think it must have a homosexual. Some of these homosexual characters come for an episode or two, or some become regulars. 

Another show my family enjoys very much is Major Crimes, the offshoot of The Closer" But the character, Rusty, a troubled young teenager who has been taken in by the good people of the Major Crimes Division, has come out as gay, which was completely acceptable to every character on the show, and his awkward journey to learn how to negotiate his gay relationships has become center stage. I don't want to watch that. It's not welcome in my living room.

My family has stopped watching several shows because of the homosexuality in them. We're closing to calling it quite with Major Crimes, as much as we like the rest of the show. But see how it sneaks in? Instead of booting it out of our living room for good, we put up with "a little." And then that little grows to be more prominent. 

Lest you think it's only fiction in these shows, the age of "coming out" has shown it's real life too. Just a couple of examples: Jim Parsons who plays Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theory is openly homosexual. Zachary Quinto who plays Spok in the new series of Star Trek movies is openly homosexual.

I realize those who create and produce TV shows are just trying to connect with their audience and provide what they think their audience wants. This may be a new thought to you: They are not leaders. They are followers -- following what they think society wants. What YOU want.

Free sex and homosexuality and more have become cool, and they are presented as cool in so many shows. It's unfortunate but it's as if the children are running the show and adults are not allowed. I've come to think of Hollywood as a teenager that never grows up. There are no boundaries. There's no discipline. There's no accountability.

As I'm writing this I wonder how much of a blow-back this blog post is going to get. Am I going to get slammed for implying or saying outright that homosexuality is wrong? If you watched the short video included with the page linked to Zachary Quinto above, you may have noticed he said he has not noticed any problems at all with his career in Hollywood since he came out as gay. Yet Christian actors, such as Kevin Sorbo, Stephen Baldwin, and Jim Caviezel, say it has hurt their careers to come out as Christian. (Tweet that!) Isn't it interesting what is now is honored and applauded and what some now attempt to peer-pressured away?

Pushing the Envelope

So you're probably thinking by now, what's my point? My point is that as writers, we have the power to write stories with characters who are moral, who are good and godly and live in ways that are of good moral conduct. I believe there is a huge audience out there that is hungry for just such characters. The surprising box office numbers of Christian faith-based films supports my belief.

A few months ago I had the privilege of mentoring a small group of writers. While the guidelines for the group did not require participants to be Christians, the rules were that their writings would expound upon a Bible verse and would promote Christian values. Not surprisingly some of them pushed the envelope when it came to Christian morals. 

That's okay. I'm not saying stories, even Christian stories, can't have worldly elements. Of course they can and, at times, even must in order to tell a good story that has meaning. (If you don't think Christian stories can have such things as violence, sex outside of marriage, adultery, rape, and even homosexuality, you haven't been reading your Bible.) 

But I've noticed that most of the time it seems that writers seem to think their stories MUST have those elements, like TV shows seem to think they must have their token gays. I'm trying to determine if this is just among young writers (either in age/generation or those of any age but young writers as in just starting out as writers). I haven't figured that one out yet.

I don't mean to pick on my young writers who I was mentoring. I've just been thinking about all of this for so long that I was really pleased that group gave me the opportunity to share my thoughts and to issue my own heart-felt challenge to one up-and-coming writer.

He gave me an opportunity to issue my challenge for the first time. This is the same challenge I want to issue to you now. 

My Challenge to You - Go Rogue!

This is an excerpt, edited and tweaked for you, of what I wrote to that young writer, and now I'm challenging you to the same:

I see young (or even older) storytellers wanting to "push the envelope" in their stories. Hollywood has been pushing the envelope for a very long time. Hollywood has pushed the envelope in directions that are not good or godly.

We can also use our power as writers to push the envelope in a different direction – toward the good, the godly. In other words, we can have powerful scenes without being obscene, or gay, or violent, or ___ (fill in the blank).

In Hollywood, this would be truly going rogue and truly pushing the envelope.

Perhaps in book publishing or any other kind of writing this is also going rogue and pushing the envelope.

I hope more Christians writers, whether in print or online or in film, will use their Writer-Power to push the envelope, Hollywood, and the world, in a good and godly direction. (Tweet that!)

That's my challenge to myself as well.

When you look at your goals for 2016 and beyond, how might you take this challenge and determine to use your Power as a Writer to affect the world for good?