Today’s topic is a heavy one…Religion.
No, my beliefs are not being discussed or mentioned, at all. I’m not trying to make you believe or not believe something.
I’m simply talking about writing religion into your books, whether they’re set in the real world or a world you made up specifically for the book.
Religion is a huge part of society. Its one of those things that has the potential to completely shape how an entire civilization evolves. Its presence or absence has a huge impact on the world it’s set in, and as such, it should be treated with the levity it deserves, regardless of your own religious beliefs.
At the heart of religion, people want to feel cared for. They want to feel like someone more powerful has a plan for their life. They need an explanation for things they don’t understand, whether they’ve had a strange experience or are simply wondering what happens after death.
Religion provides these things. It holds answers and safety and structure.
It often demands certain practices in exchange for these answers and safety and structure, though, shaping day to day life for any who follow devoutly.
As such, you can’t just…glaze over it and expect no one to notice that not a single person in your story believes in any type of religion whatsoever.
Especially if you’re building your own world.
Whatever religion you believe in the real world may or may not influence what you write. You’re making up a religion and a world. It might have similarities with real world religions, but it won’t be exactly the same.
So go crazy.
It doesn’t have to be logical or easily proved. If it were easy to prove, it wouldn’t be religion. It would be scientific fact. Religion, by its very nature, involves some sort of faith in the unknown and unknowable.
If you want your characters to worship a dragon that lives in the stars and cries when they misbehave (maybe they live near an intersection of rivers and heavy rain makes it flood a lot, idk), go for it.
You just want to make sure it’s consistent within itself unless the story is about figuring out why the religion goes against itself. Tons of unintentional contradictions make for plot holes, things you definitely don’t want in your story. So be thorough.
One of the first things to consider if you’re building a world is whether your characters are surrounded by pagan or monotheistic religions.
Maybe they all believe in the same gods, but one tribe worships one god and a neighboring tribe worships a different one. Does that cause tension? Strife?
Maybe one faction interprets the same religion differently than another faction. That certainly causes problems in the real world. Does it cause trouble in your story?
These are things you need to consider.
Now, unlike the real world where no single person can know for sure whether any one religion is correct, as an author, you know that about your world. You know if one is correct and another is wrong. You know if they all contain little grains of truth.
You know if maybe…they’re all wrong. Do any of your characters know the truth about their world and the gods that govern it?
Or maybe they think they know.
That one person would see the world very differently than the people around them.
You should probably also consider how the god views the world, or at least, how the people think the god views the world. People who think their god is forgiving are likely to conduct themselves differently than people who think their god is easily angered and vindictive.
And if they think their god just…doesn’t care? That the world was created, and then that was it? What then?
Easily angered gods might demand human sacrifices. Forgiving gods may wish only for repentance. Or perhaps, they’ll demand sacrifice to show sorrow over one’s actions.
It all plays a role in the world you’re building and the lives of the characters in it, and it’s your job as the author to figure that out.
Now, if you’re writing a story set in the real world, good news! The religions already exist. There are still some things to consider.
Again, not everyone believes the same thing. The people in your story need to reflect that.
Unless your story is set in an Amish community, and never leaves that community, the odds of everyone in the story being of the same religion…are pretty slim.
The world has become a hell of a melting pot. Diversity is everywhere. What people believe in regards to religion or sexual orientation or race or gender or whatever…differs.
The odds of two people believing exactly the same on every topic is pretty much impossible. Unless one of them has cult leader charisma, and brainwashes the other one. Which, to be fair, has been the basis of many stories.
But it’s typically set against the backdrop of other people who believe differently, so…you still have to consider multiple viewpoints.
Now, if your main character has the same religious beliefs as you…be careful. Yes, that means you have more insight into the inner workings of that religion and common dilemmas faced by those who practice it.
But you also run the risk of coming off a little…preachy…if you’re not careful.
Maybe that’s the point. Maybe you’re trying to bring people over to your religion through your writing.
But that’s something that you need to commit to. Way ahead of time. And something that should be handled with tact.
A lot of tact.
Now, for the sake of realism, you probably need to show your character having doubts, at some point. It adds tons of extra drama and gives the character more depth.
For example, I set my post-apocalyptic novel, After (new title to be announced later), right here in southern Illinois.
A.K.A. The Bible Belt.
Christianity is huge here.
And the apocalypse is fucking fantastic at testing faith.
But different people react differently. Some people cling to their faith for comfort in the face of adversity. Others relinquish it completely. Some believe but get angry, while other people fall into spirals of doubt.
Some people do all those things in the course of a single particularly trying afternoon.
What happens to each individual character’s beliefs after trauma depends on their personalities, their life experiences to that point, the strength of their beliefs, their upbringing, their surroundings.
All these things play a role.
As do about a million other things.
All of which, you need to think about.
So, whether you’re religious or not, there’s a good chance that some sort of religion will influence whatever world you write your story in.
Don’t be lazy and pretend no one ever heard of religion.
Anyway, this past week, I spent a decent amount of time editing my post-apocalyptic novel. I also did more work on book covers (a few options took a ton of time in photoshop) and well…played a lot of minecraft. Lol.
I know, it’s not writing related, but that game is so addictive. And it was nice to play a video game again. I’ve been so caught up in trying to get everything done that I haven’t played any game in…weeks? Months? I’m honestly not sure.
I’ll be announcing giveaway rules next week, so come back next Monday to learn how you can win a signed copy of Soul Bearer, along with a shit ton of swag and possibly a signed copy of Annabelle.
Keep reading. Keep writing.