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SHOULD YOU HAVE RELIGION IN YOUR WORLD?

November 3, 2021

            I’ve discussed religion in your writing in both 2017 and 2019, but it keeps coming up in the Facebook (and no, I still won’t call it Meta) forums. While I harken back to (mainly) the 2019 article, I’m also going for my latest take on the subject, which is really how I’ve always felt about using religion in a story (or otherwise) context.

            In world building, I discussed that you cannot forget about “relijjin.” Yup, that often uncomfortable subject that quite often gets people riled up, fired up, on their toes and ready to rumble. There are many ways to use belief systems that color a world. This not only applies to fantasy, but real world stories as well.

WHY USE RELIGION AT ALL?

            There’s no rule book that says you have to use religion in any book you write. It’s purely a matter of taste and whether the story calls for it. It can be a matter of plot or just color. If neither calls for it, don’t add it “juss cuz.” There has to be a reason. On the other hand, if you’re creating a world, such as in fantasy, it adds more realism and color to have real-world cultural thingies like religion, just as there are different languages.

            If you’re a super-religious person, you may think religion goes hand-in-hand with whatever you’re writing about. However, it can also be a huge turnoff for a lot of readers. To gain a wider audience, it’s better to stay neutral.

REAL-WORLD FICTION

            This plays into regions as much as the characters you utilize in the story. If you’re story is in South America, Catholicism is going to play into local religion and culture. If you’re in the Middle East, Islam is going to be hard to avoid.

            Here in the You Ess And A, it can be a mixed bag of beliefs and you can go with one of hundreds of beliefs based on region, or any grab bag you want.

            You can disregard religion if you choose. It doesn’t have to be part of your world.

            I must mention that by religion, this could also include atheism, agnostic, and non-religious beliefs, because after all, they are beliefs – philosophies of life. If they somehow play a key role in the story, use them.

FANTASY OR SCIENCE FICTION WORLDS

            In world building for fantasy and science fiction, religion and belief systems are hard to ignore when creating your world. They’re integral parts of almost any society. With that comes the complexity of rules, prejudices, rituals, icons, and all the trappings. How far you want to go with it (or not) is up to you.

            Does said religion dominate the story?

            Does it only play a minor role?

            Does this religion affect the plot?

            Is this religion just color?

IS THE RELIGION OR LACK THEREOF A POLITICAL OR PHILOSOPHICAL STATEMENT?

            This is where things get dicey.

            It’s one thing to add real-world authenticity to your story, regardless of genre. It’s quite another to add an agenda. If it’s simply reflecting your observations of the world, fine.

            If you have an agenda, watch out.

            If you’re out to preach, you could alienate a lot of readers.

            You have to step carefully when you add in a religion and start doing stuff with it that comes off not only as preachy, but promoting a specific agenda.

            If you slip in a bit of philosophy, and don’t shove it down the reader’s throat, that’s one thing.

            If you bludgeon them over the head with it, jerk them out of the story with blatant preaching or bashing, you’ve not only violated their trust, but alienated them as future readers.

UNINTENDED/INTENDED CONSEQUENCES

            What you now have done is made yourself a pariah.

            What’s worse is if you’re so religious, you’re blind to what you’re doing. When someone points it out to you and you get upset/freak out because someone illustrates what’ll happen, you do nothing to change it. Your book fails to sell, and you become a pariah, labeled as a religious nut. I’ve seen it happen before.

            Some embrace that and your book does succeed in a niche market. However, a few have seen the light and changed their tune and had success in the conventional market.

Whether a niche is for the better for them is hard to say. It all depends on what their original goal is or was. For some, preaching was their point all along.

SUMMARY

            Religion can be used to great effect to color your world. It can also be avoided if so desired. Either way, if used correctly, it’s a tool to help your world come to life. Used incorrectly, it can ruin a good thing.

            Choose wisely, Grasshopper!

            Happy writing!

4 Comments leave one →
  1. November 3, 2021 1:48 am

    Interesting post. Religion is a part of my first novel, but despite the title (The Cross We Bear), and that one of the main characters joins the priesthood, I believe in this case, once the book is read, you can see it is not the main focal point of the story. But having said that, I do in fact, question in the storyline whether a religious life is worth the sacrifice of personal happiness, especially with the influences of a secular world.

    • November 3, 2021 1:53 am

      Also, there is a excerpt on my site, if you care to have a look.

    • November 4, 2021 1:13 am

      Thanks so much for your feedback.

      Religion can be part of a novel without it being preachy. That is fine. It can even BE preachy if that is your target audience, but you need to make it clear at the offset and not sneak it in. Dan Brown is a good example of religion being the subject matter with the book being a thriller and not being preachy but still being steeped in the church at the same time. There are plenty of others like that.

      All the best!

      Fred

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