A way with worlds: 13 - Writing religion in your continuity
by Steven Savage of Seventh Sanctum
Page 1 of 1
QUESTION: I want to
write religion in my continuity. What do I do?
ANSWER: Write it.
(Taps foot. Waits.)
OK, lets face it, that's not
much of an answer. The problem of course being that the question
itself is not the question people actually mean to ask when it
comes to writing religion in their continuities.
Most people, when they
consider writing religion in their story and continuity, are
asking one or two of three basic questions:
- How the heck do I write
original religions in an original setting.
- How do I write existing
religions in a setting like our own?
- How do I focus on a
Well #1 is a column unto
itself, look for it soon. #2 and #3 are tightly related, and are
the focus of this column.
So, lets roll up our
sleeves, and get spiritual. Buckle your seatbelts, it's going to
be not so much a bumpy ride, but an interesting one.
QUESTION: OK, what's
some good general advice on writing religious stuff that really
First of all, its a good idea to remember religion
is an element of many peoples lives, cultures, and stories. In
fact, even without any major or even minor religious themes, you
may run into religious issues and need some knowledge. Ask
yourself how far you can drive in your home town and not see a
church or similar religious establishment . . .
Know your subject. I cannot
emphasize this enough. If you don't know it, do your research, if
you don't want to do your research, then work around what you
don't know. Just remember things can come back to haunt you if
you to try, and religion is almost inevitably far more complex
than you may think.
Never, under any
circumstances, when writing a religion in any detail assume you
can learn from it by "the competition." Without going
into any great detail, there have been times of rather sad
religious conflicts in human history, and conflict breeds
propaganda. Even assuming about different denominations of a
religion you practice can lead to vast errors.
Even in writing a religion
and a denomination you practice, you may not know it all. If
you're serious about a major religious theme, even with something
you think you know, be open minded. Check a book or two, surf
some web sites, see if there's anything that you don't know that
may trip you up.
Remember that things happen
for a reason - make sure any religion you write is part of
continuity, understood, with cause and effect. Traditions are
there for a reason (even if it has passed), ideas change, evolve,
conflict, etc. People have their religious practices for a
reason, even if its not always the one they say or think.
Finally, if you are going to
touch on religious themes, remember this: you do not know it all
and you do not have the answers. Religion is a complex issue of
history, personality, seeking, insight, accident, regret, and
ecstasy. If people are still arguing over it today, its likely
not many people have gotten it 100% right ;)
doesn't that seem pretty simple?
Yes, its a classic - do your research. There's nothing
much else to say.
And once, again, the
questions asked aren't exactly the questions, let's jump to the
QUESTION: I want to
write about religious themes in my world without people hating
This is the question most people are really asking when
it comes to writing religion.
People will dislike you for
a variety of reasons. Live with it. It's hard to do something,
that, somehow, won't offend someone somewhere. Likely at least
one person out there would, if they knew you, resent you for even
being alive. Don't let it get to you.
What you can do when writing
religious issues, is to be fair, realistic, and intelligent. You
can do your research, you can write and say "this is what I
think" and "this is what I found." And you can
live with the fact some folks won't buy it.
You're a writer. Write.
QUESTION: OK, lets
be honest, I want to write about a religious theme and/or
religious characters. Yes, I want to do a religiously themed
Fine. Do it.
Look, there's nothing wrong
with writing religion, it's part of people's lives. It's been
there from the beginning. Its here now. It's an element of
cultures. Heck, if you ignore it, you're missing out on important
parts of people's lives.
Yes, some people will say
it's not Politically Correct (whatever the HECK that means
anymore). Some people won't like your handling of a religion, or
your interpretation of religion. Some people avoid writing about
it just to avoid conflicts, which I consider wimping out.
The problem is preaching
versus exploring. Save preaching for non-fiction, because if you
use fiction to preach it can stink of dishonesty, of twisting the
plot to support an agenda and deceive the reader. It can also,
quite frankly, force your hand and make you write things to
support your attempt to deliver a message instead of good writing
- and it will show, and any communications you do manage may be
Instead, explore. Set up
your characters, your settings, and see what happens, see where
you go and what you find out. Much like in real life, religion is
about what you find, not what you tell other people. Write as a
writer, exploring characters and settings that happen to have
things you're interested in and relate to.
Will you be surprised? Yes.
Odds are if you explore religious issues close to you, you're
going to learn a few things you never expected to. However, it'll
be honest writing - you and your reader will get something out of
it, and you'll share in the experiences. Besides, you won't be
QUESTION: What about
writing religious experiences?
Well, people have them, argue why and how, but people do.
However, they're darned difficult to write - and they can be very
subjective and very hard to communicate.
First of all, again, know
your subject. Secondly - its best to try to communicate effect
not perception. Unless you're adept at communicating the
uncommunicatable (for example, William Blake or Robert Anton
Wilson), try and deal with the effects of religious experiences.
Secondly, again, don't
contrive. Read, research, extrapolate, but don't yank something
out of thin air to facilitate a story. It makes your theme
shallow, the experiences shallow, and the story shallow. A plot
device is a plot device no matter what you call it.
And yes, if you've had some
of your own, draw on them - but remember that its hard to
communicate and avoid preaching. Show.
There's nothing wrong with writing religion. However, be
a writer and an explorer and a researcher when you do. You'll
write better, learn more, and share more. Draw on your own
experiences if you want, but keep their subjectivity and your
limits in mind.
Take a trip to my own alternate world, the Crossworld of Xai, at http://www.seventhsanctum.com/xai/
Copyright© 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002 Steven Savage, sffworld.com. All rights reserved. No part of this may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the author.