Monday, April 21, 2014

R is for Religion

I have been on so many writing courses where students are given a list of questions to answer about their character, or a photograph, and they are then asked to make a fictional personality from the image. Yet I rarely see the tutor ask us what religion the character is a member of. 

I am writing from the UK. We are a multi cultured society, therefore we have disagreements over religion. I have many friends who say they don't know what they believe in. Or that religion doesn't matter. 

I say that the WRITER MUST know this about the character. I know that at this point some may disagree, but let me explain.

Despite the writers personal views, whether we admit it or not, religion is a definite factor of society. In the UK it doesn't matter what you believe, the shops are still closed on a Sunday morning, Christmas music starts playing in department stores as early as October. 

I think religion either plays a big part of someone's life or no part at all. However, it will affect how your character behaves. So today's editing checklist.

Do you know what religion your character is?

Hare Krishna

Does he or she believe? 
Are they observant? 
Do they go to confession?
Shun pork?
Wear a cross?
Pretend they are not in if Mormons come to the door or listen politely?
How does he or she feel about religion compared to the rest of the family?
Would they have a church wedding to please their Mum?
Is he on she ready to believe in something or is spiritual without going to an organised event?
Do they have guilt? Or are they rebelling? Do they dislike rituals?
Do they follow the latest New Age trends? Are they open to different beliefs?

When did they become devout or lose faith? What triggered it?

Do they have any beliefs that lurk beneath the surface that they don't know they have? 

If you spend just a few minutes thinking about your characters religious background you will gain a deeper understanding on how they will react to events in your plot! 


  1. Religion hasn't loomed large in any book I've written so far, but a short story I'm extending to a novel does feature a religion, so I'm having to work that through at the moment.
    Sophie's Thoughts & Fumbles - A to Z Ghosts
    Fantasy Boys XXX - A to Z Drabblerotic

  2. An interesting concept, which I will have to think about. Here in Australia we live in a largely secular society. Shops are open all day Sunday. Just the same, on Good Friday and Christmas (and only on those days) most businesses are closed. So yes, even those whose beliefs are different (or absent) are affected.

  3. I will admit to not fully thinking about this with any of my characters.... but, you are so right----
    Just because I'm not religious, doesn't mean that my characters aren't.
    It's interesting the little things that seem so obvious once you've thought about them. my characters' religious views certainly didn't click until you mentioned it. Thanks for that :-)

  4. An interesting post! The novel I'm writing is about a Monk in the 8th century so I've been thinking quite a lot about the effect which religion has on people. Religion, and non-belief, does affect people's behaviour and should be considered as a character point :)

  5. Such a soft topic i always hesitated to touch in all my writings,well liked your free will though

  6. My protagonists are usually atheists. The antagonist is sometimes a Christian >:)

    Cold As Heaven

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  8. I'm so happy I found this blog :) I was starting to feel quite down about the progress of my manuscript but after reading several of your posts, I'm thinking I'm on the right track! Thank you so much for offering this kind of advice.
    PS: I know everything there is to know about all of my characters - they each have their own backgrounds and stories to tell.

    (Forgot to mention that I'm from the A-Z challenge @...)

  9. I think religion is a very big part of a character, whether they have one or not, it is an essential part of someone's personality and choices. Great post!! Thanks for visiting my post earlier as well.

  10. Great post!
    On my part, I think about the spiritual components of my characters psyche. Maybe they don't have any specific religion but are they affected by the cultural components of the religious background of the society they live in?
    For example, if you write a story that is set in december downtown New York city, we should, at least once, read about the effervescent shopping and the big christmas tree at Bloomingdale (or somewhere). Even if the characters are not religious, they live in a context where there are cultural rules.
    It is a great set of question to ask in building strong characters. Thank you!
    With great respect! A.

  11. I never really thought about a character's religion when reading a book, unless it's specifically stated. I can see why this would be necessary for the writer to know.

  12. No religion per se in the traditional sense of the word, although I do use certain religious elements as background in my stories (Hell, Purgatory, Archangels, Demons).

    A-Z Challenge at Father Nature's Corner