Saturday, November 08, 2008

Writing Faith-Filled Fiction

One of my pet peeves in reading is characters who lose all common sense when the author needs to further a plot. You know: the brilliant scientist who forgets some basic law of physics; the brilliant military tactician who makes an error even a cadet wouldn't do; the street-tough black belt who doesn't get a punch in when jumped by an unarmed bad guy. These things can work when there's a true motivating reason: the scientist is in an unfamiliar environment and completely panicked; the commander is making an unorthodox move in order to impress his general; the black-belt is drunk.

However, I've sometimes seen religion badly used as an excuse to make characters do illogical and uncharacteristic things. The scientist throws out empirical evidence because his findings contradict his personal (or the author's personal) interpretation of a particular Bible verse; the military man stops fighting or doing a standard duty because it's prayer time and he hasn't received official permission from his superior to miss it; the black belt chooses to be beaten because he might hurt the person if he fought back and "God wants us to love our neighbor." Or, worse yet, the character does something stupid for no other reason than to let the author put him or her into a position where they can preach later.

Another pet peeve of mine is when someone writes about a religion they don't know and makes assumptions they never check out. Thus, you sometimes see Catholic scientists who say evolution is wrong because it's against "the Church's" beliefs. (The Church's official teachings say nothing of the sort.) Or you get Muslim soldiers who simply stop fighting at prayer times.

Sometimes, this is simple ignorance, but sometimes, the writer actually researches a religion he does not know and makes an erroneous conclusion based on misinformation. This is easier than ever because of the Internet.

In order to help writers who want to incorporate religion into their stories, I've started a quarterly newsletter, Faith-Filled Fiction. It's an educational e-zine rather than an entertainment, and contains articles about how to add religion in ways that enhance the story and add depth to the characters rather than use them as mouthpieces for a sermon-as-story or give them a handy excuse to do something stupid and otherwise uncharacteristic. It also has articles written about religions by someone who is a faithful follower of that religion, so you get first-hand information from a believer. These articles usually contain links the writer trusts as accurate for further research. Finally, Faith-Filled Fiction has a guest column where the writer talks about how religion has affected his or her writing.

Faith-Filled Fiction covers all the world religions, and even made-up ones. The goal is to educate rather than evangelize. If you're interested in subscribing, just sign up on the website at To view an issue, go to


Inkpot said...

It is very interesting that you blog about this because it is something that I was talking to a friend about the other night. I am so sick of reading books and seeing movies where, when the world starts to end some idiot jumps up crying it is the will of God and joins in with the murdering and such. I understand some people might (well maybe) respond that way, but why do ALL religious people have to be depicted as 1. idiots 2. cowards or 3. homocidal maniacs just waiting for aliens/zombies/beasties to invade to give them a reason for murdering and controlling people. Even in less violent fiction religious people (or people with morals) are depicted as weak wimpy people who scheme and lie because they are afraid to hurt someone's feelings or do the wrong thing, thereby doing 'the wrong thing'. It is hard to pick out a handful of positively depicted religions - of any kind - in fiction. And another thing, do people not pray anymore? I know you don't want to clutter up your prose with your protaganists praying every five seconds, but mentioning it once or twice would be nice. I know if I was facing an army of the undead I would certainly be beseeching God for His assistance. As a Catholic, I am biased towards how we are shown in fiction, but I can't think of any religion being shown in a good light, or even in an unbaised way and, because I know about Catholism, it is laughable how some authors 'reimagine' the tennants of the faith. I admire Dean Koontz for writing 'Brother Odd', such a pro-God book as well as a good read.

Ok, rant over. :)

Karina Fabian said...

We're watching Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles right now and the FBI agent is a very religious man. While I disagree with the interpretation of Revelations and Armageddon, I've been very pleased at how they depict him as a caring, thoughtful, intelligent man who gains strength from his faith.

Ironically, I have a story in which "some idiot jumps up crying it's the will of God and joins in the murdering." Of course, in his case, he is an idiot, the God is Usire and he's killing a bunch of pixies that have taken the form of grasshoppers. So whaddya know? It works.

It is getting better, though. I liken it to the Christian Music industry. It used to be that Christian music mean hymns only; now you not only find Christian rock stations, but also songs that unabashedly include references to prayer, the Bible and going to church.