Monday, September 22, 2014

On Writing: Choosing Your Religion

As an armchair anthropologist, I have long been fascinated by different religions and the roles they play within and across cultures. As an avid “spec fic” reader, some of my favorite books have had religion as a central theme. Some of the most notable include:
·         Mary Doria Russel’s spectacular The Sparrow
·         Walter Miller’s classic Canticle for Leibowitz
·         Parke Godwin’s wonderful Waiting for the Galactic Bus
·         Jacqueline Carey’s beautiful Kushiel’s Dart
·         James Morrow's intriguing Only Begotten Daughter.

As an author, I’m intrigued and overwhelmed by the idea of incorporating religion into my own writing. How presumptuous! Dangerous and challenging (to do it “correctly” or well). As I’ve mentioned, there’s an angels-and-demons story demanding my attention…eventually…

But how richly rewarding it could be. Whether you incorporate existing religion(s) or create an entirely new one, it’s worth spending some time consciously thinking about the role religion will play in your story. Because even if it’s not overt, I can pretty much guarantee you *it’s still there*.

At their heart, religion and faith are about trying to understand the world and universe around us, including these central questions:
  • Who am I?
  • Where did I come from?  
  • Why are we here?
  • Where will I go when I die?
  • What is the nature of good and evil (and why do bad things happen)?
If you’re incorporating existing religions, you have plenty of material to work with. If you’re creating your own, you may want to start with these basics:
·         Define a focus, a central theme, idea, or person.
·         Define a central belief system, consisting of 2 or 3 main dogmas.
·         Design rituals.
·         Design aesthetics, in terms of materials, symbols, etc.

You should also consider the complicated role religion plays in history, politics, societal rules, and more.

I would love to hear your thoughts on incorporating religion as an aspect of your writing!


And so, with a loving heart, I offer you
I’ve heard many translations. Here’s one I love:
The light of the universe that shines within me recognizes
the light of the universe that shines within you.

Dogs in House

Time writing
~45 minutes, including minimal research

September word count


  1. Writing report:
    Novel editing, Ch 34
    Time: 10 minutes

  2. Interesting question, as the novel I'm currently working on is almost entirely about religion, although I doubt that's clear until fairly near the end. One fun thing about religion in fantasy is that you can set up multiple layers: not only what people believe, but how much this reflects the reality of the gods/spirits/whatever your religion is based upon.

    I remember when I started my current WIP that I said "I really have to figure out how the gods work". Little did I know then that 'how the gods work' would actually become the main theme of my novel.

    Lois McMaster Bujold has written some fantasy novels exploring concepts of religion -- their names escape me at the moment! -- but one of the things I really liked about them was that there were various versions of belief held by different groups, some of which matched with what small glimpse of the reality behind things we as readers were able to see, and others of which remained mysterious to us as it did to the characters.

  3. After I'd exhausted all the mythology and MG friendly history/religion books in our tiny library system, I picked up my first speculative fiction/SF/F because it spoke to those same concepts.