Developing Your Character’s Spirituality
Ask the Author: When did you first know you were going to be a writer, and what was that moment like for you? — Molly Jo Realy
Aaron: I’m not sure I’m really there yet. I’ve always considered myself a writer. I suppose, it’s when I first found publication as an adult. When I signed my first contract, I was pretty excited. I was also excited when I signed with an agent for the first time. Those, for me, were pretty big steps. But I think I was also cautiously optimistic. It was a strange time in publishing, and I wasn’t convinced that I’d be able to make it. Now that I have a few books under my belt, I’m more confident, but I still feel like I’ve got a ways to go.
Al: My first book hit the shelves in 1996. Of course, I had been writing long before that. I had let the book sit for five years. So I wrote my first novel in 1991, about 25 years ago and I did short form writing before that, including writing for businesses (ads, videos, etc). But what I really wanted to do was write full time and that’s a tough transition. I had been planning to make the jump but I had family obligations and bills to pay. I saved what I could, I had some contracts lined up and then I turned 50. I decided if I was going to make the jump I had better do it soon. That was about 13 years ago (and I’ve only had to spend a couple of months living on the street. What was that moment like? Exhilarating and bone chilling. Unless you’re a big bestseller, being a working writer is scary and not for the faint of heart.
- Every character has a spiritual make-up.
- To be clear, we don’t mean they all ascribe to a particular faith, be it Buddhist or Muslim or Christian. This includes the lack of faith as well. (Atheists, agnostics, nones, etc have a spiritual pov, or, at very least, and opinion of spiritual matters.)
- Just as it’s unrealistic to believe everyone is Christian, it’s a folly to believe no one is.
- There are about 2 billion people associated with some form of Christianity–2 billion out of 7 billion people.
- By some estimates there are over 4000 religions.
- Islam = about 1.5 billion
- Hinduism = 950 million
- Judaism = 14.5 million
- No religion = 775 million
- Often times, in the secular market, it’s hard to find a Christian character that isn’t standing as a stereotype to be mocked. In the same way, finding unbelievers in Christian novels that exist for anything more than mocking and “straw-man arguments” is equally difficult.
- Some novels that use religious themes:
- GK Chesterton’s Father Brown series (Roman Catholic)
- Harry Kemelman,’s Rabbi Small (Reformed Judaism)
- Morris West novels, The Shoes of the Fisherman, The Clowns of God (Roman Catholic)
- Of course, CS Lewis sci-fi / fantasy books
- Religious elements used as a device for story:
- Ira Levine: Rosemary’s Baby
- Many horror books with an underpinning of religion.
- Sir Arthur Clarke’s Rendezvous With Rama, has a deeply religious character.
- Even some vampire stories have at least a hint of religion in them (think of the cross and holy water used to ward off the pesky vamps).
- The Christian market (CBA) publishes hundreds of Bible based/Christian themed books in almost every genre.
- Jerry Jenkins (eschatology but many other areas)
- Frank Peretti (horror)
- Bill Meyer.
- List of hundreds of authors.
- The spiritual element is sometimes turned on its head making the antagonist plot a religious one. (Dan Brown’s albino in The Da Vinci Code.
- Show intellectual honesty.
- Don’t misrepresent. It only makes the author look foolish.
- Example: Rabbi Small mysteries are great reads but Christian belief isn’t always presented accurately.
- Here are some tips to developing the spiritual worldview of your characters:
- Decide how much, if any, spiritual elements play in the story. Ex. Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha is deeply religious (Buddhist). There’s very little religious talk in most mainstream novels.) Is the religious element seasoning or the meal?
- Give them a faith (or a lack of faith). Faith is important for them to hold on to. Or take the faith away.
- Let their faith (or lack thereof) color the way they perceive the events of the world.
- If spirituality is important to the plot, then let their faith (or lack thereof) be challenged by someone in an intelligent way.
- Do your research: know what you’re talking about. Avoid stereotypes. (A Mormon is not a Baptist is not a Catholic is not a Jehovah Witness is not a Scientologist is not a Muslim is not a Buddhist).
- Give them friends with different worldviews. This will allow for some relevant, deep conversations that will deepen both characters.
- Remember opposites attract. We are often drawn to those with different spiritual worldviews romantically. Think of this as a possible conflict point.
- Not all conflict in your novel should revolve around spirituality, but some of it should. It deepens your characters and your plot.