Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Do My Characters Need Religion?

From timeofgraceblog.com
Let us set aside the issue of religion itself - which one is right, if any, what the truth is, where it came from, etc. All these are irrelevant. What matters now is your character, determining what he or she believes, and many factors can have an influence on this.

Most major cultures are largely religious, and if the character has spent most of her life deeply immersed into the culture, then it's more likely that she is religious. If she lives on the fringes, she's more likely to have rejected the dominating religion.

The strength of her moral code plays into this, as religions are tend to have strong moral codes. She could believe in morality so strongly that it actually supplants the religious portion of her belief, or she could follow the religion because it supports the moral code she believes in.

However, it's possible that he is part of a counter-culture, and that can go different ways as well. He could be a rebel against the system, rejecting everything it stands for, including the religion, or he could have deviant beliefs that cause him to be isolated from the community. Either option allows for greater character development along  potentially new avenues.

You might think that because a character has gone through extremely rough times, their guiding higher power has abandoned them, that would necessarily mean they have rejected religion. Sometimes that's exactly the way it happens, as a character's trials seem to disprove her former religious beliefs.

It's entirely possible for the opposite to be true as well. The difficult times a character has gone through might actually strengthen his faith. He could see it as a trial sent to him by his deity, thus making it imperative that he conquer it.

He could also rely on his religion in his time of difficulty. The belief that there is a higher power looking out for him may be a source of strength for him, allowing him to take on challenges that he might not be able to if he didn't have a steadfast faith in his deity.

Another factor that makes an impact on whether a character believes is their attitude towards life. If the character tends to be more positive or determined, it's more likely that they are religious. Equally, if she is prone to depression or struggles with whether she is capable of mastering her trials, she is less likely to believe.

There are, of course, the polar opposites and the outliers, and sometimes they are more interesting to write about. The religious character who feels the intense pressure of living up to her religion's standards, and is absolutely positive she cannot compete. The atheist who may not know what will happen when he dies, but knows exactly what he intends to accomplish in this life. Giving a radical twist to the expected cliché is a good way to interest readers.

Don't forget traditions or superstitious folk beliefs, which might be discounted by society as a false religion, but can function as a source of faith when there is no higher power involved. A character may invest certain beliefs into signs and portents, and that is a kind of religion.

I hope this blog post helps you determine whether or not religion is right for those characters who have not made up their minds yet. Do your characters believe? Why or why not?


  1. My novel-in-process currently has four major religions with numerous sects. More will emerge as the tale progresses.

    And... You've been tagged for an award at my Strans of Pattern blog.

    1. My "d-key" finger took a break. Of course that should read "Strands of Pattern" but the link is valid.

    2. Nice! I usually have a hard enough time making one legitimate-sounding religion, making four sounds incredibly difficult.

      And I am now immediately curious. (What? I'm not a wordsmith all the time.) Don't worry, I'm familiar enough with your blog for my brain to fill in the D automagically. :D

  2. I think this is a fundamental part of any story. Because a character is really made up of what they want out of life and what they believe and most of that will be determined by their religion. Awesome post. :D

    1. Thanks! I definitely agree that religion (or lack thereof) is an important part of any character's makeup.