Saturday, July 14, 2018

Should We Include Other Faiths in Our Stories?

When you’re passionate about something, it’s hard to keep it quiet. You want to talk about it with all your friends, your family, sometimes even strangers. It slips into the cracks of your life, fills them up, and helps bring a form of wholeness. For a lot of people, this passion is their religion. Their faith. For some of you, I would suspect this might be Christianity. My faith has made me pause in my writing before, and wonder, how much is too much? Where do you draw the line between preaching, teaching, and suggesting? Should I even include other religions, other faiths, into my work? I believe that we should. In fact, I think we do Christianity (or whatever faith you follow) a disservice by excluding them. So why include other faiths into our stories? 1) It's Realistic In our world, Christianity is not the sole religion, not by a long shot. There are vast beliefs all over the globe, all with their own gods, rituals, history, and so on. There are millions (if not billions) of people who follow belief systems that differ from yours. Of course, story settings can sometimes limit this. If you set a story in Thailand, for example, it's likely almost all your characters would consider themselves Buddhist.

Yet in any story, especially if you write in the contemporary genre, having characters who follow different faiths and religions will bring about a sense of realism to your storyworld. And if your storyworld feels real, so in turn will your characters and plot. 2) An Opportunity for Tension From a storytelling perspective, conflict and tension are key to a story's success. Without it, plots don't move along, and characters don't change. If you make two characters, who follow different faiths, suddenly burst into a theological argument about the afterlife while eating ice cream, the conflict will seem forced and crammed in there.

But what about if they've just left their mother's funeral, and one mentions hope of seeing her again, but her sibling shuts the idea down as stupid and baseless? Then, you have conflict that is natural, reflective of the characters' current mindset, drives the story forward, and gives you an opportunity to showcase faith. I believe the key here is not to force theological differences into the story -- but let the story events draw them out, and simmer tension.

3) Allows the Reader to Think

If you only include one faith or religious view point into a story, no doubt readers of that faith will connect to it. But what about when someone who adheres to a different faith reads it? Invariably, they will compare your themes, message, and beliefs to their own. The comparison stick already exists -- not including another in your story, where you can address possible issues or questions that arise, is a missed opportunity.

Presenting opposing view points, gives your story greater depth. It allows you to examine all sides of your theme. Take revenge, for example. If your character is fully set that it is the right thing, that it is justified, their character arc can't take place unless they are confronted by someone who believes the opposite. This is a lesson I learned in my writing recently -- the character who opposes your MC's belief, does not have to necessarily oppose their goals. It can be far more interesting and impactful if it a friend, ally, or family member challenges a character's core beliefs. By including other faiths, you are allowing the message you want to get across. The reader will not believe simply because it's what you said, but because they've journeyed with the character through different view points, and come to their own conclusion.

This isn't to say you have to write every other religion or faith like they're as true as you believe yours to be -- but just remember, no one believes in something they think is false. I would try and treat all other faiths in my writing with respect, even if I disagreed with them, but how you depict the other faiths, and if you even include them at all, is your call. I truly believe, however, that by including other faiths into your stories, you can craft a story that is realistic, has extra potential for tension, and deepens your theme.

What are your thoughts? Do you believe we should include other faiths/religions in our stories, or should we exclude them? How do you use your faith to deepen your themes?

~~Melissa Gravitis~~ 
Melissa Gravitis is a Christian teen writer with a Thai heart, Aussie heritage, and international blood. Growing up overseas, she developed a passion for following dreams, and crafting Young Adult stories with vibrant worlds and characters that pop off the page. Though she doesn’t own any pets (yet), she has imaginary friends called Characters that she spends most of her days with. When she’s not with them, she’s jamming to music, sketching, or burying herself in books. You can read her thoughts and follow her writing progress on her blog, Quill Pen Writer.


  1. I can speak from personal experience that having family members and friends having differing religious views brings A LOT of tension and conflict, especially outside of fiction.

    While I have a Catholic bias, I'm not adverse to portraying other religions as they are. In fact, I have one WIP that has an Amish character - which I put a lot of research into :).

    Great post, Melissa!

    1. Oh yes, I'm sure! It's always a conflict point.

      That's great that you put a lot of research into it! It's important to make sure we don't portray the stereotypes; after all, we don't like our faith being stereotyped either!

      Thank you! :)

  2. I’ve actually thought about this a lot, lately, so it’s kind of ironic that this post is popping up now. :)

    I completely agree. Although I am biased towards Christianity (and specifically Catholicism), I agree that portraying other religions is realistic and brings some interesting tension. Great post, Melissa!

    1. Ah well, I'm glad I was able to have good timing then! :) Thank you, Nicole!

  3. I love all three of your points and heartily agree ;)

  4. I agree with adding faith to stories, but my stories haven't offered a very good opportunity for that. I also prefer to keep faith to more of some undertones in my novels cause I'm not planning to target only Christians as my audience and faith themes that are too prevalent can sometimes limit your audience.

    1. Don't worry, if the opportunity isn't there to explicitly have different religions, it's not a bad thing! It just means you're probably staying true to the story and its world. :)

  5. Excellently written post, Melissa! Gives me much to think about... :D