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.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

How to Write (Good) Clean Fiction: Guest Post by Josie Beth

Our local library had a book sale — all the books you could fit into a Walmart bag for two dollars. 

Being a bookworm, I rushed to check the tables for any good books. My mom went with me to help. As she was looking, she asked why they were getting rid of so much teen Christian fiction that seemed perfectly fine. 

I told her the sad truth: “Christian teen fiction for girls is more times than not terribly written, and readers know that.” 

Often, when we think about books that are intended to be clean — like Christian fiction — we pass over them, because we know they’re going to be cheesy and boring. Or, when we try to argue that clean fiction is the better route, we get the reply “It’s unrealistic.” 

This puts Rebellious Writers in a tough spot. How do we write without language, abuse, and lust without being called cheesy or unrealistic? 

It’s actually quite possible if you know how to do it. Here are a few ways to write (good) clean novel:

 1. How to write without language 

We live in a world where people curse a lot and cursing in novels “shows who the character is”. Readers probably will get quickly annoyed with your creative replacements. There are two solutions to this.

One, don’t. You can simply *not* curse. Seriously. If your character gets caught in an avalanche, have him run away, not shout swears. I doubt readers will even notice. 

Two, pass over it. The critics are right. Swearing can show character and is realistic. If you’re okay with it, write “she cursed” or something similar instead. It shows realism and character without forcing the reader to see your language. 

2. How to write without abuse 

Alcohol, drug, domestic, child, and animal abuse exist. There’s obviously the route of not including this in your novel. But if you want to include it, you have to learn how to portray it in a negative light. 

Abuse is wrong. Yes, some people in your novel may think otherwise. However, we can use this tool I like to call “authorial truth”. While your characters think acting sinfully is okay, there’s a way to show their actions as wrong even without saying it.

To show this authorial truth, characters suffer when they make mistakes and are rewarded when they do right. For example, if your character abuses alcohol, he ends up getting drunk and making choices he regrets. If your character abuses her children, she gets in trouble with the law. 

Don’t take this to mean you can’t have characters that disagree. Having a wiser character advise others against sinful actions or simply knowing that it’s wrong is a good step. 

3. How to write without lust 

Close the door, will you? Readers know people do in bed, and even readers who don’t care about clean fiction complain about explicit sex scenes. Cut any of these scenes out of your novel; everyone will agree it’s better. 

You can also use that authorial truth I talked about earlier to show any wrongful desire in a negative light. Realistically, most of my teenage friends don’t even kiss their boyfriends or girlfriends, so don’t worry about that. If you’re trying to find drama to complicate the plot, there are other, more masterful ways. 

In short, it’s possible to write a good book that’s also clean if you just put a little bit of effort into it. Show all of these in a negative light and cut out explicit parts we don’t want to read. 

What do you think? How do you write good, clean fiction? Share your thoughts with me in the comments!

About the Orator: 

 Josie has loved stories, places, and people for as long as she can remember, so it wasn't a surprise when she took an interest in writing. You can find her noveling, dreaming, making music, acting out characters, or posting on her blog,, where she shares writing along with many other aspects of her life.