Religion and Character in My Writing

As I mentioned in Saturday’s entry, I began plotting out the final eight chapters of my novel this weekend, the chapters that will not be appearing in my thesis. In the next chapter to be written, the matter of a secondary character’s religious beliefs becomes an issue. So, I’ve been thinking about exactly what this character does believe when it comes to religion and spirituality.

In the story, the four Silver cousins (Matt, Veronica, Michael, and Ashley) were born into a Protestant family. Upon the death of their grandmother in the early 80s, Michael and Ashley were taken out of the church by their parents, their religious education left to an illustrated children’s Bible that mostly just collected dust under their beds. Matt and Veronica, meanwhile, continued to attend church regularly.

One of the conflicts presented in the story is a conflict between Matt and Michael over organized religion. While they are otherwise close, this subject proves divisive. After Matt’s suicide (detailed in an alternate, earlier form in the short story “Death by Cursor”, available in Those Little Bastads) Michael’s rage against God, and against organized religion in particular, becomes even more focused.

In the chapter I am about to write, Michael’s fianc?e, Jenna, is collaborating with Veronica (Michael’s cousin) on music for a dance performance. While I know where Veronica stands in terms of religion, I have not explored Jenna’s beliefs as of yet.

In earlier versions of the story (The People Vs. Jesus Christ stage play, for instance) Jenna was a Catholic, like the rest of the Silver clan. Well, you may recall my recent revelation that the family was not Catholic at all. That would mean, if I was just changing every character’s religion, Jenna would become a Protestant. But, I haven’t been liking that idea.

Instead, I’ve been debating over whether or not Jenna should be a Bahai.

One of the major things I made myself look out for while writing this novel, something I didn’t pay enough attention to when I was trying to write the story as a series of stage plays and later screenplays, was the seperation of the characters Michael and Jenna from the real life people Chris and Stephanie. While the characters were inspired by my wife and I, one of my main goals in the novel was to make them distinct individuals with histories and personalities all their own.

So, I’ve been hesitant to thrust the Jenna character into the same religious mold as Stephanie because I don’t want to lapse back into those bad habits I’ve worked so hard to shed. But, the contrast of her unique spirituality with the old, weathered WASP culture of the Silver family is proving too appetizing to ignore.

Listening to Stef and Julee discuss religious issues this weekend, and considering my gut-level reaction to the religion’s somewhat delusional goal of world peace, and to their seeming disdain of American individualism and the taint our sad nation has left on the world, and the damage we Americans have done to the progress towards world unity, I’ve found myself thinking that the conflict between Michael and Jenna over religion, which is one of his hot buttons, is just too meaty to pass up.

This is not a purely religious novel. My reservations about giving one of my character’s such a unique and distinctive religious voice come from not wanting to spend too much time on the subject. But, I think I can balance it off. I think I can do it.

And all of this led to me reading a lot of material on Wikipedia today, and considering my own spiritual beliefs. I scoured pages on Abrahamic religions, on monotheism, on anything I could think of. And, of course, I read the earlier referenced pages on Protestantism and the Bah?’? Faith.

It’s all got me thinking that because of my strong beliefs on the ridiculousness of the concept of God I need to be ever vigilant in accurately representing the religious beliefs of my characters and not allowing my prose to become opinion writing, as it once did.