Faith And Fiction

Faith And Fiction

Warning: this post contains discussion of religion and faith and stuff. I know 99% of the people who read this are mature and nice. Haters, go away. Yes, I consider myself a Christian. If you don’t, fine. But no hating, on me or anyone who comments on this post, whatever their views.

Sometimes I struggle to separate writing from real life.

I struggle to work out which of the thoughts in my head are mine, and which belong to my characters. I struggle to know whether it’s okay for my characters to speak or behave in certain ways when I don’t do that, even though I know they’re not me – should my protagonists swear, when I don’t tend to (at least in public)? Should they say ‘Oh my god’ when I don’t like the phrase? Does it even matter what my characters do?

And recently I’ve been struggling with my faith because of writing.

Many of you will know that I’m writing a book about the apocalypse this November. I’ve been doing a lot of research, reading extrabiblical and apocryphal texts, as I’ve mentioned here before. And I also said that I was unsure ‘how’ to read the extrabiblical texts: do I read them as I’d read the Bible, or do I read them as I’d read Celtic mythology?

I’m not sure why it’s such a big deal for me when I fictionalise aspects of the Christian faith, especially when they’re the lesser-known parts that my church denomination doesn’t recognise as part of the Bible, but I’ve got a few ideas.

I think it’s because I use mythology. I use myths and legends and steal what I want from them to write books. The Death and Fairies trilogy uses Celtic myths (the Dagda, the lennán sidhe, the phouka…). A novel I began a while ago, but have not had the opportunity to complete, is formed on a base of Norse mythology, particularly focusing on Alfheim and Svartalfheim (the lands of the elves / dark elves). Legacy and Memory were Celtic mythology, as was Beneath the Branches. Most of these are novels that will never go anywhere, but I wrote them. I’m currently working on a short story that is an adaptation of a Welsh myth.

I took what I wanted from the mythology and I ignored the rest. I made up stuff to fill in the gaps and I interpreted contradictions as I wanted. Because I believe they’re stories and nothing more, I’m happy to play around with them.

And yet when it comes to my faith I’m afraid to do that. If I start fictionalising part of it, how long will it be before all of it is a story to me?

Many of you may not understand where I’m coming from, especially if you believe the Bible to be ‘just stories’ anyway. I understand that talking about my faith so publicly can be a risk these days; people are quick to judge, especially on the internet. And yet it’s something I can’t keep to myself any more.

People include God in stories all the time. He appears because the characters believe in God. Or because they don’t. He appears because it’s the end of the world or because something is happening.

People include the devil, too – usually more often. Satan or Lucifer turns up in all sorts of stories and TV shows and films, usually in the context of the apocalypse but sometimes more here-and-now.

The show Supernatural uses demons the entire time. From series four onwards, angels are pretty major players as well. I’ve not got as far as the part where Cas is God and have no idea how that works, but I know it’s coming. Then there are books like Good Omens, which have heaven and hell, and even though they’re absolutely hilarious there are probably people who are offended by them.

I’m not.

On the one hand, refusing to ‘fictionalise’ any aspects of faith is like saying you can’t ‘fictionalise’ any aspects of real life. But I write my friends into books all the time, sneakily – often, they wouldn’t notice it themselves – and places I’ve been and things I’ve done. That doesn’t mean I start to think of those people as fictional: I recognise the version in my books as separate, just as the events that I exaggerate and embroider in my books are separate from their origins.

Yet at the same time, I’m wary of making things up to fill in the gaps when taking elements from books like Enoch, even though they’re so apocryphal they’re extrabiblical. (Confused? I’m following on from this.) I’m worried about offending people by including actual Biblical angels like Raphael, who is a major character in my NaNo novel this year. I’m worried that using my faith in fiction will make it harder for me to believe it.

I need to separate myself from my writing, but it’s just one instance where it’s hard. It’s really hard.

Probably, I find it difficult because I’m struggling anyway. Because nothing I believe is solid enough for me to separate fiction from fact. I’ve had a lot of moments recently when I’ve thought, “I don’t know what I think about this.” I don’t know what I believe when it comes to Hell and judgement, okay? Don’t keep asking me, I’m confused enough!

I can fictionalise my friends, but I don’t feel comfortable fictionalising God, even though I’m continually taught that the whole basis of the faith I’ve come to call my own is the ‘relationship’ between us and God. Hmm. Something’s not right there.

So I’m struggling. And I’m confused. And I blame my writing, yet I’m not going to stop, because this story is consuming my mind and I cannot contemplate the idea of not writing it.

Have you ever had anything similar? If you follow a particular religion or faith, do you find that you can’t include it in your writing, and if so, what’s your advice?

16 thoughts on “Faith And Fiction

  1. You and I, my friend, sit in a similar boat. Faith is confusing, and its general importance means people are often more awkward about presenting it than they might be about other stuff.

    The way I see it, if you don’t WANT to write it, or don’t feel comfortable with it, then don’t. It’s perfectly okay to treat things like your faith carefully because it’s important to you and others. On the other hand, it is also okay to write things using faith and religion if you want to.

    Doubt is perfectly okay too. Heck, even the disciples were still confused even though they had Jesus himself to help them out. It’s okay to be confused over how much and how far you believe things in the bible – I say this because even the gospel writers were confused, you can see it when you study it.

    As for fictionalising God, I’ll give you a personal view on that, as I may be completely wrong (in fact I might be completely wrong about all of this). You can fictionalise God if you like, and you can do it as far as you feel comfortable. If it makes you too uncomfortable, you can marginalise mention of God to avoid the uncomfortable ground. If it’s crucial, try to alter the text to keep it as easy and non-squicky as possible.

    I hope this helps :)

    1. Yeah… I mean, ‘doubt is human’ is something I’ve been told a hundred times, and it never seems to stick. I’m pretty sure God doesn’t appear in person in Weapons of Chaos, but there’s Raphael to think of. It’s the reason I’ve been doing so much research. I don’t want to use the angels in a way that people could find offensive. I want to be able to say, “Look, this is based on what I read in Enoch,” or “this is based on what I read in Esdras” and people won’t be able to say I’m making it up.

      1. I think that’s a very good policy – and using Raphael is probably helpful for you too. After all, there aren’t half as many guidelines over the presentations of angels are there are of God. And if Raphael knows his orders are from God, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have to use his own inituitive to do it – hence he might do something one might deem rather scary or inhuman, but can’t blame God because it’s Raph’s interpretation of the order . . . or something like that.

        1. Well, in Enoch, there is a moment when Michael turns to Raphael and expresses his own doubt about God’s punishment of the angels who fell. The idea of angels doubting may therefore be considered canon. It’s what I choose to do with that that’s important, I think.

          1. Indeed. And angels are just as much God’s creations as humans. Just ’cause they’re closer to him doesn’t mean they’re any less confused, theoretically.

  2. Miriam, I can relate. I actually felt quite divided on my ‘most important’ novel, since both MCs are agnostic living in an alternate land where religion is not given much thought. In one scene, the male MC is asking his brother whether his lack of faith is the reason for the story’s main conflicts, but they both conclude that faith should be dismissed. I spent a while over whether to cut the scene because of the way I seemed to be slashing my beliefs. I want to include them – indeed, in a series I’m writing, the heroine converts to Christianity, but a balance has to be laid out for me.
    On the case of yourself, I think it’s very brave/strong of you to write about the Apocalypse. I would be cowering behind how touchy a subject it could be. And, as you have said, of course it depends on one’s view of how much ‘myth’ is in the Bible. I know to take some stories with a pinch of salt, but I haven’t made my mind up about the Apocrypha yet. One of the reasons, I guess, why I’ve never much written fiction involving God is probably because of what you have said about ‘fictionalising’ Him. It’s difficult to definitely do that, but I wouldn’t say it’s impossible for a writer to separate themselves from faith. Angels and the Devil, yes; God, not so much.
    As theist MacQuarrie concludes, faith and God still exist when we demythologise the Bible. (I only remember this relevant piece because I’ve just finished revising the topic on Revelation Through Texts in Philosophy class!)
    Alex :)

    1. You’re right; the devil and angels seem to be popular. And lately, fallen angels have been a bit of a trend in YA dark romance (something I generally avoid). I wonder how many of those authors have even read the original ‘fallen angel’ stories, and know where they come from, or whether they’re basing it on hearsay and their own imagination. (Not that I’m knocking imaginative myths, but sometimes at least KNOWING what the canon is before you change it is important.) They’re in Enoch, if anyone’s wondering. And they were chucked out because they taught stuff to humans, things they shouldn’t know, and because they COMMITTED FORNICATION. Caps to illustrate how emphatically Enoch states this.
      I’ve had several characters who were Christians, but I’m always worried that I’ll appear ‘preachy’ if I make this to much a part of their personality. I’m not sure what it is, but people have more of an issue with the religion of characters than, I don’t know, their sexuality or race. Like, they can look like anything, and be interested in anything, but if they’re a Christian then automatically they get judged. Or other religions, it’s not just us. I’m not sure why that is.

  3. I can understand where you’re coming from, despite being an atheist. I can understand how it feels weird to fictionalize something that’s such a big part of your life – maybe the biggest part. I think that you should fictionalize God and angels as such as much as you feel comfortable doing, as Charley said. I would think that writing about them would strengthen what you believe, but that’s just me.

    All in all, I thought this post was very well-written and it made sense to even the Awkward Atheist. :D

    1. Thanks. One of the reasons I avoid talking about faith etc on my blog is that I know a lot of my followers don’t share my beliefs and I don’t want to exclude them from contributing…
      I think the reason it’s not helping the whole doubt issue is that there are extrabiblical texts I’m looking at, they’re not part of the biblical canon so it’s hard to know what to think about it. Without writing I wouldn’t even have come across it or read it or anything.

  4. While I applaud your desire to avoid excluding some readers, I think you needn’t worry about it if you’re going to write about faith like you did in this post. It seems to me that one of the biggest barriers to acceptance across religious lines is people being so sure they’re right they think they know what’s right for other people. But here you were simply open and honest about your own beliefs, confusions and feelings, and there’s no way I can fault that, even as an atheist.

    This post was really powerful, and I loved how it gave me an insight into a whole different way of looking at the world. See, I have a sort of opposite problem – I have no faith to fictionalize. Which I’m quite happy with, until my characters decide that they do have a religion, and in fact that religious conflict is a big part of the plot. Then all of a sudden I’m trying to figure out how their belief works without crossing any of the lines that make a lot of aspects of religions really frustrating to me in our world.

    But that I guess is one of the best parts of writing – exploring worlds we can never see and people we can never be.

    1. Thank you. I’m really encouraged by the response I’ve had here.
      That’s exactly how I feel about writing. As I mentioned in a previous post, writing for me is living a thousand lives without leaving my own. Through writing I can see and do things I’ll never otherwise see or do and while it’s somewhat difficult at time, it’s worth it.
      Thanks again for commenting!

What do you think? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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