Religion in Narrative Storytelling

Never thought I’d find myself writing an article like this, but after reading Shadowmancer by G.P. Taylor I found the inclusion of Christianity rather jarring. It was too much at the forefront of the novel rather than an element of the world building. It came off as rather heavy handed in my opinion and lead to what was a rather cringe inducing story at many parts.

There are examples of stories that include religious elements that are both entertaining stories and respectfully done. Neverwhere by Niel Gaiman, for instance, does this very well. Islington was a wonderful character whose backstory never took the focus away from the world and the journey of the main character. Yet the ties to Christianity interwoven into its story felt well thought out and executed well. It never took over the plot or the worldbuilding in a way that would damage it. Rather it added to the story through allusions.

I like to think that this is the best approach to religion in narrative storytelling. Incorporating religion should be the same as how people incorporate mythology into their stories. It should be used as an element of worldbuilding that flavors the setting rather than overriding any proper character driven story. Religion makes for a great background element as something the character may struggle with. It could be something that holds them back from doing what needs to be done, like maybe murdering the antagonist or breaking into a temple. It could be something where their faith is tested repeatedly and whether or not it breaks can add for dramatic tension. Just as any addition to world building and character development, it should offer opportunity to create depth rather than to takeaway.

Religion can be used for very effective world building and character development, but it needs to be carefully thought out. Considering that the topic of religion can be very sensitive to some readers, it should be handled in a way that’s respectful and well thought out. Even if it is a narrative used to criticise the belief in question, it should be done in a way that isn’t outright insulting to the reader or anyone who would hold that belief. Of course this is subjective and no writer can please everyone, but as long as there’s an effort made to show a genuine criticism and not blatant hatred I think this can be done in a way to deliver a powerful and effective message.

Happy writing! 🙂

– Raphael

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