Do Your Characters Pray?

I’ve been thinking a lot about the role of religion in genre fiction, and more specifically its role in the fiction I write.

I spent most of the last ten years working in churches. I went in a 3/4 time Christian (don’t ask), and came out a 100% God lover who drags her kids to church every Sunday, usually kicking and screaming. I tell them it’s character-building. Check this out: my sweet Hinky-Punky on Sunday. (He’s the one in the front row center, picking his nose.)

I’ll admit, we DO go to one of the most liberal churches in town. (It rocks: Central Presbyterian Church.) For crying out loud, I’m married to a Scottish guy (um, socialized medicine, anyone?), so it had to be Presbyterian and left-leaning.

I’ve written plenty of Christian-ish essays. But now, I’ve noticed the God stuff creeping into my fiction. I wondered if any other writers had the same concerns, and then today I saw this. Anyway, I spent some time editing out some passages that I thought went too in-depth into a character’s mind re: God, even though the views he was espousing were not, um, particularly in line with Christian doctrine. I just thought: Would this passage alienate my kids’ friends? (The atheist ones.) I stopped cutting when I was able to say no.

Maybe someday I’ll go ahead and write that book, the one that weaves God in without worrying about who’s watching… but not today. Comments?

Posted in Children's Fiction, Family News, Miscellaneous, People I Love on 09/28/2009 05:17 pm


  1. Lisa Iriarte

    Hmm, interesting question. I’m very careful to limit religion in my writing. It’s okay for a character to be religious, but not for the work itself to be preachy, in my opinion. Unless religion is a focus of the book, like, say, some weird alien religion, then I don’t feel it belongs in my science fiction.

    This would, of course, be different if I were writing, say, Christian fiction, (which is selling really well, I hear.) Not my thing, but I’m told agents and publishers are always looking for good writing in that genre.


    • Nikki Loftin

      Hi, Lisa! Well, of course the kiss of death would be preachiness, in Christian fiction or non. What I’m struggling with is having characters whose faith is just a part of their lives — like anything else. I think it’s starting to happen in genre fiction (See the Sookie Stackhouse books by Charlaine Harris). But there’s a fine line a writer has to tread, no?
      (BTW: Sent my newest MS off to that agent today. Very curious to see what she says.)


  2. Lisa Iriarte

    Sookie Stackhouse involves vampires, though. Vampires and religion are an instant conflict. It adds to the plot. It’s not there without a purpose. I don’t read the books. I’m just guessing. But I’d bet it’s completely intentional and planned as a conflict builder, not just as a character trait.

    When it gets to be too much, I feel, is when it serves no purpose. If a character is overly preachy, but that preachiness causes conflict with other characters, then I see the point. When the religion serves a purpose to the plot, then I’m okay with it. But if the character’s religiousness is pointed out over and over again for no apparent reason, then I feel like it’s the author who is trying to convince me that one must believe in certain things, and the character is irrelevant. Then I put the book down and go find something else to read.


    • Nikki Loftin

      Hmm. Well, I have read the SS series, and don’t know about the “purpose” argument. In the South, church/God is just a part of life for so many people, so it would be like having a woman MC in the Junior League, or a Nascar fan. Readers understand something just from that, shorthand — and I think going to church can do that, too. So, rather than being vital to the plot, religion is a way to establish character.
      I’ll be honest — I’ve never read a published book where the God stuff got to be too much. Sure, manuscripts have come my way that were heavy-handed, but not published works. Of course, I don’t read Christian or religious fiction, so there ya go. But in popular genre fiction, God is the third rail, seems to me.
      Well, okay. Anne Rice has crossed over, etc. But mostly? Not mentioned.
      I think a MC who espoused FSM- ism would be a hoot.
      Um, Flying Spaghetti Monster, yanno.


  3. Nikki,

    As long as it realistic and makes sense for your character, then I think it’s fine. That’s the way it is with any book that has a character of any religion.

    I think I am more concerned with: 1) Are my characters “real” people? 2) Are the interactions between my characters real? 3)Is this character third dimensional?

    I agree that preachiness would be the Kiss of Death, just the same way that overexplaining everything a character does would be the Kiss of Death.

    Having read a couple of your pieces, I don’t feel that your writing is overdone or preachy. It actually brings more humor to the mix.

    Fingers crossed for you!



    • Nikki Loftin

      Thanks, L. My new MG MS is what I’m thinking about mostly… have I told you about it? It involves a toaster.
      Kiss of Death sounds like the title of a torrid romance, doesn’t it?


  4. No… I have not heard about the toaster MG. My interest is obviously piqued. I hope you spill soon. 🙂 I read your birthday post. I love that your son is like Raymond. He has to keep you laughing! (and on your toes…) I love it. Happy birthday to Cameron.

    23 hours of back labor? You’re a spartan. I made it through 18 hours of normal labor and then gave into the epidural. 6 hours later my little guy was born.


    • Nikki Loftin

      Couldn’t resist.
      I need a clone of me to write the new MG… I have to finish my adult novel, but I almost don’t want to. MG is so much more fun. And lots shorter.


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