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Religion in Your Fiction

Just as sensory details, colors, rich language, and having all the right junk in all the right places in your narrative, adds depth, clarity, and value to your characters, passages, and dialogue, so can religion. Religion can be sprinkled in, used as a backdrop, or atmosphere. Religious fiction and nonfiction, another avenue to pursue, is a story with a religious element. One can also draft a Christian-based novel for that specific demographic.

Certain aspects of different religions can appeal to human emotions of love, fear, strength, weakness, curiosity, and in some cases obedience. Adding religion to a character’s repertoire can help shape their persona. For instance, if your protagonist was raised with a strict Catholic upbringing, taught by nuns, and attended church regularly. they may have naturally built-in fears about rule-breaking. Imagine the dynamic between your protagonist and his love interest with an Orthodox Jewish background. Though some research would be necessary to lend authenticity to the story, it might be interesting.

On a lighter note, what if you foisted the Catholic idea on a sidekick character? Now, that has endless potential. Nuances stemming from those experiences could easily be peppered in through dialogue or mannerisms which could bring forth a wealth of understanding for readers.

Staying with the Catholic idea for a minute, using the religious component as a character’s personal history affords the writer a treasure-trove of possible quirks to impose.

The idea of organized religion can play a major role in a trans, gay, or lesbian character’s life. Think about the struggles that character might endure when coming to terms with their authentic self then coming out to family.

Pivoting to religion as a backdrop, the famous historical fiction work of Nathaniel Hawthorne comes to mind. In his novel The Scarlet Letter, A Romance, set in the Puritan Massachusetts Bay Colony during the years 1642-1649, Hawthorne uses the strict Puritan Protestant belief system to explore themes of sin, adultery, guilt, and legalism. The powerful narrative still stands among beloved popular classics today.

For religious atmosphere, think The Shack by William P. Young. Although religious in its setting, the author doesn’t bombard the reader with authoritarian religious conventions rather, he guides the reader on a spiritual journey through a series of passionate and painful moments. The reader along with the main character, Mackenzie Allen Phillips, ultimately reach a higher level of understanding about death and the afterlife and what drives people to wander down certain paths.

Incidentally, Young originally self-published The Shack but it became a USA Today bestseller and was eventually turned into a movie.

Mitch Albom’s novels contain many religious elements, and he weaves inspirational stories and themes throughout his books. He focuses on the concepts of heaven, faith, miracles, the afterlife, the soul, and redemption.

Annie Kagan’s book The Afterlife of Billy Fingers is another example of using religious elements to help tell a story. In this case she explores the age-old question of, what happens after we die, and entwines it with the death and subsequent spiritual visits of her wayward brother.

A Christian novel is any novel that focuses on a Christian world view in its plot and/or characters, incorporates biblical history and stories into the narrative, or contrives Christian themes in a positive way. This can include historical, contemporary, and Sci-fi/Futuristic Christian fiction.

For historical fiction, Treasured Grace by Tracie Peterson fits the bill.

In the contemporary arena, Karen Kingsbury’s novel The Chance qualifies nicely.

The Left Behind series of books by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins fall into the Sci-fi/futuristic genre.


Hi. I'm Liz Ambrico, freelance proofreader and aspiring author. I too am querying agents, editors, and publishers in hopes of becoming a published author.



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