Changing the world's opinion… as soon as we finish this math homework
Dear TCWT readers,
Today, in conjunction with some recent Ch1Con chats and our January TCWT blog chain, I want to talk to y’all about a very important topic to me: religion in YA! I think we all agree that religion (or recognizing a lack of religious belief) matters a lot to most people at some point in their lives. Religion, like race and gender and friends and family, is an aspect of our real human lives that can and should contribute to the creation of whole and realistic characters.
So why, then, is religion so undermentioned in YA literature? And why, when it is shown, is it portrayed as a hindrance to the character, something keeping them locked in stifling tradition and unable to live a full and well rounded life? Yes, for some people, religion is stifling and it does hold them back, but for some, it’s the complete opposite. Both of these experiences (and so many more) should be valued and realistically portrayed in literature. That’s what stories are for, after all — sharing all experiences fairly so everyone gets a chance to understand.
I know that I can be guilty, in my stories, of not portraying other experiences of religion fairly. I sometimes let my own positive opinion of religion get in the way of realistically showing my characters — but that’s okay. It’s just another aspect of editing I have to get into as I work towards building a better story.
So today I wanted to remind you of that, that we can (and do) have preconceived notions of what religion is, but we have to remember that our characters may have a very different experience with it then we do. Religion, after all, is deeply personal. It would be a truly impossible task, in my opinion, to portray me realistically as a character without including my religion; though not the only part of my personality, being a Muslim is easily the most important.
Which leads to an important question to ask as you incorporate religion into your characters identity: what religion are they, how strongly, and why? How much does it affect your world? In general, there are two ways to incorporate diversity in your book: the first is diversity that’s just a part of the character without being the main focus, and the second is diversity that becomes a main aspect of the story. Whichever way you choose, it’s important to diversify your fiction — in religion as well as other aspects.
Even though this is more easily applied to realistic fiction, fantasy writers like myself are not off the hook! If anything, we’re even more culpable because we can create our own religions, free of the restrictions of our own, which are made specifically for our worlds and which compliment the struggles and triumphs of our characters. With this, we must consider questions like: how is religion handled in this world? Is your character expected to be religious or is it no big deal?
In basis, religion is another important tool in the author’s tool belt to help shape your character. Of course, you don’t always have to use this tool. Don’t feel pressured to include religion in your story! Just remember that to show a very sincere and grounded story, you have to include all the aspects of a persons identity. I, personally, find seeing religion through the lens of a character a truly insightful and beautiful experience: whether they love or hate their religion, struggle in faith or have firm resolve.
Always remember, your character is yours but their journey with religion doesn’t have to reflect yours. They’ve got an experience all their own.
This is Aisha, signing off for now! Comment below and tell me what you think about religion in YA.