Religion in fiction.

Religion. For only being one word, it has an utterly insane amount of implication when you think about it. So then how do you properly use religion in fiction?

It’s not easy. When you think about it, depending on your beliefs, religion can be everything from a factor in your life all the way up to being the sole guiding part of your life. At the same time, religion can range from being a source of good will and charity all the way over to being a destroyer of lives and catalyst for war. It is a part of our lives and, theoretically, a part of our deaths.

So if religion is such a powerful factor in our lives, how can we best use it in fiction? Let’s face it, we writers love to twist and use anything we know (or don’t) in story writing. After all, for the sake of a good story, any topic is fair game*.

The first thing is that you have to identify A) how many religions are in your universe, B) what types of religions you have,and C) what mentality that religion teaches. As you can tell, it isn’t something so simple as “Religion X” that takes on a role in your world. Think about it, if you’re building a world from scratch with a religion playing an integral part to your story, how can you justify skimping on details you’d otherwise afford political groups or classes?

So what do I mean by the three earlier questions about your fictitious religions?

A) “How many religions are there?” Think about our world for a moment. We have a multitude of religions on our planet, each of them with their own distinct ideologies and beliefs. Catholics, Muslims, Buddhists, Christians, Agnostics, Deists, ect. We don’t exactly lack diversity or choice in our world for religions, so why should your fictional world lack that choice?

The only reason not to have that much variety, at least to my mind right here and now, is if you definitively show how your primary religion is right. Even then, however, that doesn’t mean you can’t have more than one. That’s the funny thing about fiction, just because you can prove how one reality-bending idea is real doesn’t mean you can’t make another idea just as real.

B) “What type of religions do you have?” This is where diversity strikes again. Christian and Catholic faith teaches that there is one God who can be merciful or wrathful. Norse, Greek, and Egyptian mythology says that there are many gods, each with their own “aspect.” Buddhism, however, does not assert a belief in a creator god. As these examples point out, there’s more to religions than just one God that you accept, so why should your fictional religion be constrained?

C) “What mentality does your religion teach?” This is a big one. Think back to the Middle Ages where religion was an over-ruling part of everyone’s lives. The church had an overwhelming amount of power and control over people’s lives, launching such historical events like the Salem Witch Trials and the Crusades. This created a culture that lived in awe and fear of the ruling religious body. At the same time, there have been other cultures throughout history that have been shaped by their spiritual and religious teachings.

In fiction, what this means is that your faction/country/whatever is shaped by their sources of faith and vice versa. It rarely makes sense to think that a pacifist religion and spirituality would belong to a militaristic state. Just the same, an expressive and welcoming faith doesn’t fit well with an isolationist state. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t exist, just that it doesn’t make sense to have them dominantly guide a society that contradicts them.

So for all of these constraints, what does having a decently fleshed out religion provide you? First, it gives you a motivation and driving force behind characters in your world. Maybe one character is a very pious man who’s beliefs are based on his faith. Perhaps he might be a rebellious one that wants to lash out against that faith. It builds motivation for their stories and beliefs while also providing a means to shape their very minds.

Second, it can provide an explanation for numerous other fictitious aspects. Magic? It’s a gift of the gods, rather than some anomalous force. Enemies? Demons make an easy foe that very few people would want to associate with, just sayin’. Need a goal? A holy mission given by the gods makes a nice option.

Third, it adds that much more depth and detail to your world. You have landmasses, political parties, and a history that goes back hundreds – if not thousands – of years. Why, then, would you skip on the very thing that such a massive amount of people in our own world believe in?

Maybe yours is a twisted version of an established religion or, perhaps, it’s an entirely different take on belief as we know it. Be that as it may, it provides you and your readers with a sense that there is more depth and detail in the world than initially would be assumed.

Hopefully this will give you writers some food for thought with your upcoming works. At the same time, it’ll hopefully give readers some extra perspective on what can go into making a world from nothing. I, however, am signing off.

Ciao,

~ James

(*There are certain circumstances where this point is invalidated. Some topics really do need to be treated with a healthy dose of respect. The bigger a mark on someone’s real life that it leaves, the more respect you need to afford it. Just because you think something would make a great story point for your character or world doesn’t mean that you should just play around with it willy-nilly.)

State of the Crazy.

It’s like the State of the Union address, except for the demented thoughts in my head!

In all seriousness, I thought I’d give an update as to what’s going on. It’s been a little while, some things have come up, and I’ve been working on my vanishing act for the last week or so. Needless to say, I owe you guys something.

First off, I’ve been trying to stay busy with the writing, though the day job is kicking my ass six-ways-from-sunday. I’ve been squeezing in my writing during the lunch breaks, but by the time I get home, I wind up crashing on the couch. Trying to fix this, and it should pass come the middle of next week, but it’s hampering me at the moment.

I have, however, not stopped on progress. I’ve actually – just recently – submitted a short story into Fireside Magazine. They ran a Kickstarter for their second quarterly issue – and beyond – but also recently opened to submissions.

Fireside’s been exclusively an invitation-only publication, featuring such writers as Chuck Wendig, Tobias Buckell, Ken Liu, and more. Needless to say, I feel like I’ve thrown myself to the wolves with this one. I wrote this entry with the intention of putting out a great story, but I’m keeping my expectations being picked quite low.

Because of Fireside’s submission guideline, as well, a welcome challenge was created. You see, with eFiction Magazine, the word ceiling is at 10,000 for a short story. With Fireside, however, it’s 4,000. Breaking my normal ceiling and working under the constraint having a limit that was less than half of my prior works was a rather exciting and fun challenge. I even managed to go under their limit, having the story clock in around 3,100 words.

Take that, adversity!

Secondly, are you familiar with King of the Web? Maybe you are, maybe you’re not, but hear me out. It’s essentially a popularity contest with internet personalities. It doesn’t cost anything to participate, but the rewards can be pretty substantial.

TotalBiscuit, one of the largest YouTube gaming commentators – if not the largest – out there, is currently running in King of the Web’s “Battle Royale”. Here’s the thing, he’s running with the intention of donating his entire prize to Charity: Water. C:W, in short, is a charity designed to provide clean water and wells to third-world nations and their people.

TotalBiscuit has a history with C:W, having already managed to raise and donate over $20,000 to them before with his earlier KotW campaign. I’m going to be voting for TB in this Battle Royale – and through him, Charity: Water.

If you want to help chip in with King of the Web, check out his campaign page. As I said before, it’s all free and shouldn’t take you more than a few minutes to setup and vote.

Personally, I’ve followed TB for a number of years and recall listening to him during the first run of Blue Plz! on WoW Radio. Seeing him willing to take on this contest explicitly for charity makes me happy, so I want to continue to support him.

Thirdly, progress for Crimson Sands. The word count is lower than I would have liked to be at, but I’m continuing regardless. Things are accelerating in the story and the characters are being fleshed out, so that helps. Introductions have never been my strong point, so here’s hoping it’s smooth sailing from here.

I am aiming to be sending it off for editing by the end of the year, so that’s my deadline that I’m sticking to. That means completing the first draft, getting some beta input, going over and fixing as many grammatical mistakes as I can find, ect.

Ideally, I’d love to be able to publicly release Crimson Sands next year alongside Under a Falling Sky, my planned NaNoWriMo novel. Let’s face it, it pays to come out of the gate swinging.

Fourthly, I’ve been having a slightly awkward moment when dealing with my social media feeds. It used to be that, back when I got started with writing seriously, I was actively searching for publications and magazines to try and submit to. Now, after having submitted to eFiction for some time and just having recently submitted to Fireside, it’s changed.

I’ve now noticed some publications and magazines seem to search for me. I now see multiple magazines and publications find and follow me. Just today I got followed by World Weaver Press over on twitter. Hell, I found out about Fireside Magazine simply because they followed me on twitter. There’s been a few more, but it’s giving me a strange feeling.

Oh the times, how they are changing.

Anyways, I’ll keep busy with the multitude of projects I have to work on for the moment. I’ll also keep you all as informed as I can – within reason, of course.

Now where did I put my straight-jacket …

 

The problem with finishing.

So as I announced in this post, Echoes has been finished and submitted to eFiction.

This brings to light one of my biggest problems: what to start working on after I finish.

If you’re like me and have any sort of a creative streak, you’ll likely suffer this problem. You finish one story, only for three more to crop up, each seemingly as compelling as the others. There seems to be an infinite number of possibilities for you to choose from, so now you get to pick one.

The only problem is, how do you pick one to work on?

I recently shared a few brief words with Matt Forbeck over on twitter, where I asked him how he handled selecting new works. This was as a result of seeing him mention that he wrote six thousand words yesterday.

Keep in mind, this is also the same Matt Forbeck that has been undertaking the 12 for ’12 project (writing 12 novels for 2012), and has been working with other material on the side. What follows below is his reply.

Matt: “It’s not a race. Honestly, don’t ever feel bad about getting something done. There’s always someone faster. Done is what counts. I try to come up with things I think are both cool and will sell. And remember there’s always the next time too. Getting done matters. It’s one reason I write fast, so I can get on to the next thing too.”

Now I will admit, I can’t compete with Matt’s six thousand words per day ratio.

That said, he’s right in that if you never complete your work, you’ll never get further or remove that idea from your head. It’s not a race to see who can pen X amount of words per day on average, but it’s simply a matter of finishing what you’re working on.

Given time to think on those words, it’s made me question my stance on The Veil. Am I confident that people will want to read it? Not entirely. Do I want to get it done? One way or another, yes.

Now what do I mean by one way or another? The Veil has become something of a source of frustration for me.

It started as a single story, then possibly bloomed to a trilogy, then needed to be rewritten, then could be trimmed down to a two-parter. All while doing this, it’s sitting as a WIP file in Scrivener. Soon enough, I’m either going to want to just pound the thing out and get it over with, or abandon it entirely.

As you can see, it’s a mess. Now add the fact that while I’m flip-flopping on what to do with The Veil, other ideas are popping up and demanding attention. It’s enough to give any sane man a migraine, I believe.

Of course, when I spell it all out like this, it seems to be obvious that part of The Veil’s problems stem from thinking too much about it. Not just thinking too much on it, but also not advancing it enough at the same time.

No real progress + over thinking = mess.

So there you have it, Ladies and Gentlemen. Some words to definitely work by, offered by Mr. Matt Forbeck. Now it’s time for me to sit down, strap in, and put them to good use.

Another one penned, another one gone …

(This is both an announcement and some of my thoughts, so yeah …)

So what do I mean by that title? Why, it’s quite simple.

I wrote, finished, and submitted another story to eFiction.

So what is it that I offered up this time? Is it something that’s straight-up action like Dawnstar? Is it something that is entirely cerebral like Synthetic Reality?

No.

Echoes, as I titled the new story, is a post-modern crime story.

I haven’t been the hugest follower of crime shows or mystery novels before. I like Castle, sure, but it’s got Nathan Fillion (seriously, a pretty easy sell to me there). CSI, Law & Order, any of their spin-offs, ect? Nope, not a watcher. Should I be? Maybe.

That said, when the concept of what Echoes is about struck me, sticking it in the context of a murder mystery was something I wanted to do. It felt at home there, and seemed like a lost idea when trying to place it anywhere else.

The idea behind Echoes is that in the year 2027, Detective Nathan Marshall is trying to solve the case behind the murder of a young woman. At the same time, he’s also tasked with using the case as a trial run for an experimental system that plays back the last time a victim came into contact with an object. He’s got to use the Echo system in order to solve the case, as well as please those with an interest in the project.

This isn’t just the first time I’ve written a crime story; it’s also the first time I’ve actually written about a murder. Sure, Synthetic Reality had a murder in it, but it wasn’t the same thing. The bodycount in Dawnstar may have also been rather high, but those were deaths, not murders.

When writing this story, I came upon a realization that I’d not experienced as a writer: killing a character and murdering them are two separate things.

Killing a character can happen in any number of ways for any number of reasons. Your character’s a Vampire and needs to feast on others to survive, they get shot, there’s a horrible car crash, some lightning has impossible timing, ect. Killing a character can be impersonal, but the only real psychological effect that you need to convey is in the survivors.

When you murder a character, however, it’s different. Murder is almost always an extremely confrontational event. Someone gets shot, stabbed, set on fire, ect. You need to convey the psychology for not just those who survive, but for those that do the deed, and those that are the victim of it. You then need to construct the scene, the motive, the method, the getaway, ect.

As you can probably see, there’s a difference. Murder is much more in depth than simply putting a bullet through their bodies. As such, it rewards a different feeling when writing it. Just as well, the emotions of those that survive are different as well.

If you kill a character through any means, your characters must react accordingly. You’re not simply removing a character from a story; you’re destroying anything and everything that they were, you’re (generally) cutting every single one of their story threads. They’re remaining adventures will never be told, they’ll never have any more arguments or fights with anyone else, they’ll never hug or hold you’re character’s hand.

It’s that absence that becomes what their death is all about. Maybe your victim had a sunny and fun filled life, or perhaps their life was one of suffering and uphill battles. That doesn’t matter. They should have made some impact on your characters, and your readers through them, and so their deaths become about that void that their name now represents.

I remember that the first time I read (what I thought was) a character’s death. It was Bruenor Battlehammer, in the Icewind Dale Trilogy by R.A. Salvatore, when he fought Shimmergloom in the Mithril Halls. As I read that scene and came to believe that Bruenor was gone, it was that absence that brought tears to my eyes (I’m deadly serious about this; mock me and I’ll slap you).

Death is a powerful thing if put to use by a good storyteller. It’s something that can bring not only your characters, but your readers as well, to tears. They all will feel that loss and void, that feeling that something that was cherished on some level is now gone forever.

A storyteller who isn’t worth their salt will fall flat on their face when trying to convey a death in a story. In truth, to kill a character and fail in its  delivery is worse than not killing them at all. The death of a character – murder ever more so – is a very heavy thing to deal with, in story and in life.

Seriously, do some due diligence when you try and use heavy topics in storytelling. To use such topics with little regard to their actual consequence is worse than not even trying to use them at all.

Moving forward…

Here we are: a Friday night before a nice and relaxing three days weekend. One that shall be filled with various films, games and hopefully some other activities. Some reading and writing shall, of course, fill a nice chunk of time as well.

There will also be a nice bit of nervous stress as today marks the submission deadline for eFiction Magazine’s June issue. I wrote a short story for this issue so there’s obviously some tension in the air as I hope that it makes the cut and gets the ‘Published’ stamp. Needless to say; my blackberry, which gets all my emails, will be glued to my hip in anticipation.

This weekend also gives me time to work on the second manuscript of ‘The Veil’. For those that haven’t followed either this story or myself for that long: ‘The Veil’ is my first novel that I intend to publish digitally. I finished the first manuscript for it back in December before going on a slight hiatus. From there; I wrote a small number of short stories, including the now published ‘Synthetic Reality’, and improved on my writing skills.

I was also going over the manuscript at the same time in an attempt to edit it. It wasn’t terribly long before I came to realize it needed a complete rework from the ground up. It wasn’t just grammatical errors that needed fixing, the story itself was flawed. From that point forward; I started a new project file in Scrivener to do a complete re-write of ‘The Veil’.

I’ve since been writing the character dossiers and creating the locations for the second version of the story. Not only have the events in the story changed dramatically, but even the tone of it has changed at its most basic level. Some characters have left while others have been made, locations have been made and named, ect.

While I haven’t even penned a single word of the new story as the core manuscript, the new story that’s being explored and fleshed out in these dossiers makes me much happier than the previous work did. I am quickly approaching the point where I pen the first scene in the first chapter, making me eager to put this new story to the test as I write it out.

Good tidings are on the horizon, I’m just trying to be sure that I don’t botch this in some spectacular fashion.