Using Religion in Writing a Fantasy Novel

Have you ever noticed how almost every fantasy novel has some religious order or religious element in it? Is it because we consider religion as a form of fantasy? Greek Mythology, for example, is considered fantasy fiction today. But at one time, people actually worshiped the Greek Gods. Since magic and mysticism seem to derive from religion, it makes sense to add a religious element when writing a fantasy novel.

Religion is a Part of Every Culture
Whether one is atheist, Christian, or Muslim; American, Chinese, or Pacific Islander, religion is a part of our everyday lives. Even followers of the scientific theories are a form of religion. Even though a fantasy world is a make-believe world, it has to be believable. A world without religion of some kind, even a made-up kind, might not feel right to a reader.

Religion Creates Tension
Because of religion, we have had many very interesting events in history. Religion has caused wars like the Crusades, persecution like witch hunts or the Jewish Holocaust, dissention like the religious debate and split between Greek Orthodoxy and Latin Catholicism, fanatics like the Kamikaze or our modern terrorists. Using our own history as an example, we can use religion in writing a fantasy novel to create interesting characters and tension.

Religion Gives Hope
Religion doesn’t have to be all bad. While there are people in our own world who use religion as an excuse to do evil things, not all religious people are like that. Some people see religion as a way of restricting their lives while others see it as a way to make sure they do the right thing. And when certain religious people face hardship, it may be easier for them to get through it because of their faith. Religion can give hope to a character or mythical society. And religion can be a way for your character to lead a moral life. Religion does not always mean a church with priests, but it can.

Religion in Good vs. Evil
When writing a fantasy novel, your religion can either be good or evil. Even if your faith lies with Christianity, you have to admit that people have used the name of God to do things that are wrong. Is your character fighting against a corrupt religious institution? Or does his moral acts follow the ideals of his professed religion?

Is Your Fantasy Novel a Story or are You Sending a Message?
Be careful when writing a fantasy novel to not make your story a religious debate. Don’t let your personal beliefs interfere with the story you are trying to tell. Unless the intent of your fantasy novel is to create controversy, you don’t want to deviate from the plot or make someone put down your book in disgust because they don’t agree with your thoughts. No one likes to be force-fed someone else’s beliefs. When writing a fantasy novel, make sure the opinions regarding religion in your story are the opinions of your characters. Try to not to make your characters preach.

Almost every good fantasy novel has a religious element to it. Terry Goodkind’s “Sword of Truth” series shows different cultures with different religious practices. While the main character supports thinking for oneself, it can’t be denied that the spirit world is real. Brandon Sanderson’s “Mistborn” series shows a corrupted religion with the Lord Ruler and one of the characters studies all religions and supports them as an outlet for hope. Even George R. R. Martin’s “Song of Ice and Fire” series, which is mostly a story of politics and warfare, has elements of religion. Remember that Queen Cersei is taken prisoner by religious fanatics and Arya joined an organization of people who can change their faces. What will be the religion of people in your fantasy novel?

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