I’m excited to share today’s guest post with you because in addition to being a lovely person, Jody Hedlund runs a fantastic blog for writers. As if that wasn’t enough, she’s also graciously arranged for a book giveaway of her latest release, The Doctor’s Lady (see bottom of post for details).
Jody writes historical romance stories that touch on issues of faith, and we all know that religion and politics are potentially dangerous topics. So I wondered how she balances being true to herself and her stories while not alienating potential readers. Whether we write political/religious stories or not, I think we can all learn from her approach.
Is religious-talk taboo in novels? Should we avoid it for fear of offending some of our readers? After all, each of us will have (and are entitled to) our own diverse religious beliefs. We won’t all agree (even those sharing the same faith will often have differences on issues!). So should we just keep our beliefs to ourselves and out of our books?
Anyone who follows me on Twitter or Facebook or my blog knows that I tend to take a more professional approach to what I share. While I try to be authentic about my life and writing journey, I keep my personal opinions and beliefs to a minimum. People aren’t following me for my witty political opinions or for my inspiring faith tweets.
Rather, most of us hook up on social media sites because we enjoy the connections and the writing information we glean. In fact, the majority of us get turned off by others using social media as a soapbox. We enjoy using social media to socialize (go figure!), and we don’t particularly appreciate having someone else’s beliefs (religious, political, or otherwise) shoved down our throats.
But what about in our books? Should we attempt to steer away from vocalizing our beliefs in our stories too?
Here are several things I think writers should keep in mind when determining how much religion, spirituality, etc. to weave into their books:
- Everyone has a worldview (belief system) and it will come out in our books in one form or another.
When a writer sits down before a blank page, they are bringing everything within them to the table—that includes personality, past influences, life experiences, and yes, even religious beliefs. There is really no way to separate out who we are at our core from what we write. It will weave its way into our stories in subtle ways even if we try to stifle it.
In fact, when I read books to my children, we almost always try to decipher the worldview of the author based on the clues within the story. When we can logically and rationally talk about the differences in what people believe, then reading viewpoints that vary from ours becomes less threatening.
- Writers & readers should be aware of genre and publisher expectations.
I’m currently contracted to write for Bethany House which is a large traditional Christian publisher. Most readers who pick up a Bethany House book expect a spiritual message in one form or another. And thus, my publisher and editors expect my stories to have some kind of uplifting religious tones to it as well.
Writers will need to be aware of their publisher’s guidelines for how much or how little is acceptable. And it behooves readers to understand what type of book they’re picking up too. I’d probably be frustrated if someone gave me a 1-Star review on Amazon simply because they didn’t like the spirituality in my book, particularly because my genre is Christian historical romance. That would be like someone giving a 1-Star review to an erotic novel because they didn’t like the sex.
- To add depth to our characters, we will need to have them struggle through issues.
Aside from the above two points, I think we do ourselves and our readers a disservice if we refrain from exploring the deeper struggles of life. Readers long to delve into the complex problems and issues that we all face. One way to do that is to give our characters spiritual struggles that they’ll need to work through during the course of our books. We don’t have to “preach” to our readers, but we can have our characters naturally wrestle through questions.
- We should seamlessly weave in any themes or messages we want in our books.
If we choose to explore spiritual themes, the challenge for all of us is to do so in way that doesn’t take the reader out of the story. The best stories are ones that can uplift, inform, and entertain all at the same time, without the reader knowing that’s even happening.
Like any other aspect of our stories, we want to subtly and gradually layer the details that will bring our plots and characters to life. Information dumps for anything (religious or otherwise) can diminish the impact of our words.
©Jody Hedlund 2011
Jody Hedlund is an award-winning historical romance novelist and author of the best-selling book, The Preacher’s Bride. She received a bachelor’s degree from Taylor University and a master’s from the University of Wisconsin, both in Social Work. Currently she makes her home in Michigan with her husband and five busy children. The Doctor’s Lady released in September 2011.
About The Doctor’s Lady: Priscilla White and Dr. Eli Ernest both feel God’s call to missionary work. So when they learn that their board will no longer send single men and women into the field, the two agree to an in-name-only marriage. Will their minds—and hearts—be tested and changed by the hardships of the journey west?
If you’d like to win a copy of The Doctor’s Lady, leave a comment before midnight EST on Sunday, September 25th, 2011. And don’t forget to enter Jody’s Trailblazer Contest for a chance to win a $300 prize package.
I definitely agree with Jody that no matter what, we want to avoid letting our stories become a soapbox. As she points out, then our religious/political beliefs become just another type of information dump. That doesn’t make for a good story, and ultimately, no one will read our book if it’s not a good story.
How do you handle religion or politics in your stories? Do you agree that your worldview will show up in your book in some form? Or do you think it’s possible (and necessary) for writers to keep their beliefs out of their books? If you’ve read any of those soapbox/info dump type stories, what did you think of them?