Today we welcome back my good friend Terry W. Ervin II back to the writing chair in celebration of his newest release Soul Forge! (I am so excited to read this book!) Soul Forge is the third book in his First Civilization's Legacy series.
Terry is here to discuss a subject quite near to my heart. Writing characters of faith.
Characters of Faith in Fiction
While several of my short stories could be identified as ‘inspirational’ with faith-based overtones, the majority of my writing, especially my novels, are fantasy and science fiction aimed at a more mainstream audience.
That doesn’t mean aspects of religious faith are absent from my novels. A great variety of characters populate my stories and some of them have faith, in varying measures. I find this to be appropriate, being just one possible aspect of a character’s make up.
That being said, there are conventions and potential pitfalls to consider when including aspects of faith in a work of fiction.
The most obvious convention when writing fiction is that an author shouldn’t ‘preach’ to the readers. This can be said of concerns other than religion. Consider political topics such as gun control, socialism, capitalism, drug laws, and more. All of these areas are ripe for espousing one point of view to the detriment of the story being told, including plot and character development. Heavy-handedly ‘telling’ readers how they should think or behave, even if they tend to agree, is certain to turn them off.
Another convention with respect to including faith in a work of fiction is that it should be organic, in that it’s a natural part of the character and story, and not simply inserted. Yes, there are stock characters, such as a strict, ruler-wielding nun in the classroom, or a humble, caring priest working as a hospital chaplain, and they have a place inserted in a story, but they should be used to play their part, after which the story moves on.
As indicated, faith being a part of a character’s make up is both reasonable and realistic. Prayer, moral beliefs, conversation, and actions within that context are all fine. How much depends not only on the character, but also on the plot and theme, and how integral the character(s) of faith are to the storyline. Most readers are comfortable with that. Most agnostics and atheists have friends, acquaintances, coworkers, and even family that believe in God, so having such characters in a work of fiction makes sense. The more important or central a character’s religious faith becomes to the storyline, the more the audience would shift away from ‘mainstream.’
It was probably noted that I said in the paragraph above: Most readers are fine with that.
Most does not equate to all, which leads to a potential pitfall.
If faith plays a significant part in the motivations and resulting actions of one or more major characters in a novel, there will be readers that are turned off. Those readers may be near the extreme end when it comes to intolerance toward religion, or even a particular religion. It should be pointed out that similar reactions occur among some readers with strong faith being turned off by characters that are expressively ambivalent toward God, or vocal in their atheism.
Potentially losing or dissatisfying some readers simply by including characters with faith as a part of their make-up doesn’t sound like much of a pitfall. Usually that’s true.
My experience in this arena is mainly through my novels Flank Hawk and Relic Tech. The main area where faith plays a role in Flank Hawk centers is the Crusader, Paul Jedidiah Roos. While a character important to the plot, Roos isn’t the POV character, and first appears in the 2nd half of the novel.
Even so, I’ve received emails from readers, indicating they returned the novel because of Roos. One reader thought it was wrong for Christianity to exist in my fantasy novel, and was tempted to throw his Kindle across the room because he was really enjoying the novel up until that point, when ‘Crusaders’ first appeared.
The First Civilization’s Legacy Series is a post-apocalyptic fantasy series. Why wouldn’t there be an outpost of Christianity? While those were my thoughts, it’s my ‘policy’ to not debate or attempt to alter the views of readers expressing an opinion, unless they specifically ask about some particular point. I prefer to thank them for giving my story a try and express my disappointment that they didn’t find the read satisfying.
With Relic Tech, the main character, Security Specialist Krakista Keesay is one with a measure of religious faith. It’s not overly strong and isn’t prevalent in the storyline. For example, he says prayers, based on Scripture memorized as a youth, for dead or dying characters. Also, there is a priest that plays a very minor role while the POV character is serving as a security specialist aboard the Civil Transport Kalavar.
Still, some of the most critical reviews, and emails sent to me, have focused on the religious aspects to the novel. The main character was called a TSA Thug and Religious Fanatic. I’ve had readers email me that they quit reading when a Bible was mentioned, saying they don’t like religion in their science fiction. The TSA/Religious Fanatic review was challenged by other readers, and eventually the reviewer agreed that he was off target. A week or two later, the review disappeared. Still, while the review was up, it appeared to negatively affect sales.
There are some pitfalls to having characters of religious faith in a story. But those pitfalls are okay with me. A writer cannot please everybody, and it’s part of the business of being an author—accepting, or at least acknowledging reader opinions and reviews that express disappointment, sometimes based on the content of a character’s make up. Because, on the other hand, there are readers out there that really enjoy reading about Roos and Keesay, and are glad I wrote them as I did, believing they add to the storylines and worlds created.
I guess I’ll see what happens with Soul Forge where, just as in Blood Sword, echoes of Roos’ faith can be found in some of the characters, especially Lilly.
Thank you so much, Terry! I personally love your characters who display their faith. :)
Be sure to take a look at Terry's books. You can buy Soul Forge here:
Kindle UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Soul-
Print UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Soul-
Print UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Soul-
Terry W. Ervin II is an English teacher who enjoys writing fantasy and science fiction.
His First Civilization’s Legacy Series includes FLANK HAWK, BLOOD SWORD and SOUL FORGE, his newest release from Gryphonwood Press. Terry’s debut science fiction novel RELIC TECH is the first in the Crax War Chronicles and his short stories have appeared in over a dozen anthologies and magazines. The genres range from SF and mystery to horror and inspirational. GENRE SHOTGUN is a collection containing all of his previously published short stories.
To contact Terry or learn more about his writing endeavors, visit his website at www.ervin-author.com or his blog, Up Around the Corner at