The Challenge of Diversity, part 4 of 5

[ Part One: Race | Part Two: Sexual Orientation | Part Three: Women ]

Religion

This is one of the most difficult things for writers who are mainline Protestant Christians to work with, because most have been in the majority their entire lives. If you’ve lived in non-urban areas, you may not have had much exposure to anything else. But you have readers from other religions, as well as readers who don’t consider themselves a member of any religion at all, and a little caution with assumptions goes a long way toward drawing them into your story, rather than making them feel excluded.

  1. Religion is not a joke. There are more religions in the US than Protestant Christian, Catholic, and Jewish. Don’t assume that just because you’ve never met anyone who is Buddhist, Wiccan, or Hindu that they aren’t out there. Sometimes, they’re your next-door neighbors, and you don’t even know it. You don’t have to either include or avoid them in your writing, but don’t talk about them as if no real person (or no red-blooded American) could possibly belong to those faiths. Even worse, don’t use them strictly as a joke.
  2. Research unfamiliar religions if you’re going to use them. Most of the time, the Wikipedia article will be fairly helpful. We don’t know what we don’t know, and it’s easy to make assumptions and end up with modern-day Catholic priests who have a wife and children or Voodoo priests practicing human sacrifice.
  3. Watch your language. No, really. Once again, Google is your friend. “Voodoo” isn’t actually the name of the religion–it’s usually spelled Voudun or Vodun. Some Wiccans refer to themselves as witches, which makes substituting “witch” for “bitch” in narration in an effort to “soften” a curse a real no-no. Muslims don’t practice Muslimism, they practice Islam. There is no such thing as the Mormon Church, it’s the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and its members may prefer to refer to themselves as LDS, rather than Mormons. And that’s just off the top of my head.

    Nobody expects you to be perfect, and what your characters say in dialogue may be entirely different, because they come from their own cultural backgrounds and have their own ideas and may not be the least bit aware of this kind of thing. But if you try to get it right in narration, you’re appealing to a broader readership. And once again, your editor is here to help. đŸ™‚

    To be continued . . .

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About April L'Orange

April L'Orange is a hard-working editor and author of science fiction and fantasy. She began life as a terribly serious little old woman and has been growing younger ever since. When she's not writing, she can often be found painting bits of her house or beating back the yard with a machete. She and her husband currently live in upstate New York, where they are owned by three cats and the Squirrel Mafia. She's published short stories in anthologies available from Escape Collective Press and Pink Narcissus Press. For more information, please visit aprillorange.wordpress.com.

Posted on December 15, 2011, in Readership, Research. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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