Diversity in Belief
Good day, dear writers.
As I'm sure you have heard from the Spider-Whelp in that blasted wrap-up (why the good Captain thought that a wise move is beyond me) we are discussing DIVERSITY this month. It is a subject close to all our hearts, and one we, along with most of the YA community, feel strongly about. Being the resident god of the team (the good one, anyway) I thought it would be appropriate for me to discuss with you some different angles you can take on diversity in Faith/Belief/Religion.
Regardless of the church or lack thereof you have in your story, it is important that your characters have differing beliefs. People in the real world vary widely in what they believe. It is true that most people have some basic sense of morality (i.e. kicking puppies is not a nice thing to do) but even the simplest things can be a point of argument for some people.
As an Earthly example, take abortion. If my facts are straight, some people believe that it is wrong to tell a woman what she can and cannot do with her own body, and that therefore making abortion illegal is taking away a woman's right to choose. Other people believe that an unborn child should also be granted rights, that abortion is an act of murder against that child and should be illegal.
Now, I am not here to tell you how to live or believe. I am not here to tell you which is right or wrong. All I know is that these two arguments are argued religiously and with great fervor. And I can tell you this: you will never stretch yourself more as a writer than when you write a convincing character who believes differently than you do.
In the past, especially in SFF, authors would put in one single character who believed differently than the others. This character often came across as weak and his/her arguments were always overshadowed by the "believers." This character often "converted" or had their mind changed by the end, in order to prove a point.
That is NOT diversity. That's called a "straw-man." A single character to stand in contrast against the rest only to show how right the rest were. This kind of writing is weak and lazy. Do not do it. You'll only offend people who really do agree with or relate to the straw-man.
(Note, a straw-man can be in any type of diversity - race, class, ethnicity, gender, etc. - not just belief.)
Even in a group such as the Avengers, which is dominated by white males, we have an interesting take on diversity in our belief systems. Myself, a god from another world -- an alien, some would call me -- who values my friends and fighting evil. The Captain, a man from an older age who values kindness and decency. Tony Stark, who values himself and trusts very few. Dr. Banner, who values science and serenity. Natasha, who values her orders. The Hawk Man who values accuracy and his peers. And of course, Phil Coulson, who values us all.
Despite the disagreements we have -- which I'm certain you've seen -- we are able to band together and fight for the greater good.
As the good Dr. Banner pointed out, many writers fear they will get diversity wrong, that they will unintentionally write a straw-man or a "token" character. The way to avoid this -- and I'm certain we'll all be saying this all month long -- is RESEARCH.
RESEARCH - RESEARCH - RESEARCH
Do you have a very orthodox character? An Atheist? Agnostic? Whatever a person's level of faith or belief, find someone who believes similarly and ask them what kind of things they deal with on a daily basis.
What are their core values?
What do they get SO ANNOYED by from people of other beliefs?
What is the one thing they ALWAYS have to explain when asked WHY they believe as they do?
Do you see? Find the words those people use, and use them in your work. (Not exactly, unless you have their permission.) Otherwise they'll never feel properly represented.
Whether you're writing Contemporary, Fantasy, Dystopian, SciFi, or whatever else there is, people always believe differently, and it can always be a source of conflict, major or minor, in your story. Use it to the best advantage possible, make your cast diverse in more than just one aspect, and you will see your characters come to life.