1. Bright Shadow
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    Bright Shadow Member

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    A religious character who isn't preachy

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Bright Shadow, Apr 8, 2011.

    I'm working on this YA fantasy novel about a fourteen year old who dies and has adventures in the land of the dead. He's a ghost, but it's not a horror or sad story as much as it is fantasy adventure, only to get to the fantastic world the character didn't open a magic wardrobe or fall down a rabbit hole but rather, he died in a head on collision with a tractor trailer.

    Anyway, my MC is intelligent and articulate and the child of converts to Buddhism. As a result he's a Zen Buddhist "dharma brat" and that's his world view. My main concern is that I DO NOT want to preach to the readers, but just want my character's religion to be a part of what makes him a complete, believable character without preaching.

    One of the things I'm trying to do is to show him questioning what he has been taught. When he sees he isn't in his next life, he openly admits that reincarnation might be a load of bull. Basically, although he never articulates it,he believes in the morality he was raised with while questioning the mythology and practices.

    At the end of the book, Buddhism is not proven and if anything it's kind of disproven when he sees his father unable to let go and accept that his son is dead but instead continues to cling on to his attachment. So, it's not one of those religious fiction things where the religion's worldview is proven to be true and wonderful at the end. Rather, the religion just looks neutral.

    My issue is that while the plot doesn't say Buddhism is true, the character always goes back to the way he was brought up when he thinks of what he should do. He lets go off his family and tries to accept that he will never be with them again because that's how he was taught. He tries to remain non-violent when ever possible because that's how he was taught. I'm just finding it difficult to make a character that has these beliefs that he falls back on without coming across like I, the author, am pushing them on the reader. I'm a wannabee writer, not a manic street preacher.
     
  2. KillianRussell
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    KillianRussell Contributing Member

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    I wanna write like a manic street preacher
     
  3. Anonym
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    Anonym Contributing Member

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    I don't see the problem. If it were christianity, which is infinitely more dogmatic, I'd understand the dilemma, but buddhism - depending on the school - doesn't require huge leaps of faith to the point of turning people off like abrahamic religions, other than the concept of karma & samsara perhaps, if you do take the more mystical approach. Even then.
    If anything, it'd be peoples' ignorance of buddhism that would be an issue, in that they might need some edification, which I suppose could run the risk of sounding preachy. Otherwise buddhism is one of the least preachy, pontificating religions I'm aware of. I think you'll be okay if it's more of an exposition of a buddhist's way of thinking, and not cramming how buddhism is superior down peoples' throats - which, unlike christianity, isn't usually an issue for buddhism. If that makes sense.

    Interesting story. I hope this helps, good luck.
     
  4. cybrxkhan
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    cybrxkhan Contributing Member

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    The fact that most people in the West don't even have a good idea of what Buddhism is probably prevents it from sounding preachy, because people don't really have any clear conception of how a preachy Buddhist would sound like, since the first image that comes to mind when people think about Buddhism are quiet monks meditating in some mystical temple in the middle of nowhere.

    Also I would like to note something as a Buddhist myself. I'm not saying I don't like what you're doing here (if anything, I invite careful skepticism of all belief systems), but from what I know of Buddhism, theoretically from what you describe, it is plausible that the boy has reincarnated in that situation. In traditional Buddhist cosmology, there are generally six classes of beings one can reincarnate into, like that of humans or animals; one of these six classes are called the Ghost realm (sometimes the Hungry Ghost realm), where, basically, due to various attachments or desires, a person reincarnates as this ghost-thing that, well, lives a miserable existence for the rest of their lifetime as a ghost precisely because they can't let go of attachment or desire and so forth. This is just an example of how a Buddhist might interpret what happened to your MC, and there are probably different ways to analyze it as a different type of reincarnation as well.

    Of course you can just dismiss all of that for the sake of the story, and not all Buddhists believe in that obviously (I myself am skeptical of it, though I don't not believe it altogether - guess you can call me agnostic on that), but it is something to consider. A question - how much do you know about Buddhism? Or are you Buddhist? Not that I'm trying to single out against you or anything, but if Buddhism is something you only have a brief understanding of, it will probably be difficult for you to use it in the story; it'd be better that you research on it a bit, and then formulate your MC's viewpoint of Buddhism from what you researched. Of course, if you already know about Buddhism, then please disregard what I just said.

    Also, another thing: reincarnation is only a small part of the Buddhist belief system (albeit an important one), but it is not necessary to believe in reincarnation in order to believe in other parts of Buddhism. I think you should also account for that, for instance, your MC may now find reincarnation as an idea dubious, and then he contemplates while he hasn't disproven or proven other aspects of Buddhism, he begins to question them.


    Anyhow, feel free to take my advice with a grain of salt. I think Buddhism isn't a thing most people in the West really know about and understand fully, and they just think about it as some quirky New Age thing, so I commend you for trying to delve into it and to study it in your writing, so to spkea.
     
  5. Trish
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    Trish I've been deleted.. again Contributor

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    Okay, it doesn't sound preachy at all. I don't know anything about Buddhism, and I'm an Atheist, but I don't think it's a problem.

    As far as ANY religion in ANY book goes. IMO, if it's your CHARACTERS religion and you're just letting your character do what they need to do to follow their religion and progress the book don't worry about anything else.

    As my grandmother always said, You can please all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but you'll never please all of the people all of the time.
     
  6. ScaryMonster
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    ScaryMonster Active Member

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    I've been doing one sort of martial art or another since I was 12 years old, one of my instructors was a Japanese gentleman who also happened to be a Shinto priest.
    What he was teaching me was a style of Japanese swordsmanship called Tenshin Shōden Katori Shintō-ryū.

    Shinto is an animistic belief that everything in creation is alive in a certain way particular to the traits that creature or substance. I guess it depends on how one defines alive.
    Everyone and everything is comprised from elements that once burnt in the hearts of stars, so in a respect everything has this connection; but I digress.

    I asked this teacher if it was necessary for me to learn about Shinto as a part of my study of swordsmanship and he said no.

    The sword training I was doing was based on principles on which Shinto is based and to know these principles through a practical application like martial arts is a deeper sort of understanding them just mimicking rituals.

    The point of all of this that a great teacher doesn't just teach by words alone, by through example. And through emulating the actions of such a teacher the student not only learns the lesson they understand it on a personal level.
     
  7. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    That's a good way to avoid preachiness.

    Another way is to make the fictional world ambiguous - leaving it open for interpretation. The reader understands some of it, but it's not entirely clear how it works. That's the writer's way of admitting he doesn't know everything.

    The boy could also be shown struggling with understanding the world, without ever reaching certainty.

    Or the boy could believe he understands the world perfectly, but his certainty is described as a character flaw - for example, by making the boy seem arrogant, or by making his certainty turn out to be wrong at a critical moment.

    Moral preachiness can be avoided the same way - by making the moral ambiguous, showing the main character struggling with his morals without ever reaching certainty, or showing the moral certainty to be a weakness.
     
  8. SeverinR
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    SeverinR Contributing Member

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    I would tread lightly,(as with any religion)
    and I would expect an author to have a good feeling of the religion before trying to write about it, unless the book is about learning the religion.

    Remember, the boy is dead, so alot of what he will deal with will directly link to what the religion says will happen to the follower after death. Changing intentionally or unintentionally can offend followers. Altering the afterlife according to how he lived might be tolerated, or it might be viewed as trying to change the religion.

    I am a Christian and I do not feel comfortable writing about Christianity in a story except for the characters personal beliefs.

    The third rail-politics and religion.
     
  9. Allegro Van Kiddo
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    Allegro Van Kiddo Contributing Member

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    I know a lot about Zen Buddhism, and it's not a religion it's a philosophy of life. Something like Tibetan Buddhism is more like a religion, and real not much like Bubbhism at all.

    Some points:

    1. You cannot preach Zen Buddhism because you aren't supposed to explain it. The ideas are transmitted via these obtuse stories that you either understand or don't, if you don't, too bad.

    These are some of the stories:

    http://www.101zenstories.com/

    There's also a great book called Zen Flesh Zen Bones.

    2. Preachers: Anyone who attempts to explan Zen is said to be "Fox like" and in Japan that means a trickster. There's also the saying, "If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him," and that's because a Buddha (a type of person)would never tell you he's a Buddha because he would be beyond that.

    Later, Jesus said much the same thing. He said not to publicly worship, give, or worship and all of that should be done secretly. The point Buddha and Jesus were making is that anyone how says "I'm holy!" is likely looking to exploit others and has an Earthly mindset.

    The point of Zen is to have a super open mind and there's nothing supernatural about it. I't similar to Greek Stoicism (some say it came from Buddhism) in that one seeks to reduce suffering through a calm objective view of the world.

    Example:

    Fred: Bob, I just heard that your whole family was killed in the tidal wave!

    Bob: I see.

    Fred: You don't seem very upset!!! That's weird!!! You're a bastard!

    Bob: No. I just know that people die every day and it's natural. Plus, we lived by the water and one must expect tidal waves to happen, because that is natural. Nothing odd happened and have to adapt. Dead people are dead and no longer have to worry about my family because they don't exist.

    Bob's kind of extreme but he's objective and has a "No Mind" attitude which is ideal. He's not thinking about what was, what could have been, just what is "now" and that's it.

    I've noticed that a lot of bad guys are like this in anime, because it's a little creepy. However, once you start thinking of life like that, it's hard to stop.

    Hope that helped!
     
  10. mugen shiyo
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    mugen shiyo Contributing Member

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    your probably only going to come off preachy if people get the sense that most of your book is telling them what they are doing wrong and what they should be doing right. if it's an adventure than let it be fun and drop most of the 'authors' criticism and focus on the characters (not saying you have criticisms). the character can explore his beliefs to any degree he wants and you can use probably any amount of Buddhist material you want. just avoid having too biased an opinion towards anything and it should be fine
     
  11. Bright Shadow
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    Bright Shadow Member

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    I would be afraid that if I did that it would be like he's on a moral high horse or something. I decided to give him beliefs that he only half believes in and they kind of guide his actions, even though he might not be completely aware of it.

    It's hard to explain, but when you're raised in a religion you kind of fall back on it even after you openly reject it...if a ex-Catholic turned hardcore religion hating fan of Richard Dawkins was attacked by a demon, I can guarantee you she will say "damn it! where did I put those Rosary beads?"

    There are Atheists in the foxholes, I agree, but there are no Atheist in the supernatural horror story.
     
  12. Bright Shadow
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    Bright Shadow Member

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    That's why I have to think about his religion. Many people go about their day to day lives without thinking of religion, but if they found themselves dead they would suddenly start thinking about that exact topic a lot more.

    I'm not really altering the after life as much as I am writing a ghost story, which is to say the afterlife is different from that of any religion.
     
  13. Bright Shadow
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    Bright Shadow Member

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    I'm 29 years old, and I became a Chan (Zen) Buddhist when I was seventeen. I've been involved with it for over ten years and have been on many retreats/short term monastic stays at a monastery.

    Zen Buddhism is a religion...different from most "Western" religion, but a religion none the less. It has it's own history of fanatics who have massacred people after they misunderstood their own religion, its own crazy lunatic fringe, its own members who don't really follow the religion except to visit a temple on New Years (same as the "Christmas Catholics") and its own beliefs that become superstition for many.

    I'm not saying its a bad religion, (otherwise I wouldn't be in it) just saying that it isn't the idealized thing a lot of people think it is.
     
  14. Allegro Van Kiddo
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    Allegro Van Kiddo Contributing Member

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    Perhaps you were surrounded by weirdos?

    Buddhism is not a religion.

    Definition:

    Religion:

    a : the state of a religious <a nun in her 20th year of religion> b (1) : the service and worship of God or the supernatural (2) : commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance

    In Zen Buddhism, there is no god, it is not concerned with the spernatural, there is no observance because there is no dogma.

    There's plenty of people who take ideas and twist them into ways to self-promote, and that's why there's the "kill the Buddha if you meet him" comment. Anyone who says "I'm Mr. Zen" is full of crap and the last person you should listen to. In the same light, I one met a bunch of Tibetan monks who told be they were reincarnated lamas while smoking cigarettes and squinting like rock stars, and I instantly knew why the Chinese invaded.
     
  15. Bright Shadow
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    Bright Shadow Member

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    If you crack open any book on world religions, Buddhism will be right there. A believe in a God is not essential to a religion but is simply the Orthodox "Western" definition of religion. Many "Eastern" religion are more fluid.

    There is some "dogma", i.e., traditions that exist outside the text and such, but they are still there. There is a sense of the supernatural in that there is prayer, which is taught to be more "personal energy" than the power of a deity. All Zen Buddhist, Japanese Zen, Chinese Chan, Korean Seon and Vietnamese Thien have this kind of prayer thing, not to mention the Bodhisattvas which might as well be deities.

    No, when I think of a religion without any dogma, the closest thing I can come up with is Wicca.

    That, and Buddhism does not say there is no God, it just doesn't comment on it one way or another, which is why their are people who are Shinto and Buddhist at the same times, or Taoist and Buddhist and why many Buddhist temples in South Asia also have shrines to Hindu gods built in.
    Ah, every religion has teachers and such. If there is no instruction, there is no dharma, which is why it's called a "dharma transmission". This is not to say that a teacher should be followed unquestionably, but teachers are necessary. Trust me, the Venerable Sheng Yen, my teacher, was someone who I never had any reason not to listen to despite my poking and prodding at his teachings.

    Monks aren't allowed to smoke, so they must have been corrupt and a bad example of Tibetan Buddhism. NKT is a pretty cool bunch of people and I visited one of their temples a couple of times. Buddhism, like any other religion, ideology or any other group of people that numbers in the hundreds of millions is going to have its fair share of douche bags mixed in.
     
  16. Allegro Van Kiddo
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    Allegro Van Kiddo Contributing Member

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    Bright,

    I'm not going to keep going back and forth here, but I will direct you to a good source:

    http://www.buddhanet.net/nutshell03.htm

    In addition, the monks I met were part of a troop touring the US in the early 90s to raise awareness. They were sponsored by celebrities and whatnot and high lamas in the Tibetan organization. If you research the topic the Tibetan monks were not very Buddhist in their behavior in their home country.
     
  17. tcol4417
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    Don't specify that you're referring to a Buddhist ethics system, but instead make it seem that he's trying to do these things independently of what he's been taught.

    Also keep in mind two things:
    - Like most religions, there are differing sects in Buddhism that have different ideas. It's possible to say that Buddhism isn't a religion as there are no deities, no divine influences and no concept of evil: Just the struggle of the pure soul against physical, mental and spiritual influences. Make sure that any assertions you make are true in a general sense and don't draw too heavily on the mythology.
    EDIT: Everything you posted above was done while I was typing this, so I'll assume you know what you're doing.
    - Remember that the vast majority of your audience won't have done the same amount of research you should have done to write this. If there's an element directly related to Buddhism, introduce it in a way that the reader learns without effort.

    The idea of "proving" Buddhism to be true or false is a null point because it's not a faith that actively "preaches" in the same sense that the monotheistic religions do. Buddhism is more a way of life, so it would be better to say that your MC discovers that it doesn't always work out as it may for others.
     
  18. Bright Shadow
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    Bright Shadow Member

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    Just because you do not have a deity in a person sense does not mean that it is not a religion. A lack of dogma also does not mean that it is not a religion. Wicca has no dogma and doesn't even have any holy books, but its still a religion.

    According to the Venerable Sheng-Yen, a Zen teacher from Taiwan who was known throughout the world, Buddhism is a religion. According to every single scholar of religion, Buddhism is a religion.

    Granted, that wishy-washy New Age distortion of Buddhism that happened in the 90s tried to change that, but so what? There are Atheistic Christian groups out there too, but Christianity is still a religion.




    "The" Tibetan organization? There are four schools of Tibetan Buddhism in Tibet its self, only one of which is associated with the Dalai Lama. Like I said, NKT broke with the Dalai Lama and are pretty cool people, not to mention schools like Sakya, which has nothing to do with Gelug (the Dalai Lama's school.)

    Sure, Tibetan monks were not very Buddhist, but neither were the Japanese Zen Monks during world war two who raped Chinese women, burned villages and supported a fascist regime. A great book on that subject is "Zen at War" by Brian Victoria. Plus, you have Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka giving blessings to men fighting the Tamil Tigers and giving speeches, sometime against the Tamil people themselves and not just against the Tamil government, that are down right genocidal in tone.

    Buddhism, like any other religion, ideology or nation, has blood on its hand and breeds its own hypocrites.
     
  19. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    This thread started about creating a religious character. It is becoming a debate about religion.

    If it continues on this track, the thread will be closed.

    This is the only warning that will be given.
     
  20. KillianRussell
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    KillianRussell Contributing Member

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    My devout Catholic character just tossed a cup of urine in a road rage incident, that does not make him less spiritual only more human.
     
  21. Bright Shadow
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    I would say that that would make him a well rounded, believable character. Even the most devote person can break from their religion at times of stress. I moral, religious person who's still human and has human flaws is one thing, but a goody-two-shoes Mary sue is another.
     
  22. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    Then I don't see much reason to worry. I haven't read your story, but having a religious theme is not enough to make something preachy.
     
  23. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    If nothing stated in the narrative or by the main character can be translated to "Buddhism is better because [...]" then I don't see how it could be preachy. As for secondary characters, the restriction is even looser -- I have a whole slew of secondary characters who preach their firm world views, and I doubt a reader would ever assume that one of these were an author tract. I had my doubts at one point, but since all these characters contradict each other so much, it couldn't be said with any kind of reasonability that one was given favor. You can either do that -- give all views a bit of screen time, or tone down the entire thing and focus more on the personal story rather than beliefs.
     
  24. sereda008
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    sereda008 Senior Member

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    A difficult thing to answer. I would advise him to think less do more. I have not researched this religion, but I have invented a religion for my antagonistic vampire. He is partly insane, having lived through thousands of years (Unique), but what he does is speak in the old version on English. He kills his prey with glee and does a small, invisible ritual with the blood (Forget what you are thinking. He is not just another crappy vampire character.) Anyway, he does things more instead of thinking about them. The reader actually does not get into his head but still has the knowledge that he is deep within his religion.
     

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