1. Sr. Flora OSB
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    Sr. Flora OSB New Member

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    Religious Characters

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Sr. Flora OSB, Sep 20, 2011.

    Dear all,

    I have lived with religious characters for my entire adult life, so I have a very different perspective than most of you might when encountering a religious character. I very much want to tell the stories of religious men and women (priests, pastors, nuns, etc.) because I know that these people do not easily fit into the stereotyped images that our society gives us.

    My questions to you all is these:

    1) What would it take to get you, as a reader, to view a nun or a priest or a pastor or a rabbi as something more than the stereotyped image society gives?

    2) What DO you think of when you encounter a priest or a nun or a similar character in a piece of fiction (film, book, graphic novel, etc.)

    Please don't worry about offending me. I want your real and honest answers.

    Many thanks,

    Sister Flora
     
  2. LostInFiction
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    LostInFiction Senior Member

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    Hello

    For me to view a nun, priest, pastor or rabbi as something more than a stereotyped image I would need to be offered more than the stereotyped image and situations to view.

    I'm not sure that I view religious figures in 'the stereotyped image society gives' and I'm not even sure I know what that is. It's interesting to turn the questions on their heads: Why would a nun, priest etc not be viewed as an interesting and captivating character? Why would a story based around such characters not be engaging?

    Yours is a thought provoking post for me. I think writing great stories about great characters is the bottom line.
    I'm not being dissmissive, just in case this reads that way. I'm asking myself if there are barriers in the first place and if there are, then why is that? whose barriers are they? and why are they there? All the best with your writing.
     
  3. Hawwyboo
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    Hawwyboo Member

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    I'm a secular-agnostic who has grown up in a family of agnostics and atheists, and probably more than half of my friends have been strict atheists, but I've never really felt any differently towards people based on their religion. Ultimately there's a great range of personality traits which may differ in a great range of ways between individuals, and religion is only one of those. If I was reading a story and a nun was introduced, my initial image would just be a woman in a nun's habit, not necessarily old or young, ugly or pretty, etc.

    Of course, I am aware that there are certain stereotypes associated with religious characters, but it's always a genuine pleasure to find a character who does not strictly conform to the stereotypes associated with their occupation, race, nationality, etc. Having said that I think it's important not to actively avoid turning characters into stereotypes, as then you just end up with a mirror image of the stereotype. But seeing as you know a lot of religious people, you should be able to simply create characters based (at least to some degree) on who you know, and I assume they won't all conform to stereotypes, so if you present them as they really are then the non-stereotypical aspects of their personalities should become apparent to any but the most narrow-minded readers.
     
  4. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    1) What would it take to get you, as a reader, to view a nun or a priest or a pastor or a rabbi as something more than the stereotyped image society gives?
    It would take the writer presenting something more than the stereotyped image society gives. Seriously. The image presented to the reader is given by the writer. I don't know what this "stereotyped image" of priests and such even is, but you do, so you have the ability to avoid it.

    2) What DO you think of when you encounter a priest or a nun or a similar character in a piece of fiction?
    Depends. I recently saw Priest and it was an okay film, but it was a stereotypical epic action film with lots of slow-motion fighting and illogical fighting moves. The priests were very un-priestlike, too. Usually, it'll make me think of God or religion. I mean, what else would I think of? But Priest didn't have any associated feeling of God. So, you know, *Shrug.*
     
  5. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    ave, sister!
    i was taught through grade school by the sisters of charity at st. barnabas in yonkers, ny... i'm now an agnostic atheist [if that makes any sense], though i lead what many very religious people have said is a 'totally spiritual life' [go figure!]... anyway, in re your questions, i've been a voracious reader of fiction for close to 3/4 of a century and i see characters of any sort only as they are portrayed by their writers and not through any stereotype-tinted glasses...

    if they're intriguing, three-dimensional, realistically-depicted, i enjoy reading about them... if they're merely one-dimensional cardboard figures, i don't...

    i enjoyed the father brown series and andrew greeley's mysteries not because the main characters were clerics, but because they're well-written and tell a good story... i'd personally love to see a nun as a main character in a series, as that can bring a whole host [pardon the pun] of interesting factors to the tales that lay folk don't...

    i seem to recall a movie [made for tv as a pilot?] with a nun as an amateur detective... what did you have in mind?

    love and hugs, maia
     
  6. SeverinR
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    SeverinR Contributing Member

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    Stereotype:
    1.negitive: Pompous, pious, better then the average person, Knows (his)God better then anyone. (example:Catholic preists in the middle ages)

    2. postitive: giving of themselves to a fault, super charitable, thinks of everyone else first, (example:typical saint)

    3. positive?: completely non-violent, pacifist, pray for the person doing violence, example; Amish.

    I think the best religious character would be one that had to deal with their(and their peers) views of stereo type. For example 2 or 3, They believe the should be a perfect saint or not get angry, when every human has to at some point. They think they are a terrible religious person if they are human.
     
  7. VM80
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    VM80 Contributing Member Contributor

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    A fictional story about the day to day life of e.g. a nun or priest would not excite me.

    A story about someone who had to face some obstacle, something that tests their faith? Very much so.
     
  8. CULLEN DORN
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    CULLEN DORN Member

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    I suppose what would hook me into a priestly character
    would be the contrast of his call with the struggle of his
    secular propensities. I never saw a priest sweat.
    Perhaps the evidence of that would take us further into
    his character. The duty to serve God would be, I guess,
    to venture forth from the ecclesiastical domains that normally
    houses them into a secular setting where human flesh hurts
    either from hunger, depression, violence, and/or spiritual discord.

    "We serve God best when best we serve his children."
     
  9. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Hello, Sister Flora. I'm Agnostic, former Episcopalian.

    IMHO, I'm interested in the person him/herself, not what religion they're a part of. It's a part of their life, sure, but I just want to know about the person him/herself.

    Of course, since there are so many fiction with stereotypical versions of priests/nuns/etc, people would be turned off because they will automatically assume that this is what will happen. After all, it's happened a bunch of times before, so why not now?

    However, you are the writer and you are in complete control of your characters. Good luck with them, Sister Flora. :D

    btw, I love your name.
     
  10. Show
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    Show Contributing Member Contributor

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    Just tell the story. Don't worry about what it would take for us to accept them. Write them how you best see fit and the rest will likely fall into place.
     
  11. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Write the person, not the stereotype. If you have trouble separating them, you probably need to get to know some of these people in real life.
     
  12. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Once again, Cogito is right. Go talk to them. Priests, Rabbis, all! Befriend them and invite them over for dinner or out to eat somewhere at a nice resturant.
     
  13. VM80
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    VM80 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think she does know them; that's the point.
     
  14. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    True.

    Though I suspect she's worried that people will be turned off if they open the book and the MC's a priest.
     
  15. Kaynic
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    Kaynic Member

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    Well, I don't honestly have any preconceived notions besides those of the obvious; that they would counsel me to turn to faith and God, etc. Being as I am nowhere near religious, I've stayed away from religion but find no reason to ostracize or dismiss people of a religious belief. One of my friends is a devout catholic but very willing and able to poke fun at the more extreme of fellow believers, as well as having a great sense of humor and a tolerant and open mind. As for encountering them in fiction, I occasionally find them annoying if they are stereotyped, or of the type who continually suggest things were an act of god or occurred because it was God's will (I have a problem with this in real life though, I will admit) or think that people of another religious belief are wrong, or if they are close-minded, extremist, etc. However, one of my own characters is religious, albeit not in the typical way; he is a worshiper of Santa Muerte and routinely prays to and offers her his reverence. Many of my other characters are either not religious, atheist, agnostic, or relatively non-practicing; they believe in a higher being but don't often pray or take part in religious ceremonies.
     
  16. Yoshiko
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    Yoshiko Contributing Member Contributor

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    1. As a reader I'm going to take the same approach to these character that I would with any character: give the writer the chance to portray them in the way they want them to be seen.

    2. I don't have any specific thoughts. Three of my favourite television shows feature nuns among the main cast - one time being the protagonist. In the first one I saw, 「1ポンドの福音」 (ROM: Ichi-Pondo no Fukuin | ENG: One-Pound Gospel), there was a character called Sister Angela and she gradually became one of my favourites in the entire cast.
     
  17. emmams
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    emmams New Member

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    Your main character could already know or get to know the religious character well. Be descriptive, say what the character is like so the reader's mind doesn't have to fill in the blanks with stereotypes. Basically, as long as your narrator sees the person beyond the stereotype, the reader will.
     
  18. agentkirb
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    agentkirb Contributing Member

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    I disagree that most people think of the stereotype (I don't even know what the stereotype would be) when they encounter a priest, nun, religious character in a story. In fiction, there have been plenty of examples of many different types of religious people ranging from the intolerant to the perfectionists to the philosopher types that get along with non-believers much better. Honestly I think you could make your character anything you want to and as long as it makes sense within the context of the story.
     
  19. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm a little puzzled. This is rather like asking me, "What would it take to get you to view a restaurant chef as something more than the stereotyped image society gives?" To get the reader to see beyond the stereotypes that society has for _any_ profession or role in society would require that you write a fully-developed character that goes beyond those stereotypes. There's nothing unique about a religious character in this respect.

    All I can think of, offhand, is

    - The writer should not assume that the reader will take it on faith that the religious character is a good or trustworthy person. They'll need to demonstrate the character's, er, character, just as they will for any other character.

    - The writer should not assume that the reader has any particular knowledge of the character's religion and how that religion would drive the character's opinions and actions. But that's true of any character.

    ChickenFreak
     
  20. EMSchell2009
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    EMSchell2009 Member

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    Honestly what I like to see in a book about "religious people" is that they are human. Over the years the clergy (first in cahtolicism and then in the Nazarene Chruch) I have related to the best are the ones that I had no doubt were human themselves. The trick is not to make your MC holier than thou. Just make them people with ordinary problems and ordinary relationships. If I were going to write a religious character I would try to write it as if I was writing a character that was a preist or whatnot from a faith that I had made up. consider how you describe your MC's worship, daily life and understanding of the world. If you made up a faith all of these things woud need to be described in detail. Don't forget to do the same here. SOme of the very best clerical characters have been wonderful characters because they are flawed the one that comes immediately o mind is the Father in Stigmata. He is a wonderful flawed and yet lovable character.
     

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