Religion and Writing Techniques

Note: For the next week or so, I’m going to skip Q/A Wednesday to put up reviews and discussions of the 17 panels I attended in the 4 days of Balticon on writing, editing, and publishing.

Friday Panel:

Friday, I’d intended to hit the “How Alien Is Too Alien: World Building with Character and Culture Development” at 4pm and “A Glimpse Behind the Curtain: The Business Side of Writing”, but I was a bit delusional about timing. Traffic was twice as long as it would be on a standard day, because of the holiday weekend. Also, I’d imagined that everyone for Balticon had pre-registered and there would be a separate line for non-pre-registration. It didn’t help that they hadn’t printed out badges in advance and the printer server went down. (I also verified that the Workshops at Balticon were first-come-first-serve and did not have to signed up for in advance.)

But, by 6pm, I made it to my first panel of the weekend: “How to Write Religion (When You Are A Non-Believer)”. The panelists were Gary Lester as moderator, James Gossard as an atheistic ex-clergy-in-training, Gail Martin as a believer with a parochial school background, and Jo Walton with characters with imaginary religions.

I had several takeaways from this panel.

  • Make sure the religion doesn’t seem like Christianity by another name, (unless it’s supposed to be for plot reasons)–the culture should reflect the religion.
  • Decide if your God(s) are going to be distant or interactive and keep it consistent.
  • Feel free to come up with the myths and such that created your world. Don’t feel obliged to put in in the novel.

During the discussion, Jo Walton postulated that if there were Gods we could see/hear/touch in this world with us, then it wouldn’t be a matter of faith, we would just believe because it was right there in front of us. James Gossard disagreed. I’m afraid I have to agree with him. If they don’t do anything to help me, personally? I could believe that they’re more than human, but it would take a lot to believe that they were a god and not just a super-being. And now I’m questioning where I would draw the line between a god and a super-being…

Before Dinner:

balticon49_Friday After dinner:balticon49_Friday3

After the panel, I got food, changed, and then went swing dancing. After hitting several room parties, I made it to bed by 2am.

Saturday Panel One:

Saturday morning, I was up, bright and early for the 9am Balticon’s Writers’ Workshop with Steve Lobs. This was more of discussion workshop with about 10 attendees, some published, most not.

Things we discussed:

  • Issues Writing:
    • Staying focused on the days I don’t want to write/edit
    • Fitting writing into my schedule
    • The amount/types of editing required
    • Types of people to give feedback
    • Making my world intricate
    • Tangents/ADD
    • Making characters interesting
    • Integrating infodumps
    • Correct dialogue/narration ratio
  • From this discussion, we came out with the following points and suggestions:
    • “It doesn’t come out correctly!” – Suggested: Follow the 9 act structure
    • “Too much detail!” – i.e. Flowery, expanded scenes, writing too much is going to waste time!
    • How do I engage the reader right off the bat? – Suggested: See how favorite stories in the same genre start.
    • Try The Describer’s Dictionary
  • How do you handle Writer’s Block?
    • Skip to another scene
    • Vignettes- explore side characters/places/aspects/myths
    • Stop writing for the night when you already have a clear image of where you’re going, so you can pick up with a running start.
  • Narration versus Dialogue
    • Only include useful dialog:
      • Plot
      • Character Development
      • World Building
    • Tailored dialogue for different characters. Use distinct voices.
    • Play with subtext via word choice
    • Some people do enjoy the unreliable narrator
  • Point of View
    • Whose story is it?
    • Who do you want to follow?
    • Tense:
      • 3rd person: Close or omniposcent
      • 1st person
  • Accepting/Giving Criticism
    • If multiple people give the same criticism, you’re probably wrong.
    • What you don’t like in other people’s work- watch for in your own.
  • What type of Feedback do you like/Is useful?
    • In-line comments
    • Thin Characters
    • Lack of plot advancement
    • Big Picture: Does it work? Are the characters realistic?
    • Ask THEM to tell you what your story was about and about the characters: see if you’re getting the right impression across
    • Positive feedback is good!
    • Tone consistancy
    • Mood feedback.
  • I asked what online writing analysis tools people use:
    • Grammarly ($)
    • Microsoft Word (Narrator feature) [maybe try on kindle]
    • Scrivener
    • Writer’s Digest Online Panel – Suggested writing in the morning(?)


  1. In my reading of fantasy and sf, sometimes the gods (Singular or plural. Male, female, or, other.) do not have to be benevolent. Humanity’s role is to keep from being noticed and to distract the notice away.


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