If you’re reading this article, it’s probably because you’ve had an experience when you were in complete awe of God and you struggled to write about the supernatural in a natural-sounding way (go figure!). It can be challenging to write about a religious experience in a way that fits with your usual writing style. Here are some tactics that I’ve learned as I’ve written about God in my books.
- Use italics to illustrate short prayers. Example from my book Hola Miss:
But there’s a small voice inside me telling me to serve them. A friend once told me that a lot of the time, that small voice inside of us is God. So here I go, God.
Throughout this book, I utilized italics to illustrate my inner thoughts; by using the same writing tool to illustrate a prayer, I made the transition from thought to prayer a smooth one. Also by just addressing God by name in this excerpt, I avoided having to explain that this line was a prayer rather than a thought. Finally it helps to keep the prayer short. I don’t know about you, but I’m not that interested in reading someone’s whole prayer. That would feel like hearing a monologue or reading a person’s whole journal entry. Try to sum up your prayer as concisely as possible to avoid being cheesy or boring.
2. Use dialogue between people to illustrate a religious sentiment. Example from my book Waiting In (publishing April 2021):
“I just don’t know what God wants me to do,” I tell her.
Madeline sits up straighter too, and her Christmas lights hang along the wall above her head. “I don’t think you’re going to get some big lightning bolt message from God. I say, go with your gut.”
Think about it: talking with other people about God is a key way that we learn and grow in our faith, so use dialogue to illustrate the spiritual realm in your writing. Maybe in your book or story, all of the characters are really comfortable talking about God. But maybe that’s not the case, and again if you’re reading this article you might be concerned about turning off a reader by talking about God in a fanatical way. (As a sidenote, if you are not concerned about that, more power to you!)
When building this fictional dialogue above (Waiting In is a novel based on real-life events), I drew on conversations with friends who only talk about God on occasion. I pictured what they would say and brought it into my writing. The religious idea of lightning bolts and the more secular idea of going with your gut instinct, as used in this example, enabled me to make a transition that didn’t feel corny to me.
3. Hone in on feelings and emotions. Example from wedding scene in Waiting In:
I can feel my heart beating hard and my chest fills with happy excitement as the last few stragglers tiptoe through the lobby and flash a smile at me before finding a seat in the back of the church… When it’s time for us to walk down the aisle, I can feel the excitement of the full but reverent church, but I can only stare at Paul at the end of the aisle. God’s grace is palpable at the center of it all.
Notice the use of internal sensations (heart beating, happy excitement) and descriptive adjectives (full, reverent, palpable) and nouns (grace, center) in this excerpt. Feelings help the reader understand and relate to the characters. Even if the reader hasn’t walked down the wedding aisle like the protagonist (me) in this example, these feeling adjectives help to explain what this moment was like. Extra tip: to better describe real-life events in my books, I’ve found it helpful to meditate on those events to remind myself of the emotions I felt at that time.
4. When in doubt, research. Example from church scene in Waiting In:
The most imminent and jarring aspect of the Basilica’s main level by far is the enormous mosaic of Jesus in the center of the North Apse ceiling. An omnipotent and almost terrifying Jesus sits robed in red with his arms outstretched in a U-shape. His eyebrows are furrowed in a menacing way and his eyes seem to shoot daggers at those who look up to gaze at him in his apocalyptic glory. Red flames shoot out from his illuminated golden halo, and the whole mosaic is red, orange, and gold, like a fiery sun. Jesus’ bare right chest and arm look as strong as iron, and his jaw is set as stone. Glimpsing at the mosaic during mass, I feel at peace knowing that Jesus is a strong protector; but part of me also feels like turning away and trying to hide my sins.
This description of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC was drawn partly from memory, partly from research. For example, I didn’t know what to call the “North Apse” until I read about it on the Basilica’s website. I also looked at images of this particular mosaic to remind myself which colors were where. Details like that help to bring the reader into the scene.
I hope that these tips are helpful as you write about your spiritual experiences! Keep up the good work!