Religion and World Building

Don’t shoot yet! Torches, down folks. I am going to talk about religion today, and there are few better ways to tempt trolls on the internet. So please, let’s keep any discussions in the comments to religion as it applies to your fiction writing only.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure before we talk about religion, I am a Unitarian Christian. That means I believe in God, and Jesus, and the virgin birth, and all that, but I’m not getting into any fights about it. God is love, no matter what someone else believes, that’s my world view. I was raised Mormon, with two Catholic great grandmothers. So that’s where I’m coming from when I talk about religion.

So, when you’re writing a fantasy novel religion is going to come up. How much it appears in your book is up to you, of course, but if your world is at all realistic, it will come up sometimes.

And that’s a good thing! Religion is, like anything else, another tool in your world building arsenal.

* It is a great source for conflict. Pretty much any book, with two people of different faiths, will have conflict, even if just a heated debate.
* Religion is the ultimate plot bunny. If one of your characters has an opinion about religion, one way or another, it will impact how she interacts with everything.
* Cursing is more fun when there’s religion involved.
* Best of all, a persons faith, or non faith, tells us about that person. How they practice their faith tells us even more.
So, when creating your religion, you should start by asking yourself three questions.

1. How much will religion impact my character?
2. How much will it impact the rest of the world?
3. Is this a world where multiple, conflicting faiths are realistic?
This will help keep your planning in check. You don’t need to know babtismal ceremonies if it’s not likely to come up much, after all. And that’s time that could go to more important things.

Now, the next question is, do you want to make your own religion from scratch, or shape it after an existing faith? There are pros and cons to each approach, of course.

Pros of existing faiths

* It saves you so much time and creative energy.
* There are set rules to most religions. That can be a whole set of plot bunnies.
* Existing faiths come with assumptions. This can be used to mislead readers, and surprise them.
Cons

* If you base your religion on an existing one, you’d better do your research. Because people will shred you if you get something wrong.
* You also need to keep in mind that, no matter what your opinion is on the faith you’re writing about, people do not agree with you. Some will disagree nicely. Some will send hate mail.
Now, I totally based my religion in Woven on a Christian set up based heavily on Catholicism. I use this to make several points throughout the book that are positive and negative. I am sort of anticipating some reactions, good and bad. That’s great, because I’ve gotten people talking. I understand that some of that talking is going to be death threats, and I’m ready for that. If you’re not, take that into consideration.

Making up your own religion pros

* It will set your world apart. It is really hard to come up with a really unique faith, and it will make you stand out.
* It is also a lot of fun. I did make my own faith for two of the countries, and I totally got sucked into writing mythology for it.
Cons

* It is really hard to not accidentally mimic existing faiths, or even mythological faiths like the Greek Pantheon.
* If you want to do it, make damn sure it is relevant to your story and worth the time. I spent almost three weeks crafting my religion, but it’s worth it because I will use it for the whole series, and it will come up a lot.
As a final word, I am a very faith based person. That has always impacted everything I have written whether I mean it to or not. I understand, though, that there are people who are atheist, agnostic, or maybe just not sure. That’s cool with me, but from that point of view, I understand how the whole subject can be tiring. If it is to you, please understand that religion does not have to be a linchpin in your story. Even if you are a faithful person you might not care to talk about it. Just understand that if you are making a world from scratch, it’s like grass. The book doesn’t have to be about it, but if it’s not there, people are going to wonder why.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s