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.

* 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.

* 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.

Writing Prompt Saturday- Your worlds favorite author

Since we talked about literature in your world on Sunday, let’s get more specific.

Who is the most famous author in your world? What genre is most popular? Is the author a man or woman? Are they nice, fat headed? What do they look like? What’s her opinion of her fans? How do people react to her?

I had some fun with this in Woven. It actually gave me a great character that I had a lot of fun writing. Hopefully it will do the same for you.

Language and Literature in Your World

My favorite thing in the whole world is stories. All kinds of stories. Movies, books, tv shows with great plot and character growth. Urban legends, ghost stories, limericks. Any kind of story, I live for it.

I also love language. It saddens me to my core that I don’t speak more than one language, but I’m trying to fix that (I want to learn German and American Sign). But at least I speak it well. Here’s a link to Weird Al’s Word Crimes. You know you’re a word geek if you love that song.

Now, I am almost surely talking to a whole lot of people who feel the same way I do about stories and language. We are writers, after all. Words are our legos, but even better because they can’t be left on the floor to torture us on the way to the bathroom at three in the morning. They’re like play dough, but better because they don’t dry out if you leave the lid off of the container (my children!)

Language and literature are our favorite things in this world, with the possible exception of sushi. So, don’t forget to include them when you’re world building!

Including things like different languages in your world can be a huge pain, if you let it. Honestly, the pros greatly outweigh the cons with this. This is just one more great world building tool, and like any good tool, it’s got more than one use.
* It will differentiate and add texture to your different countries.
* It’s a fun challenge your character can face if she doesn’t speak the language of the country she suddenly finds herself in. Or if he doesn’t know the language of the pretty girl he wants to flirt with. Or, as I used in Broken Patterns, if he needs to learn the language of the country that he’s just found out he’s going to be king of someday. (Is it still a spoiler if the book isn’t even published?) Huge well of funny/awkward moments with that one.
* Language is also a subtle way to show us about your character. For instance, someone who is not comfortable with English will speak it very properly, and is not likely to use words like can’t or don’t, because they’re not sure of the right way to use it. Or, someone who’s been sort of speaking English all their lives might say things like “You ain’t s’possed to be doin’ none of that!” (I did not make that up. A woman said that to her son after being told that he’d misbehaved at school, right in front of me while I was picking up my kids from school one day. I thought the teachers head was going to explode.)
* How many languages are common in your country? Is there a different language used in formal settings, by one class of people? This can set the scene for you so well.

I have such a good time playing with languages while working on Woven.

Literature is a feature of world building that I think is overlooked. To fully incorporate it into your book, just ask yourself these questions.
* What do people read for pleasure?
* Is reading common among all walks of people?
* What about different styles of writing from different countries? Think about the difference between a German fairy tail, (Grimm Brothers!) and a Japanese fairy tale (The Branch of the Jewel Tree.)
* Is poetry common?
* What sort of people write? Is writing considered an honored profession, or just a step above trained seals and a step below rodeo clowns? (Points if you know what author I just referenced!)

How do you use language and literature in your writing? Do you like using meta jokes when you do? Or is it too much like looking into a mirror with another mirror behind you?

Making Your Very Own Months, Dates and Years For Your Fantasy World

Confession time again. This is becoming a regular thing. I forgot all about making anything calendar related until the third draft of Broken Pattern. I didn’t even, (sob) have a time line. But I am better now, and I am ready to help you avoid my terrible mistake.

Now, you could take the easy route. You can just use normal dates and days of the week, the same ones we use in the real world. But it’s not the same. Its all about the suspension of disbelief. You can be talking about dragons and magic, and your readers will accept these things. But if you ask them to accept that these things are happening on something so common as a Thursday, that might throw them.

Are you ready to make your very own calendar? Then let’s get started.
* Consider what sort of weather your country has. People generally make calendars based on things like farming and the weather.
* What kind of people live in your country? Do they farm? Do they have special feasts days? Is there one day of the week that means something special to them?
* When I was making my months, I based them on the moon phases. Think about how your people know that another month has gone past.
* Or not. You don’t have to have months, after all. Remember, you can make up whatever you like, you don’t have to go by any of the normal rules. For instance, I made the first month of the year in the spring. It’s always made more sense to me than having the year start in the dead of winter.

Now, here are a couple things you want to remember when making your own calendar.
* Holidays. They’re important, and every society has them.
* What sort of chores are traditional for each season?
* How many seasons does your world have?
* What’s your main character’s birthday? In their society, what does that say about them?
* What sort of food is traditional in each season? Yes, everything comes back to food with me, why do you ask?

Making up your own calendar for your fantasy series may seem like a small detail. But it’s not. It makes your world feel more like a real world. It helps your reader feel like they’re living in your world. And when you’re writing fantasy, that’s pretty much the jackpot.

Creative Currency and Food

When I was world building for Woven, I hated coming up with money methods for my different countries. It just seemed like one of those nitpicky features that really weren’t going to come up much. Then I started writing my book, and realized how often I was using money. Food was a little more fun, because I’m a glutton and I like to talk about what sort of food other people are eating. A lot.

These two topics, of course, have absolutely everything to do with each other. That’s why I chose to group them together instead of giving each their own post. How rich a society is will dictate what sort of food is most common. I know that if I’ve got fifty bucks to get groceries for one week, and a hundred for the next, those two weeks are going to have vastly different menus. (Lots of hot dogs and peanut butter in week one. Maybe some fish and pork chops in week two. Either week, there will be potatoes, because potatoes are awesome and cheap.)

As for money, how people come about their money and what sort of money they have are both things you’ll want to consider. Personally, I went with a really simple method, different shaped coins of precious medals. In my main country, called Septa, I called the coins Octs, after Octavian the first, their first king. In another country people trade coins with numerical symbols that are mealy representative of the gold that the government keeps locked up (Like I used to think we did in America.) A third country uses only bartering, except for traders, who trade in other countries coins. I tried to keep it simple, and to alleviate my own irritation, had one of my main characters constantly messing the coins up and giving people too much and too little money.

Both money and food are going to be largely dictated by four main parts of your society.


Obliviously climate and weather are going to have a ton to do with the food your people eat. If they’re near the ocean, fish is their meatloaf. If they’ve got nothing but farmland, there’s going to be a rich diet of vegetables. If it’s cold, stews and canned things will be a staple. If it’s warm, people are pretty big on salads. You get the picture.

When it comes to money, consider what sort of minerals and stones might be mined in your areas. Now, I was more interested in telling the story of a boy who weaves than making up new metals, so I stuck with real ones like gold, copper, silver. You don’t have to do that. Maybe there’s some great metal that these people use for their money, and it’s extra heavy, or knows who its real owner is. Make it fun. Or, you can make it realistic. I know that gold and copper can be mined in Europe and Russia, the two main countries that my world is based on. So, I stuck with that.

Type of People.

What sort of person you are will make a difference in the food you put in your mouth. In fact, it will likely be the biggest indicator of what sort of food your people eat.
* Is there a prevalent faith that makes certain food taboo, like Hindu or Judaism?
* Do people drink alcohol?
* Do they have the extra income and resources to have sweets?
* How much time to they have to make food each day? Is there a mother or father home to bake bread and stew? Or is it more a matter of convenience?
* Are there restaurants, and bakeries?

We’ll ask similar questions about money.
* Does the prevalent faith have rules about giving tithing, or donating to the poor?
* Are people well off enough to indulge in sweets and booze?
* Do people invest in things like art, education or land?

And here’s the real big one. What can a person own in this world that would make them be seen as wealthy?

Relations with other people.

No world exists alone, much as China and North Korea would like to think they can. Your world will likely have multiple countries, unless there’s a reason why.

Now, food is something that is defined by its source. French wine, German sausage, Swiss chocolate, British tea. Then there’s food that you just know where it comes from. Sushi, haluski, lasagna, haggis. You know what country that food comes from. If you’ve got a neighboring country that has a distinctive dish, and it shows up in your country, you can assume they are now or have been friendly.

Money’s the same way. If you can change money from a country in a bank in your country, they were probably on good terms. If someone from your country pulls out a coin and someone from another country has never seen one like it before, they probably aren’t.

Social interactions.

In my hometown, people get together in homes and bars over sports. We drink beer, and eat hot wings. Some people like to gather over wine, some like to collect at coffee shops. Food and drink is a big part of social gatherings.

And what kind of social gathering someone goes to will often depend on what kind of money they have. Rich people gather over good wine and fine cheese with artisan bread. People in my financial bracket meet over beer and pretzels.

What it comes down to is this; show, don’t tell. Do not tell us that your country is wealthy, in a cold district that mines gold. Show me your character ordering a fine buttered rum with a gold coin.

Writing Prompt Saturday- Hometown

What can you tell me about your hometown?  I bet you ask anyone that question, and you’ll get a flood of stories.  some will be good, some will be horrifying.  Some, like mine, will be about this crazy guy who chased me off his porch with a shotgun while campaigning.  The guy had a taxidermy squirrel on his porch.  I should have known better, the blame lies with me, honestly.

The point is, our hometowns have a significant effect on who we are.  The same goes for your characters.

So, what’s your main characters hometown like?  What sort of stores, restaurants, and jobs are there?  Is this an average town in the world you’re building, or is it unusual in some way?

Does your main character like her hometown?  Or could she not wait to shake the dirt of the place from her shoes?  What about your character would let someone else in the world know she’s from that town?

Try to come up wit as much detail as possible, especially if your book isn’t set in the real world.  What’s an average hometown look like in a world where gargoyles walk around and mermaids live in the village fountains?

Plans for May, World building

You deserve to know, right off the bat, that this month is going to be sort of heavy on fantasy writing.  If you write fantasy, you’ll love it.  if not, I’ll be doing my best keep it relevant to all fiction writing.  At the very least, I’ll be telling jokes.  You guys like my jokes, right?  Right?!

World building is so much fun.  I mean, you get to make your own rules for how your world is going to work.  So many, in fact, that I easily had more than a month worth of topics to cover, so I had to pick my favorite.

This month we’ll talk about,

  • Currency and food.
  • Weather, clothing and map making.
  • Languages and literature.
  • Calendars.
  • And of course, it wouldn’t be a month of world building if I didn’t offend someone by talking about religion.

Of course, we’ll have our normal collection of great new blogs and apps.  I’ll be dissecting some new poetry forms and giving you some fun exercises to build your fantasy world.  Are you excited?  I am.

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