Tuesday, March 6, 2012

World Building: Creating Religion

World Building

I mostly write fantasy and sci-fi books.  One of the things I have to pay attention to is what things do I newly create and what things do I leave the same as people know them in this world?  At the time of this blog post I'm writing in the world of Ryallon, where I base my fantasy series.  Every once in a while, I'll share a little bit about the world building I do in the process.

When a person writes about something that happened in the past, it's wise to look at history books to get facts correct.  When someone writes about a completely fictional world, all of the details need to be built from scratch.

World building can be fun.  I'm certain there are a few would-be writers who have spent years building worlds of fantasy and magic, but have never gotten around to writing an actual book in the world.  It's also very popular among D&D players.

Creating Religions

In fantasy, it is common to establish a fictional set of religions.  Doing so can add great depth and definition to the characters and the people surrounding the characters.  An understanding of historical theologies can greatly add to the richness and realism of these religions.  It doesn't hurt to have read other novels with fictional religions either. 

Before you begin, it's a good idea to have a general idea of how different people in your world think.  There are usually many countries, though in fantasy it's possible to only have one.  But do all of your people believe the same way?  If you wish to have war in your worlds, multiple religions is one of the best ways to establish this.

One of the first things to consider is whether you want one god or many gods for your world.  Has it been that way throughout the history of your world?

How they get their power is important.  Are they powerful because they're gods?  Did something give them power?  One series I read, the Hawk and Fisher series by Simon R. Green, has gods gaining their power by the number of worshipers they have.

I have added the prologue of my fifth book, "Ebudae", below to give an example of how the Gods of Ryallon are set up.

An exerpt from "Ebudae"

While in the gloomy ruins of an ancient city below Dralin, Ebudae and Pelya had discovered a temple dedicated to an unknown god.  Within that temple was a book most ancient.  In spite of its age, the book was in perfect condition with gold and silver-filigreed bindings.

The cover opened of its own volition as the girls approached.  Gazing upon pages that flipped before their mesmerized eyes, Ebudae and Pelya understood every word with a clarity never experienced from any other book.  Neither left until the last page was finished and the cover closed.

The mysterious book told how the Gods of Ryallon came to be and a summary from it had remained sharp in the girl’s minds from that point on:


Chaotic energies swirl around Ryallon and its moons, extending far beyond to other suns and worlds, though they do not exist everywhere.  The energies give us magic and shape the life of Ryallon, though they are not the source of life.

Those who we call Gods were once normal beings.  When those normal beings drank of the chaotic energies too deeply, they gained vast powers.  There are many Gods on and around the world of Ryallon.  Some have great influence and power while others touch few.

The most ancient Gods have existed since before the beginning of humanity, but those are very odd to humans.  They are called the Unreal Gods.

The earliest deities of humanity are the Van Gods.  The oldest and largest temples are built to them in cities throughout Ryallon.

Others are new in the scheme of things, spawned from people or creatures who attempt to control the chaotic energies.  These are called the Crazed Gods, for when a being absorbs vast power too quickly, it can destroy the mind.  The Crazed Gods generally burn out and their energies spread back into the chaos. However, a few grow to power.

Less common are the Hushed Gods.  It is unknown when they came to be, but many believe them to be as old as the Van Gods.  They influence the world in subtle ways and have few followers.  This does not mean their power should be underestimated. Even Van Gods treat the Hushed Gods with great care.

And then there are the Dragons.  They are not Gods, but all Gods fear them; for they are Dragons.


Pamela said...

Great post. I love creating things (worlds, universes, etc.) from scratch! I have a sci-fi series and a fantasy series, and yeah, those details and back story are really important in setting up future stories.

John H. Carroll said...

World building can definitely be fun. :) It's also quite a chore. There are so many details that need to be concentrated on.

One of the biggest dangers is spending so much time world building that a writer forgets to write the stories. ;)

Valerie Douglas said...

I love world building, it's great fun. Understanding current religions - and not just the Judeo/Christian/Muslim faiths, which is what led to so many wars - allows you to also create completely new faith structures.
In one of my books the faith system for one group of people is based more closely on Native American beliefs with some Eastern religion rolled in, while in another I didn't address religion at all in any specific manner. And the book didn't suffer for it.

John H. Carroll said...

Hi Valerie, :)

Religions can definitely be useful if the books are going to include war.

The Native American/Eastern combination sounds really interesting. Those are great for characters that have have a very personal spirituality.

The religion can almost become a character in a story, in mine, there are a couple that really pull at the strings of what happens to the characters. I like that you wrote one without religion too. Sometimes it would just interfere with the story.