Today we are going to be talking about religion in stories, which I think is a fairly important, yet sometimes forgotten part of worldbuilding.
Why Create a Religion?
Why should you create a religion? It’s a good question. But as writers we want our readers to feel as if the world is real and we do that by mimicking real life. And what does reali life have? Yep. Religions. Now, I’m not saying that you have to create a religion, that is entirely up to you, but I find that having a religion in a fictional world adds another layer of reality and depth. Furthermore, having a religion opens up more opportunities for conflict and subplot (or maybe even a main plot).
How to Create a Religion:
Just as you do anything, you might want to start with a brainstorming session, ask yourself what you want to get out of this religion as well as how you want it to impact the story that you are writing. However, if you ever get stuck, it’s always best to take a look at real life and twist and interpret it to fit your story.
1. Monotheistic or Polytheistic?
All religions can be categorized into one of these two groups: monotheism or polytheism. As the names suggest, monotheism is a religion that believes in only one god while polytheism consists of multiple gods that generally rule over different domains of the universe.
For this I would say that the pro would be that you only have to create one god for people to worship. One thing to think about though is that the worshippers of this god will most likely interpret his/her will in only one way, and may force others to be of this thought process too and to follow the god’s way exactly. This can lead to persecution and is not generally good for a democratic government to thrive in if you plan on having your world’s religion and government working closely together. So that means if you are wanting to write some type of dystopian story, this choice will perovide you plenty of opportunities to show the imperfections of the ruling power, whether that be the government or the head of the religion.
This type of religion would probably be more open to accepting different opinions due to the fact that they may see those opinions as those of their gods. However, because the people may not be as unified because of this, it may lead to wars between worshippers of different gods. Furthermore, in terms of writing a polytheistic religion, I often find that when reading it may be hard to keep track of which god does what. So if you were to write this kind or religion I would try and stick to fewer gods with more defining characteristics the readers can associate with them.
2. What are the characteristics of the god(s)?
By this I mean what is the defining character of this god and how do they interact with their worshippers?
What are they known for?
What is it that defines this god from others? Perhaps they control a certain element? If so, which element to they control and how do they use it? Furthermore, if you are giving your god(s) powers and they are going to be shown in your story, what are the limits on their power? Perhaps they are only allowed to use so much before their power is drained. The question is, what is the leash put on this god that ensures that they aren’t entirely invincible? (This is more so for polytheistic religions or if said god will be teaming up with or against your protagonist). Lastly, do they have a physical appearance? Is it special in some way that could affect how they use their power? And do they have a symbol that is associated with them? What does it stand for/represent?
What is their relationship with their followers?
This one is important as it can determine the affect this god has on your world. For example, a god that is known to have a bad temper may not have many celebrations attributed to them whereas a more kind and loving god might have their symbol/sign be more prominent in the culture of that community. This, of course, will also depend on the people of your world and which values they commend.
I find that religion adds another layer of depth to worldbuilding and I think that it may be one of my favorite parts when I am building worlds to house my stories. I was originally planning on having this as one post but it turned out longer than I expected. And so I plan on finishing up this topic on my next blog post.