fictionwritingtips:

When world building, we often forget that certain cultural aspects of society can be extremely important. The arts and entertainment side of your world could add much needed depth to your story and could help explain why your characters are the way they are. Knowing what people from various levels of society do for fun makes your story realistic and helps humanize your characters. All cultures have some form of art and entertainment, so take some time to explore this in your own world.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Are certain jobs considered art? For example, is magic part of your world? If so, are these people considered artists or is it an occupation?
  • Is art culturally accepted or is it looked down upon?
  • Which arts are the most highly valued? Are their “lower” forms of art?
  • Where do people view the arts? Where do people go for entertainment?
  • What form of entertainment is accepted by society? Do your characters have a favorite pastime?
  • How do people judge art in your world? What is considered beautiful? What is considered talent?
  • Are some forms of entertainment considered dangerous or reckless?
  • Do people get paid for art? If so, how much? Are entertainers considered valuable?
  • Are certain races/cultures considered better at specific forms of art? If so, why?
  • Are the forms of entertainment different for people depending on their level in society? Does it make a difference?

Developing arts and entertainment when world building is important because it helps readers understand the type of place your characters are coming from. A world that has banned arts, for example, might be seen as a dystopia or overbearing. Arts and entertainment help create the cultural identity of an area and aid in explaining how people interact with each other. A world’s treatment of artists and forms of entertainment also help explain what the world is like. It might be easy to leave out, but spending time developing these things will make your world stronger.

-Kris Noel


thewritingcafe:

For a post on arranged marriages, look here.
DEFINING MARRIAGE
Marriage is an economic and sexual and/or romantic relationship between two or more people that is socially acceptable*. That is the basic, near-universal definition of marriage.
*The socially acceptable part refers to the concept of marriage being socially acceptable. A person may be against same-gender marriage, but by being against it they are still acknowledging that it is, in fact, marriage. If it were not marriage, they would not oppose it.
The culture that you create will have a more specific definition of marriage.
Read More

thewritingcafe:

For a post on arranged marriages, look here.

DEFINING MARRIAGE

Marriage is an economic and sexual and/or romantic relationship between two or more people that is socially acceptable*. That is the basic, near-universal definition of marriage.

*The socially acceptable part refers to the concept of marriage being socially acceptable. A person may be against same-gender marriage, but by being against it they are still acknowledging that it is, in fact, marriage. If it were not marriage, they would not oppose it.

The culture that you create will have a more specific definition of marriage.

Read More


Source: thewritingcafe

mooderino:

image

You want readers to feel like they’re in the world of your story. When the character enters a place, you want the reader to feel like they too have entered that place.

How you do this would seem fairly straightforward. You describe everything the character sees and hears and smells and tastes and touches, right?

But you may have noticed that while description of setting in a good book is immersive and entertaining, when you write something like that in your own story it can often feel longwinded and unengaging.

You paint a clear picture of the world but it’s like you’re not actually in the picture, you’re just viewing it from a distance. So how do you close that gap so the reader is pulled into the setting rather than skimming over it?

 Read More


alwayskillyourdarlings asked: "I'm currently in the worldbuilding stage and I'm doing pretty well, but one question: How do you /decide/ anything?? I keep weighing the pros and cons of (Example), high speed trains instead of cars, but I'm unwilling to (ironically) kill some of my darlings. I know things can be changed later, but I'd like to keep it down to a minimum. So what's your process?"

characterandwritinghelp:

My process is to build as I go, and pause when I need to really develop something. I have a notepad section in my Storyist documents dedicated to worldbuilding: what I’ve already built, things I want to develop, things I still need to figure out. Having it in a searchable document is, I think, preferable to handwriting it since it’ll be easier for you to find later on.

That said, let’s chat about worldbuilding. Some things to keep in mind:

You’re building a world for a story. You are not building a story to fit a world. The world should work for the story and serve as a storytelling tool. Even in realistic works, things like consistent seasons and weather, locations, and cultural norms need to carry through into the story. And small details matter, as well. Don’t get so caught up in the planes/trains/automobiles question that you forget to develop culture, food, fashion, all that.

Maintain the mystery. Don’t give it all away in one shot. Characters and narrators don’t have to explain everything—nor should they. Let things unfold rather than bashing the reader in the face with everything you have.

Rule of Cool does not make the world go round. Yes, it’s cool. But does it belong? Part of worldbuilding is deciding what fits and what doesn’t, and this should weigh into your pros and cons. Yes, the robots are cool, but if you’re writing high fantasy, you’d better have a damn good reason for them. If not, say goodbye for the sake of a logical world.

Everything builds on everything else. Worldbuilding is not Pokémon evolution. Things don’t change independent of everything else, they influence each other and build upon each other. Consider how the cars or trains might influence other things in your world: trade, travel, communication, day-to-day life, infrastructure, population density…

(This is where I take your example and run with it.)

A good world is built for a population, not around a protagonist.

Something you might like to consider when deciding between two worldbuilding things is to figure out how each thing will be used/abused/gotten around, and what its most useful application is within your story. Find the loopholes. Figure out what people who love it will say about it, and then what people who hate it will say. There are always two (or more) sides to nearly everything in the world.

So, let’s check out the idea of travel. High speed trains and cars serve very different purposes, and we have the real-world experience to prove it.

Consider places in the world that have adopted the bullet train: Paris, France’s Métro system operates beneath a fairly densely populated metropolitan area. Citizens use the train to get to and from general areas, and walk the rest of the way. Cars are not as commonplace in Paris than they are in other parts of the world because they’re not an absolute necessity; some people walk to the train station, ride, walk to work, and repeat the process back home, and they do just fine. Going even further, France’s TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse [really fast train]) has shortened international travel to most of Europe to a matter of hours, allowing Parisians and many others to travel to and from other countries with ease. However, high speed trains can be incredibly cramped, ill-maintained dependent on funding and infrastructure, and can inconvenience you when they break down, especially if they are your sole method of transport. Building a rapid transit system will take a long time from start to finish, potentially meet some resistance in the form of budget and location (and possibly protest groups), and will be incredibly expensive. Blocking off one of the rails can range from “annoying” to “devastating,” depending on how it’s done (one person on the tracks vs. an entire protest movement launching boulders at the train cars).

Now consider cars. Cars fall short of bullet trains in that they travel slower, have lots of competition on the roads (between pedestrians, bikers, other cars, horses, maybe even some pegasi, I don’t know your story), and that they cost more in that a person either has to own or rent a car before they can drive it regularly. (And then comes the cost of fuel and maintenance cost.) They can be easily broken into and/or stolen, can be very dangerous in the wrong hands (drunk drivers, speeders, someone on the wrong side of the road), and can harm the environment. On the other hand, cars excel over bullet trains in that they can go off-road, do not have set schedules or destinations, can be privately owned, and are more useful for household projects and moving. In a car-centric culture, more people are likely to know how to drive cars, and there will almost always be one nearby. Cars are also more personal than a train will be: on a train, there are innumerable strangers that might be peeking at whatever you’re doing, where cars are nice and small. In times when fuel prices get high, people may opt out of cars in favor of things like high-speed rail (despite the fact that bullet trains use fuel, too). And then there is the ever-present question: where do you park? And what if you do if there’s truly nowhere to park?

Consider also what might fall in between. In this example, that might be something like a park-and-ride structure or a bus system. In addition to this, something beautiful about fictional worldbuilding is that you can create alternatives to whatever you think you’re stuck between, as well. This might mean bringing in pegasi and riding dragons, solving the energy crisis and making completely green cars, or something as simple as expanding a train system to mean smaller trains, bigger train maps, and more stops. There are lots of possibilities even if you’re not writing fantasy.

So: Cars are useful for transport between places of varying lengths, are good for adventuring, and tend to be privately owned and maintained. High speed trains are useful for transport between distant places, are public, and tend to be funded by governments. Neither of them are inherently better or worse, just useful in different ways. This is going to be true of a lot of things, and that is fine. Very rarely will an entire population of people agree that Thing A is unequivocally better than Thing B.

Pros and cons is probably what it will ultimately come down to, but the best way to do it is to put the things into the context of your story. Step outside your protagonist’s field of vision and check out how other people would live with one, and then the other.

Always remember, worldbuilding is a process, not a step. You may never be 100% done building your world. And that’s all right—the real world’s not done either.

-Headless


thewritingcafe:

I did a post on religion a while ago, but I can do a better job with it.
Part I: World Building Considerations: Religious Hierarchies
Part II: World Building Considerations: Deities and Mythologies
THE BASICS
Religion is the belief that supernatural or spiritual powers exist.
There are four “branches” of beliefs that form the way a person feels about their religion (or lack of) and other religions. They are:
Theism: A theist believes in a god (or more).
Atheism: An atheist lacks the belief in a god (or more).
Gnosticism: A gnostic believes it is possible to know that a god (or more) does or does not exist.
Agnosticism: An agnostic believes that it is not possible to know that a god (or more) does or does not exist.
These create people who are one of the following (this can change throughout a person’s life):
Gnostic Theist: These characters believe in a god (or more) and are absolutely sure that it exists. Depending on the personality of this character, they might take offense if other people tell them they are wrong or that their religion is false. Others will brush it off and not care.
Agnostic Theist: These characters believe in a god (or more), but do not claim to know for sure if this god exists. These characters might struggle with their religion if this existence is important to them.
Gnostic Atheist: These characters are absolutely sure that there is no god (or more).
Agnostic Atheist: These characters do not believe in a god (or more), but do not claim to know of its existence for sure.
THE BEGINNINGS
Most early religions began with animism. This is when supernatural powers, life, souls, or spirits are attributed to the natural world as well as objects.
Sometimes, deities can be created when certain attributes as parts of the natural world are viewed as more important than others. A population may give a name to a particular spirit (like the sun) and thus make a deity out of it. Over time, this leads to polytheism.
The earliest deities were most likely female because back then, humans believed that women had the ability to create life from nothing. This is why “virgin” deities, goddesses, beings, and religious figures are common. They are seen as being able to make life by themselves, but the concept of virginity has changed to being “clean” or “pure”.
Early monotheistic religions often came from polytheism, but not always. What happens is one deity becomes more important than all the others for whatever reason. Here are some reasons for why monotheism might have come up in your world (with the exception of the spread of religion):
A person claims that one deity is the true deity. All other deities are slowly forgotten or reassigned as lesser religious beings, but not deities.
One deity may be more important than the other deities. Over time, this deity becomes the sole deity. All other deities are slowly forgotten or reassigned as lesser religious beings, but not deities.
A historical figure transforms into a deity over time through myth and legend, thus becoming a major deity.
One deity might “absorb” other deities and their attributes due to its importance, thus becoming a single deity who is a mixture of other deities.
Religion does not always evolve in this order and it does not have to. There is no “ultimate” form of religion. Monotheism is not “civilized” and animism is not “primitive”. They are both valid religions, they just exist in different ways.
One source of conflict for your story could be the switch from one form of religion to another. If polytheism is moving into monotheism, a minority of the population might be trying hard to hold onto old deities.
Of course, there are more types of religion other than animism, polytheism, and monotheism, such as naturalism. Look around at various religions for some inspiration.
NAME
The name! You have to name your religion. The followers of this religion need a name to refer to themselves by. You can also have names for the various branches of a religion or for the followers of a specific religious figure. If you’ve made up a language, you can use that language to create a name. You can also name the religion after a deity, a historical figure, or a religious figure. You can also name it after the founder of the religion.
ORIGINS
Where did this religion originate? With older religions, it might not be clear. Other religions have a clear start, or at least are known to have started in a specific area or with a specific person. If there is a founder of the religion, create this character and their history.
You also need an origin story for the world. A lot of religions have them.
REASON AND APPEAL
There are three general reasons for why people practice religion:
Sociological: Religion is used for cultural conformity. It unites a community through similar morals and values and can be used to control a population or to bring general peace among worldviews. If you can influence a person’s thoughts, you can control their actions.
Cognitive: Religion has been used to explain the unknown and to help people make sense of the world they live in. Myths, legends, and deities have been used to explain why the seasons change or why storms happen. Religion offers an explanation.
Psychological: People turn to religion in times of need or emotional struggle. They might turn to religion because they have a sick family member or they might turn to religion because they need an end to a drought. Having a reason to hold on (religion) can help people get through the hard times.
It’s common that all three reasons exist together, but one reason may outweigh another in an individual or a population. For example, in a time of famine, the majority of a population might turn to religion for reason 2. In a society with little understanding of science, the majority of the population might use religion for reason 1.
When creating a religion, think about why your characters are religious or why they are not religious. Think about situations that would make them approach religion. All characters will differ based on their personal needs, how religious they are, and how they were raised. Some characters might only turn to religion when they are extremely desperate.
SACRED TEXTS
A sacred text is a general term that refers to a text that is important to a religion. The Bible is an example. Sacred texts do not have to exist in a religion. Oral histories can take their place or exist alongside them.
If there is a sacred text, decide how it is supposed to be read. Some religious texts are meant to be read by a religious official, who teaches others what it says (the Bible). Other texts are meant to be ready by everyone and interpreted on an individual level (the Qur’an).
If the sacred text is meant to be read by a religious official and no one else, religious officials will be educated while most of the population will not be (depending on the society, available education, hierarchy, and technology available to spread written texts). Lack of literacy might be used to control the population.
Sacred texts might be a part of the government. If so, create laws carefully and make sure you know all the details about the religion and the government you’ve created.
Another option for a sacred text is one that is created by an individual or by a community. These sacred texts are filled with whatever information a person sees as important to the way they practice their religion. They may collect information through religious officials, oral histories, or their own experiences. These sacred texts can be passed down to another generation.
Here are some things you can put in a sacred text:
Historical Accounts: If a sacred text is just a historical account of a religion, you’ll need to come up with mythologies that fit into this text.
Laws & Guidelines: Sometimes, a sacred text is used to write down laws and guidelines of a religion.
Prayers, Songs, etc.: If prayers, chants, songs, and other spoken words are important to a religion or hold meaning, they might show up in a sacred text.
PLACE OF WORSHIP
Not all religions have a place of worship. However, places of worship can be as grand as the Hagia Sophia or they can be as simple as a personal altar in one’s home.
Within certain religions, such as Catholicism, there can be a hierarchy of places of worship. For example, a Cathedral is a church, but it also acts as the seat of a Bishop for a given area. Places of worship, in times when the majority of the population could not read, used lots of common symbols within the architecture so that people knew it was a place of worship for a certain religion. This is why many medieval religious buildings portray religious stories or figures within the architecture.
If there are places of worship in your world, put them in your story. If they are in a city or near a trading center, they might be more grand than others due to available resources. If a government official commissions one of these buildings, it will likely be large and detailed due to available expenses. Places of worship in isolated areas are likely to be smaller and simpler.
Make these places known in your world. Give them a feel. A lot of religious buildings are meant to give the feeling of grandness and divinity. Some might make a person feel small and insignificant. Give these buildings a demeanor. This will help readers get a feel for this religion while also setting the mood and tone for the scene.
BELIEFS
Create the main beliefs and philosophies of your religion. This will impact your society as a whole. However, there should be differing opinions and beliefs within a religion. People are going to interpret parts of a religion in different ways and will have different opinions on how to approach a religion.
Opposing Forces: Some religions have opposing forces within it, such as good vs evil. Some religions don’t have opposing forces and rather see everything just as it is without attributing morality. Decide how your religion views the world.
Opposing Forces 2: This refers to the opinions of people within the religion. Having differing opinions within a religion can be mild, but it can also be extreme. The latter can cause lots of conflict and even a split in religion, creating two different branches or a new religion altogether.
Common Values: The main values and morals of this religion will affect the way your characters think and behave, even if they are not religious. Being raised around this religion can sway their opinions. This might create conflict for your characters when faced with a decision that goes against what they were raised with.
Afterlife: Everyone, at one point, wonders what happens when we die. As I mentioned above, religion is often used to explain the unknown. What is the afterlife in this religion? If there are no opposing forces of good vs evil, there will probably not be a hell-like place.
Sins: You don’t need to put sins in your religion, but it can help with conflict and character morals. Decide what this religion has outlawed or what it has looked down upon. If you want, sins can become law through the government.
Other Religions: For a post on what happens when other cultures come in contact with each other, look at the lower part of this post. Sometimes, religions can exist peacefully side by side.
Like I said, beliefs will impact your characters and the world they grew up in. People are a part of whatever culture they were raised in and it’s impossible to completely cut off those ties. The morals, values, and beliefs of your world’s religion impacts your characters in a much larger way than you think.
BRANCHES
Lots of religions have different sub-religions, branches, and denominations. If the religion you have created it widespread, it’s likely that this religion will have sub-religions and different forms of worship. If a religion has influence on another religion, those religions might end up combining.
Region: Different branches of a religion tend to be dominant in certain regions, even in multi-cultural places. Decide where certain branches are more common or where they are limited to.
Interaction: Two different branches within a religion might hate each other to such extremities that war can occur. This is another source of conflict for your fictional world.
Difference of Beliefs: If applicable to your story, think up some differences between the branches of religion.
VISIBILITY
Religion should be seen in your story if you make up one. It doesn’t matter if it’s not a huge part or if none of the characters are extremely religious. If you have created a religion, it should  have some visibility. It could influence language, dress, architecture, holidays, and more.
Architecture: This will most likely be places of worship, but religion can appear in all types of buildings and structures. Certain symbols might be seen in windows or on doors. Certain architectural styles might hold symbolic meaning, like how tall buildings are seen as reaching up to the heavens and therefore are seen as divine.
Clothing: Religious clothing can be obvious or subtle, but it still affects fashion. People might mimic the style of a religious figure or they might wear something that shows which deity they worship. If you show this, you can let the reader know what certain characters value. For example, wearing a certain symbol in the form of a pin might show that a person worships the deity of bravery, thus showing that this character values bravery.
Language: People mention parts of their religion in common phrases all the time, sometimes without realizing it. You can come up with exclamations and common phrases in your world through their religion.
Calendars: A lot of calendars surround important dates in religion. If you’re looking where to put year zero, go to religion. Did someone important die in that year? Were they born? Did something else important happen?
SYMBOL
Most religions have some kind of symbol. This symbol is often important to that religion (like the cross for Christianity). Creating a symbol can add depth to your world while also bringing reality to this religion. You can put this symbol in various places to help show readers where this religion has spread.
It’s not necessary to have a symbol.
POPULARITY
Decide how far this religion has spread and what people think about it. Religions, if small, are sometimes viewed as cults. If they gain popularity and start overcoming another dominant religion, they might be seen as threats.
Region: Know the region that your religion has spread to. There can be small regions within larger regions that resist this religion. If your characters are traveling, knowing the boundaries of this religion can help you create scenes and cultures that have this religious influence.
Subscribers: Decide how many people subscribe to this religion. If this is the dominant religion in a region, this religion will be more visible in your world.
Influence: Religion has massive influence on culture. If you are writing a world where religion is important, it will greatly influence your characters’ lives and worlds.
Spread: Does this religion have a goal to spread to other places? If so, your religious characters might try to convert others or there might be conflict with the spread of religion.
JOINING
Is there a certain way to join this religion? Many religions have rituals, ceremonies, and initiations that are used to accept a person into that religion.
Invitation: A few religions are invitation-only. This can be rigid or more free. A rigid invitation means that only a certain person can invite others into this religion. For example, if a person wants to bring a friend into their religion, they might have to bring their friend to a religious official to get permission. Less rigid invitations can be as simple as allowing any member of a religion to bring in others.
Open: An open religion allows anyone to join whether they were invited or not. These religions can spread fast while invitation-only religions are able to stay small and private for a longer period of time.
The Initiator: Who performs the ceremony? Most often, it is a religious official, but it doesn’t have to be.
The Ceremony: How they are brought into a religion? What happens during the ceremony? How long does it take? Are there any preparations that need to be made? Does it have to happen at a certain age? If so, your characters might have to go through this.
Birth: Most people are born into a religion. Sometimes, they are given the choice to leave this religion at a certain age or they can be officially initiated (like within some Amish communities). This might cause stress for characters if they come of this age and if their parents or guardians are expecting them to turn a certain way.
Forced: Sometimes, people are forced to join a religion.
RELIGIONS IN YOUR WORLD
It’s realistic to have more than one religion present. They don’t have to exist equally and probably won’t.
Outlawed: An outlawed religion is one that is not allowed to be practiced. What are the punishments for practicing an outlawed religion? Why are they outlawed?
Minority: A minority religion is simply one that has a lesser amount of followers than a dominant religion. They do not have to be oppressed religions.
Oppressed: An oppressed religion is one that may or may not have been outlawed and one that is rejected by society as a whole. Practitioners experience discrimination. What this discrimination is depends on you.
Dominant: The dominant religion is the one that is most common in a given region. It does not have to be oppressive to other religions.
Secret: Secret religions are unknown to the general population and are invitation-only.
Mythical: Mythical religions are secret religions that may or may not exist. The general population might have conspiracies about the existence, but they have no hard proof.
Dead: These religions are no longer practiced.
Revived: These are religions that were previously dead, but revived by a population. The practices in the revival will not be the same as the original religion.
GENERAL QUESTIONS
What is the dominant religion in your character’s region? How do they feel about it? Is it their religion? Do they agree with the dominant opinions?
How much power does religion have? Are government rulers considered divine or close to divinity? Is religion above the law? Does it dictate your character’s world?
What is the most well known story? What does this story explain? Does it give morals or does it explain a natural occurrence? Or something else? How does this story affect your characters and their world?
How important is religion to your character? Do they turn to religion in times of need? Do they take offense if someone puts down their religion? Do they try to spread their religion?
Why do people follow this religion? Did it appear in a time of need? Or is it used as an explanation? Does it bring a community together? Is there a reward (like in the afterlife)? Were they forced to convert?
What sacred days are there? Are there any at all? If so, how are these days viewed? How often do they come along? What do they celebrate?
How did this religion spread? Some religions spread unintentionally, as do languages and other cultures. The Phoenicians never had the intention of conquest, only trade. Their trade led to widespread cultural exchange. Was your religion spread on purpose? Is it actively spread? Was it forced upon a population?
How does the environment affect religion? Available resource might determine what is used for places of worship. Weather might create deities. Positions of the sun might create holidays. Geography in general might impact the origin story of the world.
How does this religion feel about various topics like marriage, death, sex, sexuality, drugs, magic, incest, and murder? What this religion says about such topics will determine what is considered “the norm” in your world and how your characters act. If incest is considered a sin rather than just taboo, people might be afraid to get too close to their sibling.
What conflict does this religion create? Does it create internal conflict for your character? Does it create wars or fights between people? Is it dangerous for your character to travel in a certain area because of their religion?
How does this religion impact your character’s outlook on life? Religion shapes the way a person perceives the world. It impacts whether they see a person as a villain or as a hero and how they feel about everything in general.

thewritingcafe:

I did a post on religion a while ago, but I can do a better job with it.

Part I: World Building Considerations: Religious Hierarchies

Part II: World Building Considerations: Deities and Mythologies

THE BASICS

Religion is the belief that supernatural or spiritual powers exist.

There are four “branches” of beliefs that form the way a person feels about their religion (or lack of) and other religions. They are:

  • Theism: A theist believes in a god (or more).
  • Atheism: An atheist lacks the belief in a god (or more).
  • Gnosticism: A gnostic believes it is possible to know that a god (or more) does or does not exist.
  • Agnosticism: An agnostic believes that it is not possible to know that a god (or more) does or does not exist.

These create people who are one of the following (this can change throughout a person’s life):

  • Gnostic Theist: These characters believe in a god (or more) and are absolutely sure that it exists. Depending on the personality of this character, they might take offense if other people tell them they are wrong or that their religion is false. Others will brush it off and not care.
  • Agnostic Theist: These characters believe in a god (or more), but do not claim to know for sure if this god exists. These characters might struggle with their religion if this existence is important to them.
  • Gnostic Atheist: These characters are absolutely sure that there is no god (or more).
  • Agnostic Atheist: These characters do not believe in a god (or more), but do not claim to know of its existence for sure.

THE BEGINNINGS

Most early religions began with animism. This is when supernatural powers, life, souls, or spirits are attributed to the natural world as well as objects.

Sometimes, deities can be created when certain attributes as parts of the natural world are viewed as more important than others. A population may give a name to a particular spirit (like the sun) and thus make a deity out of it. Over time, this leads to polytheism.

The earliest deities were most likely female because back then, humans believed that women had the ability to create life from nothing. This is why “virgin” deities, goddesses, beings, and religious figures are common. They are seen as being able to make life by themselves, but the concept of virginity has changed to being “clean” or “pure”.

Early monotheistic religions often came from polytheism, but not always. What happens is one deity becomes more important than all the others for whatever reason. Here are some reasons for why monotheism might have come up in your world (with the exception of the spread of religion):

  • A person claims that one deity is the true deity. All other deities are slowly forgotten or reassigned as lesser religious beings, but not deities.
  • One deity may be more important than the other deities. Over time, this deity becomes the sole deity. All other deities are slowly forgotten or reassigned as lesser religious beings, but not deities.
  • A historical figure transforms into a deity over time through myth and legend, thus becoming a major deity.
  • One deity might “absorb” other deities and their attributes due to its importance, thus becoming a single deity who is a mixture of other deities.

Religion does not always evolve in this order and it does not have to. There is no “ultimate” form of religion. Monotheism is not “civilized” and animism is not “primitive”. They are both valid religions, they just exist in different ways.

One source of conflict for your story could be the switch from one form of religion to another. If polytheism is moving into monotheism, a minority of the population might be trying hard to hold onto old deities.

Of course, there are more types of religion other than animism, polytheism, and monotheism, such as naturalism. Look around at various religions for some inspiration.

NAME

The name! You have to name your religion. The followers of this religion need a name to refer to themselves by. You can also have names for the various branches of a religion or for the followers of a specific religious figure. If you’ve made up a language, you can use that language to create a name. You can also name the religion after a deity, a historical figure, or a religious figure. You can also name it after the founder of the religion.

ORIGINS

Where did this religion originate? With older religions, it might not be clear. Other religions have a clear start, or at least are known to have started in a specific area or with a specific person. If there is a founder of the religion, create this character and their history.

You also need an origin story for the world. A lot of religions have them.

REASON AND APPEAL

There are three general reasons for why people practice religion:

  1. Sociological: Religion is used for cultural conformity. It unites a community through similar morals and values and can be used to control a population or to bring general peace among worldviews. If you can influence a person’s thoughts, you can control their actions.
  2. Cognitive: Religion has been used to explain the unknown and to help people make sense of the world they live in. Myths, legends, and deities have been used to explain why the seasons change or why storms happen. Religion offers an explanation.
  3. Psychological: People turn to religion in times of need or emotional struggle. They might turn to religion because they have a sick family member or they might turn to religion because they need an end to a drought. Having a reason to hold on (religion) can help people get through the hard times.

It’s common that all three reasons exist together, but one reason may outweigh another in an individual or a population. For example, in a time of famine, the majority of a population might turn to religion for reason 2. In a society with little understanding of science, the majority of the population might use religion for reason 1.

When creating a religion, think about why your characters are religious or why they are not religious. Think about situations that would make them approach religion. All characters will differ based on their personal needs, how religious they are, and how they were raised. Some characters might only turn to religion when they are extremely desperate.

SACRED TEXTS

A sacred text is a general term that refers to a text that is important to a religion. The Bible is an example. Sacred texts do not have to exist in a religion. Oral histories can take their place or exist alongside them.

If there is a sacred text, decide how it is supposed to be read. Some religious texts are meant to be read by a religious official, who teaches others what it says (the Bible). Other texts are meant to be ready by everyone and interpreted on an individual level (the Qur’an).

  • If the sacred text is meant to be read by a religious official and no one else, religious officials will be educated while most of the population will not be (depending on the society, available education, hierarchy, and technology available to spread written texts). Lack of literacy might be used to control the population.

Sacred texts might be a part of the government. If so, create laws carefully and make sure you know all the details about the religion and the government you’ve created.

Another option for a sacred text is one that is created by an individual or by a community. These sacred texts are filled with whatever information a person sees as important to the way they practice their religion. They may collect information through religious officials, oral histories, or their own experiences. These sacred texts can be passed down to another generation.

Here are some things you can put in a sacred text:

  • Historical Accounts: If a sacred text is just a historical account of a religion, you’ll need to come up with mythologies that fit into this text.
  • Laws & Guidelines: Sometimes, a sacred text is used to write down laws and guidelines of a religion.
  • Prayers, Songs, etc.: If prayers, chants, songs, and other spoken words are important to a religion or hold meaning, they might show up in a sacred text.

PLACE OF WORSHIP

Not all religions have a place of worship. However, places of worship can be as grand as the Hagia Sophia or they can be as simple as a personal altar in one’s home.

Within certain religions, such as Catholicism, there can be a hierarchy of places of worship. For example, a Cathedral is a church, but it also acts as the seat of a Bishop for a given area. Places of worship, in times when the majority of the population could not read, used lots of common symbols within the architecture so that people knew it was a place of worship for a certain religion. This is why many medieval religious buildings portray religious stories or figures within the architecture.

If there are places of worship in your world, put them in your story. If they are in a city or near a trading center, they might be more grand than others due to available resources. If a government official commissions one of these buildings, it will likely be large and detailed due to available expenses. Places of worship in isolated areas are likely to be smaller and simpler.

Make these places known in your world. Give them a feel. A lot of religious buildings are meant to give the feeling of grandness and divinity. Some might make a person feel small and insignificant. Give these buildings a demeanor. This will help readers get a feel for this religion while also setting the mood and tone for the scene.

BELIEFS

Create the main beliefs and philosophies of your religion. This will impact your society as a whole. However, there should be differing opinions and beliefs within a religion. People are going to interpret parts of a religion in different ways and will have different opinions on how to approach a religion.

  • Opposing Forces: Some religions have opposing forces within it, such as good vs evil. Some religions don’t have opposing forces and rather see everything just as it is without attributing morality. Decide how your religion views the world.
  • Opposing Forces 2: This refers to the opinions of people within the religion. Having differing opinions within a religion can be mild, but it can also be extreme. The latter can cause lots of conflict and even a split in religion, creating two different branches or a new religion altogether.
  • Common Values: The main values and morals of this religion will affect the way your characters think and behave, even if they are not religious. Being raised around this religion can sway their opinions. This might create conflict for your characters when faced with a decision that goes against what they were raised with.
  • Afterlife: Everyone, at one point, wonders what happens when we die. As I mentioned above, religion is often used to explain the unknown. What is the afterlife in this religion? If there are no opposing forces of good vs evil, there will probably not be a hell-like place.
  • Sins: You don’t need to put sins in your religion, but it can help with conflict and character morals. Decide what this religion has outlawed or what it has looked down upon. If you want, sins can become law through the government.
  • Other Religions: For a post on what happens when other cultures come in contact with each other, look at the lower part of this post. Sometimes, religions can exist peacefully side by side.

Like I said, beliefs will impact your characters and the world they grew up in. People are a part of whatever culture they were raised in and it’s impossible to completely cut off those ties. The morals, values, and beliefs of your world’s religion impacts your characters in a much larger way than you think.

BRANCHES

Lots of religions have different sub-religions, branches, and denominations. If the religion you have created it widespread, it’s likely that this religion will have sub-religions and different forms of worship. If a religion has influence on another religion, those religions might end up combining.

  • Region: Different branches of a religion tend to be dominant in certain regions, even in multi-cultural places. Decide where certain branches are more common or where they are limited to.
  • Interaction: Two different branches within a religion might hate each other to such extremities that war can occur. This is another source of conflict for your fictional world.
  • Difference of Beliefs: If applicable to your story, think up some differences between the branches of religion.

VISIBILITY

Religion should be seen in your story if you make up one. It doesn’t matter if it’s not a huge part or if none of the characters are extremely religious. If you have created a religion, it should  have some visibility. It could influence language, dress, architecture, holidays, and more.

  • Architecture: This will most likely be places of worship, but religion can appear in all types of buildings and structures. Certain symbols might be seen in windows or on doors. Certain architectural styles might hold symbolic meaning, like how tall buildings are seen as reaching up to the heavens and therefore are seen as divine.
  • Clothing: Religious clothing can be obvious or subtle, but it still affects fashion. People might mimic the style of a religious figure or they might wear something that shows which deity they worship. If you show this, you can let the reader know what certain characters value. For example, wearing a certain symbol in the form of a pin might show that a person worships the deity of bravery, thus showing that this character values bravery.
  • Language: People mention parts of their religion in common phrases all the time, sometimes without realizing it. You can come up with exclamations and common phrases in your world through their religion.
  • Calendars: A lot of calendars surround important dates in religion. If you’re looking where to put year zero, go to religion. Did someone important die in that year? Were they born? Did something else important happen?

SYMBOL

Most religions have some kind of symbol. This symbol is often important to that religion (like the cross for Christianity). Creating a symbol can add depth to your world while also bringing reality to this religion. You can put this symbol in various places to help show readers where this religion has spread.

It’s not necessary to have a symbol.

POPULARITY

Decide how far this religion has spread and what people think about it. Religions, if small, are sometimes viewed as cults. If they gain popularity and start overcoming another dominant religion, they might be seen as threats.

  • Region: Know the region that your religion has spread to. There can be small regions within larger regions that resist this religion. If your characters are traveling, knowing the boundaries of this religion can help you create scenes and cultures that have this religious influence.
  • Subscribers: Decide how many people subscribe to this religion. If this is the dominant religion in a region, this religion will be more visible in your world.
  • Influence: Religion has massive influence on culture. If you are writing a world where religion is important, it will greatly influence your characters’ lives and worlds.
  • Spread: Does this religion have a goal to spread to other places? If so, your religious characters might try to convert others or there might be conflict with the spread of religion.

JOINING

Is there a certain way to join this religion? Many religions have rituals, ceremonies, and initiations that are used to accept a person into that religion.

  • Invitation: A few religions are invitation-only. This can be rigid or more free. A rigid invitation means that only a certain person can invite others into this religion. For example, if a person wants to bring a friend into their religion, they might have to bring their friend to a religious official to get permission. Less rigid invitations can be as simple as allowing any member of a religion to bring in others.
  • Open: An open religion allows anyone to join whether they were invited or not. These religions can spread fast while invitation-only religions are able to stay small and private for a longer period of time.
  • The Initiator: Who performs the ceremony? Most often, it is a religious official, but it doesn’t have to be.
  • The Ceremony: How they are brought into a religion? What happens during the ceremony? How long does it take? Are there any preparations that need to be made? Does it have to happen at a certain age? If so, your characters might have to go through this.
  • Birth: Most people are born into a religion. Sometimes, they are given the choice to leave this religion at a certain age or they can be officially initiated (like within some Amish communities). This might cause stress for characters if they come of this age and if their parents or guardians are expecting them to turn a certain way.
  • Forced: Sometimes, people are forced to join a religion.

RELIGIONS IN YOUR WORLD

It’s realistic to have more than one religion present. They don’t have to exist equally and probably won’t.

  • Outlawed: An outlawed religion is one that is not allowed to be practiced. What are the punishments for practicing an outlawed religion? Why are they outlawed?
  • Minority: A minority religion is simply one that has a lesser amount of followers than a dominant religion. They do not have to be oppressed religions.
  • Oppressed: An oppressed religion is one that may or may not have been outlawed and one that is rejected by society as a whole. Practitioners experience discrimination. What this discrimination is depends on you.
  • Dominant: The dominant religion is the one that is most common in a given region. It does not have to be oppressive to other religions.
  • Secret: Secret religions are unknown to the general population and are invitation-only.
  • Mythical: Mythical religions are secret religions that may or may not exist. The general population might have conspiracies about the existence, but they have no hard proof.
  • Dead: These religions are no longer practiced.
  • Revived: These are religions that were previously dead, but revived by a population. The practices in the revival will not be the same as the original religion.

GENERAL QUESTIONS

  • What is the dominant religion in your character’s region? How do they feel about it? Is it their religion? Do they agree with the dominant opinions?
  • How much power does religion have? Are government rulers considered divine or close to divinity? Is religion above the law? Does it dictate your character’s world?
  • What is the most well known story? What does this story explain? Does it give morals or does it explain a natural occurrence? Or something else? How does this story affect your characters and their world?
  • How important is religion to your character? Do they turn to religion in times of need? Do they take offense if someone puts down their religion? Do they try to spread their religion?
  • Why do people follow this religion? Did it appear in a time of need? Or is it used as an explanation? Does it bring a community together? Is there a reward (like in the afterlife)? Were they forced to convert?
  • What sacred days are there? Are there any at all? If so, how are these days viewed? How often do they come along? What do they celebrate?
  • How did this religion spread? Some religions spread unintentionally, as do languages and other cultures. The Phoenicians never had the intention of conquest, only trade. Their trade led to widespread cultural exchange. Was your religion spread on purpose? Is it actively spread? Was it forced upon a population?
  • How does the environment affect religion? Available resource might determine what is used for places of worship. Weather might create deities. Positions of the sun might create holidays. Geography in general might impact the origin story of the world.
  • How does this religion feel about various topics like marriage, death, sex, sexuality, drugs, magic, incest, and murder? What this religion says about such topics will determine what is considered “the norm” in your world and how your characters act. If incest is considered a sin rather than just taboo, people might be afraid to get too close to their sibling.
  • What conflict does this religion create? Does it create internal conflict for your character? Does it create wars or fights between people? Is it dangerous for your character to travel in a certain area because of their religion?
  • How does this religion impact your character’s outlook on life? Religion shapes the way a person perceives the world. It impacts whether they see a person as a villain or as a hero and how they feel about everything in general.

Everybody says, ‘My topic is the most important thing you can learn in order to write science fiction and fantasy,’ when they write a tutorial for FARP. But I’m actually not exaggerating. The art of creating worlds is crucial to good Fantasy and Science Fiction.

Read More


yeahwriters:

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the-darling-buds-of-may asked: Do you have any advice for writing good settings?

This is a great question for right now because creating really elaborate, detailed settings is a good way to generate a bunch of words toward your NaNoWriMo.

There are two types of settings: places you have been (a kid’s bedroom, a high school hallway, the lake your family vacations at every summer, a grocery store) and places you haven’t (a Japanese tea house, the top of Mount Everest, Mordor, the inside of a spaceship).

Here are some tips to describe both.

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Anonymous asked: Hello! I have a question concerning dimensions. I am writing a story where I include a character going from one dimension to another. Though my knowledge of dimensions is pretty limited. Do you have any reliable sources (whether it be in book form or online) about dimensions?

Well, there’s this awesome video from Sixty Symbols that might be interesting to you. And here’s another from Sixty Symbols. Pretty nifty, yeah? And here’s a video called Imagining 10 Dimensions that explains dimensions very thoroughly.

It’s worth mentioning that a dimension isn’t the same thing as a parallel universe. These terms are often confused in fiction. A dimension is a term used in mathematics and physics to explain a measurable extent like length, width, breadth, height, duration, etc. Humans “live in a world defined by three spatial dimensions and one dimension of time. In other words, it only takes three numbers to pinpoint your physical location at any given moment.” (x) A parallel universe is a universe related to ours, but that exists in a separate reality. Sometimes the differences between parallel universes are major; sometimes they differ only in one tiny respect.

When we speak of dimensions, we’re speaking in terms of 1D (line), 2D (flat surface), 3D (e.g. space, cubes, bananas, Earth, roller-coasters), 4D (not smell-o-vision or getting splashed with a bit of water during a movie, but the mathematical kind of 4D, like hypercubes), etc. When we speak of parallel universes, we fiction writers tend to speak in terms of things like Harold deciding to put on black slacks in one universe and jeans in another, or of dinosaurs still living in one but not another, or of our planet having several moons in one but not another, etc. Events have changed, yes, and there are definite differences between the universes, but there is no added dimension

Here are a few books that might help you understand dimensions:

Here are a few books that might help you understand parallel universes:

And check out these fictional books written with dimensions in mind:

And here is a GoodReads list of fiction books written with parallel universes in mind, and also one of YA books written along the same lines.

If anyone feels better qualified to tackle this question or would like to add their expertise to this post, please shoot us a message! Thank you, and thanks for your question, anon!

-C


How to Build a Fictional World - Kate Messner

Why is J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy so compelling?

The full TedEd lesson may be found on their website.


Source: ed.ted.com

widowbite asked: "[ I don't know if you reply to questions, but I am writing a new story. Futuristic kind of thing, sort of dystopian, in which there is this new race, that was born out of the humans, so no humans. And I have to obviously explain the political system (bc it's hella important) and how they live, and I did it in the first 10 pages or so, so it wouldn't be all over the place during the story. I thought I'd just explain everything right away. Do you think it was a good choice? If not, what else? ]"

[THIS RESPONSE IS C’s OPINION]

I personally prefer to pepper my explanations of things like political systems and other setting-related topics throughout the scenes which immediately relate to them. 

For example, I would look at the political system I’ve created and try to connect aspects of it to different scenes where my characters will be talking about or involved in politics and/or government. If I have three such scenes planned, I might split up the explanation thus:

In the first scene, I introduced the topic of the government from the angle that I want the reader to take; I want them to be skeptical and distrustful of the government, like my character and her friend. This is not imperative, just the strategy I used for this example.

Then I took my character to the government and showed it as a physical manifestation (the buildings) and gave insight to court proceedings. Then I introduced her father and his way of thinking which opposes my character’s ideals. I used that as an opportunity to introduce some history as well. I might also take this opportunity to reinforce my explanation of what the government  is and how it works from the first scene. 

Then in the third scene I put my character through the machinations of the government. She was arrested and then possibly released because of her father’s influence, thus showing that the government is perhaps cruel but also corrupt as the system may be circumvented for a sufficiently powerful character (the father). This, if anything, will only strengthen my character’s (and my reader’s) negative opinion of the government. 

There are definitely other ways to split it up, but I hope that gives you an idea. 

A ton of exposition and explanation at the front-end of a story can make it dull and top-heavy. People generally want to see some action pretty early on. If you’re stuck explaining things, you might miss an opportunity to hook your audience. 

I have always been of the opinion that it is better to attach your explanations of setting and world-building to a character’s development. It doesn’t have to be the viewpoint character, but if a character is experiencing the world and actively participating in it, I believe the reader will care more about understanding how that world works. Just telling the reader that the government is corrupt is not nearly as effective as showing the reader how corrupt the government is. 

Check out these articles for more on show, don’t tell, beginnings of stories, and imparting important information to your reader, check out these resources:

Thank you for your question! If you have any comments on this post or other questions about writing, you can message us here!

-C