Friday, September 13, 2013

Storyworld Building: Creating Religion

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books for teens in lots of weird genres like, fantasy (Blood of Kings trilogy), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website.

This post now part of the book Storyworld First: Creating A Unique Fantasy World For Your Novel by Jill Williamson.

Religion in fiction is an interesting discussion topic for me. See, my books are primarily published in the Christian specialty market. But when I started writing, I didn't know there was such a thing. Eventually, because of the type of story I was writing and the publishers I'd researched, I found myself at a Christian writer's conference, where editors from the Christian specialty market were looking for stories.

Back then, I still didn't quite understand that I was speaking to editors of a specialty market. I just wanted to get my books published, you know?

When Jeff Gerke read By Darkness Hid and offered to publish it, he asked me what made it Christian. I said, "I dunno." And he said that I needed to add some content to make it Christian. Looking back, I wish I'd understood more of what he was asking me to do. But I was a new author and did my best. And many people love the books.

But it’s a bit of a regret for me. Not that I did it, but that I didn’t know how back then. What’s the problem, you ask? I have two religions in my book. I had the One Way, and I had all those false gods. And the people who believed in the One Way were good. And the people who believed in the false gods were bad or misled.

When I read it now, it feels contrived and forced in places. And it doesn't always feel authentic because I didn't portray the other religions fairly. I chose a side. I told the reader which faith was the truth. And that took away their free will to choose. And it made some of them angry.

It wasn't wrong, what I did, especially since the book was published for the Christian specialty market. But I don't think it's the best way to tell a story and reach the most readers.

Today I’m an advocate for creating more than one religion in your storyworld and treating them fairly. Let's be honest. Earth has many religions. And whether or not you know with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength that Judaism or Christianity or Hinduism or Scientology is the one truth, as an author who is trying to create a unique storyworld with diverse characters, you should remain impartial. Let your characters be who they are.

So how do you make different religions seem real in your story? My best suggestion is to study religions on our world. Where did they come from and why did people follow them? Use what you learn to create parallels in your story. Oftentimes the level of technology comes into play with religion. Historically speaking, the more man leaned about science, the less man believed in a deity. If you have very little technology in your story, you’ll likely have people who think more primitively in regards to gods. People or creatures with great power or strength might be considered gods. For example: The dragon eats us, so we worship the dragon and give it sacrifices so that we can maintain peace with the mighty dragon.

Consider having sects of religion. There are so many denominations of Christianity. And some of the differences are  over little things don’t matter to me. But they do to some.

Are there churches? Services? Required prayer times like Muslims have? Fasting? Priests? Saints? Holy books? Statues to worship? Songs? Liturgies? Are there different worshiping rules for men and women? Are there secrets that you learn the longer you are a member of the church? Or is everything free to all people? Must young people go on a mission? Are there missionaries? Do the believers keep separate from nonbelievers like the Amish? Is there a symbol for the religion like the star of David or a cross? An object that helps a believer pray like a rosary or an altar?

Once you’ve developed a few religions, find a way to give them conflict with one another. For example, do you know why Jews, Muslims, and Christians fight over Jerusalem? It's because of when Abraham went up to the mountain to sacrifice his son as God asked him to do. (You can read the story in Genesis 22 of the Bible. I don't know the references for the Torah or the Quran.) The problem is that Jews and Christians believe that Abraham was asked to sacrifice Isaac, the son God promised to him and his wife in their old age. And Muslims believe that he was asked to sacrifice Ishmael, Abraham's firstborn son that Hagar, his wife's servant, bore to him.

Seems like no big deal, right? But later on in history, hundreds of years later, God sent a prophet to King David, telling him to go and build an altar on another man's land. That land is the same place where Abraham attempted to sacrifice his son. And that land is where David's son Solomon built the temple in Jerusalem when he was king. And that land is where a mosque sits today. It is a holy piece of land to three religions. And they fight over it to this day.

That's the kind of conflict you want to create with the religions in your story.

And on a completely random note, my book Captives is on a .99 ebook sale right now on Kindle and Nook. Click on the links to grab a copy.

Captives on Kindle.

Captives on Nook.

27 comments:

  1. Thanks for the post! Now I have a great idea how to support a certain country in my book by using religion!

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    1. Cool, Samuel. I'm glad this helped you. :-)

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  2. This is interesting!I haven't actually started writing a fantasy, but I have a couple bouncing around in my head right now. And I wasn't sure what to do about religion so I just kind of left it out. Like people have arguments over certain ideas but it's more politics and human rights than religion. But I guess you could say forming religions is part of human nature, and so are religious wars if you judge by history.

    I'll come back to this if I start writing my fantasy stories :)

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    1. I love that a fantasy premise is stalking you. Be careful. It just might catch you. LOL

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  3. Ooooh, I was looking for ways to introduce more conflict to a fantasy I'm brainstorming. Religious clashes may be just the thing. Thanks Jill! :)

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  4. Religion... I've considered putting in several books, but the flak I would get from my friends has always made me hesitate. In my latest WIP though, it really does call for it... Guess I'll just have to suck it up and be brave. >.< I'm not very good at that...

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    1. J. Liessa, it's your story, and if YOU like it that's all that matters! Don't be afraid to write it in just because of what you think your friend might say. You never know, they may love it :)

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    2. That's true. If you're concerned that your friends will think it's preachy, remember that lots of general market fantasy stories have religion in them. Wheel of Time has religion. It's all how you handle it. And the editing stage is helpful for that too.

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  5. An interesting thought. Thanks for sharing!

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  6. Wow! What a great post! Right now I have really been trying to add depth to my fantasy world, because it seems to be very flat and similar to a lot of other books that I have read. I think this will really help me to add more unique conflicts and cultures to my book! Thanks SO much for this post, it is super helpful! :)

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  8. I have steered clear of religion in my novels because I never want to feel like I'm stuffing it down my readers' throats. And if I add other religions, I don't want to turn Christians away from it.

    I mainly create more of a conflict politically...right now I'm writing a future-America story and the conflict more revolves around political and moral issues. I guess that's more of the conflict I like to create, because I don't think it turns readers off as sharply.

    I'm no fan of religion in books, really. Unless it's a Christian book, but then again, I'm biased. My favorite book is The Fault in Our Stars, and, although it was written by a New-Age Christian, it has a very contemporary approach to religion. The characters weren't Christian but they weren't confined to one religion in general. Also it steered clear of making fun of Christians. I can't stand when novels do that.

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    1. I LOVED THE FAULT IN OUR STARS!!! It was so amazing. So sad, but still amazing. I've never cried so hard at a book, before or since.

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    2. That one is on my Kindle waiting to be read.

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  9. One of my favorite parts of Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn trilogy is the way all the different religions overlap and conflict, especially once the Church of the Survivor starts up. All the different motivations are fun to read.

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    1. Yes, Brandon does this extremely well, Liam.

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  10. I actually don't read many Christian books, because I don't like the way they present religion! (That saying, I have read and loved some! :P) I totally agree with how you said, we, as writers, can't portray stuff and tell our readers what's good and bad. It means so much more when stuff overlaps and we make up our own minds. That saying, I leave religion out of my writing all together. Ack, it's so easy to offend people when using religion in books. :/

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    1. I know what you mean. Like in 'A Walk To Remember'- one of my favorite movies ever- just the way they present Christianity is rather shallow. I leave it out, too, and generally imply truths instead that I firmly believe in. Makes for a deeper read. :)

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    2. Authors do this without religion too. Hunger Games had a very strong "War is bad" message in it. In book three, I was a lot sick of her pushing that agenda. I just wanted to read the book, you know? So it's not just religion that can annoy readers. Any agenda can.

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  11. What do you think of other gods that are really real? Pagan gods that are real in that fantasy world?

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    1. Do you mean that the gods are characters in the book, like in Percy Jackson or Clash of the Titans? If they're characters, then they're characters and should have a story goal and such. That's fun too.

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  12. Thank you so much for this post!!! I've been having a hard time dealing with religions in my story, but this post really helped!!

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  13. The series I'm writing is extremely Christian. The two main religions is Christianity and Evolutionists. I can't NOT take a side in this series though, because the plot revolves around the main character/s (who are Christians at some point in the series) vs the bad guy who hates God and is persecuting the few Christians left in the world. If I did a series that didn't focus so much on all of this, I'd make it less, but I'm not really for coexisting, if you know what I mean. Maybe just not preachy, since that gets annoying.

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  14. This helped me a fair bit. As a Christian I have issues with creating faith's this helped calm my guilt a bit for my current story one I have been working on,reworking,rewriting for the past 10 years ha ha.

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