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Transcript for Episode 1.27

Writing Excuses Episode 27: World-Building Religion

[Note: this is not about a religion building a world, this is about writers who are building a fictional world and the role of religion in that. Just in case anyone is having trouble parsing the title. Fictional World Building: Religion?]

Key points: what you believe informs your writing, but your story should turn around what your characters believe. Religion belongs in world building because it is a human motivation. Talking about religion may offend some people, but putting pen to paper also may offend some people. Do your world building around sources of conflict. How will you use it in your story?


The next few podcasts will dig deeper into world building. This one will talk about religion.

Disclosure: all three of the authors are Mormons. [And all three live in Utah, too.]

How do you not let your religious bias destroy your books? Does your religion influence your works?

  • I try not to. I have gotten e-mail thanking me for presenting religion in a positive way at the same time that I got e-mail that was glad that I presented humanism in a positive way. My basic rule of thumb is that I will not come out and say there is a God. I leave it up to the characters. Some believe, some don’t, they argue, but I try not to present an overwhelming decision either way.
  • Orson Scott Card says that when he started he didn’t think he included anything about his religion, but then realized it is inevitably there. I don’t think I’ve put my religion in my writing, but what what I believe inevitably informs what I write. Readers in North America all share a generic Judeo-Christian background.
  • when I’m writing, I try to focus on what’s important to the character. I have to present their viewpoint as strongly as possible.
  • which is our religion influencing our writing, since a belief in free agency and choice is a key part of our religion
  • religion is strong for the bad guys. Reflects my belief that religion is powerful and important, but it can be used for the wrong reasons.
  • disclaimer: when we talk about religion in writing, we are not talking about preaching. But characters have religious beliefs, how do you portray those?

When you use religion in world building, what do you gain or lose?

  • creating a religion views you a rounded world, helps you understand what the characters are interested in and so forth. It also gives you great epithets.
  • when we look at the history of mankind, religion is one of the strong motivating forces. If you leave it out, there’s a great gaping hole.
  • we’re not talking about just organized religion. This includes spirituality, individual faith, etc.
  • caveat: you can’t do everything in every book. So focus on world building where there is conflict.
  • wizards versus clerics. Where does your magic come from? If it comes from religion, then your wizards are really clerics.

Does talking about religion get on the nerves of readers? Do you risk offending people when you include religion in your books?

  • you risk offending people by putting pen to paper. It really depends on the story you want to tell.
  • I do not like books where I can see a clear message. I don’t like to be preached at, no matter what the message is.
  • give all sides. Don’t make it clear cut.

Do you base your religions on real world religions?

  1. if you take the effort to make good use of them. A lot of Greek pantheons, etc.
  2. it bugs me when the author clearly does not believe. Do your research.
  3. dangers. People may accuse you of cutting corners, or it may be presented poorly.
  4. if this setting is near future, like 50 years, then you need to think about what the Christians, Jews, Muslims, and so on are thinking. For the longer term, you still need to think about what happened.

How do you develop new religions?

  • my best rule of thumb is, look for points of conflict, and do your world building there.
    [discussion of the Fist of God in Ringworld, which led to the comment that]
  • you need to look for how you are going to use it in the book. It must be important to the characters.
  • what kind of sources of conflict do you look for?
  • characters who believe different things, and then develop the religions to let them butt heads
  • Man versus state [and along about here, there seemed to be a strange scream in the background of the podcast?]
  • build your religion to interact with your magic, world, and characters to make conflicts

Writing prompt: develop a religion where people worship something that no one would ever worship in our world. And it can’t be silly.

Current Mood: deflated
Current Music: Believe, Brooks & Dunn