S and I are back from Gen Con, which was loads of fun. We attended a bunch of panel discussions on topics ranging from constructing magic systems to “What Editors Want.” There were a couple of lectures, too, including a very entertaining one by Scott Lynch on writing realistic trauma and death in fantasy and sci-fi.
One of the panel discussions we went to was on inventing religions, which was very useful for me, since that’s what I’ve been doing since finishing The Path of the Son in the second week of July. A few of our main cultures in the Myrciaverse practice different denominations of the same religion, and the conflict between these denominations is a major causus belli in the Quartet. Here’s the thing, though: we’ve never spent much time actually nailing down the differences in church doctrine that separate these people. So that’s what I’m working on.
Last year at Context, S and I picked up a book on worldbuilding called Eighth Day Genesis. The chapter in there on religion is by Maurice Broaddus, and I highly recommend it as a starting point for anyone who is trying to figure out how to do a fictional religion right. Sadly, even though he was at Gen Con this year, Maurice Broaddus wasn’t on the religion panel. Maybe next time.
So here are a few things I’ve been trying to keep in mind, both from the book and from the panel discussion we attended, as I make up doctrines and ceremonies and ancient schisms:
1) Everyone is the hero of his own story.
As a general rule, both in religious and secular contexts, bad guys don’t know they’re the bad guys. Even if a religion is “evil,” even if it’s headed up by horrible people who do horrible things, those people probably think they are the good guys. They have to have some sort of motivation besides just making life miserable for the hero. They’re just trying to make the world a better place, one human sacrifice at a time, and they can’t understand why the hero won’t just get with the program and join them.
2) Religion is part of your culture, not separate from it.
Religion affects how people see the world, so it’s important to think through the consequences of doctrine. If you’ve grown up going to Sunday School, and you’ve been taught that X, Y, and Z are terrible, terrible sins, then that’s going to inform your reaction to X, Y, and Z for the entire rest of your life. You’ll think they’re icky and wrong. Or maybe, if you reject the faith you were brought up in, X, Y, and Z will seem especially tempting and exciting. But in either case, you’ll never see those things the same way you would have without those Sunday School lessons.
3) What do your POV characters know?
Obviously it’s nice to have the whole religion planned out, but when writing a story, the important thing is to ask what the characters know. If a POV character is, say, a priest or theologian, then he knows pretty much everything there is to know. In the Quartet, some of our young POV characters go through a Confirmation-like process, where they have to memorize catechisms and things like that. So they have a fairly good idea of the major doctrines. But it wouldn’t be odd for them not to be aware of the full history. And more importantly, they don’t really know all that much about the doctrines of the other denominations. They just have a vague sense that those other people do things differently.
So, anyway, that’s what I’ve been up to. I’m almost finished with the second of the four major denominations, but school will be starting up again in a couple weeks, so it might be a while until I get finished.