Worldbuilding Wednesday (on a Thursday): Religion

This is the post I never got the time to write yesterday. I had the afternoon free, and I knew what I wanted to write about for once. But when a friend you don’t see very often (but wish you did) asks if you want to come with her to IKEA, and there are things you really need there, you don’t say no. I had put off a trip to IKEA for quite a while now, but I didn’t buy a single thing I didn’t need. That must be a first! But when I came home I was exhausted, so… no blogging for me.

Anyway.

Today’s (or yesterday’s, technically) post is about worldbuilding religion. I used to find religion quite difficult. How did I decide how many religions? Would there be a true one or not? How could I make the gods (if there were more than one) believable and logical and smart? And then I realised…

I didn’t have to. Why should gods necessarily be aloof and logical and wise when so many religions have deities that are petty, rash, rather stupid, quick to anger, quick to throw aside their people or creations and so on? Most likely the religions of my conworld would not be less so. Religions and mythologies are made by people, after all, and are as diverse and strange as people are.

Then there is the question of whether there would be a true religion or not. When I say “true religion” I mean that there would be gods that actually exist in that conworld, gods who possibly created the world and keep it going. Perhaps there is just some sort of force that kicked it into gear and then disappeared, perhaps there were gods but they disappeared, or perhaps the gods were as meddlesome and interfering as in, for example, Greek mythology. I used to love reading about Greek mythology, but you do get the impression that, as a human, if you had anything whatsoever to do with the gods, you were fucked. Sometimes literally.

But then you have another problem. How does the world keep going? If the gods are fallible, how come they have created something that works so well, when there are so many conditions that needs to be met for a world to actually work? It has to be the right distance from a star/sun, the right size with the right gravity, the right composition of the atmosphere… On the other hand, there are ways around everything, and you don’t have to really bring it up (if you’re worldbuilding for a book, that is). For example, perhaps the world was there from before and the gods just used it. Perhaps the current gods took the power from wiser gods. There are many solutions that open up to many interesting things – maybe I will write another post on worldbuilding religion in the future.

In my current conworld, I decided to go for the drama. Perhaps it is my inner Greek mythology geek that’s behind it, as the Greek gods had a flair for the dramatic, but it was also what made everything come together.

Long story short: In the beginning, two gods were created, in order to create the world. The eldest wanted to plan it properly before doing anything, while the youngest went ahead and created Ayamar behind his back. It wasn’t very thought-out, and the eldest ended up creating a new set of gods to fix the mess, before killing off himself and his brother. I have still not decided whether or not he succeeded in killing his brother.

But the new gods… had their problems too. There were at least three contenders for being the god of magic, and while one was reasonable, the other two… not so much. One of them wasn’t called The Mad God for nothing, to put it that way. And there were other problems. One thing led to another, and it ended up in the Great Wars, following a period where most magicians had god-like powers that caused quite a bit of insanity. It ended up with two gods dying and the rest (except one) withdrawing from the world (only able to influence it through their priests and temples) after making so that things would work on their own, and a LOT of bitterness and resentment. That resentment, along with misunderstandings and assumptions about which gods were on which side, has continued ever since then, leading up to quite a bit of wonderful plot.

This is why I like worldbuilding. This piece of religion/history in the previous two paragraphs enabled the plot of Rogue Sorcery (it doesn’t really have anything to do with the gods or the priests, but part of the mess that was left behind. Most things were fixed, but nothing is completely fail-safe, and magic turned out to be one of those things) and several other stories.

The moral is this: Your world and its religion doesn’t have to be perfect. In fact it might be far more interesting if it isn’t, because then there are implications of that, and you would have to know how people deal with that, which would make a more fleshed-out world. It might not cause the premise of an entire series, as it did in my case, but interesting backstories are never amiss. Don’t be afraid to veer away from the standard fantasy religions or what you consider logical or realistic enough. Read a bit about real-world religions – logical and realistic are not words I would use for very many of them.

 

Worldbuilding Wednesday: Fantasy Education

(Yes, I admit it, I have a thing for alliteration. Worldbuilding Wednesday, Saturday Snippet, what will be next? Thunderous Thursday, a series of rants?)

It’s no secret that I’m extremely fond of worldbuilding. In fact, not having finished planning the empire in which Rogue Sorcery will take place, in detail, bothers me quite a bit more than not having actually written Rogue Sorcery does. I routinely put tremendous amounts of effort into creating tiny little places or random maps and names of countries and towns, complete with trade routes and border disputes and system of government, or characters, cultures, languages and writing systems, creatures and species – most without even intending to use them in any story. Some of them still end up in one, but most don’t. So I thought, why not make worldbuilding posts a general thing?

This week I thought I would write about education. At the time of writing (Saturday) I’ve just spent a few hours working on the educational system of Talduni, which is the empire in which Rogue Sorcery will take place. As with any other aspect of worldbuilding, I couldn’t just come up with a few schools and be happy with that. Since the empire is a big place with several very different provinces, it would be strange if everything was exactly the same from place to place, but considering the emperor, there needed to be some system to the madness.

Talduni is very loosely based on the middle ages in some respects. I don’t want a carbon copy of medieval Europe, however, so I’ve tried my best to change into something at roughly that stage of technological development but which is its own thing. For example, I drew inspiration from medieval nobility and feudalism, but Talduni isn’t really feudal even if it has a noble class. And when it comes to education, I quickly realised that the way education worked in the middle ages would not fit.

Arodhi, the emperor, is a powerful sorcerer and has ruled the empire since its beginnings quite a few centuries ago. You could say a lot of things about his reign, but his main goal has always been to not rule like his father (who ruled a much smaller area) did. And under his father’s rule, commoners were illiterate and the powerful kept their power by keeping the rest ignorant. At the same time, Arodhi has the second-largest library on the continent and values learning a great deal.

But then you have to combine that desire with several other issues, such as the practical concerns of the poor (who of course prefer that their kids help put food on the table), the areas with very little population, the wishes of the rich and powerful, the needs of the society and so on. And if you’re like me, you end up with a very long list of schools and types of education (and that’s before I’ve even started on what types of education and training the various schools actually offer). In other words: A clear case of “Catrine is overdoing it again”.

However, I thought I’d share a bit of what I’ve come up with (whew, it’s more nerve-wracking to share what I’ve come up with than I had thought):

  1. Village schools: Teachers travel between 3 or 4 village schools (which again take students from several villages if they’re close enough), offering basic training within reading, writing and maths a week a month. This is inspired by the schools here in Norway back when education started to be offered to everyone. I liked the idea not only because I got to put in some actual history-inspired things, but because it doesn’t require as many teachers nor as much sacrifice on behalf of the families.
  2. District/borough schools: This is the city equivalent of the village schools, but instead of a full week every month they offer classes twice a week.
  3. Temple schools offer education for particular groups – either groups that hold a special interest to their deity, or people eligible for priesthood/temple work, in which case it is always followed by apprenticeship and later work.
  4. Academies: Schools for those who can pay, basically, and who have finished their 2-3 years at the local district/village school. These vary quite a bit in length and subjects, and can be everything from practical training for a profession to general education for the rich.
  5. Continuing schools: Sort of like academies, but cheaper and more useful later, from 9 years of age.
  6. Apprentice schools: Typically once per week, aimed at teaching apprentices theoretical skills they need to know. A typical thing they would teach is the laws connected to a certain profession, or the history of that profession, for example.
  7. Guild schools are run by a particular guild or trade organisation. Instead of being once a week, this is full-time education which includes both practice and theory as well as apprenticeship, and leads directly into guild membership. Not all guilds or regions have these.
  8. Universities: Not much different from current universities.
  9. Funded academies (purely administrative term): Schools funded by individuals and organisations. Vary wildly in subjects and requirements, but typically teach within only one field, for example the Academy of History or one of the schools that train doctors. In many places funding a school means quite a lot of status for the very rich, so there are quite a few of these.
  10. State academies are also very varied, and typically train people for employment in the province or imperial administrations, military or education (village teachers), to mention a few.

As you can see, quite a few of these overlap – some are for poor people or people in less populated areas, while others are for rich people or those in cities. They would necessarily work quite differently and have quite different concerns. It must also be said that the country is a rather large empire, and as such some schools are more common in certain areas, while others elsewhere. And since the empire itself is so varied, I wanted the education system to reflect that. With the rest of the empire in mind I didn’t find it logical that the school system would be as organised and streamlined as it is today, and I wanted the “official” school system to only ensure that people had very basic skills – leaving plenty of different people and organisations to fill in the gaps.

How does education work in your world?

 

 

Imperial worldbuilding

When I started writing the second draft of Rogue Sorcery some (read: far too many) months ago, I quickly realised two things:

1. The plot needed work. As in, really needed work.

2. It was perhaps not a good idea to have it all take place in an empire for which I have only ever planned the capital. Not even that – the palace of the capital. And a small village in the northeastern corner of the empire. The rest of it has been much like a blank space. And to continue on my newfound fixation on lists, there are two things this leads to: A. Bad stories, and B. Stories I don’t like. I hate stories with bad worldbuilding with a passion. There are some exceptions to B, but the point still stands. How can I, who have been known to dislike an otherwise good book for years purely because of lazy worldbuilding, write a story which takes place in a nearly blank and very sloppy world?

Answer: I cannot. It will not happen. (Overuse of italics and commas, however, apparently will happen)

As a result, the story has been on hold for the aforementioned months, excused by the need to worldbuild. But then I will need place names, and then I will of course need the language, for which I of course needed to not only make the current version, but the proto language and another dialect. However relevant and important those things are, it doesn’t give me the right info to write the story. And considering that the empire is very important in Natural Sorcery and subsequent stories that aren’t part of the Sorcery Cycle but still set in the same world, I need to start planning the important stuff and let the details come afterwards.

I was alone at work today, so while eating lunch I came up with a plan for constructing the empire. It’s a big country, so it’s not realistic to know everything, but considering who my main characters are, there are some things that are more important than others. I decided to simply post all the questions on here, just in case someone else who are doing worldbuilding might need them. I have split them up into empire-wide and regional questions, but for most countries that distinction isn’t necessarily relevant. Sorry if some questions are repeated, and sorry that the order is… somewhat random.

Note: While the starting point for the culture and the empire was medieval Europe and the Roman Empire, I have never intended to make a carbon copy of either. The empire has its unique history that is very much influenced by certain other things in that world, and the goal is rather to make an empire that would work in its own right, with its own views and history and tendencies. For example, the nobles (though I so far use the English titles) will have other privileges and duties, and the status of various groups might be different, as will the view on crime and punishment. I do use the real world as inspiration, but not necessarily more than that.

Empire-wide:

– The main regions of the empire is very strong and mostly self-governed. What is the empire’s presence in the regions like, and what is decided by the emperor? Do people think of themselves as citizens of the empire or the region? Is there some sort of central council?
– How does the empire keep the newer regions under control?
– How are the armies coordinated?
– How are the borders protected?
– Are the borders between regions fairly open or closed?
– How are relations to other countries taken care of?
– Can people come to the emperor/capital with petitions/cases?
– Central laws/legislation, imperial courts as opposed to regional ones
– How do the people in the empire view outsiders/foreigners?
– At which point do problems become the emperor’s business and not just the regions’?
– Any population groups that are discriminated?
– Status of women
– Status of men
– Make names for the various titles and functions of the government.
– What do they call other countries and people?
– What is the stance on religion, and what is the “official” one? How does it blend into the daily lives? Are temples/priests supported by the empire or themselves?
– Empire-wide education
– Brief history of the empire as a whole (wars, acquisitions, etc etc)

Regional:

– Place names (English translations first, since the language isn’t finished)
– What used to be in the region before? Old contries, provinces, uninhabited land etc.
– How and when did the region become part of the empire? Why? (Something that the empire wanted, old grudges, old territory, enemy land for example)
– What do the people feel about being part of the empire? How do they feel about the ruler of their region?
– What is the official title of the general (the preliminary name of the ones directly under the emperor, but it doesn’t feel right – they’re sort of a mix between generals and governors and nobles (if you only look at the “ruling their own lands” part)
– How are things kept running in his absence?
– Who rules at lower levels? Nobles, councils, courts, administration etc
– Who is responsible for what in each part of the region – religion, business, education, legislation, law enforcement…
– Which groups have high and low social standing?
– How does the army work? Draft, volunteering, time of service, ranks, duties…
– Protection/law enforcement not carried out by the army
– Important places and cities
– Notable noble families and other important groups/families
– Important guilds and trades
– Brief history, development, notable events
– Patriotism and loyalty
– Distinctive characteristics of the region – what is it known for? What does it specialize in?
– How has the ruler/general affected the area in terms of attitudes, strictness, laws etc.
– If the responsible general has changed, how was it received by the people?
– How are leadership (below the generals) passed on? Inherited, elected etc.
– How democratic are they?
– How are the common people viewed?
– How are the borders protected?
– How do they view people from other regions?
– If they wanted to leave the empire, could they?
– How much will they put up with from their ruler?
– What religion is the most prevalent in the region? If this differs from the most common one in the empire as a whole, how are the gods worshipped? Are the temples and priests supported by the government, or discriminated? Relationship between this religion and True Religion. How much do people think of religion in their daily lives?
– In the emperor’s region, do the people identify as citizens of the empire or the region? Are there any differences between this and other regions?
– Are people free to move between regions? Are new inhabitants welcomed or distrusted?
– How does the region view any non-human inhabitants (apart from elves)?
– How does the region’s people’s view on elves differ from the emperor’s? Has it changed?
– Status of women, men and children, if differing from the empire-wide tendency, and their rights
– How are rebels/criminals/troublemakers/enemies/spies etc etc treated?
– How are roads and communication? Postal or messenger services?
– Where can people get help if they need it? What about if they have no money?
– How prevalent is begging/homeless/poor? Are there slums? How bad are they?
– Typical city layout
– Fortifications
– How prevalent is crime? How effective is law enforcement and the legal system? How does punishment for crimes work? How severe are the punishments, and do they use prisons? Is there torture? What rights do criminals have, and how are criminals treated afterwards? Are things like community service, slavery and similar used as punishment? Any time limit?
– Is there any mafia/mob/other organised crime?
– Brothels and prostitution – open or hidden? If hidden, how are brothels disguised? Are they legal or not, and if not, do the authorities know about them?
– Culture and entertainment – what are the popular forms of entertainment? How are artists viewed? Are there many or few professionals, and which genres/types? Troubadours/minstrels, actors, dancers… Is art also used by temples? If so, is art mostly secular or spiritual?
– Are there any parts of the population without the same rights as full citizens?
– Noble titles – what are they, what duties and privileges do the nobles have, and how does it differ from the rest of the empire? Do the nobles prefer the region or the capital?
– Regional capitals and their importance
– Have the nobles ever tried to grab power for themselves? Has there been any rebellion or uprising of any sort? How was it shut down? Did they compromise to reach a solution?
– What holidays are celebrated?
– Customs throughout the year and where they come from
– Important rites through a person’s life
– Importance of community

…and suddenly it became a lot more extensive than I had planned. Well. At least I don’t have to write all that much about every topic (although knowing myself, I probably will anyway).

 

Conworld Celebrations

It’s that time of the year again, when my playlist is filled with Christmas music, and I find it increasingly difficult to wait for my holiday to begin. It will be a proper holiday this year too – two whole weeks, in fact, due to compensatory time off and such things – and I can’t wait. There will be heaps of wonderful food, socializing with family I don’t see very often, and time to catch up on my reading or any of my creative projects – or just relax. I’m always very sentimental when Christmas is approaching.

In my conworlds – particularly the one used in my stories – I’ve thought very little about celebrations, until I was editing the plot of Rogue Sorcery and realised that the world was really dull. It was a pity, because the world itself is as far from dull as you could get. But if it never shows up in the story, how could you tell? I realised that my own stories were lightyears apart from the literary worlds I’ve admired for years, with their detail and history and life. So I started rethinking the way my world worked. How would these large-scale things affect people in their daily lives? What would be important to them? Which parts of the year did they find useful or important to celebrate? How would these things be uniquely Ayamarian, not just glossed-over Christmas/Yule and Midsummer?

The work is far from done. Ayamar is filled with culture after culture, so it would be far-fetched to even think about being fully done one day. But I have begun, and I like what I have so far.

The darkest part of winter, at least in the north, is the Standstill. Everything – literally everything – is still. There are no stars, no sun, no moon, and the monsters and magical creatures who normally have to keep underground, out of the light, are suddenly free to roam the surface. It lasts for the equivalent of nine days, and they are the nine most terrifying days in the entire year. You cannot go out to fetch water. You cannot go out to hunt, or to visit a neighbour, or to tend to animals, or any of the other things you might need to go outside to do. The exception is if you live in a big city, where there is always light and city walls and guards, but even there people are reluctant to go outside.

Needless to say, when those nine days are over, people need a good celebration. They get their finest clothes, best food and invite over everyone they know, and even if it is in the middle of the winter, they open every window and every door to let as much light as possible in.

In the northern part of Mearan, which is the continent where my stories are set, some places celebrate a Festival of the Lights. They light lanterns and torches and bonfires and lamps and every little thing that can bring light. Some places they go to high places and let the lanterns fly with the wind – depending on how flammable the landscape is, but in general it is snow at this time – but mostly they just make sure that every single part of their home or village is lit.

In the evening the merchants open their stalls and there will be markets selling everything you can think of, and there’ll be games and theatre and music and dance and all sorts of activities. In the evening people will carry tables out into the streets, sharing the best meal they can possibly make. The nobles of the city – or at least those who care about their image – will hand out food and lanterns to the poor, and the youth will make the streets unsafe for everyone. Not everyone in Northern Mearan celebrate the Festival of the Lights, but there is almost always some sort of celebration or feast, and there is almost always plenty of superstition and myth connected to this day.

Another huge celebration is the New Year’s Day, or the Spring Feast. It is exactly three months after the Standstill, and on this day the winter is officially over in nearly all Mearan. On this day there is a huge feast, where the remaining food from the winter is eaten, and there is plenty of music and dance and friendly competition of all sorts. The celebration often lasts for the entire day and night, and it is considered very good to be wed or betrothed on this day, or to give birth (though not quite as much as on the first day after the Standstill). It is not quite so big as the celebration after the Standstill, but it is still a very important date.

The third large celebration is typically the end of the harvest, and as such it varies from place to place. When the harvest is done and the hunting season is well underway, people serve the best meat – either game or livestock – and the best foods, and it is a time for telling all the old stories and myths. It is a more modest celebration than the other two, mostly because the food will have to last through the winter, but it is a very important one, and also the most religious of the three.

What celebrations do you have in your conworld? Do you stick to those that look like our own, or have you invented something completely different?

How am I supposed to ORGANISE this thing?

I am currently in my big “get everything that might distract me during NaNoWriMo done before it starts” phase, and that means that there are three big projects that I am currently working on. That is, there is one project I am working on, one that I apparently am postponing, and one that causes me grey hair in frustration.

The first project is editing all my new photos (from the past year or so), redesigning and restructuring my photoblog and then organising and posting all my photos. It’s quite a bit of work, but most of it is easy work that can easily be done in between other tasks, and it’s a nice thing to do now that I have a cold and cannot really do much. The second project is my conlang. I have a fairly general idea of how to structure my notes and the language itself, and where I want it to go, so really it is just to put the work in and get it done.

And then there’s the third project. My conworld. It is perhaps the most important thing to get done before NaNoWriMo, since there are limits to how many plots I can come up with without actually getting the worldbuilding done, but I keep hitting the wall. It’s not that I don’t know how I want the world to be, or that I don’t know how to come up with the information. It’s the most fun part of writing, really, and what I cannot come up with I know handy generators for (such as population density and so on).

No, it’s the organising of it. How do I organise it so that I can easily find what I need? Since it is an entire planet, not just a country or a continent, I keep second-guessing myself. Some topics should be for the entire planet, such as the physics, the layout of the continents, the races, the biology (at least most of it), the creation etc., but some are too varied to write just in general, such as culture or religion. Deciding whether to write these topics according to region, country or city should be easy, really, but it’s not when you’re a perfectionist.

In the end I think I have decided to group most topics according to culture (country, in most cases, or greater areas where there are no countries as such), and then specify further for the same topics for the cities and regions. For the regions there probably is no need for much else than the geography and general outlines of the rest (which countries are in the region, the most important cities, the cultures, religions and basic information about trade and economy, a brief history of the greatest changes).

Probably there needs to be sections for each of the religions and organisations, in line with each countries etc., but that’s where I start to stumble. Because the religions should really be in their own sections, but as far as I know you cannot link to another chapter within Scrivener, which I use for worldbuilding (correct me if I’m wrong!). What I would really like was some kind of software that worked mostly like a website or wiki, only that it wasn’t online. But we’ll see. Perhaps I can come up with something…