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.

 

Saturday Snippet 8th of August

Saturday SnippetWelcome to the Saturday Snippet! This is a bi-monthly column, normally posted every second and fourth Saturday of the month, where I and others post bits and pieces from whatever we’re writing at the moment, at various stages of completion. If you would like to join us, there’s a linkup at the bottom of this post, where you can add a link to your own blog post, or post in the comment section. There are only three rules: Link back here, only post your own writing, and have fun!

This week my snippet is another beginning – one that I started writing many years ago. I am thinking of writing a story to upload on Wattpad, and this will most likely be it. I like it. I like the combination of scepticism and sheer enthusiasm (the main characters are a young boy who loooves dragons and everything else his village considers “imaginary”, and his older brother who is everything his family wants in a son – practical, down-to-earth and, most importantly, a firm non-believer in the strange and magical creatures his younger brother is so fond of). Here’s the snippet:

Imagine a society based on logic, hard facts and common sense. A society that, in their own eyes, was an oasis of reason amongst villages and cities ruled by superstition and old beliefs. A society where a bad harvest was explained by bad weather, ill-tended soil and vermin, instead of the whims of a supposed witch, lambs born on the wrong day of the week or the miller’s daughter getting pregnant out of wedlock. A society where the magical creatures so familiar to the rest of the world were considered the sign of an over-active imagination, or possibly too much strong drink.

This was the place the dragon decided to make its home.

 

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?

Of owls and beginnings

There is a beginning that’s been following me for years now. Quite literally, in fact: I first wrote it more than ten years ago, back when I first started this thing called noveling (as opposed to just writing random snippets, which I have done for far longer). It wasn’t the beginning of my novel – it started differently – but whenever I wrote just for fun, it would come out again.

So it did yesterday as well. I like it, but I cannot for the life of me see where I’ll be able to use it. Rogue Sorcery is out – it starts far earlier, and my MC is in a far worse place mentally. Forgotten Sorcery is also out, because it picks up the plot where Rogue Sorcery left off. Same goes for the last book in the trilogy, the one whose title keeps changing, for the same reasons as book one and two. The scene does not fit with the future I had planned for her, even if it is in the distant future. But since it keeps coming back to me I might have to change things, and give her a new story sooner than I thought…

The beginning itself isn’t much, but the image it paints in my mind is so vivid that I can almost feel it. I don’t know if I will be able to convey it to the reader, but I hope so. It is a somewhat odd beginning though – it starts with an owl, lifting off from a tree by a great plain. It is winter, and the air is crisp and cold, the first rays of the sun is coming from behind the mountains in the distance and make the snow on the trees sparkle. The owl flies down the valley, which is narrow at first but widens after a while. The trees are covered with snow, and underneath them, the ground is hard and frozen. In a little clearing there is a little cottage, and the owl stops there for a moment, as if waiting for someone.

After a little while it continues its flight, flying until the forest has cleared. There it reaches a little cottage, situated beside three pine trees and in front of a large boulder. Smoke has started to rise from the chimney, and there is a path going from the cottage to the little river beside it. The owl settles on the roof, and waits. Finally someone opens the door, and a pale-haired woman steps out, pulling her shawl tighter around her. The owl rustles its feathers, and the woman looks up and greets it as if she knows it. Then she picks up her bucket and goes down to the river to fetch water.

Obviously the piece itself is written a little differently, more vividly, but the main content is like the previous two paragraphs. If I’m being very objective, it doesn’t really do much. There’s no conflict, and nothing happens until the woman appears and is about to do a very everyday chore. The owl does not have any function beyond perhaps showing that there is something special about the woman’s relationship with birds (though owls tend to appear quite a lot in these stories of mine as some kind of unspeaking narrator), or perhaps the place. It is a calm and content scene, which suggests that it takes place quite a bit later than the Sorcery trilogy, as well as showing how far my MC has come snce the events in the trilogy. In a way I feel like it is an appropriate beginning for her new story, but then again… there is no action, no plot. (I do tend to favour these kinds of beginnings, where things look calm and serene – on the surface)

I really do not know what to do about it, but it simply will not leave me alone. I might have to simply continue writing it and see where it will take me. I did that once before, and it not only gave me Rogue Sorcery, but the entire Sorcery trilogy. Everything grew out of that simple image of a girl and a horse, following a path that winds its way just where a grassy plain and a green forest meets, and the knowledge that she would find someone lying nearly dead just out of sight around the bend. It wasn’t until I brought back that scene that I “found” the story, in many ways.

Perhaps I’m simply not made for starting my stories with action. It might make it difficult to get published, if it ever gets that far, but then again you have to find your own voice. After all, many of my favourite books start slow. They just have that something that makes you want to read on regardless.