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World-building with Religion

May 26, 2018

 

As a mortal human, it is hard to get away from the universal question that everyone must face at some point in their life: “Who is God, and how does His existence affect me?” A slightly different question should also be asked of each new world and set of characters an author creates: “How is God going to be portrayed in this literary world?” Whether a Christian author or not, to ignore the spiritual layer to world-building is to miss out on an opportunity to add extra depth to the story’s themes and drama.

 

Leave Everything the Same

 

Following exactly the same religious structures and using the same vocabulary, an author can choose to keep everything the same. This works best when writing contemporary or historical fiction where there is no need to adjust the history, origins, or traditions to conform to new social standards. However, this technique can also be used when writing Kingdom Adventure set in a world inspired by a specific period of history. Keeping to historical methodologies and ideals of the time makes it easy to be realistic.

 

Example: Chiveis Trilogy by Bryan M Litfin

 

Some Things Remain the Same

 

In this kind of scheme, the author changes aspects of the organized religion to fit the culture, people, or background of the world-building. However, the important aspects remain the same. This is especially helpful when writing fantasy, alternative history, or science fiction. Social, political, and cultural influences change how a culture worships their god. Making logically obvious steps away from the source religion can assist in world-building based on the premise that organic and natural-feeling world-building will grow from the civilization’s history.  

 

Example: The Therian Way series by Kimberly A. Rogers

 

Almost Every Thing is Different

 

Although God is represented in a Biblical way, He might have a different name. The system of worship is different than found in history or modern times, but it is close enough to reflect the honor and respect that the Bible teaches is God’s due. Also, frequently, the setting is an alternative reality or something completely different from reality, which makes this method very useful for fantasy, dystopian, or science fiction world-building.

 

Example: Secrets of Gwenla series by Laurie Penner

 

Biblical World View

 

Sometimes authors wish to keep the religious aspects of world-building in the background because they aren’t the focus of the book. This is a common practice of authors who are trying to reach unsaved and saved audiences or are aiming for the secular market. Instead of religion and faith stepping into the forefront they take a backseat, but never leave completely. Frequently it whispers in small ways like social context, vocabulary, morality, and the decisions of the heroes. It could be as simple as repeated references to a creator or mentions of an established religion. Usually the themes of good versus evil and light versus darkness appear in these kinds of books.

 

Example: The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien

 

Allegory

 

Going even deeper into the hidden, allegory is a common way to hide and then reveal deeper meaning through storytelling. Whether it is in the guise of carefully named characters or a lion who represents a lamb, this is a common tool among Christian authors. By wrapping truth in the guise of something else, an author can gain the freedom to draw the reader into deeper revelations about themselves and their faith.

 

Examples: The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis, Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, Ilyon Chronicles by Jaye L. Knight

 

No matter which faith world-building method an author uses, if developed into enough detail and woven into the prose with enough skill all of the above can add depth, meaning, and realism to any writing project. Have I missed any subcategories?

 

 

Rachel Rossano loves adventuring into the unknown on the page. A ravenous reader, she loves words and the wonderful ways they can be used to create worlds and people them. She would love to have you join her on these adventures or just chat about the journeys you have already taken. You can find her work on Amazon or other booksellers. For a more personal experience feel free to visit her Facebook page or tag her on Twitter (though she is usually slow on tweeting back).

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