Created religions in fantasy novels. Bad idea? Or great?

Is creating a religion for a fantasy novel a bad idea? I used to think so, but now I’m not so sure…

It’s really become a common advice to keep religion out of your novels. The idea is that by creating a religion, you might accidentally turn away readers. For example, by creating a pagan based religion for your novels, you might unintentionally turn away Christian readers.

For years now, this is a “rule” I have followed. To be honest, a large part of me is still torn. The last thing I would ever want is to unintentionally insult someone, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized just how many creations in the fantasy genre do have religion.

There is the game Skyrim(or any Elderscrolls game, really), Lord of the Rings, and Mistborn, just to name a few, that all feature invented religions.

Although the “safe” advice is to avoid all mentions of religions in novels, looking at it, all the big names in fantasy have a invented religion.

So is the advice good, or isn’t it…?

Honestly, I don’t really know. However, even if it does turn away some readers, there are clearly a massive amount of readers that don’t mind, otherwise the big names in fantasy wouldn’t be big names.

Like it or not, religions are a realistic thing. When people don’t understand something, they turn to religion for answers. That’s why we have so many different religions here on earth. So, to have a world without religion in any part of your world at all isn’t realistic.

My worry is that by keeping out religion in order to please a certain amount of people, I may be making my world-building more flat.

So, with all this in mind, I am seriously thinking of breaking the “rule” and inventing a religion for my current novel. It is a risk, but the world just won’t feel right without it.

For example, in the novel I am currently writing, there is a village in the middle of a monster-filled forest. There, humans are not at the top of the food chain, but they are able to survive because of large stone guardians that somehow repel the monsters, keeping the village safe. I’ve been trying to think of a way of having this happen without some sort of belief system, but anything I think of just doesn’t feel right. It needs a belief system in the village, at the risk of offending some readers.

Adding it could also make my book seem more realistic. These villages in the forests are isolated from the outside world and do not even speak the same language, so it would make sense that they would have different religion then, say, a fishing city on the opposite side of the world.

What do all of you think? Is it best to follow the rule and avoid mentioning anything to do with religion? Or do you think breaking the rule is important for world-building? Please let me know!

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Writers are Art Thieves?

Today I talk about the very sad fact that many writers steal illustrations and photographs for their own promotion. From covers to social media posts, writers are becoming major art thieves.

You can read about Allie Penn talking about images for novel aesthetics here.


Writen version of this topic coming soon.

Evil Kingdoms & Food

I get it. Your evil kingdom is suuppper evil. They are just so evil that even where they live is somewhere scary.

I’ve briefly talked about this before, about how often in fantasy novels there is an evil lord taking over the kingdom, and they never really mention what he plans for after the fact.

Is gremlin number  578 going to become a farmer? And gremlin number 382 going to become the royal seamstress?

A lot of the time fantasy novels simply state that he is evil, he is taking over the kingdom, and he is killing everyone and everything as he goes. Not only that, he also lives in some sort of creepy wasteland of ice, volcanic rubble, or endless night. It is somewhere that the average person would not survive in, and it just makes him look even more creepy.

Unfortunately, this is a problem because he has to get his food somewhere. He’s killing everyone and everything, but we are still supposed to believe he is some sort of human-like creature. Hate to break it to you, but humans, animals, and human-like creatures all need to eat.

Both him and his army, are both going to need a food source. A lot of novels try to get around this by having his minions eat people, but eventually, the people are going to run out. If you are not farming the people, the people will run out.

All in all, it’s a major plot hole. This guy wants to take over the kingdom, but once he has it he is going to have nothing left. He wants this power, but once he has the power, he is ruling over…dust? And then he dies.

It is not a sustainable plan.

There are two major ways you can get around this.  The first is think of a food source. Maybe in his icy landscape, they eat seals and fish, or maybe in his volcanic rubble, there is life the manages to survive. Or maybe they are more advanced and have worked out underground gardening with some sort of artificial light source.

A second way to get around the cliche is to rethink your villains’ motives. If he really is living in some sort of area devoid of life, of course, he would want to get out. Maybe the reason why his kingdom is a volcanic wasteland is that a volcano erupted and it used to be a paradise. Now, his people are dying and he is trying to take over the enemy kingdom to save his own people. Now, you have a reason for both your villain and his army to be extremely motivated; if they fail, they are dead anyway. If they win, they have farming grounds again.

Just as an extra, one final, and unpopular way, to get around the cliche is to avoid having your evil villain in an “evil” landscape. It would be an interesting twist to have the villain in a lush green landscape not all that different from the lush green landscape the hero is from.

All in all, please remember one simple rule when coming up with your villain: even evil people need to eat.

Using Animals to World-Build | World-Building Help

You want to make up your own underground human-like fantasy group, but don’t want them to be like all the red-bearded dwarves with Scottish accents that you normally see. So, what can you do?

One of the most untapped resources for creating fantasy creatures is animals we already have here on earth.

For example, let’s say you’ve decided for sure that you want to make a group of people that live underground. What do years of time underground do to animals? Luckily, we have examples here on earth.

If you look at the majority of cave creatures, like an Ozark cavefish and grotto salamanders, they are either blind or have no eyes, and have almost no pigment. Since there is no light, they have no use for eyes, and since they can not see each other, then pigment has no use either.

Food in caves is in short supply, so some animals go months without eating. What they do eat is sometimes washed in from outside, other small cave creatures or something too small for the human eye to see, like bacteria.

Since they don’t have eyes or are blind, they get around using sensory organs. For example, the blind salamander has receptors in the skin. They also normally have special organs for lack of oxygen, or sometimes even for breathing in toxic gases or waters.

So, let’s go with that.

Now, we have a group of blind people who see by sensors on the skin, and they are essentially albino, with no skin or hair pigment. Their clothes and homes would also be plain in color, so maybe to make things interesting they use extremely detailed houses and homes in terms of texture. For example, carefully carved scenery on walls so detailed you could feel the flow of water if you run your fingers across it.

Due to living so deep underground, they have the ability to breath in air that would kill surface dwelling creatures. This could be interesting in a story, if, say the enemies are trying to poison everyone. They release something in the air to put everyone to sleep, walk into the room, and there is our undergrounder just sitting in the chair, poking his surface dwelling friend with a stick.

For food, if we want the simplest answer, we could say that an underground cave is stocked full of blind fish. This also explains why they do not need things like fruits and veggies; these creatures we just created are strictly carnivores like most cave-creatures. They get what nutrition they need from the creatures in the caves.

If you want them to be dwarves, that would also make sense too. Most cave creatures are smaller than their surface-dwelling simulars so it would not be a huge step to say that our undergrounders would be shorter than the average surface dweller.

See? Interesting, right? And that took me very little work and we have a group of human-like people with abilities that we can explain why they have them.

I really hoped this helped to explain how to use earth animals to help come up with creatures for your fantasy novels.

6 Ways to Make Your Novel Pubs More Unique

I am guilty of it. I have written a stereotypical pub and looking back on it, I wish I had spent more time on it.

 

Picture this; your character enters a pub. Groups of people crowd tightly around small tables, and many turn to glare at your character as they enter. Your character ignores them and walks up to the bar where a gruff looking man with huge muscles is cleaning off the counter annnndd….how familiar does this sound? This formula is used in more fantasy novels I can count. So how can you fix that?
  1. Serve More than Beer. Nearly every bar in novels boasts of beer. What if the town is known for making wine out of a local berry? What if they like a whiskey made with sea water? Have people drink more than a pint of ale.
  2. Music. This is something video games actually take more advantage of than books. Having a performer singing a mocking song about the king of an enemy royal family can quickly add lore to your novel.
  3. Entertainment. Some bars play pool, others just watch sports on TV. Your pubs shouldn’t be any different. Is there a local game they like to play? do they watch people arm wrestle? Bar fights?
  4. Food. Sure you could have a plate of something placed in front of your character, or you could have this pub known for something special. Maybe there are dozens of pubs in this city, but the one your character is in is known for their secret recipe of wild herb stew.
  5. Bartender. I get it. These are rough men who need a rough barkeep. That being said, wouldn’t it make you wonder how a young man with barely any muscle can run a bar where the customers are too scared to cause trouble? Maybe your bartender is talented at magic, maybe they are talented at gathering information on people who cross them, or maybe, just maybe, the barkeep is an old lady who helped raise all these men as the neighborhood grandma, and they are all still scared she will smack their butts with her left shoe.
  6. Setting. Instead of having the old bar/inn, why not think bigger? Maybe the bar is in a crypt, maybe it is in a cave, or maybe it is in a treehouse. Whereever it is, it certianly does not have to be in an inn.

World Building Live Chat

On January 14th, several fantasy writers (myself included) got together for a live feed on Youtube to talk about world building. It was our first time doing something like this, but it was a great time!

We plan on doing one video a month, so please let me know what topics you would like us to discuss.

Why Your Medieval Loner Can’t Live Alone

Imagine a loner character in a medieval-based fantasy novel. I am going to go with a male since they are the most common offender. This guy has a small castle, a house, or even a hole, but this character does not need help from anyone…or does he?

If your character is a true loner, chances are he is going to have to give up the majority of his hobbies if he is in a medieval-like setting. This counts knights; if your character is a loner knight, chances are he will not get any of his knightly duties done if he actually lives alone.

On his own, he will have to…

  • Care for the farm animals/garden
  • Go to town to buy necessities
  • Grind his own flour and make bread
  • Cook every meal
  • Clean dishes, the house.
  • Chop wood
  • Collect water from the well or river.
  • Keep the fire going(even at night)
  • Wash laundry by hand.

And while he is doing all those, he has to somehow be making money so he can buy things and pay taxes.

There is actually a really smart reason as to why in medieval times a man and a woman would get together and populate the human race like rabbits. One of those reasons is that you can pass down the work to children. One of the children might collect the eggs every day, while another one might chop the wood. Shared work equals less work for all and more time for hobbies.

The most likely way for your character to “live alone” is to have staff. If your character is wealthy, having staff who will do all the chores around the house will leave time for your character to do whatever (likely murderous) hobbies he may have. Better yet, because staff doesn’t count as “real people” to the high society, to everyone’s eyes he is still living alone.

Another common option is to have your character be a traveler of some variety. Have him stay at inns, and he can pay people to do all his chores. He could be completely useless and not even know how to make himself a meal, and no one would ever know.

The last common example is to have him be a street thief. Instead of doing the chores, he will simply steal what he needs.

If you are still deadset on your character being a loner, keep in mind that about 80% of his day will be chores. Making food, getting water, and so on.

As I have said previously, it is a myth that medieval peasants did not have hobbies or free time, however, if your character is, for example, a knight in training, his training will take up most of his day and he will not have time for chores.

If the character has no job, being a loner could work, but with one it will be hard to not depend on other people for at least some of the work daily life takes.

Desert Survival | Writing Help

Dehydration Side Effects:

Your body needs water desperately. Here are just some of the symptoms based on the percentage of water loss in the body:

  • 1-5%: Dizziness, Lack of Appetite, Nausea, Lethargy
  • 6-10%: Headache, dizziness, tingling limbs, slurred speech, losing vision
  • 11-12%: Swelling tongue, skin shriveling, darkening vision, deafness, inability to swallow, death.

Very often in novels and even real life, people in desert situations ration their water. Never, ever, ration water. In real life, people are sometimes found dead in the desert with a bottle full of water because they ration their water and die of heat stroke before the dehydration gets them. Instead, you are better off drinking what water you have in small sips over time. Not rationing, and not chugging.

Water Collection:

  • Solar Stills. Solar stills are a great way to get water. See how to do it here.
  • Digging for water. Often in movies, characters are shown finding plants and digging for water. In truth, it’s not always that simple. Sometimes, the roots of plants reach very far down so you would have to dig for a very long time to find that water. Instead, set a limit on how far to try digging.
  • Following Creatures. Even bees need water. I work at a bee farm, and if the weather gets too hot we have to put out water every day for them or they will die of thirst. If you see a beehive, there is a good chance there is a water source nearby. Follow a bee, and you might find it! The same goes for ants, or even grazing animals.
  • Collecting rain.
  • Splitting Cactus for Water. Many cacti are pretty starchy inside, and some of those that are full of water can make you very sick. Maybe don’t do this one.

Conserving Water:

  • Stay in the shade; especially around noon when the sun is highest in the sky. The heat will only make you sweat off what water you have. Instead, find a shelter for during the day.
  • Do not lay on the ground. The ground can hold heat, so instead put some layers between you and the ground.
  • Don’t Smoke. Smoking dries out your mouth.
  • Don’t drink alcohol. Alcohol can dehydrate you faster.
  • Talk little. Talking can dry out your mouth.

Shelters:

  • Caves. You are not the only one who likes easy shelters; beware of snakes and other creatures. Also, put the fire at the back of the cave. Putting a fire at the front will only blow wind in, making your cave into a smoker. Instead, put the fire at the back of the cave, and the smoke will go along the top of the roof and out the opening.
  • A-Frame. A simple shelter with minimal supplies needed. Even better with a space/emergency blanket which can help reflect heat.

Cold Protection:

People very rarely mention this, but deserts can be brutally cold at night. Some deserts can go from being hot enough to cause heat stroke in the day, to having to worry about hypothermia at night.

Another issue could be seasonal cold. Even Alberta, Canada, has a dessert, and though it is what you would expect from a desert in the summer, in the winter they can get large amounts of snow.

Deserts are not necessarily only about heat; cold can be an issue too.

Food:

You can survive three minutes without air, three days without water, and three weeks without food. Keeping that in mind, you should also know that food takes water to digest. Eating when you don’t have water can dehydrate you faster, so if you do not have water you are better off not eating.

Did I miss an important tip for desert survival? Or did you find this useful? If so, please let me know in the comments section below!

Arena Fight Plots

 

Arena fight stories are nothing new. These storylines are common in martial arts movies, cartoons, and early every superhero comic has some sort of arena fight arc.
The basics of an arena plot are simple; people are put into a fight against each other in front of an audience and there can only be one winner(or occasionally one winning team).
Although many places around the world historically have variations on this, the most common source inspiration for writers seems to be the gladiator games.
Being a good gladiator made you a hero to the people, so combatants were comprised of criminals, slaves, citizens, and even high ranking people.
Both men and women could be gladiators, and there were even gladiator schools. If you were talented, you could get sponsorship, property, and even promoted to be a guard.
If things got boring, traps, such as with wild animals, could be included.
Starting to sound familiar?
In fantasy novels, the most common plot is that a king is holding a competition. It is normally a Colosseum sized arena but can be a maze.
For SciFi sci-fi, is is normally a way to show the darker side of people. This arena can be as large as an island, and the most common theme is using cameras so spectators can watch from home.
I think arena fight plots can be interesting, but only when done right.
I recently read a book where the majority of it was preparing for games, then there were the games themselves….which bored me beyond belief. Why? The only thing at stake was money. Competitors could drop out or lose without a single meaningful consequence. Basically, they could have been playing football. Yes, the book mentioned that “occasionally people die” but certainly not in this book.
I’m not competitive. At all. If you challenge me to a soccer game, I’ll likely lose interest in minutes. So what can you do to catch my interest for arena fights? Add in stakes.
It does not have to be “only one can live” for motivation. You could have a world where there is a ritual where characters have to win the competition in order to be gifted with magic, you could have a prison where characters are fighting to win freedom, and so on!
Many writers say what characters will win, but very few writers mention what will happen if the characters loses.