Worldbuilding 101: Governments

Worldbuilding 101: Governments

Okay, every society, large or small, has some form of hierarchy. Even animals who live in groups tend to have an Alpha. Human governments come in four basic flavors with almost infinite variations. Basic divisions are: Rule by the many (or all), Rule by the few, Rule by the one, and Rule by none. In human societies, neither the first or last work well long term on a large scale. There are a couple cities that still practice direct democracy, where every citizen votes on every issue. I imagine they are very small cities. Rule by none, also known as anarchy, is basically chaos, and frankly, a frightening concept. Someone has to provide the framework. You may have some groups, say a group of friends who hang out, where no one is ‘in charge’ but even then, there is some form of leadership. Perhaps a temporary leadership that trades out, but leadership none the less. Someone makes a suggestion, others agree, and it happens. I imagine that in most groups, a leader forms anyway. “Let’s ask __, he/she will know what to do.”

A quote I read once that has always stuck with me, even if I don’t remember the source goes something like this, “When two people ride a horse, someone has to sit in front.” Someone will take charge in every situation. Not always the same person, but without someone making a decision, nothing gets done.

Now what’s really interesting is the way that Rule of the few and Rule of the one seem to intertwine. In every committee, every congress, every council; there is one person who is above the rest, making sure everyone follows the rules, choosing who speaks, and just generally trying to form order out of chaos. And when you have one person in charge, usually there is a small group of people who put him there. So really, who does have the power?

Leaving philosophy aside for a while, let’s talk variations. Is the Law, whatever that Law may be, sacrosanct or can whoever is in charge adapt it? That is a vital question, the difference between an absolute king and a constitutional monarch. Interestingly enough, the idea of even the leader(s) being under the law is not a new concept. You may have heard of the law of the Medes and the Persians. Once the law was in place, even the King himself could not repeal it. Remember Daniel and the lions’ den? Even if you doubt that story actually happened, it is an account from an ancient source of a ruler who was actually bound by law.

How did the leader or leaders end up in charge? Is this a hereditary position? Were they elected by the people, or chosen by a small group? Were they chosen by a magic artefact, ala the sword in the stone? Was it a computer algorithm chose them? Chosen by lot? Does gender matter? Is your society patriarchal, matriarchical, or egalitarian? Are they chosen, supposedly or actually, by the gods? Did they win the position because no one dared challenge them, or they won the challenge against the previous leader?

It is also worth remembering that every human has an agenda. No, agendas are not necessarily bad in and of themselves, but it does affect the way people see the world and the priorities they have. If some stranger popped up and gave you a five dollar bill to give to your favorite charity, where would you give it? Assuming you are honest and do indeed give the money to charity, there are almost endless possibilities. Health groups, religious groups, educational groups, sports groups, rehabilitation groups, ecological groups, etc. Where I would chose to give the money may not be where you would chose, but that doesn’t mean either of us are wrong. It simply means we have different hot buttons.

Let’s pretend for a moment that we have a list of five organizations. One is a children’s hospital, one is an animal sanctuary, one helps veterans, one is a literacy group, and the last provides clean water in third world countries. I think I can say without controversy that those are all good causes. Now, let’s pretend we are on a committee to determine funding for those organizations, and we only room on the budget for three. Which two get cut? That would get controversial very quickly, because we all have different agendas, different worldviews, and different priorities. Honestly, I am very glad I am not having to make a decision like that.

Another thing to remember with humans is that Lord Acton’s Dictum is a little too close to the truth. Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Everyone has seen it happen. People who let a taste of power go to their head. Yes, there are people who manage to resist. I applaud them. And maybe you don’t have humans at all, but some other race that is totally immune to the temptation of power. Have fun.

Government is not always on the large scale. Sure every country has a leader of some sort, but so does every city, town, moon base, etc. Often there is an official leader. A mayor, governor, foreman, elder, etc. Sometimes there is an unofficial leader. A priest, a soothsayer, a wisewoman, the villager that’s lived forever and knows everything. Sometimes there’s both and they aren’t the same person. Isn’t that fun?

So, how do you develop a government? Research! And research some more. The place and role of government in various civilizations is fascinating. Rome went through several forms of government in a few short centuries. The ‘Time of Troubles’ in Russia, the period between the death of Ivan the Terrible and the start of the Romanov dynasty could be a novel in its’ own right, having imposters, a tsar elected by the nobles, and people claiming to come back from the dead. Recognize that it essentially has all been done before and there is only so far you can go to make it original. But since we are writing speculative fiction, there are ways to add flavor that aren’t available in a more ‘realistic’ book. I’ve mentioned a few possibilities and would love to hear your ideas.

My contest, mentioned in my last blog post, is still open, and will remain open until someone wins.  As previously mentioned, Secrets of the Moon Fox is available both in print and kindle format. If you want to help, but can’t afford to buy the book, than please help spread the word.

 

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Worldbuilding 101: Languages Part Two

 

Hello again! We did manage to move out of the old place, and today was the inspection of the house we have been hoping to buy. Unfortunately, it looks like it’s going to need more work than we anticipated, and we already knew it was a fixer-upper. So, wish us luck and wisdom as we continue.

But, I’m betting very few people are here to listen to my house woes. You are here to learn more about languages and worldbuilding. Specifically, making up words or even a whole language for your works.

There is nothing wrong with making up words or phrases from a fictional language, and it can even add a lot to a story. But when you make up a word or phrase, there are a few things to keep in mind. How is the word pronounced? Can the reader tell? In English, many letters can make two or more sounds. Easy ways to solve this are to have a pronunciation guide in front or to mention in the narration that so and so pronounced it like… But they have issues too.  Readers may skip a guide, I know I had read the Pendragon Cycle (Stephen Lawhead) three or five times before I bothered to read the pronunciation guide, and had been mis-pronouncing several main characters names the whole time. You also don’t want to be constantly commenting on how a character speaks, it gets annoying.

Okay, so the reader is mispronouncing names or words, who cares? Maybe you do, maybe you don’t. Maybe it matters and maybe not. But at least consider, is there a way the word could be pronounced that you really don’t want? Possibly like a swear word, a potential sexual term, or something insulting to a certain segment of the population? Or maybe you do that want that. That’s your business, but at least make sure if it does, that’s because you meant it, not by accident.

It is also important to do your best to check that whatever word or phrase you make up doesn’t already have a meaning you aren’t aware of. That’s hard to check, but important. Probably most people will forgive you if your word for bread turns out to also be an obscure Polish swear word, but it can be embarrassing. And with the internet as large as it is, people will find out. You never know what somebody’s an expert in until you make a mistake in front of them.

One other consideration is when to make up a new word for something. No matter how clever it is, not everything in your world needs a clever new name. No calling rabbits, smeerps. * If a perfectly good word exists for what you wish to describe, especially a word your readers will understand, why not use it? Remember, communication and clarity.

Also, do consider that it is not uncommon for readers to start tuning out when things get hard to understand. I tend to let my eyes wander when I run into too many unfamiliar words in a small area.

About making up a language wholesale, my advice would generally be don’t bother. There is a lot of work that goes into developing a language, and it seldom comes out well. Not to mention, most of your readers will not be interested enough to learn a new language to read a story. There are exceptions, languages that took off, such as Elvish and Klingon, but Tolkien was a linguistics professor and Klingon was developed by a group of people, not one lone person.

So, you’ve decided to ignore me, and want to develop a language anyway. Fine, fine. You’ll learn. But I do have some advice about that too.

Start with grammar. I know, I know, the vocab is more interesting. Of course it is. I was an English Major and I still have trouble with parts of grammar. But it is vital. Grammar is your framework. It is the cord that makes up your string of pearls, with the vocabulary as the pearls themselves. Without that cord, you have a mess of loose beads. Your grammar can (and should be) simple. Ways of expressing what happened (or will happen) to who and when. Or didn’t happen and won’t. You don’t need twenty-four different ways to say ‘my’(Russian) or rules that have a million exceptions. For guidance, I would look into other conlangs (constructed languages) like Elvish, Klingon, and Esperanto.

Figure out the base of your language. What kinds of sounds predominate? English is a bad example here because we’ve stolen from pretty much every language we’ve ever encountered to form this great mishmash we speak. But if you listen to someone speak Spanish or French and then speak Russian or German, you will notice some dramatic differences. Is your language mostly full of hard consonants and percussive sounds (‘D’ ‘T’ hard ‘K’), or is your language more likely to have soft, flowing sounds with a preponderance of vowels, ‘L’s and ‘S’s? Are words commonly long or short? There is no wrong answer here, and if your country is close enough to be influenced by another country or countries, maybe their language is a great mishmash too.

Again, if you throw too much that is unfamiliar, odds are good that the reader will get bored and start tuning it out. I know I always did when the classics threw in French text without translation, because I didn’t (and still don’t) know even enough French to order a hamburger. Not to mention, the more you make up, the longer it takes to make sure that the words you just made up aren’t already real words.

In all fairness, it can be done, and done well. Watership Down. Lord of the Rings. Klingon. Maybe you’ll be next.

I am currently attempting to arrange an interview with a group that is constructing a language in the web game Flight Rising. Any questions you want me to ask? Leave a comment or email me at hjhardingbooks@gmail.com

* I have linked to TV Tropes in the past, and undoubtedly will again in the future, but I feel I should note that it is not always entirely work safe. Mostly because of language. Use your own discretion.

Worldbuilding 101: Language, Part One

I apologize for being so late for this blog. April was crazy and May has been worse. April I was busy with work and felt under the weather, and then May came along to remind me what ‘busy’ really means. We have to move by the end of the month, something we didn’t know at the beginning of the month. The good news is that we have almost finished buying a house that if all goes well, we can hopefully start to move into as early as June fifteenth. The bad news is we have to be out of here by the end of the month. Yeah, lots of fun. There’s five people in my family, and we’re all packrats to some extent or others. I personally own more books than I suspect my high school library owned when I attended. Yeah, we’re busy. I haven’t had time to write anything since April. If anyone is curious, I did manage to complete my word count for Camp NaNoWriMo, even if the story is far from over, and I kind of cheated. Yes, I know. But it was a crazy time. Since it might be a while until things calm again, I am currently putting my blog on a ‘every two weeks’ schedule for a bit. Hopefully it will be easier to keep up that way.

I had about three quarters of this blog post written, and managed to lose that when my computer shut down without warning. Sorry.

So, about languages. I’m going to split up my original plan. Next time we’ll talk about inventing languages and words. This week, we’ll talk about a different part of using language to worldbuild.

Language is a form of communication. The goal is to express an idea from one person to another. If the reader cannot understand what you are trying to tell them, you have failed. Clarity is vital.

But language also evolves. Slang, in jokes, and idioms arise in groups, whether that group is as small as a family or group of friends, or as large as an industry. Then you have jargon, technical terms, regionalisms, etc. The way you talk is not the way I talk. The way you talk at home may be different from the way you talk to friends or the way you talk at work.

Okay, so what does that have to do with writing, especially worldbuilding? Everything! New concepts may require new words to describe them. Or at least new ways to use those words. Not to mention that language adds a layer of realism.

If your characters are from Medieval England or Thirtieth century Alpha Centauri, they shouldn’t sound the same as Twenty-first century Americans. Or each other. Neither do the characters from Medieval England need to sound like Shakespeare or the Thirtieth century characters need to sound like Flash Gordon. Slang is not a modern invention, and I do not doubt it will last as long as languages do.

Do your Mars astronauts refer to their ‘Standard Issued Terrain Footwear’, or do they refer to their boots? Or even their Sitfs? Actually, that’s a character study in and of itself. Or for your fantasy world, do your wizards have slang terms for the spells they can cast? Explosive spells could be referred to as ‘boomers’, plant spells could be ‘greenies’, summoning the Sly Ferret spirit could be ‘furmegeddon.’

What about oaths? Mild or even major swearing may not have any connection to swear words we use today. One of my stories, I had all crude language revolve around uncleanliness; dirt, mud, filth, etc.  One of the characters in that world is so prim that she refuses to use those words even in their proper context, referring instead to uncleanliness or becoming moist (sweat). Another doesn’t hesitate to use those terms frequently. Other characters are in between.

In other stories, I’ve made up mild expletives for different races. I’ve had vampires swear using, ‘Rotten Fangs’, while my Shadow fairy generally uses terms referring to light, heat, or day, such as, ‘Blazing day.’ My river dragons talked about being ‘dry of brain’ when someone seemed stupid.

Admittedly, part of the reason I’ve made these up is because I personally don’t swear, but there were times I needed my characters to do so. But also, I believe it adds to your story.

Attending Ravencon, one of the speakers talked about how a character and the story was enriched by his studying a book of Chinese insults. Another interesting way to explore a culture. What is considered a compliment? What is an insult? What is a compliment coming from one person, but an insult coming from another?

What have you done to add flavor? Next time, Languages part Two.

Worldbuilding 101: Building a Mythos

I did a post before on Mythology and Religion, mostly as a broad overview. While there might be some overlap between that post and this one, I believe there is enough for a separate post. How do you develop a mythos?

At its’ core, a mythos is the stories people tell each other, mostly about why. Why do the seasons change? Why is that rock shaped like a man? Why does no one go near that one old house at night? As you can see, there is a lot of ground to be covered, because in a way, every story, particularly every speculative fiction story, has room for at least a minor mythos.

Sword and sorcery style fantasy? Where did the magic come from? How come some people can do it and others can’t? Religion and monsters and quests, oh my. Urban fantasy? Well, what makes it a fantasy? Magic users? Werewolves? Vampires? Zombies? Whatever the case, there are going to be stories told of how it works and why it works. Maybe they even have their own religion.

Okay, what about Science Fiction? Do you need a mythos there? Sure! Meet aliens? What does there culture have as far as stories and beliefs? Okay, what about a near future Hard Science Fiction story about the first lunar colony? Surely that wouldn’t need a mythos would it? I argue it would. You don’t need to invent a religion for one or more of the astronauts to have, and could even have them all atheists if you like. But I strongly suspect they won’t be. Not all of them. Not on the moon, thousands of miles from Earth, away from any help. I’m certain that at least some would have some religious background they would contemplate, some superstitious rituals they would follow. Not to mention claims and jokes that they would share as a community. Like how computer three in science lab two is always a little slower than the others. Maybe that’s the one the aliens are scanning…

Does every story absolutely require a mythos? No. But I think almost any story can be enriched by at least a touch of one. A good rule of thumb is that the further a story is to what your readers currently know, the more you need to know about the mythos involved. On the other hand, you can easily bog a story down in details no one cares about. Okay, the Sly Ferret cult is holding a secret ceremony to unleash the rodent apocalypse. Finding out why they want that and how they plan to go about it, is good. Maybe a few details about the ceremony. All the priests wear red and the priestesses wear white, except the leader who wears purple. They lit one hundred candles, and are chanting, ‘Here, mousey, mousey, mousey.’. Great. We’re good.

The readers do not need to know that the cloaks were sewn from sheets purchased at Sears on fifty percent off, the candles were also purchased at Sears for twenty percent off. There was some debate on whether there should be a hundred candles or two hundred. The details of the ritual were found in the old spell book, the Ferretasia, which has been copied by hand every year for the past two hundred years because two hundred years ago the great priestess known only as Minnie got hit on the head with an apple and tried to lick the ink of the book…

Consider your mythos a spice you are adding to the main dish, your story. Some like more spice than others, but ideally you taste the whole dish, not just that one spice.

Okay, what is in a mythos? I made a list while trying to develop a mythos for my current project. A complete mythos (and not every story requires a complete one) includes the creation of the world and people, along with an explanation for why we die and what happens afterwards. There are stories about who’s in charge, both on a universal scale (gods and goddesses, etc.) and on a smaller scale (kings and queens, warriors, priests and sages). There are explanations for natural phenomena (why does the moon change, why are there seasons, why is that mountain shaped like that) and explanations for culture (why do we celebrate this holiday, why do we avoid this taboo). There are stories of love, of betrayal, of both great and terrible deeds. There are heroes and villains. Monsters and helpers. Kings becoming peasants, and peasants becoming king. And of course, the great hero (or king, or god) who was once and left but will return again probably at his kingdom’s greatest need. That was in a few myths around the world.

So, where do you even start?

Good question. It will probably vary both by writer and story. Two of my works in progress are alternate earth approximately middle ages fantasies. Probably they would be described as low fantasy, maybe Sword and Sorcery. Not sure. One of them, I started with the gods. The whole premise is they main characters are on a quest to find a jewel that, legend has it, was so coveted by the various gods that the main god in charge got sick of it and hid the jewel someplace only a mortal could go. Then he gave each god or goddess a clue on how the jewel could be found. One clue is in a temple to each deity, so the crew have to go around to the various temples collecting clues.

I came up with a pantheon for that story. How many gods, what were they god of, and what was their name. As they reach the various temples, I develop a bit more of the lore (yes, I’m a bit of a pantser, I make things up as I go along) about each god and how they are worshipped in their temple. As the group travels, they eventually start telling stories to each other around the campfire. One of those stories was about how two of the gods invented the javelin after they tried competing for who could get the most followers. Another time a character considers the time of year by the placement of the constellations. Just little details as I continue on.

For my current one, I started with the magic. Why do boys have one magic and girls another? At least, up until the story starts. I came up with a story. Two characters, Ideara and Hosaz, who were the first to have magic. I decided to make them a brother and sister, and they will probably be central figures in the mythology. While I do have ideas of a creation story for this world, I think more of the focus will be on heroes of old.

So, how do you start yours? First, research, research, RESEARCH. There are some fascinating parallels in world mythology. But even if you want something completely different, it helps to know what’s out there. Then pick either the most important part, or the most interesting part for you. Is it the deities? The monsters? The epic love story? The great heroes? Start somewhere, and remain open and flexible to new ideas. Who knows, the next one might be just the seasoning you need.

What is your favorite part about developing a mythos? What would you like to see me cover next?

Worldbuilding 101: Magic and Technology (Part One)

First of all, let me sincerely apologize for being late to post this week. Yesterday, between the hours of 8 A.M. and Midnight, I was home for maybe two hours. All the time I was out, my computer was home. So, I didn’t get my blog written. I have fewer excuses about being so late to post today. Sorry.

Secondly, last post turned out to be very popular. I’m glad. Hopefully this one won’t be a let-down.

Okay, if you’re a fan of speculative fiction (and if you aren’t, then why are you here?), then you know that one of the most intriguing parts of the genres involved is the way that things are possible in the stories that aren’t in real life. All the more so when you are creating a fictional world. That doesn’t actually mean anything is possible though. In fact you have to be very careful about making your magic or technology seem plausible even if everyone knows it isn’t possible.

Disclaimer, if you are writing hard science fiction involving technologies that we either have, or are on the verge of, this isn’t the article for you. You will want to be as accurate as possible and know all you can find out about those particular technologies. No, this is an article about magic and technology that is made up.

Why am I mixing the two together, after all, aren’t the opposites? Magic and science are mutually exclusive, allowing belief in one or the other, right? Well, maybe. On the other hand, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Or, my favorite, this one. (To those who are unfamiliar with the strip, I recommend Freefall as an entertaining and informative Science Fiction webcomic.)  But the point remains, what is the difference between a magic box that keeps thing cool and a refrigerator? Can you truly explain to me how electricity works, or do you function, like I do, with ‘Push this button, lights come on’.  Most of us spend large portions of our lives taking it for granted something will work without truly understanding how it works. Do you know how your car works? How about your computer? Your plumbing? Your eyes? Even if you can understand and explain how one of those works, you probably can’t do the same for all.

So, to an extent, magic and technology are the same. Do this, get that. How? Don’t know, and as long as it works, I don’t care. Some people will care, in your stories and your readers. Which is why you can’t just snap your fingers and make everything work.

Let’s start with technology. In your story, you need a certain level of technology that we don’t have, and probably won’t have in the next five or ten years. Maybe it’s something that will likely never happen, like faster than light travel. Okay, fine. If you are using something that’s been done before, then your readers will probably give you a lot of leeway, especially if you handle it well. Assuming you don’t want to write a technical manual of how such a thing is ‘possible’, then just tell your readers that it’s real in your story, through the story and not as an aside to the audience, and most will probably not even blink. As long as you are consistent with it. If your ship, the Sly Ferret, can get from Mars to Alpha Centauri five in two days in chapter one, then there had better be a very good reason why it doesn’t take them two days to make the same trip in chapter thirty. No, the plot says so, is not a good reason. A better engine making them quicker is a good excuse. The presence or lack of some obstacle works. The ship is in bad shape and can’t risk going that fast is another.

Also, if the Sly Ferret can travel beyond the speed of light, then other ships should be able to travel that fast also. Maybe not all of them, and maybe some are faster or slower, but unless the Sly Ferret is the first ship actually capable of faster than light travel, then there is always the likelihood that an enemy or rival can be as fast as they are or not faster.

In case you haven’t noticed, consistency is key when coming up with new magic or technologies.  But part of consistency is that if person or group A has a particular magic or technology, then why doesn’t person or group B have it too? There may be an excellent reason. That may be part of the story. It may be that magic or technology is very rare or cutting edge. It may be that B is trying to get the magic or technology.  Or maybe B is on the low-end of the magic or technology spectrum. Perhaps B believes that magic or technology is wrong, bad, or otherwise undesirable. This could be anything from the conflict of the story, to a subplot, to a minor detail. But you should know.

The magic or technology that exists in your story is going to affect the way your story works. If faster than light travel is real and common, what does that do for the tourism industry? Or mining? Aeronautics? Do parents frequently send their kids to a boarding school on Mars? Or perhaps schools arrange field trips to nearby planets? How about criminals and law enforcement? Is it easier or harder to get away and hide when you are wanted? Some of that will depend on how long this has existed and how easy and safe it is. Also remember the law of unintended consequences. When the Wright Brothers flew at Kitty Hawk, I doubt they considered the day would come when millions of people flew every day. They certainly couldn’t have anticipated air shows, parashooting, or 9/11. Lasers, when they were first invented, were useless. Now they are used every day, in printers, to read CDs and DVDs, and more.

Now, magic. The problem with magic, is that unlike science, one presumes that what’s possible at any one point in time is more or less the same as what’s possible in the past and the future. We generally don’t think of magic ‘improving’. So,  if a certain spell is possible, unless you have a reason for it, your readers will assume it was always possible. How would that spell always being possible shape the world? If it is easy to get a magic box that makes things cold, and always has been, how would that affect things? Personally, I think the population of the world would be larger, with food preservation being available at a much earlier time. It would cut down on the amount of hunger, malnutrition, and disease. But what else would happen? Would cold meals be a sign of luxury? Would ice cream become a larger part of one’s diet?

This article is getting longer than I anticipated, so this is Part One. Part Two next week on how to come up with original forms of magic and technology (mostly magic.) See you next week.

Worldbuilding 101: Mythology and Religions

I was going to separate this into two posts (mostly so that I didn’t have to strain on more ideas), but they are related. Both are about what people believe. Even if you aren’t making up a whole new world, you may well wish to develop mythology and/or religions for your characters.

Perhaps, like me, you are hesitant about making up religions for your characters. Nothing wrong with that, but it is a good way to make your character a separate person, rather than an extension of yourself. That’s always something to be wished.

So, what’s the difference between religion and mythology? Well, people believe religions, but know myths are false. Or do they? I’m sure everyone’s heard of urban legends, also sometimes known as urban myths. While some are obviously false, I’m pretty sure everyone has  fallen for at least one at some point or other. Besides, the myths we read today, Greek, Norse, Egyptian, all come from their religions at the time. Maybe they knew some of them were stories, but they worshiped those deities. Okay, myths are stories to explain things, like creation stories. Except that there are many educated religious people who believe in one of those ‘creation myths’. I know I don’t like hearing stories I believe being referred to as myths, and I doubt you do either. It appears to me that the difference between myth and religion is where you stand. My belief is the truth, yours is religious, and his is myth. Just like, I’m unique, you’re eccentric, he is crazy.

Anyway, I’m not here to get in a huge debate about religion. You have your beliefs, I have mine, and reading mine won’t change yours or vice versa. There are four basic divisions in religious belief. Polytheism is the belief in many gods. Henotheism is the belief of one main god over many little, less powerful gods. Monotheism is the belief in one God (almost always capitalized).  And Atheism is the belief that there is no god, yes, that is religious because it’s something that must be taken by faith. Anthropologists who have studied this much more than I have; claim that early civilizations almost always start out with Polytheism, with Henotheism or Monotheism coming  later. They won’t always change, there are civilizations and religions today that are still Polytheistic. But it means if you are writing a sword and sorcery fantasy, or some kind of primitive society, you may wish to go with the belief of many gods.

This can add many layers to your story, even if you don’t go too in-depth. For one, your characters may be concerned with appeasing or angering one or more deity. You need your character to do X when Y seems more logical? Maybe Y is against that characters religion, or they have taken a vow to the gods to do X. Religious misunderstandings and conflicts are problems in real life, why shouldn’t they be an issue in your story? There are layers of language, both to bless or curse.

Now, the pitfalls. If you are making up a religion or a mythology, you likely don’t believe exactly what your character believes. Okay fine, but are you making your character seem like an idiot for believing this? Your readers will know you made up the belief system, unless you are using a real world religion or mythology as a close basis (not recommended in most cases), so we know you aren’t trying to get us to believe this, but you can, and probably should treat it respectfully. Unless part of the point is your character is an idiot, supposed to change beliefs, or this is a satire of a known belief system, why not treat this as if it is a reasonable belief for the people of that time and place?

Secondly, research is very much your friend. Research as many different cultures myths and religions as possible. If you only know one, than that one is going to affect what you create. If you only know the Greek myths, you’ll likely create something similar, or try doing the opposite to be ‘different’. Why? Because it’s hard to think in other directions. Your head deity will probably be a male sky god, unless you try subverting one or each attribute, like making it a female earth deity. If you’ve read several, then your mind think on different tangents.

Geography plays a role in beliefs. Every religion and mythology (minus atheism) has a story of creation, of how people came about, and what the afterlife is like. I exclude atheism, because they believe death is the end. There is usually a belief that there is one after life destination for those who were good in life, and a different one for those who were bad or evil. Cultures in the tropics believe that the afterlife for the evil is burning hot, while cultures in colder areas usually believe that the afterlife for the evil is freezing cold. Missionaries to the Norse learned quickly to describe Hell as a very cold place. In fact, the name ‘Hell’ comes from the Norse goddess of the Underworld, Hel, who reigned over a frozen realm. (There’s your trivia fact of the day.) People groups that are near each other will have some similarities in belief. The Spartans had the same deities as the Athenians but they were slightly different. Even the goddess of beauty, Aphrodite, had a warlike aspect. Ares was considered of only medium importance and respectability by the Athenians, but the Spartans valued him enough to perform human sacrifices to him. No, I didn’t know that either. If your people group live next to the ocean, then whatever deity controls the seas will be a dominant part of their life. If they live in the mountains, they’ll probably more more interested in the forest or mountain deities.

Another thing to consider is, in your world, are the gods you made up real and how active are they in the lives of mortals? Are they interested in striking down those who insult them? Do they answer prayers? Do they care at all? Do they watch mortals like some people watch reality TV? Yes, you don’t want to have the gods intervene and save the day when you’ve entangled the character beyond their ability to fix things. That’s called a deus ex machina. Literally, god out of a machine. Also known as really bad storytelling and ways to anger all your readers. But if your character prays for something and gets it, is it the gods, or a coincidence. Or perhaps you don’t want to make that clear. That’s fine too. Or maybe the gods are willing to grant your characters request, in exchange for…  Or maybe one god does grant the request, which causes problems with another deity. Those are questions only you can answer. It may not even be something the reader knows. But you should.

This is getting long, so I’ll cut it off here. Maybe at some point I can talk more about this.