Podcast Episode 4 (Part 1) – How to Create Gods

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Nov 202017
 

Podcast Episode 4

Episode 4, Part 1: Learn How to Create Gods and Pantheons

Listen as host Randy Ellefson explores how to create gods, whether we need to create them and the considerations we need in fantasy and science fiction. Decide whether your gods are real and their impact on the species/races. Learn the advantages of pantheons vs. a single god. Decide where the gods live and how difficult it is to reach them.

Listen, Subscribe, and Review this episode of The Art of World Building Podcast on iTunes, Podbean, Stitcher, or Google Play Music!

In This Episode You’ll Learn:
  • Why you need to create gods
  • How fantasy and science fiction typically deal with deities and how yo can leverage this
  • Why gods who are real are more useful
  • How to decide where the gods live
Coda

Thanks so much for listening this week. Want to subscribe to The Art of World Building Podcast? Have some feedback you’d like to share? A review would be greatly appreciated!

Episode 4.1 Transcript
Intro

Hello and welcome to The Art of World Building Podcast, episode number four, part one. Today’s topic is how to create gods and pantheons and why this is more useful than a single, all-knowing god. As this is a big subject, the podcast will be split into two episodes. This material and more is discussed in Chapter 2 of Creating Life, volume 1 in The Art of World Building book series.

Do you want practical advice on how to build better worlds faster and have more fun doing it? The Art of World Building book series, website, blog, and podcast will make your worlds beat the competition. This is your host, Randy Ellefson, and I have 30 years of world building advice, tips, and tricks to share. Follow along now at artofworldbuilding.com.

Why Create Gods?

Whether we write fantasy or science fiction, at some point we will probably need gods. Our characters might want to pray or swear, threaten damnation, or just give thanks. That said, creating gods is optional. Maybe we don’t want our characters to do these things or we just want to avoid the whole subject. But our world is arguably more interesting if we have some deities that people can refer to at various times. It creates an impression of depth that would otherwise be lacking.

In Fantasy

Our gods could be wishful thinking, but in many cases, especially in fantasy, they are often portrayed as being real beings who take an active role and participate in how life unfolds on the world. A good example would be Zeus, who has been rumored to father children with earthlings. We can obviously do something similar with our invented world.

Gods are often portrayed as the reason that the world exists. It is uncommon for the world to be portrayed as a place that already existed and the gods just stumbled upon it. Normally, we often say that the gods specifically created the world or that the world was a byproduct of something the gods were doing. These options are something that we will delve into more deeply later in this episode or the next.

The Template

If you’re looking for inspiration on how to go about creating gods, The Art of World Building series has a template that you can download that walks you through all of the things you might want to consider and decide upon. This template is something where you don’t have to fill out every last section, but the different sections will give you ideas on things you might want to consider.

In Science Fiction

In science fiction, characters are often traveling from one world to another, and each of these planets might have a different pantheon or even just a single god like we have here on Earth in modern times. But the existence of gods is sometimes ignored altogether. The usual reason for this is an idea that science typically eliminates religion, but this really isn’t true. Even today in our modern societies, many of the leading scientists still believe in God and other religions, or I should say specific religions.

Either way, the belief in God still exists even among our most educated people. So there’s really no reason to act like, just because science has dominated a world or multiple worlds, that there isn’t going to be any religion. Regardless of our technological and scientific discoveries, people often want to believe in a higher power of some kind, so science is not going to eliminate this. In fact, even on a world like Earth, there are still going to be countries that are more advanced scientifically, and as a result, those worlds might have more atheists, for example.

But there are still going to be areas that are less well-developed and are more likely to have a strong religious basis to the livelihood and even the traditions. Whether you agree with that or not, the point is that there are still going to be religions on pretty much every planet that ever exists. There’s never going to be in a time in human history when religion is just wiped out. There are probably people who wish this would happen, partly because wars are often fought in the name of religions, but beliefs will persist regardless of scientific and technological discoveries.

In many cases, those discoveries are attributed to something that God set in motion and we only just eventually figured it out, so belief always finds its way to account for the things that we have discovered even from our scientists.

More Resources

Let’s take a quick break here and talk about where you can get more useful world building resources. Artofworldbuilding.com has most of what you need. This includes links to more podcasts like this one. You can also find more information on all three volumes of The Art of World Building series. Much of the content of those books is available on the website for free.

And the thing that you might find most useful is that by signing up for the newsletter, you can download the free templates that are included with each volume of The Art of World Building series, whether you have bought the books or not. All you need to do is join the newsletter. You can do this by going to artofworldbuilding.com/newsletter. Sign up today and you will get your free templates, and you will never miss an update about what is happening in the great world of world building.

Travel

In Science Fiction, one of the problems characters may face is that they have grown up in a world with certain gods and religions, and then they arrive on other planets where people have never heard of that god or religion. Some people might find that disturbing and then might want to do something like what Christian missionaries did, where they tried to convert the locals.

This is a scenario that can cause trouble, where the characters are basically interfering with how people think on that world. Their own ideas may be accepted or they might cause more trouble than it’s worth. We can have our characters inadvertently get themselves into trouble by trying to talk about their own gods and religion and how life should be lived based on this. The locals might be very offended. This is a good way to give our characters an angle that causes problems in our story and adds more depth.

Are the Gods Real?

Then there’s the question of whether the gods are real or not. If they are, then are they happy with the species getting so much power that they can leave the world the gods supposedly created for them? Did the gods create the universe and therefore they are okay with the species leaving the planet and exploring? Or are they bothered by this? Is there another world that is ruled by other gods who are actually real, and those guys are bothered by these travelers who have shown up and are starting to try to convert their inhabitants? This is one way that we can introduce conflict for our travelers. Some of these travelers also might be bothered by arriving on a world that has never heard of their god.

In fantasy, the gods are usually portrayed as being real. One of the ways that this typically comes up is that a priest of a religion can lay hands on a wounded person and call on that god to heal them. If this is successful, there’s really no getting around the existence of that god. Obviously, they are real. We might then need to figure out the circumstances in which a god will agree to do such a thing. Do they do this for anyone? Is it only the priests? Is the cause worthy? Is that the criteria for healing someone or interfering in mortal affairs?

One of the problems with gods being real is that they are all powerful, in theory. They can swoop in at any time and do whatever they want. This is problematic from a story standpoint because that is not great to have the characters rescued from a situation by a god who can pretty much snap their fingers and make everything go away. This is something we generally want to avoid and we might want to minimize the times and circumstances under which the gods interfere with mortal affairs.

We don’t need to come up with elaborate reasons for this. We can just decide that, for the most part, the gods want people to figure things out for themselves. And that their chief interference is when they are trying to heal someone through one of the priests. Saving a life seems like a good reason for a god to intervene.

On the other hand, if they are always interfering in trivial matters, then this makes the gods too much of a figure in the world. We might want to do this on a world that we are not going to use very often just because we don’t want to get into a pattern of the gods helping people or interfering all the time. It removes the focus from characters and puts the focus on these deities.

Patreon Support

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Just go to art of world building dot com slash patreon. You can also just go to the home page and click the big icon for it . Please note that patreon is spelled a little weird. It’s p-a-t-r-e-o-n. Support great world building today!

The Species

If a world has multiple species, then we must also decide if there is one pantheon of gods that all of our species worship, or if each different species, like dwarves or elves, worships a different group of gods. The problem with creating multiple groups of gods is the sheer number of gods that we have to invent. If there’s a group of gods who created elves, for example, then it makes sense that the elves are worshiping those gods and only those gods. If another group of gods has created dwarves, the same thing applies.

On the other hand, if there is one group of gods who has created all of the species that inhabit that world, then it makes more sense that all of the species are worshiping the same gods. The elves might be more prone to favoring a group of gods versus the dwarves, who are favoring another group of gods, but we should make a decision about this.

It might be easier for us in the long term to create one group of gods, where different groups within those gods created different species or influence them, or are simply more appealing to them. That way, all of our species can be generally aware of all of the gods and devoted to subsets of those gods. But generally they’ll just be aware of all of them and paying attention to them. It’s a more cohesive group of gods. What we’re trying to avoid there is creating so many different groups of gods that it just ends up being a lot of work for us.

Generally, we don’t want to spend too much time on world building even though it is a time-consuming endeavor, so we need to find ways to minimize the work that we are doing while also creating great content for ourselves, our characters, and our audience.

Pantheons

Let’s talk a little bit about the pantheon. A pantheon is nothing more than a mythological collection of gods. On Earth, at this point in time, we talk about a single god, but at times in our past we have had pantheons, like the Greek gods or the Roman gods. One of the great things about a pantheon is that we have more variety. Each god can specialize in a certain set of attributes that they care about and that they influence in the hearts, minds, and souls of people on the world. This gives us the ability to have a character who worships a particular god, and this provides insight on what really matters to that character. There might be other characters who worship an opposing god and as a result, we now have some conflict.

Regarding the gods themselves, we often decide that two of them are married, or that they have children together, or that they are brother and sister. This allows us to inject typical family relationships, such as siblings who often have problems with each other or they don’t get along. Children often don’t respect their parents. Parents are often frustrated by their children. And we can use all of this to characterize not only the relationships among the gods, but the people who follow them.

This also greatly helps us come up with stories and myths about those gods, where one person has tried to thwart the authority of another god and this has resulted in a story, which might also result in artifacts that fall into the wrong hands, like those of the species. Generally speaking, when we have these more dynamic relationships among multiple gods, it allows us to create stories. This is kind of an improvement over a single god where that god is all-knowing, and is kind of a general deity who doesn’t have anything specific about them that draws one person instead of another.

Subscribe

So let’s talk about how to subscribe to this podcast. A podcast is a free, downloadable audio show that enables you to learn while you’re on the go. To subscribe to my podcast for free, you’ll need an app to listen to the show from.

For iPhone, iPad, and iPod listeners, grab your phone or device and go to the iTunes Store and search for The Art of World Building. This will help you to download the free podcast app, which is produced by Apple, and then subscribe to the show from within that app. Every time I produce a new episode, you’ll get it downloaded right onto your device.

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This only needs to be done once and at that point, you will never miss an episode.

Inventing with Attributes

When it comes to inventing a god, we may want to start out with a list of traits such as truth, love, hate, curiosity, greed, fear or others from the seven deadly sins, and just come up with gods who are based on a single trait or maybe related traits, and then figure out what this god is actually like and what their followers will be like. We can also use phenomenon like choosing a god of storms or war, or even death. We can also choose a hybrid approach, such as deciding that the god of wrath is also the god of storms.

Pantheons are often not organized in any particular way beyond family relationships. However, we can inject more into this if we choose. For example, we can decide that every god is associated with a season, or color, or an element. Once we have assigned one of these to all of our gods, then we might have a group of gods who are all in favor of spring or fire, for example. Making a decision like this, it is often helpful to decide that a goddess of love or passion, for example, is also the goddess of heat. By extension, she would also be a goddess of summer, right?

Once we create these associations, it adds more color and depth to what we’ve created. Speaking of color, this can also result from a goddess of heat, summer, and fire being associated with maybe yellow and red, which are colors we often associate with fire.

 

Organized by Alignment

There’s another way the gods are often organized and this is by good, neutral, and evil. Personally, I tend to avoid those particular words and say something is benevolent or nefarious. The reason for this is mostly that good versus evil is an interesting way of characterizing things, but it’s also a little bit juvenile, at the risk of offending some of you. Many of us don’t like boiling the world down to such simple ideas. Even so, this is an interesting way of dividing up your deities.

And what you don’t want is to have a world that is mostly full of evil gods versus good gods unless you’re doing that on purpose for a specific reason.

A subject that is included in volume 1, Creating Life, but will not be discussed in this podcast is the different power levels of gods, and children, demigods, and half gods. If you’d like to learn more about these, consider purchasing the book.

Review

if you’re enjoying the podcast, please rate and review the show at artofworldbuilding.com/review. Reviews really are critical to encouraging more people to listen to a show haven’t heard of before, and it can also help the show rank better, allowing more people to discover it. Again that URL is artofworldbuilding.com/review.

Where Do They Live?

We should also decide where the gods live. Are they on the planet and they can be accessed easily? Or are they up in the clouds? Are they on another plane of existence and they can only be reached by special means? Our decision will affect how easy it is for mortals to reach them.

There is a tradition in fantasy where mortals must prove that they are worthy in order to reach the gods. Therefore, it is not terribly easy to make it there. If I were a god and I had many worshipers, as I assume I would, I wouldn’t want every last person on the planet trying to track me down all the time. I also wouldn’t want them trying to get me to resolve some petty fight that they’re having with someone. So the cost for someone to seek me out should be a worthy one and therefore it should probably be an arduous task to reach me.

If the gods live on the world, I recommend avoiding something as obvious as a mountaintop because most people will immediately associate that with Mount Olympus and the Greek gods, like Zeus. On the other hand, a god of the sea living underwater is obvious, but that also raises the question of whether that god is trying to avoid anyone reaching him. After all, most people cannot swim underwater to incredible depths without modern technology. Is the god trying to avoid anyone trying to contact him?

If we’re doing science fiction and our species has a learn to ascend to the heavens and beyond, then if this is the place where the gods are rumored to exist, then what happens when the species is able to get up there? Do they find that the gods do indeed live up there running the world, or did they discover that the gods are not where everyone thought that they were? Does this have an impact on them? Are people disillusioned and wonder, “Hey, wait a minute, I thought that the gods were up here in the clouds and there’s nothing here!”

Are they having a crisis of faith as a result of this? Do the gods even allow people to achieve technological advances so that they can discover such an idea is not true? These are some things that we might want to consider.

Not Included

The lifespan of the gods is another subject that we will not be discussing in this podcast but you can find out more by purchasing Creating Life and reading chapter 2 on creating gods. We also won’t discuss vulnerability and whether gods can be hurt, killed, or upset in any other way.

The mythology of our gods is also very important. This includes creation myths and end of world myths. These are two of the most important stories to work out regarding our gods and how people feel about how time began, and even more importantly, how it will end. Everyone loves a good end of the world story and this is something that characters can mention at any time. It also offers a convenient way to talk about their lives and what consequences they may face when they die and are judged by a god. To learn more, check out chapter 2 of Creating Life.

Closing

All of this show’s music is actually courtesy of yours truly, as I’m also a musician. We’re going to close out today’s show with a song from my album Now Weaponized! called “Keeping Pace.” You can hear more songs at RandyEllefson.com. Check out artofworldbuilding.com for free templates to help with your world building. And please rate and review the show in iTunes. Thanks for listening!

Who Are Your Species’ Gods?

 Book Blog, Volume 1  Comments Off on Who Are Your Species’ Gods?
Oct 022017
 

We arguably need to invent gods before deciding which ones influence our species, but we can start with a general sense of a species disposition and then decide later which deities are likely on their minds. We can be predictable in this, such as deciding that a warlike species worships the god of war, and we likely need to do that, but we can also decide they worship less obvious gods. Maybe they love fate and worship that god, too, despite that god also being the god of truth and integrity, good qualities. This can suggest our species values honor in combat and doesn’t do things like stab an opponent in the back. Interpretation is where the fun lies. To think more “outside the box,” invent gods first and then your species, then assign them gods and find these conflicts you can resolve in ways that enrich a species.

An important consideration is whether the attributes of our gods influenced the resulting species and their outlook. This not only justifies many aspects but ties different creations together. It also allows us to leverage our existing work, such as the deities. If our gods are organized and those deity groups created a species, then perhaps that species is dominated by the character of those gods. The gods of deception, greed, jealousy, and fear might produce a very different species than the gods of truth, vitality, courage, and intuition. Those examples (daekais and karelia, respectively) are from my work on Llurien, a world with seven groups of gods and seven resulting species. A look at my approach with them on Llurien.com can provide ideas for your world.

5 More Tips for Creating Gods

 5 Tips Series, news  Comments Off on 5 More Tips for Creating Gods
Aug 222017
 
5 World Building Tips (Vol 1, #9): The Gods

This is the ninth in a series of world building articles! Today’s theme is the gods. This will get you started, but you can read more about this in Chapter 2, “Creating Gods”, from Creating Life, (The Art of World Building, #1).

Tip #1: “Create a Pantheon”

A group of gods is more work to invent but offers opportunities for conflicts among the deities. These can reflect cultural and moral issues, such as myths about gods struggling in much the same way as people. Pantheons offer a good way to characterize our residents, as everyone might worship someone else.

Tip #2: “Make the Gods Vulnerable”

Beings that can’t be hurt or killed are less interesting. If you decide one is dead or wounded, determine how, who did it, and the impact this had on gods and mortals alike. Do they die from natural causes, too? For ideas, read Creating Life.

Tip #3: “Children”

Make your gods capable of reproducing, whether that creates more gods, demi-gods, or just super humans (or other species). This can give a world heroes like Hercules. It can even make a mortal woman want to seduce a god. Now there’s a story idea!

Tip #4: “How Does Time End?”

Decide how life as everyone knows it will end, even if you never use this in a story beyond someone mentioning your world’s Armageddon. It’s fun deciding how everyone will be destroyed. Find a good reason for it happening, whether it’s moral decay or something more physical. For ideas, read Creating Life.

Tip #5: “Create Myth”

Myths make a world more entertaining, but only invent them if there’s a chance they’ll be used. Self-publishers can use a myth as bonus materials in a newsletter, website, or short story.

Summary of Chapter 2—Creating Gods

Our species will invent gods to believe in even if we don’t invent them, so we may need some deities for people to reference in dialogue, whether praying or swearing. In SF, belief in gods may still exist despite, or even because of, advances in science. In fantasy, priests often call on a god to heal someone, and this requires having invented the gods. Pantheons offer advantages over a lone god, including dynamic relationships between them and the species. Half gods and demigods are other options that help us create myths and legends to enrich our world, especially if gods can be born, die, or be visited in their realm.

Myths about how the gods or species came to exist help people understand the purpose of their lives and what awaits them in death. Symbols, appearance, patronage, and willingness to impact the lives of their species all color a pantheon and world. Gods also create places people can visit or items that can fall into the wrong hands, offering possibilities for stories.

Buy Now!

How Do Your Gods Behave?

 Book Blog, Volume 1  Comments Off on How Do Your Gods Behave?
Aug 172017
 

A god who never does anything might as well not exist from a world building standpoint. For your pantheon, decide what is considered acceptable and unacceptable behavior and whether the gods generally obey this. Each deity will have a different viewpoint, with some being very lawful, others agreeing but not overly caring, some chafing but agreeing, and others outright disdainful and either openly thwarting such rules or doing so secretly, possibly while being amused that they’re doing so. We’ll need to know our gods to make these decisions.

Do gods punish offending deities? Do guilty gods submit to the punishment (respecting the law they’ve broken) or resist, possibly by fleeing? We might decide that there’s a prison for deities and what its properties are and what, if anything, is preventing other gods, or their followers, from doing a prison break.

How do gods punish their species? Death, a nasty afterlife, misfortune, or removing talent, like one for magic? And for what offenses? Swearing with a god’s name is a good one except that so many people might be doing this that the gods would be awfully busy. Failure to undertake a promised mission makes sense for adventurers. Not defending a temple is another. Destroying one is even better. These more serious offenses are more likely to attract divine punishment. Myths about famous people who’ve suffered a given fate serve as cautionary tales that can be mentioned to spice up our narratives.

Reputation

Some gods and their followers have a reputation that immediately comes to mind if they’re mentioned. A god of cruelty might force self-mutilation on its priests. For a god of love, this might be orgies. A god of wrath might be prone to outbursts of anger, making people afraid to even say his name. Does anyone demand sacrifice? Decide how people think of each of your gods (positive/negative) and why that is. Whether or not the god obeys godly rules will come into play. This is where myths can help shape their reputation, too. For some deities, this will be easier than others.

Interaction

Do your gods ever visit the world and peoples they created? Why, how often, and for what? Do they have to be summoned or can they appear wherever they want? Are there restrictions on where they can go? Only other gods are likely to have created a restriction powerful enough that another god must obey. Are there time limits on how long a god can remain here? These limits should have a rationale because we assume gods are without limits.

World builders sometimes decide that the gods will not directly influence events; it’s too convenient to have them swoop in and fix things or cause issues when our characters are doing well. One way to avoid this is having the god’s behavior be that which caused the story. Past events can also have set something in motion, and this is where myths come into play, with our characters discovering the details or truth of a legend, maybe the hard way.

Creations

Gods are assumed to have invented the world and its life, whether by accident or on purpose. We don’t need to give a reason for this, but our world building can be better if we do. We can take some reasons that we have for our own creative work and attribute it to gods, such as a love of doing so. We’re curious how our children will turn out while guiding and shaping the result, so the gods can, too.

We can decide which god(s) created what life forms. This really means cherry-picking ones to make decisions about, since no one cares which god invented tomatoes, for example. On the other hand, a plant that devours species might be improved by deciding an evil god invented it, especially if it only eats certain species—namely the ones that god doesn’t like.

While a god of war is an obvious choice for the one who invented a weapon, even a god of love could do so if it’s reminiscent of Cupid’s bow. Look at your god’s trait list and imagine what items they might possess for themselves or have given to the world. Decide if there’s a limit on what can be created; maybe plants and animals are okay, but the gods must agree to invent a humanoid species. Our god of chaos might be forbidden from creating anything but do it anyway, resulting in some unpredictable monster.

Places

Our gods can create special places, which are typically supernatural. These can be on the world, between worlds, or an alternate reality. Prisons, meeting places, means of travel, and hiding places are some possibilities. Explanations are typically better but not needed, as inhabitants often won’t know the truth; it’s unlikely they’ll even learn of these locations, but our characters will or there’s no point inventing them.

Temples, whether abandoned or not, are places where gods are likely to visit, and sometimes their religion will build these up extensively. Can the gods be reached here? Is there anything special about the place where they appear? What about the altar where sacrifices to sinister gods were made? Is a church the way to enter a portal to where that god dwells?

The afterlife is a unique place that will be covered in Cultures and Beyond (The Art of World Building, #3).

How to Invent Characteristics of Gods

 Book Blog, Volume 1  Comments Off on How to Invent Characteristics of Gods
Aug 102017
 
Alignment

Anyone who’s played role playing games is familiar with the concept of alignment, or good vs. evil. This oversimplified way of viewing gods helps classify, organize, and balance them so we don’t have too many evil ones, for example. A degree of balance is preferred unless our story requires an imbalance.

We’ve seen “neutral,” but what does this mean? Neither good nor evil? Or does it mean a pacifist position of non-interference in the machinations of gods or species? Such pacifism is less interesting, but it can create resentment among species who call upon a god who won’t answer their prayers, possibly resulting in atheists. By contrast, does a neutral god intervene to stop aggressors from upsetting the balance of good and evil? This can be the attitude of species, too, not just gods.

While “good” and “evil” are widely accepted, the words appeal to younger fans. A more sophisticated audience might appreciate other words that mean the same thing without seeming immature. Some options are “benevolent,” “kinder,” or “helpful” instead of “good,” and “nefarious,” “sinister,” or “feared” instead of “evil.” Readers will get the point without feeling like they’re being talked down to.

Those we consider blatantly evil, like Adolf Hitler, likely didn’t view themselves that way. Our evil gods might bristle at such a distinction and smite anyone who says such a thing—an act which suggests they are indeed evil. Like us, these deities may rationalize the worldview that gets them called that. A god of domination might believe others need to be ruled, justifying abuses of tyranny, but a god of hate likely can’t justify their outlook and might accept being called evil. Giving some thought to this can make our deities more interesting and lead to stories and myths about their interactions.

 

Identifiers

Aside from naming our gods, there are other ways to identify them.

Titles

Deities have titles like “God of War,” “Lord of Despair,” or “The Weeping God.” They can have multiple titles or nicknames, particularly if they oversee more than one area of life. In stories, use only one title at a time to avoid an info dump. One story can reveal one title, another story a different one. We can invent these when needed, skipping this during world building, but always remember to take something invented in a tale and add it to your file on that subject.

Patronage

Gods are sometimes the patron of activities. These can be professions like hunters, farmers, or blacksmiths, or something more general like lovers or children. Who the god patronizes is revealing of their outlook. Look at your god’s attributes to decide who they would patronize and who would be praying to them the most. There can be different levels of patronage, such as a god of war favoring all warriors but bestowing greater favors on knights.

Symbols

Symbols are useful for storytelling and gaming. They can be emblazoned on armor, buildings, ships, space stations, and uniforms, or worn as talismans, even branded into flesh. Each scenario tells the audience, and even other characters, something about location or people, allowing easy characterization. Keep symbols, such as a whip suggesting a god of torture, easy to describe in under one sentence. They are usually fairly obvious because residents aren’t trying to be creative like us and those with no artistic ability need to draw them. This helps us avoid exposition.

How to Invent End of Time Myths

 Book Blog, Volume 1  Comments Off on How to Invent End of Time Myths
Aug 072017
 

This section of chapter 2, “Creating Gods,” from Creating Life, discusses how to invent end-of-time myths and using Earth analogues to do so.

Other Stories

We can also mirror Earth mythologies of gods doing things to each other and mortals. This includes playing tricks, seducing or falling in love, fathering children, attempting murder, and overthrowing the power structure. Anything we mere mortals do is fair game, and myths are often cautionary tales designed to warn a species against certain behaviors. The myths instruct us and our children how to behave. But on our world, many of these stories will have some truth to them because the gods are real. When inventing each myth, determine what’s true about it and what isn’t. After inventing the story, revisit it, imagining other options and keeping one a secret to reveal later.

Gods have possessions, like anyone. We can create myths where an item fell into mortal hands through theft, misplacement, or even gambling, and caused havoc, possibly resulting in a physical place where strange things happen. This is a great way to invent areas of interest; I’ve devoted a chapter to it in Creating Places (The Art of World Building, #2, “Creating Places of Interest”). Our characters can recover these items, often not on purpose or even realizing it at first. What happens when the god learns someone has it?

How To Invent Creation Myths

 Book Blog, Volume 1  Comments Off on How To Invent Creation Myths
Aug 032017
 

A pantheon will have a mythology, whether it’s featured heavily in stories or just mentioned by characters or in narration. To avoid exposition, incorporating the myths into a tale is the best way to mention them. This is one area we can stall on inventing, but creation myths and end-of-world myths are among the most important to work out; minor myths can be invented when needed. Even if our world doesn’t have gods, these myths will exist, as our awareness of our own mortality has us contemplating the birth and death of everything, not just ourselves. Any story about incidents among the gods, or between gods and their species, can also become a myth people either believe or not.

Creation Myths

This section of chapter 2, “Creating Gods,” from Creating Life, discusses how to invent creation myths and using Earth analogues to do so.

Where and How Long the Gods Live

 Book Blog, Volume 1  Comments Off on Where and How Long the Gods Live
Jul 272017
 
Relationships

We can create relationships, familial or not, based on god traits. A god of love and a god of hate can be twins, as can the gods of life and death. The god of winter and demigod of snow can be parent and child. While these are a bit predictable, symmetry is appreciated and easier to remember. Gods can be friends and enemies, too. This often results from conflicts of character and desires, just like with people. If these boil over into arguments that become myths, this helps justify the intensity of bonding or resentment. Not every god in your pantheon needs details worked out, but a few will create the impression of depth we’re after.

Where Do They Live?

Deciding where your gods live will have an impact on stories if your characters ever need to visit them. In theory, it shouldn’t be easy to reach gods; otherwise, every guy with a cause will beg for help. A useful tradition to follow is that one must prove one’s worthiness through an arduous trek to the god.

Do the gods live apart from each other or all together in a city? I recommend avoiding something as obvious as a mountain top because readers will be reminded of Mt. Olympus. On the other hand, the god of the sea living underwater makes too much sense to ignore, but we can still have him do something less common, such as dwell on an island; after all, how is anyone supposed to visit him underwater, or is that what he’s trying to avoid?

Are the gods in the mortal world, like your planet, or in a magical realm similar to an afterlife? What sort of guardians protect the path there? What price must someone pay, literally or figuratively, to get there and back? You can base your decisions on ideas from existing mythologies about travel to other dimensions, such as Charon, but a guy ferrying people across a dangerous river for a price is another idea that’s too well-known to use without inducing eye rolling.

If the gods are believed to live in the sky, what happens in a world technologically advanced enough to explore the heavens and discover there are no gods up there? They would likely alter their beliefs to compensate for this. But it could be interesting if the gods are real and are indeed up there. Maybe this is the reason advanced technology was sought. There could be important questions the gods must be asked.

Lifespan

Where did your gods come from? “Nowhere” is a valid, if not entirely interesting, answer. On Earth, we don’t talk much about where God came from so much as where we did. We can avoid this question altogether and few will question it. We don’t actually need a reason, but something is usually better than nothing unless the idea doesn’t hold up. We may never have a chance to mention it in stories anyway.

Our gods could’ve come from another world that they’ve abandoned or destroyed. Is your new planet their second or third chance to get it right? Maybe the gods are fleeing enemies, or they are the terror of the cosmos that other pantheons flee. Did they leave a planet full of life behind? That planet could be the one you’re setting up now. If the gods abandoned a world, decide what’s happening there now. Is that where Earth’s God went? Is He too busy setting up other worlds to drop in?

Consider what the origins of your gods say or imply about them. In Greek mythology, the gods came from the giants before them, but if gods can be born, they can presumably be killed, too. If your gods can die, what happens when one does? Maybe the one who killed them can replace them. A magic or technological weapon might be needed to do it. Perhaps only other gods have the power to destroy one. Maybe they can only become injured. Or imprisoned—and what happens when this occurs? What kind of prison can hold a god? Decide where it is located, how is it guarded and by what. Does their influence over the world stop as long as they’re locked up?