This is the next installment in my series of world building articles! Today’s theme is deities. 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: “Decide Whether to Create Them”
A story that doesn’t need gods frees us from inventing them. That might change if the setting is a world we’ll use often, as a religious character would crop up sooner or later. But single-use worlds can get away without deities, though it’s arguably better to just create a lone god and skimp on details or a pantheon. If you don’t have a feel for what to do, skip this…or read Creating Life to gain ideas.
Tip #2: “Science Doesn’t Eliminate Religion”
A popular theory states that with more science we have less religion, but look at our own world to see how much of it still exists despite all of our accomplishments. Science may explain things that were once held to be of divine origin, but beliefs persist. Your world’s inhabitants will still believe in a higher being, most likely, even if you decide not to comment on it.
Tip #3: “Are the Gods Real?”
In fantasy, deities are typically real and sometimes put in an appearance. SF often doesn’t mention the gods, but if so, they seldom show up. Decide if the world’s gods are real and whether they interfere in events. What are some famous incidents and consequences? Read Creating Life for ideas.
Tip #4: “Mix and Match Analogues”
If we create a detailed setting we repeatedly use, gods are one of the subjects we need to invent only once because they exist outside the scope of our current story and can be reused. This is one reason to create one more highly developed world. One detailed pantheon can be more entertaining and be a common theme across stories. Why create pantheon over and over?
Tip #5: “Use Analogues”
We can borrow gods of various Earth pantheons and alter them to fit our setting. This helps us get started. At the least, we can create a list of gods and their attributes and then start mixing and matching what we like to create our versions, like Dr. Frankenstein creating gods.
Summary of Chapter 1—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.