Writing Religion in Genre

Religion can be a very tricky thing to write about in Fantasy and Science Fiction.  It has to be done reasonably well and for good reason.  It also has to have at most a strong backbone for which to base part (or all) of the plot or a character’s makeup.  The writer should not want to overtly use the religion’s place in the story as a soapbox, either, because readers will pick up on that right away.  Nor do you want to pick and choose the ideas of well-known established religions and use them without understanding at least some of its already-established rules and tenets.

In creating the ‘spirituality’ of the Mendaihu Universe — I call it such because it’s not so much an established religion as it is a spiritual state of being — I had to create a belief system that had to follow specific rules.  The First Rule, as it were, was balance.  I had to work within the confines of a yin-yang system, where the Mendaihu and the Shenaihu were not so much mortal enemies as they were parts of a whole.  When one takes action, the other one must respond in kind.  This alone propels the action in A Division of Souls and drives the plot of all three books in the trilogy; when Nehalé Usarai performs the Awakening ritual in the first chapter, the Shenaihu must respond, and do so fivefold.  This will set off even more responding actions from the Mendaihu again, and so on.

This is often where the savior comes in; the character whose life is lived outside of this cycle, who must put a stop to it before both sides utterly destroy each other.  In the trilogy, this is the One of All Sacred.  He or she is not exactly an established deity (in the Mendaihu Universe, that is the Goddess of All That Is), but an outside player of a religious stature who is tasked with returning everything back into a peaceful balance.   The savior often has a somewhat clearer mind than many of the other characters; they’re not wound up in some kind of emotional tailspin or blinded by distraction.  [This can often be their own distraction — their distance from the situation sometimes causes them not to fully understand it.]  The savior’s own story arc is thus not only to Make Things Right Again, but to spiritually ascend in their own way.

What kind of religions have you seen in genre fiction that fascinate you?  If you’ve created your own, how have you worked out the rules?


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