Okay so when your building and your story relies on a religion, how do you go about building the basis for that belief system? How to build a belief system?
Building an interesting religion from the ground up can be difficult. It can really help to look at the whole thing from…exactly that. The ground up.
Consider the religion’s cosmology. How did things start? How important is that story to your world and your characters?
Pick out a top three-five stories that really resonate within the world. Which ones is it just a given that someone on the street would know? Outline them or write them out. So, if you’re doing this exercise for Christianity, you might say, “Noah’s Ark, David and Goliath, Daniel and the Lion’s Den, Jonah and the Big Fish.” Having a few popular stories will add depth, but it doesn’t have to explicitly explain everything about the world, or even the religion.
Think about symbols or objects that hold value to the people. What do they represent? How ubiquitous are they?
Give your world variety when it comes to philosophy, application, and opinion. Not all adherents will agree on everything, and sometimes they will so vastly disagree that their religion will look like two, even if it’s rooted in the same place (Catholicism vs. Protestantism). Having everyone believe the same thing is not only boring, it’s unrealistic.
The basic rules of this religion should appeal to your characters (and likely your reader’s) sense of rightness and goodness. Even if the modern version of this religion has altered, its roots should be founded in good. That can be twisted through unwritten laws, control, misinterpretation, and all that, but letting us see at least a hint of what was meant to be will give the system more nuance and believably than anything strictly evil or weak.
Consider the god(s), their mortality, how they appeal to the people, how their ruling system works, how involved they are, and how revered they are by the people.
Sometimes, if you have a religion of your own, it can be difficult to think outside of that box. You alter something you see as normal to make something new, when you’re actually just making it more like something else that already exists. So if you need a little extra inspiration, read up on old religions, modern religions, and think about how you can deviate in a way that feels fresh.
(I might maybe do a brainstorming series posts on religions and beliefs..? Any interest??)
Happy writing!****Edited to add that the Brainstorming Series post is now live. Check it out HERE.