When I wrote my The Elemental trilogy, I decided right off that I didn’t want to deal with religion. So there is no mention of gods, and there is no church in my story, and it works fine. However, in many fantasy novels, religion is an integral part of the plot.
Adding religion to your novel can be a source of tension between characters. A war can be because of religious differences. The reason your protagonist or antagonist does something can be based in their religious beliefs. Even prophecies can come from religious writings.
Religion can make your make-believe world’s culture come alive. If your story takes place on Earth, you can study the religion of that time period or region, but if you are creating your own world, you will have more work. (Check out beliefnet.com for information on real-world religions.) But as with every aspect of world building, be sure to establish rules for your religion and then be consistent when using them.
Here are some questions to get you thinking.
1.) Did the god or gods create the world? If not, how did it come to be? If they did create it, why did they do it?
2.) Do the gods live among the people? If so, do they take an active role with those that worship them?
3.) Are there multiple gods and if so, is there a hierarchy among them? Do people worship all the gods or do they pick one?
4.) Are they good or evil, or is this meaningless when speaking of gods?
5.) Is there tension or rivalry between the gods? Does this affect church politics?
6.) How does the religion view non-believers? Non-humans? Is there a state church? Is there freedom of religion?
7.) What customs surround a birth or a death? Are their rituals or celebrations concerning either? How do people handle these events?
8.) Do the gods care how people behave? Do they become involved in the daily lives of their worshipers?
9.) How much does religion play in public and private life? What rites or rituals must be preformed? How do people regard temples and churches? What about priests or other religious leaders?
10.) Is being a priest a full-time position or do they need other jobs? If it is a full-time position, who supports them – a wealthy patron, the congregation, the gods they serve?
11.) Do the gods have limits to what they can do? Are there things they will NOT do? Can the gods make mistakes?
12.) How do worshipers consider bad luck or bad things happening to them? Are they punishment for some transgression? Something the gods cannot prevent?
These are just a few questions to get you thinking. As you create your religion, make sure you know it well enough to blend it into your story so that it adds to the story rather than distracts.