How do you avoid clichés like Crystal Dragon Jesus, the Evil Church of Evil, and smarmy secularist characters who know the Bible better than lifelong churchgoers? You build from the ground up—or in this case, the sky down.
The Three Qualities of Religion
First, let’s start with three qualities possessed by all religions: cult, code, and creed.
Cult: every religion practices some form of organized worship, with formalized rituals and fixed times for liturgical celebrations.
Code: all faiths promote a particular set of morals derived from their beliefs.
Creed: all religions profess belief in a body of theological knowledge. A faith’s creed is how it defines itself.
When designing your world’s religious landscape, consider what form the qualities above take in each religion. A particular faith’s cult, code, and creed should be intertwined. Ask yourself how they’re interrelated in each religion and how those interrelationships affect the beliefs and behavior of the faithful.There's more at the link.
Having recently devoted the lion's share of my time to writing fiction, I can honestly say that it's refreshing to dip my feet in the waters of theology, even if only the shallow end. Readers have commented that my theological training has helped to differentiate my fiction from the standard SFF market, especially since I avoid the preachy, heavy-handed style of pink SFF.
Theology may have fallen into disfavor in the academy, but authors of genre fiction could do worse than to at least make a cursory study of the subject.
We've all heard of physicists and astronomers groaning about the technical inaccuracies in Star Wars and Star Trek. Take it form me, theologians are no less prone to eye rolling when fantasy novels glibly speak of gods needing human worship to survive or SF authors take it for granted that increased knowledge of the natural world will somehow render belief in the supernatural obsolete.
Getting back to the countless hours I've spent toiling in the word mines of late, progress on draft two of The Secret Kings proceeds apace. I'd like to thank the upstanding individuals who've volunteered as beta readers. I'd like to have at least two more, so if you'd like to get an early look at the third Soul Cycle novel and make positive contributions to the final version while you're at it, consider signing up via the email button in the upper left sidebar.
Even if you haven't finished the first two books in the series, there should be just enough time to read Nethereal and Souldancer before beta reading for The Secret Kings begins.