Writing Motivation For Doomsday Cults

Doomsday cults have been around for a long time, probably since the dawn of civilization. Writers and readers alike have found them endlessly fascinating. But, what motivates someone to start a doomsday cult? And why do people join?

In the titular panel, Gail Z. Martin, Lisa Hawkridge, Tom Doyle, and Darrell Schweitzer discuss real world cults and how to apply them to your writing.

Who Starts Doomsday Cults?

No two doomsday cults are the same, but many leaders share similar traits.

  1. A charismatic leader
  2. A need for control
  3. A professed conviction that something is wrong in society
  4. The ability to turn anything into a sign that they were right

Why Do People Join Doomsday Cults?

For those who have never been involved in a cult, it can seem fascinating and curious, but humans aren’t that complicated.

  1. Typically, people feel drawn to doomsday cults when they are in a transitory period in their lives
    • Leaving home
    • Ending a relationship
    • Death of an immediate family member
    • Job loss
    • etc
  2. Often people who have suffered personal trauma are vulnerable, especially to someone who says they have the answers
  3. They want to believe, and feel that by joining, they will be able to avoid death. Or have a clean death. Or be rewarded in the afterlife.
  4. People enjoy feeling smarter/better/more pious than everyone else.
  5. The peace of not having to make a decision can be addictive.
  6. And some were simply born into cults.

The 5 Stages Of A Doomsday Cult

  1. Recruiting and preaching. Doomsday is often about 30 years out, because it’s not too immediate, but a generation is soon enough to feel like you should care.
  2. Members are encouraged to give away their worldly belongings, and donate their money and services to the “good of the cult.”
  3. Isolate the members from normal society and other opinions.
  4. People start to see cracks in the leader’s story, but because of the sunk-cost fallacy, often don’t want to admit to themselves, (or others), that they were duped.
  5. Doomsday arrives.

What Happens After Doomsday?

When doomsday arrives and nothing happens, the leaders and the followers are left with few options.

  1. The leaders can make something happen
    • Jonesville – Revolutionary suicide – they drank the “kool aid”
    • Aum Shinrikyo – the leaders secretly set off the sarin attacks in Tokyo, causing the ‘end times chaos’ that the faithful expected.
  2. The followers may turn to violence
    • Turn on the leaders – riot, etc
  3. The leaders may double-down
    • Claim this was ‘a test of our faith’
    • Declare they miscalculated, and move the date out a few years
  4. The followers can outlive the leader
    • Either it slowly falls apart into nothing OR
    • It becomes a religion (7th Day Adventists, some say the Mormons, others say Christianity)

A lot to think about, but somehow simpler than it feels it should be.

Note, most doomsday cults take something from reality, some tiny grain of truth, and preach it through the looking glass. Understanding what factors go into real world doomsday cults can help you create people and worlds that contain them. And remember, when writing your own doomsday cult, you need something that is believable, truth can be stranger than fiction.


Anything the panel ran out of time to mention? Anything I got wrong?

Let me know how YOU’VE incorporated doomsday cults in your writing. And your favorite fictional cult you’ve read!

And stay tuned as I share more writing tips from the over-24-hours-of-programming I hit at Balticon53.

5 Writing Tips for Making Fantasy Feel ‘Real’

If you ask a group of writers how they approach a part of their writing process, you’re going to get as many answers as there are writers–and sometimes more.

Today I’m reviewing a discussion by a group of writers on how to make fantasy feel real.

No matter if you prefer:

  • to write a story based on reality — with just enough fantastic elements to make your story work
  • to create your world from the ground up
  • to mix it up a bit

and no matter if:

  • you’re a pantser with no magic system
  • a world builder who adds the characters later
  • a white rabbit chaser til the end of the plot, when you look back and realize everything happens in ‘white rooms’ (before you edit…)
  • or your approach changes from world to world

these tips for writing fantasy worlds should work to help you draw your readers in, without invoking their sense of disbelief!


***

Top 5 Writing Tips For Making Fantasy Feel Real

  1. Keep it internally consistent
    • The effort used to invoke the magic and the scope of the magic should match from spell to spell, no matter the scale.
  2. Look at economics
    • If magic gives someone an ability, someone else will come up with a way to:
      • counter it
      • sell it
      • steal it
  3. Make sure your character’s motivations make sense
    • Both for them,
    • AND for the world they live in
      • Different norms and cultural expectations exist in different times, places, social classes, and worlds
  4. Avoid Anachronisms
    • You don’t want to mentally throw people out of your story
      • Check the weaponry in that time AND place
      • Stew takes four hours to cook
      • EVEN if you’re right, if most people don’t think that happened in your technological period or location, they’ll be pulled out of the story
      • NOTE: Ignore this tip for diversity. People in the dominant culture tend to paint everything in their history with a brush to match themselves. The real world isn’t usually that segmented.
  5. If you can’t be true to a period, write around the edges
    • There are always the fringes of society, where the ‘norms’ break down
    • If your character doesn’t fit in, there’s usually SOMEWHERE they can go
      • If they’re willing to pay the price

***

How much are you willing to give to enthrall your readers with your world?

 

These notes are from the Balticon 52 panel, “Making Fantasy Feel Realistic”. The panelists were Leah Cypress, Lisa Hawkridge, Brenda Clough, and Jean Marie Ward.

Do you have any favorite tips for making fantasy seem real that I missed? Feel free to comment!

Thanks for watching. Please subscribe [<<<<] and tune in next Thursday for more writing tips and writerly musings.

5 Things To Remember When Creating a New Religion

What Is Mythology?

There are many definitions, but the one I’m addressing today is:

Mythology is folklore and legends that tell how things came to be.

Note: We often think of pantheons of gods: the Greek, Egyptian, Roman… but divinity isn’t required.

5 Things To Remember When Creating a New Religion (or Mythology)

1. Steal from the dead

  • It’s less culturally appropriative to steal from dead cultures, rather than current ones.

2. Remember what you’re doing

  • You’re writing a book – you only need to invent as much as is necessary for your story.

3. Beliefs influence societies

  • When world building, think about how the society’s beliefs will influence their culture and politics.

4. Remember people are different.

  • You shouldn’t invent new religions and state that All Followers of X are this and All Followers of Y are that. It’s not realistic.

5. Remember the different types of religions.

Most fit in one (or more) of the 4 categories below.

  1. Polytheistic
    • Greek, Egyptian, Norse, etc. Mythology tells how they’re all family, their wars, trials, and tribulations.
  2. Pantheistic
    • God is everywhere and has infinite faces. Everything is part of an all-encompassing, immanent God.
  3. Monotheistic
    • One supreme god-figure who is responsible for all creation
  4. Animistic
    • All things have their own spirit.

Even with all these tips, it’s hard to create something truly unique that doesn’t come across to readers as analogous to a religion they’re already aware of.

That can be handy, because you don’t have to explain as much.

The challenge lies in fighting assumptions.


Best of luck. Do you have any tips?

This post was derived from the titular panel at WorldCon75, with panelists Tarja Rainio, Kathryn Sullivan, Michael Underwood, and moderator Ju Honisch.

Creating Worlds

Built Upon The Shoulders Of Giants

These notes are taken from the titular panel at WorldCon75. The panelists were George RR Martin, Jeffrey A Carver, and Alex Acks. The moderator was Jon Oliver.

Where should one start: with the world or the characters?

Tolkien created his world first, George RR Martin and the rest of the panelists created their characters first.

As with so much in writing, neither way is better, just whatever works for the story you’re working on now.

An Approach to Creating a Magic System

Martin prefers his magic to be truly super natural–not fake-science with a formula. Magic that trifles with forces beyond this world. Unknowable. Uncontrollable. With the chaos-like the feel of elder gods.

In Tolkien’s stories, Gandalf rarely resorted to true magic.

If people in a magical world try to codify their magic, doesn’t mean that they’re right. They might fail, or at least miss some stuff.

When Writing Science Fiction, How Close To Magic Can Your Science Get?

We can bend the rules of physics – but keep it moderately plausible for scientists. After all, what are ‘hyperspace’ and ‘wormholes’ if not science-fiction’s method of time travel? Making time stand still while we travel generations away.

Remember, the concept of plate tectonics was just discovered 50 years ago.

Just because there’s a capability out there that we don’t know if we CAN do, doesn’t mean we know that we CAN’T figure it out eventually!

What Makes A World Stand Out To A Publisher?

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I actually got to ask this question myself! The panel description had promised this, but as you see, they clearly hadn’t addressed it yet!

Publisher Jon Oliver chimed in that there are two things that you want to avoid:

  1. Don’t make your world too complex
  2. Don’t make your world too simple

Most fantasies have a pseudo-medieval European feel. It’s been done! Try something new.

Some stories are too excited about telling you all the information about the world, that they neglect the characters and plot.

Martin says, “make it your own.” If you’re writing something based on historical places, just make a historical fantasy. When inventing a world, “turn it up to 11, and do a left twist!”

It’s hard to figure out, the advice sounds basically like: “how do you win a race? Run Faster!” But if you can figure it out, it’s magical.

The Importance of Consistency

It doesn’t have to be consistent with reality, but it must be internally consistent. Remembering what you wrote earlier can be a challenge.

George RR Martin finds it difficult.

  • He’s “blundered into people who help.” The people who run the Westeros wiki have been very helpful. The site is un-vetted by him, but usually right.
  • He has notes, textbooks, and a DOS computer with search/replace capability
  • Most of his world building is in his head – thanks to a trick or curse of memory he remembers “[his] fake world far better than the real world.”

Another method of keeping track of everything that many authors, including Jeffrey Carver, uses is:

  • A spreadsheet with all names, places, and their descriptions

How Do You Convey World and Plot Building Information In A Sequel?

An info dump is only an info dump if the reader doesn’t care about it. Interweave it with the story–maybe tell it from a new character’s point of view–and you can make it interesting again.

Show what the characters do, and then filter in the world building as you need it.

As the writer, you need to know more than the reader about your world. If you must include everything, you can add appendices or footnotes. Using info HINTS, instead of info dumps, is a better idea, you don’t have to share everything with the reader.

Do Characters Mess With Your Plot?

The final question on the panel was more of a back-and-forth than summarizable tips, with other authors quoted. But I thought you might enjoy the conversation.

Martin said, yeah, they can be bossy. Sometimes they’re wrong. But usually, he just goes with it.

Carver mentioned that Jane Yolen when writing a story, found out part way through the novel that the character was gay.

Connie Willis is quoted as saying, “If my characters get uppity, I kill them!”

To which Alex Acks agreed, it’s true, “characters can be assholes.”

Then George RR Martin replied, “killing your characters? How horrible!”

And with that, my notes for this panel are done.

Vlog: Creating Worlds

Built Upon The Shoulders Of Giants

These notes are taken from the titular panel at WorldCon75. The panelists were George RR Martin, Jeffrey A Carver, and Alex Acks. The moderator was Jon Oliver.

Today, I’ll be sharing tips gathered from the titular panel on World Building. With quotes from George RR Martin and the rest of the panelists! Please enjoy!