Building a Balanced Afterlife

There are so many parts to creating a fictional afterlife that works for your world and it’s different for every person.  You really have to work for believability, consistency, and impact if you want to include this.  To be honest, you might not even use the entire mythos because some things simply wouldn’t be know to the mortal characters.  Still, it pays to have an idea of what happens afterwards in case you want to work with ghosts, introduce priests later, or do anything that delves into the dead.  Here are some tips to consider for your afterlife.

  1. Try not to focus entirely on one side of the coin.  We tend to enjoy characters who are staring hell in the face while ignoring those that are obviously going to heaven.  This is not a reason to give only a passing mention of heaven.  If there is the possibility for a character to go to a dark afterlife because of past actions then you should be clear about the alternative.
  2. You might be able to get away with a character returning from the dead once, but you need to set a precedent for it.  Hint that it’s possible or that it’s never been done.  Fans don’t always enjoy this, so you have to be careful and make it count.  Don’t go the Jean Grey/Kratos route where the afterlife is simply a vacation from their day job.
  3. Even if you don’t use them, write down a description of heaven and hell.  Characters can talk about what they think awaits them or priests can have visions of it.  Giving the afterlife locations some details can give them more weight within the eyes of the reader and minds of the characters.
  4. Figure out if there’s a process to the afterlife.  Does a character get judged or sent immediately to their location?  Can they earn a chance to redeem themselves as ghosts or get reincarnated?  Yes, you can do the ‘death and the end’, but it doesn’t hurt to create a process.
  5. Remember that Death God does not always equal evil.  People are naturally scared of death, so these guys and girls tend to fall into the role of ‘Big Evil’.  Try to keep them neutral because they reap the good and the bad.  If you want to go for an evil Death God then design a two or three god system.  Make them a council or opposing forces, but this makes the afterlife a little more interesting and competitive.

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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17 Responses to Building a Balanced Afterlife

  1. L.S. Engler says:

    Oh, man. It took me a long time to really hash out a good death system for my fantasy world. I wanted to make it good, because I feel my death god is one of the more intriguing of the gods in Aryneth, but I also wanted something a little unique, as well as something that could play well into the grand scope of the series. I ended up playing a lot with the idea of memory and remembrance. The idea of paying tribute to your ancestors comes into play, because, once a person dies, their spot in the underworld is only held for as long as people remember them. We want to remember people we love, because then they will continue to have a comfortable spot in afterlife. Terrible people also need to be remembered, to ensure that they stay in the afterlife and suffer for what they did in their living lives. Once the memory starts to fade, their presence in the underworld also fades. If they are forgotten completely, then they return to the world as ghosts or other supernatural beings, where their existence will likely be unfulfilled and miserable…and potentially troublesome for those living.

    I’m sure I’ll encounter a glitch in the system here and there, but, for now, I feel it works very well, and it’s a powerful idea, that those that haunt us are just trying to be remembered so they can return to the bosom of the underworld.

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    • That’s a really interesting system. Makes me think there are a lot of ghosts within your world. Is there anything they can do to gain permanency in the underworld even if they’re forgotten?

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      • L.S. Engler says:

        Hmmm, that’s a good question. I lean towards no, just because I don’t like loopholes in things like these, but I bet deals could be made if someone wanted it badly enough. I like how this drives people to live their lives meaningfully, in a way. Strive to leave a mark so that you’re not forgotten. Maybe after a while, if it’s been centuries or millenia, you don’t return, but rather fade into a sort of nothingness, but that might be my Buddhism coming out.

        Definitely still some kinks to work out.

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      • Kind of like a Nirvana thing? I guess my question stems from considering that it’s really hard for every person in existence to be remembered forever.

        Still, I really like how you worked the desire to be remembered into the afterlife. So many systems involve people acting solely to enjoy their afterlife, but rarely do they focus on leaving something behind. Also you have an excellent set up for ghosts to existence with a purpose. 🙂

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      • L.S. Engler says:

        Yeah, that’s why I think “the NIrvana effect” might have to kick in for a while, but even something as simple as a gravestone in an open cemetery would leave enough lingering memory to keep your place. A person who walks by it might not even know you or your name or anything about you, but they see that marker, and they’re remembering you in some small, infinitesimal way.

        I think I was just really inspired by Asian cultures with this one, and the importance of remembering your ancestors.

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      • Makes me think of roadside memorials for car accident victims too. So it doesn’t even have to be a conscious remembrance. Sounds like you’re system is very solid.

        I look at the Asian cultures a few times, but never really included the ancestor thing. At least not yet.

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      • L.S. Engler says:

        Oooh, yes! That’s a perfect example, Charles! I like how your brain thinks. 🙂

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  2. I enjoyed this , but will leave the afterlife stuff to you fantasyistas

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  3. sknicholls says:

    It’s amazing how deep the fantasy world building goes. Enjoyed the post.

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  4. Very interesting! I never thought about writing in this way. Thanks for opening my mind to more creativity and wonder.

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  5. You know what’s funny? I’m not at all a religious person, yet I keep writing characters who are priests. It forces me to think about the cosmology, because that’s such a major reference for my characters. Like everything else in world-building, it material you can work in as needed to bring depth to your creation.

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