Owning Your Mythology

Why you should take control of the mythology when using something well established in your story, and how to go about doing it.

Image Credit: 
© 2014 Chalk Castle Arts / Used With Permission

I’m a huge fan of fantasy. Fantasy books, TV shows, films, anything with a bit of fantasy in it, I’m potentially a happy bunny. It should come as no surprise, either, that fantasy is my preferred genre to write in. If you’re creating your own mythological beings, or world, that’s great. But what if you’re not? What if you’re using a well-established myth, like vampires?

© 2011 Flash Totty / Used With Permission

© 2011 Flash Totty / Used With Permission

Everyone knows what vampires should be and what mystical abilities they have. There are variations within that, of course, but there’s a general standard. Don’t use that. It’s been done far too many times to count at this point; it’s stale for the reader and boring for the writer. When you create a story you’re creating an entire world, an entire universe in some cases. There’s no reason for you to go with the standard. Spread your wings and create something truly memorable.

It’s worth it – and here’s why.

1. Normal is boring

Any mythology that you’re using has been used before. That’s almost a guarantee. The reader has seen it dozens of times before – they’ll know what’s coming and they won’t have the excitement of discovering the mythology along with the characters.

2. It’s exciting for you as a writer

Writing is hard work, anybody who tells you otherwise is lying. It’s a gruelling task. But there can be things that make it less so. You’re creating a world for your characters and your readers. You are God of that domain. What you say goes, and it makes things that little bit easier if you break free from the shackles of normality and do your own thing.

3. Why not?

What have you got to lose? You can create something fresh and exciting or you can use the same old stale stuff that’s been doing the rounds for years. It doesn’t seem like much of a choice to me.

4. You could create the next norm

This probably isn’t going to happen but it does from time to time. The mythology that you create could become the new standard. TV shows like Buffy, books like Harry Potter, what they did so spectacularly well was capturing the mass public and their mythology entered the public consciousness. Because it was something new, something exciting that left you wanting to know what was coming next.

 

Now that you’re convinced that you should own your mythology, how do you go about doing it? For the Fang Series I started with a baseline I had in mind for vampires. They were evil, immortal, drank blood and had fangs. Until the final chapter of The Woman, the first book in the series, that was all the vampires were. I tweaked a few things here and there, adding a bit of my own structure to their society, but I didn’t do anything that hadn’t been done before many times.

The big David Chitty stamp on vampirism came in the second book where I started to explore the origin of the disease and what else lived in the world that I’d created. I can’t tell you what you should alter or add to the mythology, but what I can say is that you can do anything that you want to do. My vampires ended up having control over elements, they could teleport and do a whole host of other things and it simply came from how I wanted vampires to work. They weren’t magic or anything like that, they could just control and convert energy. That worked well for me and my series, but it might not work for you, or you might not be using vampires.

The one thing that I would say to you is that you need to have an answer. Your readers will question why something is happening, or what would happen in this situation. I’ve had people ask me that, if vampirism is transmitted through saliva, why doesn’t sex transmit the virus? My explanation never made it into the books, but I know why. A common problem when you are writing fantasy is that you have enough leeway to say ‘it’s magic.’ 99% of your mythology won’t make it into the story but it will frame what your characters are. If you don’t have answers to the problems and questions that will arise, then you’re probably going to leave a fair few plot holes in story. You don’t want that. For example, my vampires can have the powers of a god, why haven’t they just taken over the world? You introduce the concept of resurrection in your story, why don’t they just resurrect everyone? Why did that character three books ago have to die if they could just be brought back? Create the mythology before you create the story or you will find you writing yourself into a corner that you can’t get out of easily.

Now, here are some tips on how to do all this.

1. Ask yourself why

Ask until you want to scream and keep asking. It’s the only way that you will create a mythology that is believable and exciting. If you don’t ask yourself, your readers are going to be asking those questions.

2. Go big

Have fun with it. Fit the mythology to your story. If you’re writing a comedy, then have werewolves that don’t actually eat meat. If you’re writing a horror, have ghosts that are trapped in the real world and need to absorb the souls of the living to get a second chance at life. Do what fits the story – the world – that you’re crafting.

3. Try different things

You can, and probably will, come up with concepts that sound great in your head but don’t quite come off as well as you’d like in the story. That’s fine, try something else. Have three or four different ideas that are coming off of your main mythology and see which comes out the best. Don’t worry about throwing out an idea, it happens.

4. Follow through

Don’t just change one simple element, like the name of the creature, and call it done. I have flatly refused to watch The Walking Dead, for instance, because the bits that I have seen of the zombies, sorry, “Walkers,” are showing me that they are exactly what they say on the tin. While The Walking Dead may feature zombies the main focal point of the story is the characters in that environment and not the undead. I would watch it if they called the zombies “zombies,” which is what they are in everything apart from name.

 

It will take some practice until you can eventually adapt a myth convincingly, but when you do and everything clicks into place, it will make your writing better. It will make your stories better. And isn’t that why we do what we do, for good stories?

David Chitty was born and raised in Thanet in the 90s. He devotes most of his energies to writing fantasy fiction novels.

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