Whenever you write a story, whether it takes you to the house of the boy next door or to the distant ends of the known universe…whether it took place in the last few weeks, or during the turn of the last century…you are essentially creating a fictional mythology with everything you write. You’ve become the sole author of a world that you control, guiding the destinies of everyone who inhabits that world. You are the hands of fate. If you want to make it rain, make it rain. If you want your favorite character to break his leg, he breaks his leg. And if you decide to kill someone off to benefit your mysterious master plan…well, we all know how THAT turns out, don’t we? Hehehe!
You, and you alone, can build and manipulate the events that you’ve put into motion in any way that you see fit. There’s a lot of fun to be had doing that. And if you want to expand on that idea, you can (feasibly) make your characters and your story live on and last forever if you wanted to. This month I’d like to talk about looking at the bigger concept of not just creating a story, but creating a long lasting mythology as well. Something that you, as a writer, can always add to and build upon in your writing the same way that your characters do.
So let’s see if I can do this without screwing it up! 🙂
You may want to ask what the difference is between writing a story and creating a mythology. I’d say it’s just a slight shift in the way you look at the current story being told and imagining the long term effects it has on the world in which that story exists. The easiest way for me to explain it would be to use examples from some of the science fiction flicks that many of us would recognize. If you think about Superman, or The Matrix, or Star Wars…you could probably pick a single movie that told a certain story about a certain group of characters, that were all set out to achieve a certain goal in between the first opening credits and the end credits. That is the ‘story’ part that you’re seeing. That’s the main focus of that one, focused, tale that the writer is trying to tell. It’s cut down and concentrated to follow the adventures of your main character and the few supporting characters and antagonists that carry that one story along to completion. Most completed stories will (and should) fall into this category. It anchors the story down to one adventure and keeps things from getting too crazy or complicated along the way.
A ‘mythology’ is a bit different, however. A mythology is built around the world that your main story exists in. It’s where you, as the author, are free to build an entire plane of existence based on the specific details of your own private imagination. This presents the potential for countless other stories to be told in this particular reality. New characters to arrive, new adventures to be had, new themes and approaches to the main idea become absolutely limitless. That’s what makes mythologies so much fun! You get to further explore the world you built from a variety of different viewpoints with excitement and joy! The passion is already ‘pre-structured’ for you! You KNOW that you read that last chapter of your favorite story online and had ideas for how you would continue on from there if it were up to you! Hehehe! There’s not a creative person reading this who hasn’t done that at one time or another! So DO it! Why not? One focused story takes up such a small part of the canvas that you’ve been given to work with. Pick a new corner and keep going if the must is urging you to do so.
Examples of the Story/Mythology difference…
Sure, you follow the action of Neo and Morpheus in “The Matrix”…but imagine how many other people are still trapped in the Matrix. What are they doing during all of this? Each one of those people has a story of their own that isn’t being told. People know about Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader in Star Wars…but there are whole galaxies out there in that storyline. Full of bounty hunters, refugees, soldiers, crime bosses, smugglers…the mythology behind Star Wars alone can spawn a million separate sagas all by itself, no two of them alike. And they don’t have to use the same characters or tie into the original at all…because the mythology is so much bigger than that one particular story. If that makes sense. Another example, “Harry Potter” is a great story about a boy who finds out that he’s a wizard and goes to a school for wizards. The mythology behind it will live on because once you set up Hogwarts as the basis of the “Harry Potter” mythology, you’ll find that you can write hundreds of stories surrounding it. All with different characters, who all have different goals. You can create your own character and put them in that setting, and create a whole different take on the series itself that will be unique and appreciated. It’s just a matter of expanding your knowledge of the fictional world itself.
There’s a mythology around “Lord Of The Rings” and “The Hobbit”. A mythology behind “The Terminator”, or “Underworld”, or “The Hunger Games”, or “Ghostbusters”, or “Batman”. No matter how many movies they make, the world where these events take place has already been established in your mind. It feels like ‘truth’, even though it’s fiction. It’s simply a way of saying, “These are my rules, and this is the way things work in my fictional world, and my readers will accept that as I create a whole new series from the ground up.” Once you’ve learned to build new legends from scratch, there’s no end to the amount of ideas that you (or other writers) can add to it.
In the story, “Gone From Daylight”, I wanted to do things differently from what I had seen or read before In a vampire story. I wanted to play around with the legend a bit, and add a few new rules and ideas of my own as to how things worked in my own little vampire world. There are a million vampire stories out there, and many of them have given their readers an original take on the vampire mythology, thereby creating one of their own. Some vampires hide in the shadows, some walk amongst us, some turn to ash in the sunlight, and some ‘sparkle’. Hehehe! But each of those stories has its own set of rules that govern the environment that the author is trying to create. When creating a mythology, that should be your very first step.
How does your world work? What rules are you going to put in place that affect all of the characters involved in your story? What’s going to be different about the way that you write your story, as opposed to how someone else might write it? If your characters live in a world where being a homosexual is outlawed by the government…then that plot point should have a major impact on the characters you’re writing about. What kind of fearful and paranoid effect will that have on them? And who else might be affected by this? If your ‘story’ is about two gay males finding each other in an oppressive society in New York…that would be your story. But if you detail the world they live in and why it’s so and talk about the dangers of being caught…you could easily tell a similar story about two boys who fall in love in Los Angeles. Or in Brazil. Or in London. Or in South Africa. Because the situation that you’ve built as a backdrop to your main story can be tackled in a million different ways. With a million different outcomes. Each one of them just as relevant as your original story was, but with a new life all its own.
With certain stories that I’ve written so far, “Gone From Daylight”, “Savage Moon”, “Always”…before I can put those stories out and really submerge myself into the storyline, I have to build the mythology first. So my version of vampires only need to feed once a month or so, or maybe they’re forced into a state of unconsciousness when the dawn approaches, and maybe they have ‘extras’ that act as a specific supernatural ability that is unique to each one of them, depending on who they were when they were bitten. Those are the major rules that I put in place to govern over that ONE story, sure…but I’ve written a TON of other spinoffs and vampire stories that take place in that same world. That same reality. Doing that with “Savage Moon”, or “Shelter”, or “Skylight”, would be just as easy. (I use the term ‘easy’ lightly here! Hehehe!) It’s simply taking a moment to step back, look at what you’re writing, and thinking, “Hmmm…well, if this is what is happening right here…what’s happening next door?” Or down the street? Or in another country altogether? How did it begin? There’s room for a prequel there. What happens in the future after my story has taken place? There’s room for a sequel. My main two characters had a couple of best friends with them while all of this was going on. What’s their story? Room for more stories to be written for each one of them.
It doesn’t have to be science fiction or anything. For example, “New Kid In School” is a mythology. You know the characters and some of their backstories and how things came to be. You can read “New Kid” and be fine, but if you want to get a deeper involvement in that mythology, you’d have to read “Kiss Of An Angel” and “Arcade Junkie” and “Ryan’s Heart” as well. It fills in detailed pieces of the story that you can’t get from reading “New Kid” alone. The more thought you put into the setting and characters in your work, the stronger the historical mythology surrounding them becomes. You can get to chapter 250 and refer back to something that happened in chapter 6, and your readers (Knowing the mythology) will be able to go, “Ohhhhh! Yeah! I remember that!” Even though it never really happened in real life. Hehehe! Just in the story.
Anyway, I hope this made at least a LITTLE bit of sense! It’s hard to put these things into words sometimes. But it’s something that I really do take my time with. Especially with anything sci-fi or fantasy based. That’s why stories like “Boys Of Widow Lake”, “Technosapien”, and “Boy Repeated”, take soooooooo long for me to plan and plot out and take notes and try to create from scratch. The devil is in the details. And once you start making rules for your fictional world to be governed by, you can’t take them back. You’re stuck with them. Like the law of gravity. So make sure you have your ideas together and that the laws you’ve created aren’t going to paint you into a corner later on during the writing process! That’s going to suck!
Alright, I’m going to shut up now! Best of luck to all of you out there who are looking to create a series of kick ass books on your own! Remember what I said before about your characters. If you’re adding them into your story…they should be strong enough and important enough to each carry a story of their own. So…if you’re feeling frisky…WRITE that story too! Hehehe, it’ll make a good companion to the individual project.
This has been ‘Comsie Talks’! And I’ll seezya soon!