Creating stories and myths within your fantasy novel

“And as for this book,” said Hermione, “The Tales of Beedle the Bard…I’ve never even heard of them!”

“You’ve never heard of The Tales of Beedle the Bard?” said Ron incredulously. “You’re kidding right?…All the old kids’ stories are supposed to be Beedles’, aren’t they? ‘The Fountain of Fair Fortune’…’The Wizard and the Hopping Pot’…’Babbitty Rabbitty and her Cackling Stump’…”

Just as Harry and Hermione are mystified by these titles, Ron is equally mystified by the stories (‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ and ‘Cinderella’) his friends grew up hearing. As this scene from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows shows, it is important for you to create stories and myths within your made-up world. Just think how less believable the wizarding world would be if there weren’t these tales that felt so common to its inhabitants.

I have written numerous posts about creating your own fantasy world. One of my key points has always been that you need to know the details so that the world you create will come across as real to your reader. The mythology and stories you create within your world add another level of depth and believability.

According to the dictionary, a myth is a traditional or legendary story, usually concerning some being or hero or event, with or without a determinable basis of fact or natural explanation, especially one that is concerned with deities or demigods and explains some practice, rite or phenomenon of nature.

The use of myths can provide your characters with a natural direction for their actions, words and feelings. Myths can explain why they rituals and celebrations they do.

Now you can certainly base your myths on existing mythology of our world as long as it fits into the world your created. Or you can create your own myths. Choosing this option allows you to explore your world, its religions and cultures in a deeper way. The myths you create will dictate how your cultures live, breath and interact with each other.

The thing about myths is they are often oral in nature, changing as they are passed from generation to generation or even region to region. This means you can have different versions and interpretations of the same stories.

Not sure what myths to create? There are creation myths, stories to explain natural phenomena like the changing of the seasons, and heroic tales commonly used by bards, poets and musicians to entertain people. And don’t forget the powerful apocalyptic myths.

Used wisely, myths and stories can add a level of realism to your novel. Just don’t get bogged down in developing or incorporating myths so that they overwhelm or distract from your own plot.

World building: Don’t rename ordinary items and other tips

I have written before about the fun of building your own world. It is one of the reasons that I enjoy writing fantasy. But building a new world with religions, governments, cultures and history can be a daunting task.

Developing your world BEFORE you begin writing is essential if you want to keep the details of your fictitious world consistent and logical throughout your novel. You want your characters to LIVE in this world so make it real and believable.

Now there is a whole bunch of world building details that you will develop that will never enter your novel. Don’t get hung up on the small details of your world. For as much as you want to make everything your own, you don’t need to spend your time recreating the wheel so to speak.

Here are some world building tips:

  • Language – You don’t necessarily need to create your own. I know Tolkien did but he was a trained professional in the art of linguistics. You throw in too many words from a made-up language, and you could easily confuse and possibly lose your readers.
  • Spelling – Avoid too many obscure spellings. Just because your story takes place in a different world doesn’t mean you need to name all the people and places with obscure, hard to pronounce (or remember) names.
  • Apostrophes – Another common mistake when creating a new world is to have lots of words with apostrophes in an effort to make the words look different or unique. Remember that in most languages, an apostrophe is merely a sign that something has been omitted. Use them with caution.
  • baby bunny 17Animals – If you are creating a whole other creature that does not exist on Earth that is fine but too many authors simply rename animals. If you are writing about small, big-eared, short-tailed, fluffy animals, then go ahead and refer to them as rabbits instead of some made-up name. The same goes for horses. If your characters travel by horse-back, you don’t need to rename the horse unless it perhaps has razor-sharp fangs and two heads. Reinventing the entire animal kingdom would be annoying especially if the animals exist for no other purpose than to be described in passing. If they are important to your story, then by all means create your own creatures.
  • Units of Measure – You don’t have to necessarily worry about creating new ways of measuring things. Yes, meters and kilograms maybe be more recent inventions but there is nothing wrong with using “steps” or “feet” as measurement. In ancient times, using steps or the length of a forearm were common practices.

It is easier on you and your readers if you don’t recreate everything. If you are not careful, it will seem like your book is written in a foreign language and leave your reader struggling to understand what is going on. And not recreating everything will save you as a writer time too.

Unicorns and other mythical creatures #AtoZchallenge

The steed stepped into the clearing. Its white hide glowed in the moonlight. The creature lifted its head. A twisted silvery horn protruded from its forehead. Its long mane waved as the wind blew. My mouth dropped as I stared at the most beautiful creature I had ever seen. Then the unicorn turned and moved forward, disappearing into the forest again.

UYes, today is the letter U on the A to Z challenge and as a fantasy writer, I had to go with unicorns and other mythical creatures as my topic.

I most often think of a unicorn as a horse – usually white – with a horn. However, the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as “a mythical animal generally depicted with the body and head of a horse, the hind legs of a stag, the tail of a lion, and a single horn in the middle of the forehead.”

There is quite a bit of lore around unicorns from them preferring a virgin’s touch to their horn’s magical healing power. But the great thing about being a writer is that there are no rules. You can make up your own rules about unicorns, Pegasus, mermaids, fairies, dragon and all sorts of other creatures. (For a great comprehensive list of mythical creatures, check out this website.)

And it isn’t just about adjusting mythical creatures to your storyline, as a writer you are free to do anything your imagination can come up with including creating your own creatures. In my trilogy, I not only have telepathic cats and dragons but many creatures that I created. My two favorite would be the Gunn (pronounced like the weapon) and Quietus (see Saturday’s post on my pronunciation error when I chose this as its name which is also the title of the second book in the series).

The Gunn (which appears in Summoned) is a creature created by magic for protection. It’s a huge beast, standing over six feet tall with arms and legs as thick as tree trunks. It has black hair covering its body and an impenetrable hide (except in one location because every creature needs a way to be killed). It has sharp black claws and fangs, but its deadliest feature is the light-green venom that it shoots from its mouth, which kills (quite gruesomely) on contact.

Quietus was also created by someone with magic. The creature’s only desire is to devour everything in its path. It is a small, purple insect which of course is nearly impossible to kill. Its bite is poisonous. This creature causes a lot of havoc and is prominent in both Quietus and Destiny.

As much as I enjoy creating my own creatures, I have only created one for my current work in progress. But I am only halfway through the first draft, so there is plenty of time to use my imagination and branch out from just unicorns and dragons.

Creating your own fictitious town, island or world #atozchallenge

Many authors write about fictional places. They create their own towns or even whole islands as a place to set their stories. And for some fantasy or science fiction writers, you have to create your own world or universe.

CToday is the letter C on the A to Z challenge, and I wanted to write a little about creating your own fictional setting. Please note that I am a fantasy author so many of my references will be for a fantasy novel, but you can easily adapt them for creating your own town or island in your romance or mystery novel (or really whatever genre you are writing).

Creating my own world is one of the reasons I love being a fantasy writer. I am in control of everything – names of cities, geography, culture, religion, systems of magic, history, creatures, you name it.

My advice is to make sure you have your world (island, town or whatever) fully developed BEFORE you begin writing. It helps to create a map if for no other reason than for your visual reference as you write. This way if you can’t remember if the jewelry shop is three or four streets from the inn, all you have to do is refer to your map. Knowing these little details helps your reader believe that this is a real place in which your characters live.

This one has notes on it from when I wrote DESTINY.

This one has notes on it from when I wrote DESTINY.

The maps I draw are for my writing reference only. They will not be included in my book, so I don’t need to worry about making them perfect. And since they are just for me, I can make them as elaborate or as simple as I wish. You may also need to do more than one map – perhaps one of your country and one for the major city (or cities) where the action takes place.

I think it also helps to have a map so you can figure out travel time (or distance) from one location on another. You don’t want to make the mistake of having someone travel a week to the capital of your fictitious land and then spend only two days to return home. (Or for you non-fantasy writers, you don’t want someone to stop at the gym on the way home if it is all the way on the other side of the island/town and not something they would pass on their way to their house.)

Of course if you are building a world or an island, you need to consider the terrain – are you in the mountains, the forest or the hot open desert. Knowing this will also give you an idea what type of weather may happen in your story.

If creating a whole world may also need to develop a religion and populate your world with people and creatures. And don’t forget some form of government.

It can be a fun but daunting task to build a world (town/island) from scratch. Just remember to completely develop your world BEFORE you write your story. It will be better for you – and for your readers.

 

Creating a fictional poison to add drama to your novel

Slade screamed as his skin began to melt away. He clutched the blade, pulling it free. But the damage was already done. The poison spread fast. Slade cried out in agony as he fell to his knees. The dagger dropped from his hand as his other hand grasped at the ever expanding wound on this chest. And then, as the skin continued to dissolve, Slade fell to the ground and was silent.  – From Destiny: Book 3 of The Elemental

Having a character poisoned can add drama and conflict to your story. Will an antidote be found in time? Or it can just provide a gruesome death as the above example illustrates.

Now if you are writing a novel set in the modern day, it might be easier to use a real poison – arsenic, strychnine, cyanide – but since I write fantasy, I chose not to just rename a real poison but to create my own fictional ones.

There are several reasons you might consider creating your own poison. Perhaps your novel is set in the future, and you want to use a new “high-tech” poison. Or maybe you need a fast-acting poison to advance the plot, and your villain doesn’t have access to those that exist in real life. Or you could just do it because it is simply more fun to create your own.

Here are a few things to consider when developing your poison.

How is it administered?

  • Is it a liquid to be swallowed, which might dictate it be tasteless and quick dissolving?
  • Is it a gas to be breathed? If so, does it have an odor or color to alert the intended victim?
  • Is it a poisoned object – dart, dagger, spear tip, spinning needle – which your character will be stabbed or accidently touch?
  • Is it a poisonous plant or perhaps a mushroom or berry that someone might accidentally eat?
  • Or perhaps it is the venom from an imaginary beast you created that is spewed upon the victim?

How does it affect the body?

Even if the effects are rarely mentioned in your story, you need to determine how the body will react to the poison. You need to write about your fictional poison with the authority of someone who has done research as if it was a genuine poison.

When coming up with the reaction, it is important to remember how the body works. Substances that kill after being ingested may not affect the lungs but would probably cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Poisons that are absorbed through the skin have the slowest reaction time while something inhaled or injected would have the quickest. The poison’s level of toxicity will depend entirely on what sort of mayhem you have in mind.

Example

Taylor lay on the narrow cot. His eyes were closed. It had only been four hours since the bug bit him. The swelling had been immediate and now extended up his arm all the way to his shoulder. He had begun to feel dizzy, so they had erected a tent several hundred feet from the barren area. Lina looked at his arm, now twice its normal size. The bite area was definitely a shade of bluish purple. His face was pale. He shivered, and she laid a hand on his forehead. He was burning up.  – from Quietus: Book 2 of The Elemental

What is the antidote?

  • Is there one?
  • Will it be hard to find?

Naming poisons

Of course, your fictional poison will need a name. If you are working on a historical novel, consider a simple name as multisyllabic chemical names were not commonly known. Even in a modern-day novel, if your poison has a complicated name, you may consider a shortened version (use TNT instead of trinitrotoluene).

One way to create a name is to study a list of chemicals and rearrange syllables from different ones to create a new name.  Or you can also take plant names and alter them to come up with names.

I just simply made up the few poisons – Battleweed and Thalon – I named in Summoned. I was inspired by a search on the internet to come up with names for the antidotes – Clearion and Xonic.  But each of my poisonous encounters (being bitten by an insect that was created by magic – as in the example above – to having a mythical creature spew venom on someone) were developed with the help of the book, Deadly Doses – a writer’s guide to poisons. This is a great beginning resource for symptoms, toxicity levels and reaction times. Though since it is an older book, if you are using any of these real poisons, check the internet for any updated information on them.

Just remember whatever you do, aim to make poison believable by knowing the details – what it does, how it affects the body and whether there is a cure.

Crafting better post titles to draw in more readers

I wrote about Triberr recently and since every day I log in and approve the other blog topics I tweet about, I see quite a few blog post titles. And sorry Triberr tribe mates but I see some really bad ones.

Your blog post’s title is basically your headline for your post. It needs to draw the reader in.  Just like choosing an awesome book cover for your book can make the difference whether someone picks up or clicks on your book, so it is with your post title. Your headline is the equivalent of your cover for your book. Making it enticing will ensure that readers will read your post. Write a boring, complicated or confusing title and it doesn’t matter what you’ve written in the post – very few people will ever read it.

Now while I got the idea for this blog subject by looking at my Triberr feed, your post title matters not only because it appears there but other social media sites, as links from other bloggers, in RSS feeds, search engine results and on your own archive pages. Don’t just assume followers of your blog will see this title. Write it with other readers in mind.

Decent/Good titles

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Bad/Need work titles

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Quote of the Week – Oct. 31 (mine)

These bad examples don’t tell the reader what the blog is about. Nothing about them draws you in or would make someone want to click on them. Now as you note, I listed my title for my Quote of the Week under bad/need work titles. I happen to label each weekly post the same thing just like on Fridays when I list “Featured Author: Your name here” as the title to my post. I do this for consistency and for ease of titling them posts. I leave the other three days to write better headlines to draw in the readers.

Now a few tips to help you out when designing your own post titles.

Length

Your best bet is to keep your headline short and simple. Not only is this easier to read and comprehend but also many search engines only show about 65 characters so if you have a long title all of it won’t appear in the search results.

While only a handful of words (think 10 words or less), these are the most powerful words that you will write because most of your readers will decide whether to read your post based on these words. If your current headlines are 10 words in length or more, have a look at how you could cut these down to make them more powerful and to the point.

Let the reader know what is in it for them.

When crafting your title, consider what benefit your readers will get out of reading this post. Are you giving them tips? Offering them something for free? Of course using the word “free” in your headlines is a proven method of getting people to take notice.

  • 6 ways to improve your writing
  • How to double your blog traffic
  • Free this week only – The Search (a short story)

Writing good headlines and titles is a skill bloggers need to learn. So take the time to write the best title with your target audience in mind and you will increase your blog traffic.

Beyond the Ordinary – Creating your own Creatures

One of the great things about writing a fantasy novel is that you are not limited to the creatures of this world (such as cats which I wrote about last week) or mythical creatures (such as dragons which I wrote about three weeks ago). You have the freedom to create any type creature you want. And why stick to unicorns, dragons, fairies, elves, griffins or vampires when you can create your own unique creation.

Throughout my The Elemental trilogy I have created numerous creatures in addition to the unicorns, dragons and talking cats (called STACs). The wizards (referred to as Learners) in my world also created a few beasts to do their bidding.

GUNN – This was a creature designed to do for protection. It is a huge beast with arms and legs as wide as tree trunks. It has black thick hair covering its entire body and an impenetrable hide. The Gunn has sharp black claws, fangs and yellow eyes. From its mouth, it shoots light-green venom which kills (quite gruesomely) on contact.

DAKOS – These creatures were originally the messengers of the Learners though have proved quite deadly in battle with their razor sharp claws and aerial acrobatics. They are small cat-like creatures with long thin wings and dark-green hides. Their faces are almost feline and their eyes glow red.

COGNOVOT – This creature was created to guard the Learner’s home. A seemingly innocent creature that is slightly smaller than a horse with a thick, dragon-like tail. It has a broad, flat face and white shaggy fur. Two long horns protrude from its forehead and curve backwards. When it attacks, it swells to the size of a dragon and sprouts additional arms.

One particular Learner also created a creature called Quietus and that is the name of the second book in the trilogy. Since I don’t want to give away anything from that book, you will just have to read it to find out what type of creation Quietus is. (Yes, a shameless marketing attempt.J)

One way to create a new creature would be to combine attributes from other mythical creatures. (Check out this website that lists over 3,000 mythical creatures.) But my way of doing it is to decide what my creature needs to do in my story and then let my imagination run wild.