Myths, legends and folklore are some of my favourite things to write in fantasy. The stories themselves are often simple—with a hero, a villain and a magical beast or two—but they paint an intricate picture of the world you have created and the civilisations that inhabit it.
While legends share a lot in common with myths and folklore, it’s important that you understand what sets them apart if you are to create an impactful and memorable legend for your fantasy novel.
If you research legends from around the world, you will see that the backdrops for legends are often influential eras or turning points in history (shifts in power, wars, alliances, rebellions). This is because legends are rooted in real historical events, they have just been recorded inaccurately. I like to think of legends as stories that have evolved from elaborate games of Telephone.
The story has been twisted and exaggerated as it has travelled around your world and been shared around the fire—and in some cases, the most imaginative storytellers have put their own spin on it.
There are a few ways to create a legend for your own fantasy or sci-fi novel including:
- Adapting a legend that already exists to fit within your fictional world
- Write a sequel or prequel to an existing legend
- Create your own (chock-full with dragons, griffins and every other mythical creature you can imagine)
Decide on the focus of your legend. Will it tell the story of a person, location or a major historic event. You can use a combination of these three things (For example, the legend of King Arthur is based around…well, Arthur… as well as the city of Camelot.)
Think about the sociological, religious and political themes that are already in your novel and try to mirror these issues in your legend. This will not only give your legend a purpose in your story but it will also help your reader explore your world and uncover its history.
You could even use the moral lessons conveyed in the legend to foreshadow future events. The key takeaway here is that your legend must ultimately serve a purpose in your story, otherwise, it’s just going to pad it out with useless information.
Write your legend out as a complete story. Open up a separate document on your computer or turn to a blank page in your notebook and start writing your legend. Like your novel, the legend my follow the three-act structure. In other words, its got to have a beginning, a middle and an end.
Now it’s time to look at your legend’s character/s. Just like the characters in your novel, the person or people in your legend need to have wants, needs and flaws. This will help drive them through the plot and create opportunities for you to experiment with the moral lessons that should be gained from the story.
That being said, you do not have to spend too much time developing the characters in your legend. Unlike the characters in your story, it’s okay if their wants and needs are one dimensional.
Okay, you have your legend, now you need to insert it into your story. The great thing about writing myths, legends and folklore is they allow you to info dump history and context on your reader through the entertaining medium of story. However, that doesn’t mean you can dedicate chapters or even pages to your legend.*
No, you need to make it short and snappy—we’re talking around a couple of paragraphs (2 pages max). It needs to read like the kind of story that is told around a campfire or hearth.
*If you really want, this might make a cool pre-order and e-mail sign up incentive if you plan on self-publishing.
Have you ever written a legend for your fantasy world? If so, share your experience in the comments.
This article contains affiliate links. This means that I will earn a small commission on purchases made through these links, at no extra cost to you.