The Importance of Myths
Myths were the first stories ever told. The kind that were told around the fire to entertain and teach children right from wrong — but most importantly, they were told because we needed to make sense of the world. To find meaning in the things that were happening around us. Things we could not yet explain.
For this reason, myths can play a powerful role in fiction. They give fictional worlds and civilisations a history, helping readers understand what the people believe, as well as explain their relationships with nature, the universe and each other.
Greek mythology, for example, shows us how the people of this influential era thought and felt about nature and mankind. Unlike other cultures who worshipped monstrous-looking gods (the Sphinx of ancient Egypt), the Greeks imagined the gods in their own image. They ate the food we ate, walked the lands that we walk and enjoyed art, music and poetry.
The great Olympian Gods were imagined liked this because the Greeks thought the human form was so extraordinary and beautiful that they didn’t need to imagine anything different (a fact especially demonstrated in sculptural art). This helps us understand the culture, views and day-to-day lives of a civilisation that ruled 2,500 years ago.
Rooted in Nature
Myths are deeply rooted in nature. It’s one of the reasons why they are so beloved. Many of the oldest and well-known myths explain something that was beyond humankind’s comprehension at the time — the changing of the seasons, an earthquake, death.
A volcano erupts because a giant monster is imprisoned in its depths. A bolt of lightning strikes the ground because Zeus has been angered. A ship goes missing after being lured by sirens.
So, while the revels of the gods were entertaining to the people of ancient Greece, much the same way reality TV is today — filled with love affairs, deception, betrayal and revenge — it’s important to remember that they did so much more than entertain. They explained the unexplainable.
And they do this in the most romantic way possible — through storytelling.
How To Write Myths in Your Fiction
If you’re writing fantasy or sci-fi, one of the best places to start is with a geographical location. Take a mountain, river, rock formation, valley, cave, cove, lake, etc and use that as your starting point.
The second step is to think about the culture of the people in your stories. Do they have a strong connection with nature? If they do, perhaps a god/spirit/deity could be the guardian of each specific element.
Maybe the civilisation of your world value power and strength above all else. In which case, it would make sense that their myths would mirror their passions. For example, perhaps two great mythical beasts battled in a cove and the small island that lies a short distance from the shore is the body of the losing monster.
Whatever direction you choose to go in, make sure that the stories of the myths are deeply rooted in human emotions. Even if you are writing alien races that have 80 heads and no legs (well, that was a strange image) the myths of these civilisations need to be fueled by emotions.
Emotions are needed to make stories work. Without relatable characters, challenges or desires your reader has nothing to connect them to your story. The same rules apply to myths, no matter how fantastical or magical they may be.
The last thing to do is sit down and write that myth. Even if the myths and legend are of no importance to the plot, make sure to get it written down somewhere. Understanding the beliefs and history of the people/world you are creating will help bring the people and places within your story to life.
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