I apologize for the long break between posts folks but I’m afraid my attention has been on other projects of late including my just released poetry collection Musings of the Mystic and Mundane (available in print and on Kindle from Amazon.com) and the completion of the first draft of my sci-fi/fantasy epic The Seeker. The latter accomplishment making this particular blog post rather timely.
Now as this is the first in my series of posts dealing with world building I suppose I should elucidate my intentions. Basically in this series I will take you through the step by step process that your favorite fantasy and science fiction authors use when they are creating those magnificently detailed worlds that we all love losing ourselves in. I also hope it serves as a jumping off how to guide for any aspiring writers looking to put to paper those amazing far away places that have thus far existed only in their own imaginations.
The first step to building a successful world is creating it’s mythology. Now before we begin it’s important to distinguish between mythology and religion. Mythology is a collection of stories and legends,that may or may be true, that explain why the world is the way it is. Primarily they concern themselves with gods, demi-gods, or heroes as well as the large events such as the creation of the world (god made the world in six days), a catastrophic weather event (an act of god or a god think great flood myths), or the eventual end of everything (Ragnarok). Religion, while usually containing it’s own unique mythology, is about structure and organization. Myths are tales people tell. Religion is something people follow. The veracity of either is besides the point.
Having made that distinction we can continue with our examination of mythology. And it is necessary to start at the beginning. How was your new world created? Did the head of your pantheon tame the wild void that came before? Or perhaps he or she crafted the stars and the sky out of a piece of themselves? However your world was formed the people you populate it are going to need to have an explanation and that explanation will shape their culture and religion and vice versa. Nocturnal hunters are likely to place a heavy emphasis on the moon where nomads living of the land might worship an anthropomorphic mother earth. A creation myth lays the foundation from which you can both build a society and a story. It is the nature of any sentient being to question its origin and the answer it comes up with shapes its fundamental identity. In fact while you may consider a creation myth to be more in line with fantasy novels it can be put to fantastic use in science fiction by making the origins of man otherworldly or exploring what life really is as an Artificial Intelligence System searches for the meaning of life. In any event a compelling mythology about where your characters is a great hook for readers and an excellent starting point for authors looking to maintain consistency in their world.
The next thing that you should consider when you establish a mythology is a transcendent savior figure. This character can take many forms and can be from the past or a messiah yet to come. In fact many times this character as appeared once and is prophesied to come again/be reborn in a time of great trouble or during the last days. Whether teacher, warrior, holy man or all of the above this figure will hold a place of esteem in your society. It is true that making this figure the protagonist of your story is a bit cliche. It originates in the many medieval texts that made their central figure a metaphor for Jesus Christ most notably in Arthurian lore. Those texts in turn have had a heavy influence on western fantasy writers. However Jesus is not the only messianic figure to be imitated. Buddha, Gilgamesh, Hercules, and any number of other figure have held central places in a cultures mythology by either transcending what it means to be human or by heading to the underworld (dying) and coming back (resurrection).
Finally just as it was important to identify how everything began it is equally important to establish how it is all going to end. An end of days prophecy can provide you with a sense of stakes as well as a narrative blueprint for your characters to follow. Again it may seem a bit cliche but the ingenuity can be found in the execution. Even if your novel doesn’t take place during these foretold last days of tribulation knowing whether your characters believe the world will end in fire or ice gives you and your readers an insight into the primal nature of your invented cultures fears as well as establishing if yours is a world of good versus evil or one of chaotic cataclysm.
There are a myriad of other ways to incorporate mythology into a work. It could be the tale of how man came to have fire or perhaps the explanation for the plague that wiped out everything that came before. A well crafted mythology’s benefits are two-fold. First it allows you to set your world apart by answering the big questions in a colorful manner that frames your narrative. And second it allows your readers to gain insights into the lens through which your characters view the world around them. Stories within stories. Who could resist?
This has been World Building 101: Mythology Edition.