God made man because he liked to hear a story – so say the Africans, and the richness of worldwide mythology proves God chose wisely.
My favourite Mythological writer runs the Westcountry School of Myth in Dartmoor. Martin Shaw wrote The Lindworm, Fox Woman and The Night Wages. He asks, what if the stories owned us rather than the other way round? As storyteller and author, Shaw believes we may be born in one place, but feel more at home somewhere else, a desert, a forest. A place may decide to own us.
What are Myths?
British poet and scholar Kathleen Raine says, Fact is not the truth of myth; myth is the truth of fact. Myth embodies the nearest approach to absolute truth that can be stated in words. Myths are the clues to the spiritual potentialities of human life.
• Myths are stories based on tradition. Some may have factual origins; others are fictional. But they’re more than mere stories and they serve a profound purpose in ancient and modern cultures. Myths are sacred tales that explain the world and man’s experience. Myths are as relevant to us today as they were to the ancients. They answer timeless questions and serve as a compass to each generation.
• Myths give us hope that there are great leaders who will improve our lives. The hero’s quest is a model for the young to follow.
• Myths reflect universal concerns like birth, death and the afterlife and tap into a universal cultural narrative.
• Unlike fairy tales, myths are not always optimistic. They are warnings or promises, laments or celebrations. Many act as guides to social norms.
• In literature, a myth is a traditional story that expresses a culture’s worldview and its own story. In all cultures these ancient stories were passed down through oral storytelling. Despite cultural differences, myths share some common features. The settings are ancient, often otherworldly, places in which characters have superhuman/inhuman features.
Writing your own myth
You can write your own myths or rewrite ancient ones. Start by reading myths from a range of cultures: Classic Greek myths, Chinese myths, Aboriginal dreamtime stories, Russian myths and fairy tales, Celtic mysteries, Egyptian myths. Observe the elements involved. Note the different ways they address elements of the natural world or beliefs about human behaviour. Almost all revolve around a triad: exile, encounter with the Underworld, return. Decided which culture and aspect of the natural world your myth will address. Research these so you weave facts into the myth.
How to Create a Plot and Characters
• Decide what conflict (natural world/human behaviour) the plot will resolve.
• Use characters with superhuman/nonhuman characteristics to create a supernatural explanation/solution for the conflict.
• Create believable characters: their powers, personality, and relationships.
Write the Myth
• Plan the entire plot.
• Create the opening scene and plan the ancient and supernatural elements you will introduce as the plot, conflict and solution unfold.
• Include scenes that feature characters’ supernatural elements.
• Close with a reference to the element of the natural world or human behaviour it resolves.
Stories can be inspired by almost anything, and many of the same principles apply no matter what genre you write. Why not try reworking an ancient myth next time you put pen to paper?