How to Write Your Mythology

Woman reading a few books on the floor

Pick any major franchise you can think of, and I’ll show you the original myths and fairytales that inspired them.

Are you a fan of Dragon Ball? Then look at Journey to the West, with a little kung fu thrown in. Enjoy reading about the adventures of Batman? The Caped Crusader owes his roots to the likes of Zorro and Sherlock Holmes. Are you keeping up on the latest Star Wars movies? George Lucas got his ideas from Flash Gordon serials and Akira Kurosawa movies, along with pieces of Taoist literature. All these colorful and creative storylines borrow, if not outright copy, from even older tales and legends. Like the Good Book says, “There is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9).

So whenever I hear people complain that there’s nothing “original” anymore, or whenever I hear a fellow writer worry that they’re not “creative” enough, I can’t help but laugh. By those standards, none of us are or ever will be.

But where does that say that we can’t tell good stories? It just means that we have to reinvent our mythologies.

I don’t mean “mythology” like creation myths or Greco-Roman tales of heroism. Well, I do, but not in the way you might be thinking. See, a myth is a story that a culture uses to explain something. Some of these are stories that ancient cultures used to explain scientific phenomenon (e.g., the myth of Demeter and Persephone to explain the changing seasons). Other myths, however, are tales woven around real-life people and made to fit what we already think about them (e.g., George Washington and the myth of the cherry tree). Every story we tell is a way to explain something that happened long ago, something that’s happening now, or something that could happen in the future. It doesn’t even have to be true or accurate, so long as it all makes sense to the audience.

We’ll break down how to create mythology in 3 easy steps.

A Trip Back to When We Were Young

Ask yourself this: “What were my favorite stories as a kid?”

We can’t escape the stories we grew up with, for better or for worse. I grew up with Batman comics and cartoons, Power Rangers, Star Wars, Sherlock Holmes, and Calvin and Hobbes. Try as I might, those stories will always have an impact on the kind of tales I’ll be telling today. I’ll have a perspective that favors brave and/or clever heroes going toe-to-toe with villains who have twisted minds, usually not of a cosmic nature.

By the same token, our real-life experiences shape the stories we tell. This is true of both people who’ve had reasonably happy childhoods and people who’ve faced loss or despair at an early age. What happened in the past finds its way into the stories we tell now. Arthur Conan Doyle had fond memories of a professor by the name of Dr. Joseph Bell, and some of those memories found their way into his writing in the form of the world’s most famous detective. Virginia Woolf suffered from a series of nervous breakdowns, beginning at age 13 when her mother died, and her experiences influenced her lyrical and experimental prose as an author.

Writing Stories for the Modern Age

Ask yourself this: “What’s the most important issue we’re facing today?”

Maybe your biggest worry is the impact of climate change. Maybe you’re afraid of terrorism or a spike in crime. Maybe you’re LGBT and you’re concerned about the backlash against your community in conservative parts of the world. Whatever holds a high place in your mind, write about it. Chances are, whatever concerns you the most today is something that you can write authentically about. It’ll shine through in your fiction, and your audience will appreciate that.

Keeping One Eye on What’s Ahead

Ask yourself this: “What would I want my kids to learn?”

None of us knows what the future will bring, and many of us won’t live to see certain dramatic shifts in our world. But each writer has a secret gift to fling a light into the waiting darkness. Some, like science fiction writers, will try to imagine how life might change in the years to come. Others will try to speak directly to future generations, as Dr. Seuss once did when he wrote a beloved story called The Lorax.

This, of course, ties back into how we create our recurring myths from our past and our present. We remember what we’ve lived through and we try to impart the lessons of those times to people we’ll never meet.

Now, it’s your turn, readers. What were your favorite stories, fairy tales, or legends when you were growing up? Share your memories in the comments below.

Flash Fiction: “Those Woods Up North”

Another story, fresh off the presses. Hope you like regional accents! Also, just in case, apologies to anyone from the East Coast if this sounds mangled to you.

Those Woods Up North,

by Alexander Paul Willging

Word Count: 681

Nothing about today made any sense. I was sure of that much. I mean, c’mon, things was weird enough last week. Nutty little Frank still swears he saw a unicorn in the woods. Yeah, right, buddy. But this?

This was just… I don’t even know, man.

Alright, so get this. I’m out with my crew from Lauterpacht Lumber, yeah? We go to go and find these here trees for cuttin’ all the way in upstate New York. Like, all the way past Albany, y’know? So I says, “Sure thing, boss. Grab a few maples, no problem.”

But wouldn’t ya know it, there’s a problem. Hoo boy, there’s a problem with those woods up north…

Now, it’s eight in the morning. Me an’ the boys, we drive up and scope the forest out. We break out the saws n’ the trucks n’ everything. I mean, we start going to town, alright? I figure we’d be done by noon and call it a day. Easiest check we ever made in six months.

And then, he shows up.

This, uh, big brown bear? He comes sprinting up to the truck, yeah? And, like, this fella’s huge. Like a big, mean ol’ grizzly.

I tell my guy, y’know, stay back, I got this, blah blah blah. I get this big stick outta the truck, the kind we use to shoo off deer and whatnot. And right as this bear’s about to charge me, I give ’em a real good whack. Right between the eyes!

Ok, now, here’s the real weird fuggen part.

The bear goes, “Ow!”

No, I mean it. He straight up says, “Ow!” an’ he starts falling to his knees an’ moaning. And I’m like, “What the hell?” And I’m thinkin’ to myself, “Hey, uh, when did bears fall to their knees like that? Pretty sure they never did that before.”

And then it hits me. This ain’t no bear. It’s some clown in a bear costume.

And this guy, this friggen guy, he starts wailing n’ saying “I’m gonna sue! I’m gonna sue you!” Now I hear his voice and I swear, like, I know this guy. I know his voice, but from where?

So I go n’ help him to his feet. I brush off the leaves from his costume, try to be friendly with this nutjob. Hey, no hard feelings, am I right? Honest mistake, sure. But this kid, he ain’t havin’ it. He’s still whining. He’s, like, puffing out his chest and going, “Why you gotta do that? I was just making a point here!”

And then it hits me. Right between the eyes.

“Dave?” I say to him. “Holy… Dave, is that you?

Sure enough, it’s Dave Cotton outta Trenton. He’s one of these leftie Save-the-Earth types. I don’t know, poor kid thinks he can talk to trees or something. Musta drank one too many fruit juices or something like that.

“Oh, you’ve done it now!” he shouts at me. Like, he’s trying to be this big deal, but I mean, c’mon. He’s still wearing this bear costume. I’m almost laughing my ass off, and I can hear the boys behind me doin’ just that.

“Yeah, yeah!” says Dave. “You’re all gonna be sorry! ’Cause you gone and messed with Mother Nature!”

“Yeah?” I look around, and I’m like this close to cracking up. “She gonna spank us good or…?”

And I tell ya, I don’t believe what I see next. Like, I’m five beers in now, and I can still hear ’em.

They, uh, came up behind Dave. Like, one atta time. Couple of birds, couple of squirrels n’ whatnot. Bunch of little critters rushing into the woods like something outta Disney. But then they just keep comin’. Like, the next thing we know, there’s bears and wolves. I mean, real bears and real wolves. Ain’t no more costumes anymore. There’s here the real thing. And brother, you’d believe they’re all real mad.

So we take off. We run. We don’t get paid that day. And I gotta say, ya couldn’t pay me to go back there.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Character Studies: How Did Writing Star Wars Fanfic Get Me Here?

Me in the summer of 2008
Me, circa 2008. Because I can’t find any photos of me from around high school and this is as close as I can get. 🙂

Confession is good for the soul, or so I hear. It’s amazing what a little introspection can do, especially when you’re wracking your brains for new story ideas, waging that never-ending war against writer’s block. Of course, I’ve spent almost half my life now writing, and it’s good every now and then to stop and look back at the progress I’ve made. I think it’s a habit that every writer should get into, just to appreciate how they’re improving.

So let’s talk about Beren Teleriand, my Jedi Knight OC from my high school-era Star Wars fanfiction.

Who really was Beren? Well, he was an amalgamation of everything I liked at the time: Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings. He was named after Beren from The Silmarillion and his love interest was a blatant ripoff of Arwen, Aragorn’s love interest. Even his last name is just Beleriand with a “T” because the name sounded “cooler.”

He hailed from Naboo, because that was a planet with culture, you see. But Beren wasn’t just a man of culture, who read history and philosophy books in his spare time. He was man of action! He was at the forefront of every battle! He was the first to volunteer for every secret mission that would turn the tide of the war. He was so awesome that the canon Star Wars heroes and all the other Jedi Knights couldn’t help but talk about his accomplishments.

Beren was a man whose every struggle came out of nowhere and then resolved itself just as quickly. He’d always come up with some B.S. superpower, some newfound deeper connection to the Force, and he’d win the day.

Beren Teleriand is the sort of deep-minded action hero that a philosophy geek like Teenage Alex would create. But, of course, all he wanted to do was stay at home and enjoy a quiet life with his wife Arwen, who ended the entire fanfic series with a pregnancy after he defeated his final villain, another B.S. warlord who was somehow responsible for sponsoring every other villain he’d ever fought. Of course, I will say that the villain didn’t set out to ruin Beren’s life. He’d just sponsored these warlords and Beren kept getting in his way, so the villain went after Beren directly in the finale. So, in that sense, my writing wasn’t totally horrible then.

I never gave Beren a chance to be anything but wish fulfillment. But that’s okay. Beren was supposed to be whatever cool thing I wanted him to be. A self-insert into a Gladiator-style plot? Done! A chance to recreate the fight between Holmes and Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls? No problem! Reenacting every single battle from the Lords of the Rings movies with Star Wars? I mean, that’s why I got into fanfic in the first place. I wanted to tell stories as awesome as that. I wanted an outlet for all the nonsense that I put up with in my teens, all my stress and insecurities. And I got that with Beren.

Years later, I did something similar with my recurring protagonist Edward in college, and that ever-changing Alpha Trilogy. It wasn’t until I wrote Trace Wilson (from my anthology Digital Eyes, Family Ties) that I wrote someone who wasn’t me in fiction. It wasn’t until I got into heroes like Trace and Holly (from “The Joy of Deduction” and other short stories) that I got better at storytelling. I stopped trying to escape into a fantasy world and tried to find a good story from someone else’s world instead. I stopped looking for wish fulfillment victories and started writing heroes who could only win when they made a serious sacrifice by the tale’s end—something that High School-era Me wouldn’t have considered.

So here’s to you, Beren Teleriand. You were my first creation, and you’ll always be a reminder of how far I’ve come and how far I’ve yet to go.

So, readers, do you have your own embarrassing, fan-inspired skeletons in the closet? Do you still revisit them from time to time for your own writing? Share your experiences in the comments below!

El Ministerio del Tiempo: Spanish, Sci-Fi, and Source Material

Copyright © 2015 by Radiotelevisión Española
Copyright © 2015 by Radiotelevisión Española

Full disclosure: the Streisand effect is in full force here. The only reason I know about a Spanish-language show called El Ministerio del Tiempo is because of a lawsuit. Specifically, a lawsuit by Onza Partners against NBC over copyright infringement, as the latter’s show Timeless might—just might—be ripping off a Spanish TV program. Especially when there were supposed to be talks with Sony to develop said show in an English-language format, but NBC put their own show into production anyway. And right around the time that those talks ended…

Confused? Don’t worry. All that means is that, instead of watching Timeless on NBC, this news made me want to give Televisión Española a try. I am, after all, of Mexican descent, and I could use a chance to brush up on my Spanish.

Known in English as “The Ministry of Time,” this series focuses on a secret task force within the government of Spain, whose mission is to monitor the flow of history. Whenever someone tries to use time travel to change the past for their own ends, these heroes jump in to stop them. Our heroes include Julián Martínez, a modern-day paramedic; Amelia Folch, a university student from late 19th-century Barcelona; and Alonso de Entrerríos, a 16th-century soldier from the Army of Flanders.

What’s interesting is how time and the passage of history relates to each of the main three characters. Alonso is a patriotic soldier who has to go down in history as an executed traitor in order to join the Ministry. Amelia is a brilliant mind who wasn’t appreciated in her own time, or by her own family, because of her gender. And Julián is a brave soul who wouldn’t mind going back in time to stop his wife from dying in a car accident, since losing her put him on a dark and dangerous road as an emergency nurse.

In terms of cinematography, the crew at Televisión Española know what they’re doing about as well as anyone at NBC or even the BBC. The production value is stellar, with more emphasis on historical attire and simple stunts than flashy CGI. There’s more emphasis on costumes, archaic styles of speech, and contrasts between modern and classic perspectives to create all the tension for a dramatic series about time travel.

I will say that, sometimes, the show did have one or two predictable elements. Some characters turned evil (or good) for odd reasons, but for the most part, everything was pretty consistent with our main characters. I also admit that I needed subtitles on because the dialogue moves fast and freely. Yes, the subtitles were in Spanish también, but I’m a reader by nature, so I wasn’t taken out of the story when I watched and read.

Honestly, this premise is exactly what I always wanted Doctor Who to be. For all the time that the Doctor spends around the 20th and 21st centuries on Earth, he could have been doing so much more with people from different eras. I always wanted him to expand on the promise of having out-of-their-time companions like he did in “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship.” In El Ministerio del Tiempo, I get exactly that. It humanizes people from different eras. And it gives a chance to show science fiction at its best.

El Ministerio del Tiempo is available through RTVE.

Bibliography: El ministerio del tiempo. Created by Pablo and Javier Olivares. Directed by Marc Vigil, Jorge Dorado, and Abigail Schaaff. Written by José Ramón Fernández, Paco López Barrio, Javier Olivares, Pablo Olivares, and Anaïs Schaaff. Perf. Aura Garrido, Rodolfo Sancho, Nacho Fresneda, Cayetana Guillén Cuervo, Jaime Blanch, Juan Gea, and Natalia Millán. Onza Partners; Cliffhanger; Televisión Española. La 1 (network). Original broadcast: February 24, 2015 – present.

Bastion: The Kid is All Right and Flying High

Copyright © 2011 by Supergiant Games
Copyright © 2011 by Supergiant Games

Supergiant Games is a studio that keeps giving me new things to be excited about. I really enjoyed Transistor, and I’m looking forward to the upcoming title Pyre. In that spirit, I decided to give their first game, Bastion, a try and see how it compares.

In short? Pretty good, though I’m glad they’re trying different approaches now

The game begins with your character, a stern young fighter known only as “The Kid,” waking up and dealing with the aftermath of a terrible event known as the Calamity. While exploring the ruins of the city Caelondia, he comes across the Stranger, who provides the entire game’s narration. The Kid encounters new weapons, from hammers to arrows to war machetes, and new enemies, who spawn relentlessly. All this he faces in pursuit of his goal: to retrieve the missing cores of a world-managing hub called the Bastion, where they might be able to restore everything and sort out the ruins.

The Kid is your classic silent video game protagonist, but he has more of a backstory than most. As the adventure progresses, we get more glimpses through the Narrator of what the Kid’s life was like before the Calamity. We get an idea of his childhood, his career prospects, and even his love life. All of which gives him a strong motivation to figure out what went wrong and battle the monsters that the apocalypse keeps spawning.

For all my love of artistry and storytelling in video games, I have another side that Bastion appeals to: namely, my love for smashing things (in a game) with a stick. And there is plenty to smash, from pots containing jewels and arcane artifacts to the endless hordes of monsters and turrets that spawn with every new path you walk. At least the game devs were kind enough to give the player the mechanic of the titular Bastion, where you can come back to upgrade weapons, talk to NPCs, and just take a moment to catch your breath from the hellish battles everywhere else.

One thing that I find lacking in Bastion, however, is the emotional impact. I get a few glimpses of what the Kid once had before the Calamity, but it never quite hit me in the same way that Red and her boyfriend’s relationship did in Transistor. It’s true that both the Man in the Transistor and the Stranger share a voice actor (Logan Cunningham, who also played Horatio in Primordia). But that common voice doesn’t carry the same weight during the Kid’s adventures in Caelondia as it did for Red’s desperate battles across the city of Cloudbank. Of course, Transistor also had a much, much darker payoff than Bastion, so I could be biased on that count.

At the end of the day, while I think Bastion can be a lot of fun for many people, it’s not the fun that I’m looking for. I’ll admit I enjoy a little run-and-smash as much as the next gamer, but when that’s all I’m really doing, and when I literally can’t spend a second standing still, I find I’m less enjoying myself and more giving myself a constant panic attack. Supergiant Games is still creative and a great dev team, but I’m glad that they ended up producing a title like Transistor after this one.

Bastion is available for purchase through retailers like Steam, the PlayStation Store, and the Microsoft Store.

Bibliography: Bastion (video game). Developed by Supergiant Games. Designed by Amir Rao. Written by Greg Kasavin. Art by Jen Zee. Published by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment. Windows; Mac OS X; Linux; Xbox 360, Xbox One; iOS; PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita. Original release date: July 20, 2011.