Writing mythic spec fic: 6 tips
You’re setting off on an epic quest. You plan to slash through jungles, slay monsters, summon storms, and conquer civilisations. But how do you get your readers to follow you? With a powerful story to capture and sustain their interest, they’ll happily share your journey. To help you pack, here are my favourite tips.
- Sharpen your archetypes
Fantasy and folk tales buzz with magical archetypes that reflect common values (like angels) and taboos (like devils). Most readers instantly recognise a little girl in a red cloak wandering through a forest as vulnerable.
Universal symbols like towers, swords, and magic beans can trigger emotions and tie a story’s themes together. They can also serve as prompts for your plot, setting, and characters.
- Careful where you aim that thing
Weaving archetypal themes and motifs into my writing adds oomph, right?
Well, yes, but don’t get heavy-handed. Loaded weapons are risky, and most potent when waved around vaguely as a threat, not fired gung-ho. So apply your archetypes sparingly. Add your own unique spin. And don’t mix your metaphors (I admit, this one’s tricky).
- Morph your monsters
Warning! In the treasure-house of symbolism lurks the monster cliché. Hackneyed themes and overused archetypes must be challenged. Keep your creatures quirky.
Sometimes all it takes to invert a well-known trope is a little twist, a refreshing slice of lemon in your story spritzer, like the trickster lioness in my Leo zodiac story Safari Blonde. Other times, extensive changes to the trope are necessary. Either way, upending the story makes it far more interesting.
- Play God
Should I retell an old myth, or write a new one?
Rewriting might be simpler but call for more research. World-building from scratch might be more fun, but ground it in reality. I’m finding the eco-religion in my novel-in-progress doesn’t work without referencing real religions. I guess even God needs source material!
Mythology opens windows to the past. Writing alternate history allows huge creative license as long as you stay in factual boundaries. Skating these windowsills requires balance, but it sparks infinite possibilities.
- Pull up your pantheons
I think of gods and goddesses as personified archetypes, each with a character and backstory. The sheer diversity of world deities and pantheons means options galore. My newest story involves the Celtic goddess Brigantia, who later became Saint Brigid.
One way to liven things up is to set a traditional myth or deity in a contemporary world, à la popular superhero movie. In my story The Halo Effect, the Greek god Morpheus and the Morpheus character from The Matrix help a drug dealer change his ways.
- Plant the magic beans
Spec fic writers are uniquely placed to tackle big questions through myth and allegory, point out social inequalities, explore the past or future, and find magic in the mundane.
Embed an archetype in your plot, character, or setting, and watch your story grow into something fresh. When mythology, history, romance, adventure, and spirituality sprout a lush tale, that’s my idea of fiction heaven. What more could a reader ask for?
Nicole Sellers received a gold star from her primary school principal for a one-page sci-fi story about an underwater city. She went on to study creative writing at UOW, majoring in poetry. While raising children she earned a living as a tarot reader, massage therapist, herbalist, and yoga instructor, and continued to write. Nicole’s poems and articles have appeared in Plumwood Mountain, Spiral Nature, International Light, the anthology Grieve 6, and elsewhere. Her novella was recently shortlisted for publication in Aussie Speculative Fiction’s Drowned Earth series. Patchwork Raven will release her zodiac-themed story as an illuminated manuscript in August, and she is a contributor to the forthcoming Story Hunters speculative fiction anthology. Nicole facilitates the HWC Belmont creative writing group. To find out more about her work, visit https://www.nicolerainsellers.com/