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Putting Myths and Monsters in a Fantasy World

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Roughdragon, Mar 23, 2016.

  1. Roughdragon

    Roughdragon Minstrel

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    I'm working on a story where my characters travel and fight legendary monsters and myths. How do I introduce these monsters without taking away the mystery surrounding them?
     
  2. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

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    Most earthly legendary/mythical monsters are one-offs - unique or close to it.

    I would suggest developing an appropriate myth cycle for your world and create your own legendary monsters.
     
  3. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    Could you be more specific? What do you mean by "introduce?"

    Do you mean, before the monsters are seen or take an active part in the story, they are mentioned? "Jord's party set out to track down the Narflebuttler?" Well, what's a Narflebuttler? Mysterious.

    Or do you mean, the monsters are not mentioned ahead of time but just appear by leaping onto the scene in an ambush of the party of heroes? Then, you'd probably want shadows and glimpses, indistinct shapes, odd features that make no sense - or, are mysterious.

    If it's the first one, you can pull the old trick of describing the monsters' effects long before the party meets up with them. One village is reduced to shredded inhabitants, and the only other sign of what happened is mysterious blue flame that continues to burn in the ground in patches around the village days after the attack. In another village, dead children are found with perfectly round holes punched through their chests, through to their backs; and, tiny glowing worms infest those holes. And so forth.

    Edit: With that last method, I mean when no name is mentioned and the party doesn't know what has attacked.

    IF however there is already some mythology, you can make the mythology indistinct or have conflicting testimonies, conflicting myths. The Gnomes say Narflebuttler's are giant cats, bigger than a man's horse, that can travel faster than the wind. But the wizard Hordrus believed that was an exaggeration, and they looked more like bears but could turn invisible....
     
    Last edited: Mar 24, 2016
  4. Incanus

    Incanus Auror

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    Though it is not clear, I think the OP might be suggesting that they are using existing myths and monsters from our own world. In that case, when names like 'harpy' or 'hydra' appear, the reader would already have some knowledge about them, thus blunting the mystery. Is that what it is?

    If that's what is trying to be achieved, then the only way I can think of off hand would be to just describe the monsters and their traits, and then identify them after the encounter. ("By the gods, were those harpies we just fought with?") Maybe? I don't know. A little more info/context might help.
     
    Ben likes this.
  5. Ben

    Ben Troubadour

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    I second Incanus' suggestion. Initially describe the creatures, focusing on their monstrous aspects. During the fight, a knowledgeable party member screams, "Manticores! Look out for their poisonous barbs!" Or, they meet a sage after the fight - "You were lucky - few face an angry gryphon and live to tell the tale."
    Those readers that are versed in mythology will recognize the monster from your description - that's actually a good thing in my opinion - I think there were moments like that in the Harry Potter series and as I was reading them, it was satisfying to identify the creatures before they were named.
     
  6. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    Writing Monsters by Philip Athens and the H.P Lovecraft historical society is an amazing resource on how to create, use, introduce, and describe monsters in your story.
     
  7. Roughdragon

    Roughdragon Minstrel

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    Sorry I took forever to reply: What I meant by myths and monsters is that how can I introduce beings from my fictional world? Do I do it by side conversation? Do I have the character read a book?
     
  8. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

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    Quite a few ways.

    1 - Storyteller. Could be a guy at the tavern, could be a priest on a pulpit. Have him give the short dramatic version complete with expansive arm gestures and different tones of voice.

    2 - Character at a location central to the myth or monster; tries to envision what it would have been like to see the monster climb that hill, or what the city looked like before being destroyed.

    3 - Chapter heading. Break the myth, or portions thereof, down to a few sentences and incorporate it as chapter headings, unrelated or tangential to the rest of the text.

    4 - The silent route. Everybody knows the myth, nobody recounts it in detail, but they do make the odd reference now and again. An example of this I ran into lately was 'Carters Cross.' Characters use this as a sort of oath all the time, but its never really elaborated on. You just know that Carter was very important in a mythical/religious sense. (Actually, as somebody who read the works that story drew inspiration from, I do have a fair idea who Carter was, but not why he was deemed so important to those people.)
     
  9. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    Ah, I see.

    Maybe how you do it depends on what kind of role those mythical creatures will play in your story and your world building. Are they never encountered (before the story begins), that is, the subject of myth for the inhabitants of your world but not something anyone alive has actually seen? Or are they a very present reality, encountered occasionally, or perhaps a part of current religious practices and magical endeavors?
     
    Last edited: Mar 25, 2016
  10. Roughdragon

    Roughdragon Minstrel

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    The monsters that the story will focus on will be equivalent to how we see the Kraken, Cthulhu, or the Wendigo. They'll be myths told to children to scare them into behaving, but in reality, they're real.
     
  11. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    You've just named one way to introduce them! Stories told to children to scare them.

    You can use something similar as well. Say, a main character manipulates or threatens a merchant into selling at a very cheap price, and then as the character is leaving the shop, the merchant yells back something like, "May the Kraken get you, you vile man!" And the MC, walking out, thinks dismissively, "Yeah, sure. And the Wendigo and giant talking trees with flaming horns, too...."
     
  12. Roughdragon

    Roughdragon Minstrel

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    Oh, thanks! I didn't notice that
     
  13. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Roughdragon, how do your characters first meet up with the creature? I'm assuming at some point they actually encounter the thing.
     
  14. Roughdragon

    Roughdragon Minstrel

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    In the story, my characters travel to different places in their world, exploring forgotten places. Their main goal is to find four crystals, which fit into a crown. Along the way they'll see dangerous creatures, but even though those creatures are unknown to them, they're minor compared to the beings who actually guard the crystals. The companions will encounter the monsters who guard the crystals, and they're the real threat.
     
  15. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    OK, so along the way they might spot a Cadaverous Cow. The characters go, did you see what I saw? That can't be. A Cadaverous Cow is just a legend, right?

    Maybe they shrug it off. Saw it at a distance. Were drunk at the time. Whatever.

    But further on they encounter other creatures from legend. They react to each as they see it, but soon enough, maybe around the campfire, they start wondering about other, scarier creatures. Like Grim Griffons or Eponymous Egrets, or even Alliterative Alligators. Or even Rough Dragons! This lets you establish some anticipation of More To Come.

    In short, while you can choose to explain Things beforehand, it's also possible to present them as the characters encounter them.
     
  16. Roughdragon

    Roughdragon Minstrel

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    Oh, that makes sense, thanks!
     
  17. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

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    Carl couldn't keep his eyes off the dead shoggoth. Shoggoth's were supposed to be myths. But this shoggoth was had been all too real. He tried to remember the old myths, tales scribed by long dead madmen in disreputable tomes. Wait. Weren't Shoggoths servitors of- "Guys, we could be in serious trouble here."
     
    skip.knox likes this.
  18. Terry Greer

    Terry Greer Sage

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    The best way I've found is to have well known myths and legends for these creatures sometimes with descriptions of them, and have some of them contradictory to a lesser or greater extent.
    When these things are actually encountered they should be different again - not as imagined.
    The more the monsters differ from what they were thought to be (more terrible, friendlier, nastier, more cunning, more dazzling, smaller, larger more beautiful, etc.) the more strange they will then appear. Find a twist that confounds a core belief. Maybee dragons don't breathe fire, but do something else instead that could be interpreted as that. It makes the character more an explorer - someone doing (and meeting) something remarkable, rather than just encountering a bog-standard <insert monster name here>.
     
  19. Leo deSouza

    Leo deSouza Acolyte

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    Describe them as legends, give imprecise info about them, make different characters tell different versions about when they saw the creatures, keep the mystery, never revealing what it really is.
     
  20. NerdyCavegirl

    NerdyCavegirl Sage

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    Huh maybe I should tell my little brother about Cthulu next time he grabs my tit. That oughta teach him. I like when monsters just come out of nowhere, similar to when a kraken-like monster randomly snakes a tentacle up the shore and rips an important character's head off.
     
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