How to create fantastic worlds that everyone can relate to.
Today I’m writing about Worlds, I’m writing about Mythos. The Godfather, Lord of the Rings, Shogun, the Caller in the Dark, Titus Groan, Dune, Gaunt’s ghosts. They all have something in common, they all have deeply immersive worlds like nothing else you’ve ever experienced before. They are all familiar enough that you don’t feel too lost. As a reader you need to quickly discover what the world might be like, and how it works, you need the hook to be able to say, oh this is this kind of world. But from there the worlds are unique. Take Shogun, you might know Japan, you might know about medieval English sailors, but this is John Blackthorne’s journey, his voyage to a world every bit as alien as Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos. What is it about these stories that make them lodge so firmly in your brain, and fire up your imagination? 2000AD and Warhammer 40,000 are very successful at grabbing your attention and saying look big cops in a future city, or look Space elves. We know what a cop looks like and we have an idea of how they act, we have a strong ideas about what an elf is, so elves in space is a leap that we can easily make.
There’s a modern trend to call this Mashup, but I think it’s simpler than that, we all explain things by comparing, I might tell you that Mr Jones is like Henry VIIIth in gardening gloves, and you’ll get it, I could say that the house was a complete mess, like someone had dropped a grenade in it, and you’ll sort of get that too. We’ve all seen houses, and we have an idea of what a grenade exploding would do, and we get it. Its the same with stories and worlds, you might have the most fantastic, imaginative magical kingdom completely unique and totally detailed, but if I can’t relate to it, if I can’t find the hook, the way in then I won’t get it.
Writer’s (and musicians) hate pigeon holes, we can’t stand them, but it’s a way of comparing to let people know if they’d like it. If I told you I’d read a great book by a young author who was a time travelling Rosemary Sutcliffe, you’d be interested in reading it if you liked Rosemary Sutcliffe.
We like to think that we love Lord of the Rings because its so original, and so immersive. That is true, but the Shire is recognizable as Victorian bucolic England. And I think we get that. So when you are writing a new mythology, make it as immersive as you can, but make it something that we can easily relate to. Make it something we will get an ‘Ah Ha’ moment about.
Don’t use cliche, use real life, or real associations that most everyone will get.