Saturday, June 25, 2011

Romancing the Beast: Beyond vampires and werewolves. Part 1.

Today I'm exploring a few myths and legends about magical beasts from around the world. I'll be posting some samples throughout the day, so feel free to stop by and leave a comment or question. While you're here, have a look at some of the other great posts and pop over to the bookstore for some great deals.

From a young age I've loved reading, and fantasy has always been my favourite genre. I think part of the draw is the limitless ability to create worlds with extraordinary creatures, myths and legends. I marvelled at the sheer creativity and world building skills of some of those early fantasy novelists. Many high fantasy (or epic fantasy) novels were peopled with dwarves, elves, dragons, unicorns and evil demon kings. (I'm talking to you Sauron. Scariest villain I've ever read about or seen on the big screen. Thank you Tolkien.)

As with nature, everything changes and evolves over time. A new trend was born with the rise of paranormal romance and urban fantasy. The monsters became the heroes. (Okay--there were earlier novels and fairytales where the beasts weren't all bad. For example, in Beauty and the Beast, the beast was changed by love.) I've always favoured characters with a hint of darkness within them. There is just something about a hero with a dark, brooding quality, the element of forbidden or impossible love. Personally, I think having a main character that is morally grey makes things more interesting.

But just how did those authors convince the readers to love the heroes with an edge of darkness to their souls? Simple. Authors turned mythology on its head. Suddenly vampires, which were once demon-possessed dead bodies, became seductive lovers. And the ravaging, man-eating werewolf was transformed into a nobler beast, one struggling to fit into society, but loyal to his pack, friends, and loved ones. Soon other shifters, sidhe, fairies, ghosts, dragons, fallen angels and demons were becoming the heroes and romantic interest. These dark heroes with their hint of the forbidden sucked me into a story time and again.

Today I'm discussing how an author can take a creature from mythology and make it their own. In a later post, I'll give basic descriptions about a few magical creatures and then outline a sample of how I used them in my work.

Start with a legend or mythology you find intriguing, then research it as much as possible, fleshing out your new character as you go. Give your characters a history, backstory and culture. They need flaws, problems to overcome. There is no such thing as a perfect race--don't make your fantasy races perfect either. Give them a conflicted past. Maybe two of the races of your world have fought over land or resources. There could be religious differences or a fear of magic. Maybe a society has strict social rules and rebellion breaks out. Or there could be an ancient blood feud. The list is long. Explore it.

Next your race or species needs a habitat. Where do they live? Are they predator or prey? Here's a great time to take notes from nature. Is your fantasy race similar or based on a living creature? Werewolves are based on wolves and I've read some paranormal tales where the werewolf thinks and acts in a way similar to how a real wolf would. The more the author understands the natural animal, the more 'real' the werewolf's 'wolf' side feels.

There truly is an endless amount of research and development an author can do before even starting to write a book. In my own writing I've created both 'new' races and 'traditional' ones I've borrowed from mythology.

I delight in the interactions of the non-human characters. There's just so much room for conflict and misunderstanding when you put two entirely different species together, which in turn drives the plot and develops characters.

As a writer, when I first start outlining a new project, I strive for unique species, ones which haven't been given too much spotlight. In my first novel, I gravitated towards a phoenix as my romantic hero. Let us have a look at phoenix mythology.


Heather Haven said...

I had never thought about there being more room for conflict between 2 different species, other than my cats and me. That is really thought provoking. Also isn't it interesting how when the male of the species is 'dark and brooding' it's challenging, but when the female is 'dark and brooding' she's being a bitch. Or is that not true in the non-human world? Also, your take on the Phoenix is fascinating. What a mind you have, Lisa!

Lisa Blackwood said...

LOL. Hi Heather. I hadn't thought of that. But yes, 'dark and brooding' could be taken for nastiness. And a lot of 'alpha' male characters can come across as jerks if the author isn't careful. ::grins:: I hope if I ever write an alpha male character, he is brooding, thoughtful, conflicted...but not a jerk.

Cellophane Queen said...

I love using the lesser known legendary beasts or giving them my own twist.

I ran a series on my blog of "Myths and Legends" a few months (years?) ago. I'll have to dredge them up for re-runs.

Interesting note: The MOST clicked post on my blog is titled "A Bottle of Djinn," which happens to be a chapter title in one of my middle-eastern fantasies. It regularly gets 50-60 clicks per week even though the article is old.

I'll match you a simurgh for your phoenix!

Lisa Blackwood said...

I did run across info on the simurgh (couldn't say the word to save my life)during my research. I assumed it was something similar to a Roc. Mythology has a lot of really big birds. There is the Thunderbird from native american mythology as well.

Lisa Blackwood said...

Mythology is just so fun. I could spend hours researching.