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Author Topic: How would YOU do it? - Myths&Legends
J. N. Khoury
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The events my MC experiences are profoundly impacted by legends out of the MC's world's distant past. (Imagine, for example, the impact that the story of Isildur and the first War of the Ring had on the events of LOTR, and how Tolkien had to relate all that.)

My question is, how would y'all go about relating the legends to the reader through the story, without distracting from the main plotline too much? And without confusing the reader by breaking the legend up into doses every few chapters? I've seen it done in prologues, in poems recited by random bards, etc. Any new ideas or old ones you may have come across and liked?

Does this question even make sense?

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I understand your question well.

In Tolkien it is not only history and mythology, it is also theology. If you grasp this, you can reflect on how "real" history, mythology, and religion has influenced your own life, or humanity in general. How it is discussed and referenced? How do they shape our daily actions and decisions, even our interactions with each other? Often they provide guidance and direction.

In THE KABBALIST, I drew on Jewish history, sacred myths, theology, and mysticism as my characters moved through present day Boston. While for me these are "knowns", for most of the world population, they are unknowns as "fantastic" as the Tolkien mythology of the Valar, Maiar, Noldor, Sindar, and the Edain. What is integral to the story is what you should share: the history, mythology, and theology that directs your characters' behavior. It could be in quoted verse or poetry (as in the LOTR), the inclusion of names of wonder (people like Gilgalid and places like Gondolin) that may be obliquely referenced or explained to another character, or recollections of events that set up the current conflict despite the passage of the centuries, or the discovery of ancient relics or weapons or books that had to come from somewhere or were the property of someone.

Make it fun and make it interesting, but always make it relevent.

Just a suggstion.

Dr. Bob

[This message has been edited by History (edited January 10, 2011).]

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Just remember that for any backstory, it has to matter to the current characters NOW and whatever problems they're facing NOW. And "As you know, Bob" is always annoying.

Most likely you won't need to tell more than 1/10th of the backstory you've developed, which is also a fair point. Be prepared to say LESS than you think you need to. You really just need readers to get the feel for the legends, versus being able to recite the old ballads themselves line-by-line.

Think of it always through the character's lens. If the legend is in his mind when he's pondering whether to take the long way around the dark forest or plunge through just like Gilgamesh did, or whatever, then let him think that. But don't have a bard sing us the Gilgamesh song three chapters before and torture us with a whole "well, back when Gilgamesh was around he was faced with this tough decision. Do you know how he decided whether to go through the forest or around? I didn't think so. Let me tell you....zzzzzzz"

Good luck! Exposition and back story is always hard. My best advice is to find a book where it's done well and just study, study, study those passages. Take 'em apart to see how they tick if you need to (or retype them so you can feel the passages flow through your own fingers.)

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I think you have a good comments already but my answer is it depends. Some stories work well with flashbacks, others may have a character that needs a lesson in history even though you have to be careful with that one. Is your story First Person or ? I think it's easier to do info dumps of this type in First Person .

Going along with the history lesson would be any special days to celebrate some event.

Or something like "We passed a Gregorian elf, you can tell one by his ears. They are straighter and taller then the less rare wood elves plus they sing very well. The more numerous grass elves are smaller and tend to be greenish but the Gregorian frowned at us. His type usually act like the legend of the Great Song Critic who used a double sized set of bagpipes to chase them out of the Giant Cathedral where they used to gather in huge numbers because they liked the way their singing sounded under the mile high dome, was a true story. He would refuse to sing for us no matter how much Elf gold we could give to him."

I don't think I have any stories that use legends and such.

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Though I'm still new to the game. I've found that dialog between characters is one of the best ways to unfold history. Because you can get interaction between them. Even break up the lesson by things that are revolving around the edges.


Lorric looked at the others around the table, "It was in the dark ages that this sword first appeared."

"It doesn't look that old. Looks brand new?" Quentin questioned.

"The secrets of the metal have been lost to the sands of time."

Pam was hovering over the blade, but not touching it, "It has the shape of a Gaulish broad sword; yet it's engraving is exquisite. I've never seen a metal give off such a reddish hue."

"It was called Caledfwlch by the Walsh." Lorric leaned in beside her. "It's legend first appears in a poem called Preiddeu Annwfn around 1100 AD."

"Isn't that part of the Arthurian legends?" Asked Dexter from the back.

Lorric looked over and nodded yes. "Geoffrey of Monmouth latinised the name to Caliburnus. Then later from the 12th-century work Historia Regum Britanniae we get the name of the Arthurian sword as we know it today."

"Excalibur." It rolled off Pam's tongue as if speaking to a lover.

It's a 2cent example, but hope it helps.


[This message has been edited by walexander (edited January 11, 2011).]

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Robert Nowall
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Adding myths and legends, as well as history, to a story, adds some depth to it---you might not want to go as deep as Tolkien but you might want to put something there. Say, a place name that's just a name to the reader would be just a name...but if the reader learns it's named after some heroic explorers or founding fathers, it'll mean more when it comes up.

I don't know if I'd want to use real myths...most of my stuff takes place in the far future and I figure new stuff would have emerged. In my latest troubled production, I have one character talk briefly about a legend from her childhood, that has unfortunate bearing on the main character's current situation and problem. (It's overheard by eavesdropping.) I like to put details like that in a work, when I come up with 'em.

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I'm currently writing a book that has a tremendous amount of preexisting lore and backstory. As people go through the world they encounter races, factions, or characters that have a clear history. I generally give a general description of them upon first contact, and then develop the rest of the information through interaction with those people. I also kind of cheat and have a few of my characters be scholars with a great deal of knowledge.

I would suggest trying to fit in history within the flow of the story as it becomes relevant, as has been suggested already. As long as it's interesting and doesn't break the flow of the action readers love hearing about history and lore.

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