A couple of weeks ago I wrote about how to write fictional characters and I thought it would be fun to apply these tips for how to write mythical creatures. Some modification is needed, of course, so here it goes.
Get to Know Your Mythical Creature
First of all, let me point out that when I say mythical creatures, I am referring to creatures that are more animal-like than human-like. Getting to know your mythical creature starts with its history and nature. We will get into its description later below. Where does your mythical creature come from? Does it live in the mountains, sea, forest, desert, cave, or other? Does it live by itself or does it live in a family group of other creatures? Has the creature been around since time began, was it thought to be extinct, or was the creature ‘created’ or bred recently? What does this mystical being like to eat? Is it a vegetarian or meat-eater; and if meat, what kind of meat? Does it walk like a man, on four legs like an animal, slither like a snake, or fly like a bird? Does it have a magic of some sort? What are its strengths, its weaknesses? What does it hate the most? What does it like the most? What do others think of this creature? Is it considered good or evil? Is it what people think it is or is it misunderstood? Is the creature considered a wild animal, a pet, or a beast of burden (like a mule)? Does the mystical being have human-like qualities? What drives your creature to do what it does? Is it motivated by instinct? Is it controlled by humans in some way, like how the Trollocs in the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan are driven by the Myrddraal?
Ask yourself some questions about how your mystical being would react in particular situations:
- If your creature sees a human being, what will it do? Will it attack it, run from it, or something else? Ask the same question about what a person would do when they see it.
- If your creature finds an object it doesn’t understand, how will it react? Will it try to destroy it, ignore it, check it out curiously, or shy away from it?
- How would your mythical being react if it were injured and/or put in a cage?
- If your creature somehow found itself in unfamiliar surroundings, how would it react? For example, if a forest being finds its way into a city, a water being is brought onto a boat, a desert creature is led into the forest, and so on. What sort of situation would bring it out of its element?
Describe Your Mythical Creature by Showing, not Telling
As when you write fictional characters, show, rather than tell, your mystical being in the four following ways:
- Action – Show the creature doing something that reflects its nature. For example, describe it while it is on the hunt or while it is eating. If it lives with other creatures like itself, show that relationship.
- Sounds – What sort of noises does your mystical being make? Does it roar, grunt, howl, squeal, buzz, or can it talk? Animals make all sorts of sounds that can be described with words. Consider the plethora of onomonopias. In fact, looking up onomonoia on Google might be very helpful in finding the right words to describe the sounds your creature makes.
- Appearance – What does your creature look like? To help your reader get a visual idea, it helps to compare your creature with animals or beings that we are already familiar with. Remember to show, not tell. For example, “It soared high in the sky and cast a great shadow over the land.” This tells us our creature has wings and that it is large. Another example, “Its scaled skin glittered like the facets of diamonds.” This tells us the scales are small and skin-like similar to a snake and not large and armored like perhaps that of a dragon. You immediately get the idea that this creature is snake or lizard-like.
- Thought – Depending on the nature of your creature, this one might not be necessary. If your mystical being is more animal-like than human-like, it is not going to have comprehensive thoughts. We can show something of its ‘thoughts’ by asking ourselves some of the questions asked for getting to know your mythical creature.
If you are in a writing slump, consider these questions as a writing exercise and write a paragraph or two about your own mythical creature.
Can you tell me how to describe the Cyclops ?
I can try. When people think of a cyclops, they think of a humanoid creature. He is generally larger than people, and of course, he only has one eye instead of two. Many writers have made him dumber than people, slow-witted if you will. And many writers have also made him mean. Sometimes he even has sharpened teeth, great for eating animals (or people) whole. Remember the showing, not telling part of this post? How does your cyclops walk? The cyclops in the Iliad plucked sheep from a flock. He didn’t need to be a proficient hunter. So perhaps his gait was more bumbling. Perhaps he loped instead of walked. Maybe he walks a bit hunched over. Maybe he was so hunched over that his knuckles scraped the ground like an ape. Also as a part of telling, how does he talk? Does he speak clearly? Or because he lives in general isolation he mumbles to himself a lot. If he lives in isolation, does he have much need for clothes? Maybe he wears clothes to protect him from the cold, but if he lives in isolation the clothes don’t need to be pretty. If he has a fondness for sheep, such as the cyclops in the Iliad, perhaps his clothes are made of wool. If he lives in isolation, he probably doesn’t care too much about hygene either. His hair is probably long and shaggy. His body is probably dirty and smelly.
I’m using the cyclops from the Iliad as an example, but as a writer you have the complete freedom to make your cyclops any way you want.
I enjoyed reading these tips, and found them very well thought out, and quite helpful. Thank you.
Elves are described differently in different passages and books. So are Trolls. For example, the little elves in fairy tales to the fearsome warrior elves by Tolkien. So if i were to use a version of them in a fiction…what version would it be?
It would depend on the story you want to write. You can use any version you want and even add a few elements of your own to make them different from Tolkien and others. As a writer, you get to make all the rules. 🙂
Right! Thanks. Hopefully, i can come up with something different
I’d like to add that it helps readers relate better if you keep a few elements of either kind of elf the same in your elf-version.