Mythology is the method, movement, and magic of Urban Fantasy.
How do we use myth?
Our characters must spring from our stories as natural elements. Myth gives each character a story, something unique and special, even the two-dimensional spear carrier (because he or she is, after all, carrying a spear, that invented and developed tool that lofts a being from monkey-grubbing status, to king of the beasts).
Good and bad, Heaven and Hell
When considering the good and bad of your story, be sure they reflect the mythology of the culture. Good and bad, yin and yang, dark and light, night and day. All have special meanings depending on how that culture and that society developed. Use those aspects to give meaning to the words.
The good and the bad are the yin and the yang of your mythology, culture, and society. Good/bad, yin/yang, light/dark, night/day. You want to reflect the culture and the people. Are they easy-go-lucky? Their good and bad places are not going to be the same extremes as a warrior culture, although it may seem so to them.
A warrior culture has a different sense of what is right and what is wrong, what is good and what is bad. Look at their culture and their people. Look at their good and bad.
What happens when they die? Do they slip off into a void? Then their everyday life needs to be as bland as their afterlife. Some cultures have no good and bad to journey to after death. A character in that culture would not even consider relishing a violent death because it gets him nothing in the end (literally).
There are cultures that say that your spirit will be reincarnated continuously until you get it right. Perhaps they are Hindu or Buddhist. This is a cyclical type of structure in their lives, therefore you need to follow that cyclical nature in their culture and reflect it in your story. Some cultures have a caste system and to attempt to break that system is an anathema to them. Some cultures thrive on change, some on the status quo.
Mythology can underpin the motivation.
If myth clashes, they must class with opposites. Clashes without challenge is boring. Make a circle on paper. Put Warrior on one point, and opposite, put Pacifist. On one side, write Communism, on the other, the opposite, Democracy. Opposites make a story.
Even the antagonist thinks he or she is the protagonist, and you must write the character as such or the result is a two-dimensional cutout doll. At the end of Greek plays, a god or gods descended from the heavens, or the stage rafters, and solved the story dilemma. That was acceptable to the Greek people, because, as in their life view, the Gods made things happen, not people. The Gods were either methodical or random, determined or a joker, but always interfering in their lives and up to no good.
Setting is (or should be) woven onto every page of your story. Setting does more than toss up a tree or add a few chairs to an otherwise bare scene. Setting must also move the story. Myth is a part of setting and can add depth and layers to every page.
How can you reflect myth in setting?
Does your room have columns? Where did those columns come from? Are they Greek style or Roman? Imported overseas or across the universe? Is your building facing east to bring good luck? So what is in their house? A kitchen god?Symbols on doorway like Jews?Crosses on the wall? A Bible or secret text bound in a box and worshipped with candles and incense? Is that ship from wood or fossilized, dead dragons?
Myth can work directly or indirectly. In conflict, myth can directly connect to the conflict and tension in the story or be more subtle. Are the gods/demons/spirits clashing and bickering? Do they battle and/or force human counterparts to battle for them? Or, are they more sneaky, more behind the scenes spirits, encouraging through opportune situations and suggestion? There is a reason why the main character takes his prophetic journey. Why? Is it fate? Does he or she feel they can’t escape their destiny? Or, do they feel trapped and try to break through? Perhaps they are doomed by them and in relinquishing their desire to oppose, find something new? All will depend on their mythology, their culture, traditions, the stories they grew up with.
Behind scenes, indirectly, build these in before the actual conflict. Can’t just throw a conflict card in. Even Monopoly players know there is a “get out of jail free” card somewhere in the deck, they just don’t know where. Like a murder mystery, something has to be there in the beginning. A clue has to be there, even though at the time, the reader won’t know that, but that hint of a clue will linger in the reader’s subconscious. When the connection clicks, the reader won’t feel cheated that the Writer Gods tricked him into a false (and disappointing) story. Set them up early. These threads can be little taps, hints, queries, gentle strokes here and there.
How do you decide where to use myth?
Look at the theme of your story and see which aspects are most important. We may not want to reflect mythology with every little thing. That’s tiring and no fun. However, if we decide how far we want to tie in mythology with our story elements, then we can make a story resonate with the reader on a deeper level. Let the story theme reveal the areas that require myth.
An author can’t assume too much, but we don’t have to delve too deep. Highlight those that work for your story and weave them in.
The key is balance.
Pat Hauldren is a fiction book editor for Cyberwizard Productions and a freelance writer and editor of her own business at EditAlley.com. Pat has published in over 600 newspapers nation-wide and has over a million readers world-wide for her online media publications. Pat also writes speculative fiction and has published short stories, poetry, and Japanese Noh Drama. As an instructor, Pat conducts classes both locally and in Europe. Pat is a member and/or past board member of her local RWA (NTRWA.org), DFW Writers' Workshop (dfwwritersworkshop.org), North Texas Speculative Fiction Workshop (NTSFW.com), Writers' Guild of Texas, and more. Pat is also a board member of the National Space Soceity of North Texas (NSSofNT.org), and a member of the Taoist Tai Chi Society (taoist.org), working with the internal art of Tai Chi, chanting, and meditation. Find out more about Pat Hauldren at www.pathauldren.com or write her at Pat@pathauldren.com