Even if you don’t ordinarily write fantasy, mythical creatures can be a hard thing to resist. If you’re like me, writing a story without an ancient mythical creature wreaking havoc can often be a losing battle and I, of all people, am not going to dissuade you from such inclinations. However, if you are writing the piece seriously with intentions for publication (or for the viewing of picky, literary friends) you need to take some things into account and prepare yourself for the inevitable criticisms that will come with such a story.
We all know the ones I’m talking about: vampires, werewolves, witches…They’re all very intriguing. The lore leading into the distant past, the gruesome, ominous myths and the different takes on such strange beings can make a person obsessed, understandably so. However, we can all name at least one story that has been cliché, way too overused or downright stupid. Some might say that using such popular supernatural beings is just a bad idea and anything that you write about them has been done before. I disagree. True whatever you write probably won’t be fresh, but that’s true of everything. It’s been said before and I will say it again: there are no new ideas. Accept it. It’s the truth.
The goal in any piece of writing is not to come up with new ideas (although that doesn’t mean you can plagiarise) but to bring new spins, new combinations, and new emotions to ideas that are already out there. The same is true for these popular creatures, your piece may seem like white noise among other vampire or zombie novels, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t write it. What it does mean is that you are going to need to work harder to make something that is unique and powerful, something that people can read without feeling as if they have read it before.
There are two ways you can approach writing about a popular mythical creature, both have drawbacks and benefits.
- You can change things about the classic creature to make them new. Dispute common lore and make the vampire laugh at the garlic his victim is waving in his face. Changing things in the lore of mythical creatures can make things new and interesting, however, you need to beware. I remind you all of the vampires that sparkle in the sunlight. There are going to be people who hate the changes you have made because they don’t feel you can do that and still consider them the same creature. If you take a vampire and have her suck souls from people instead of blood to some people she is some other creature and not a vampire. If you are still set on such a major change, be aware that while some people may love it, others aren’t going to like it.
- You can use the classic lore that surrounds the creature and focus on making the story line new. Writing about the werewolf that changes at the full moon, massacres a town, and will only get killed by a silver bullet can be fun, but it’s going to be something that the audience has heard before. Writing a story about the teenagers that discover a werewolf and vow to kill it will not be a very riveting story because it has been done. You must find a way to make readers care about the story and want to keep reading. If you keep your creature the same as it has been in the past you risk your story being pushed to the background.
Both ways can be fun to write, but if you aren’t writing just for yourself you need to consider all the negatives of the path you take.
These can be really fun to write. Because they aren’t very well-known, you can take them in nearly any direction you want and create something that people probably haven’t heard of before. Using lesser known creatures can definitely have its benefits, but it may also mean doing more research into the lore. Everyone knows the basic lore of a vampire, but a skinwalker may be a different story. If you can’t think of some lesser known creatures off the top of your head (don’t be ashamed; not everyone can be an encyclopedia of mythical creatures) a simple internet search can give you lists of creatures you may not have heard of.
Make Your Own
If taking an existing creature from cultural lore isn’t doing if for you, there is always the option of making your own. This can be a huge undertaking, but it can also be one of the most fun. Writing your own creature is like creating your own character; you have a blank slate to fill with whatever you please. Just remember, to make truly effective and “realistic” creature, you need to build it like you would any other character. Make sure to give your creature purpose, back story, personality, weakness, strength, etc. Your creature is a character, you don’t want a flat creature any more than you want a flat character. This Wikihow is an amusing yet surprising helpful starting point for creating your creature. But if you’re like me and you can’t draw, substitute the drawing portion for simply writing out how your creature looks.
Sources to Visit
Mythical creatures are popular with a simple internet search you can find thousands of helpful sites to assist in your writing and creature design.