Surprisingly, I didn’t even really hear the word “mythos” until I was about seventeen. When I was seventeen, I read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes” stories and quite a few of H.P.Lovecraft’s horror stories.
Both of these collections of stories tend to have something of a mythos to them – an underlying “mythology” that connects many seemingly different stories. For example, in many of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s short stories, Sherlock Holmes will mention other cases that he and Watson have solved.
Likewise, although a certain famous creature only really appears in one of H.P.Lovecraft’s stories, he’s mentioned in other stories. Not only that, there are lots of other things that Lovecraft’s seemingly stand-alone short stories have in common (eg: Miskatonic university, the old ones, the Necronomicon of Abdul Alhazred etc…).
There are many good reasons for adding a mythos to your stories – not only does it prove something extra for fans of your work, but it can also mean that your work can turn into something greater than you could possibly create on your own. This is for the simple reason that, if you come up with an interesting enough mythos, other writers will find ways to reference it in their own work.
So, how do you create a mythos? Here are a few tips:
1) Common locations: One of the simplest ways to come up with a mythos is to come up with an interesting enough location in one of your stories and then to either feature it in your later stories or to mention it briefly in stories that are set somewhere else.
A good example of this can be found in the novels “Lost Souls” and “Drawing Blood” by Poppy Z. Brite/ Billy Martin. These are two of the best novels that I’ve ever read, but they’re completely different stories and feature (mostly) different characters.
“Lost Souls” is a gloriously gothic story about vampires and musicians. “Drawing Blood” is an absolutely unique story that somehow fits into many different genres (horror, 1990s cyberpunk, erotica, thriller fiction and 1960s beat literature spring to mind for starters…). So, what do they have in common?
Simple – both novels feature scenes set in the fictional American town of Missing Mile, North Carolina. Although only about one character from “Lost Souls” appears in “Drawing Blood” – if you’ve read both books, then you’ll certainly see the connection between the two stories.
So, adding a mythos to your story can be as simple as just re-visiting (or even mentioning) a familiar location from one of your previous stories.
2) Common Items: When I wrote a lot of fiction in my very early 20s, I’d always try to make sure that at least one or two items turned up in many of my stories.
There are probably too many to list here, but the most notable ones were a frosted drink called “Tangerine Frost”, the number “1367” and a book called “The Forgotten Art Of Oneiromancy”.
Even though I haven’t written much prose fiction over the past few years, these items still turn up in my work every now and again. Eagle-eyed readers may have spotted references to “The Forgotten Art Of Oneiromancy” and “1367” in my ‘Conspiracy 1983’ comic from a couple of months ago:
Although this is more of an obscure in-joke than a way of creating a mythos – it can still be used to create a mythos ( eg: H.P.Lovecraft did this by mentioning a book called “The Necronomicon” in a few of his stories). One of the advantages of using common items to create a mythos is that it’s easier to add them to seemingly disconnected stories without confusing your audience.
3) Recurring background characters: This is probably the most obvious way of creating a mythos, but having a couple of background characters who appear in many of your stories can be a good way to show a connection between your stories.
If you want a perfect example of this, then read some of Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” comics. Not only are the seven central characters (a group of mythical beings called “The Endless”) in these comics essentially just recurring characters in each others’ stories, but Neil Gaiman also does a lot of other cool mythos-like things with the background characters too.
For example, the main character in the second comic (“The Dolls’ House”) lives in a shared house with several random people. They include a seemingly “perfect” couple who are called Barbie and Ken – and look like how your would imagine them to look. Barbie and Ken are slightly humourous and creepy (but fairly two-dimensional) background characters in “The Dolls’ House”.
However, when you read the fifth comic (“A Game Of You”) not only is Barbie the main character, but she also turns out to be a far more interesting and complex character than she appeared to be in the second comic. Not only that, Barbie is also living in the same block of flats as the ex-girlfriend of one of the characters from the first comic (“Preludes and Nocturnes”).
These are just a few examples out of many, but if you want a good example of how to use recurring background characters in a cool way, then check out some of Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” comics.
Of course, if it isn’t possible to actually show a recurring character in one of your stories – then you can get around this in a number of ways. You could show other characters talking about that particular character or – if your story is set in the past or future – you could show one of the recurring character’s relatives or ancestors.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂