Vlog: 5 Steps For Creating Mythologies

What Is Mythology?

Mythology is folklore and legends that tell how things came to be.

5 Steps For Creating A New Mythology

Creating Worlds

Built Upon The Shoulders Of Giants

These notes are taken from the titular panel at WorldCon75. The panelists were George RR Martin, Jeffrey A Carver, and Alex Acks. The moderator was Jon Oliver.

Where should one start: with the world or the characters?

Tolkien created his world first, George RR Martin and the rest of the panelists created their characters first.

As with so much in writing, neither way is better, just whatever works for the story you’re working on now.

An Approach to Creating a Magic System

Martin prefers his magic to be truly super natural–not fake-science with a formula. Magic that trifles with forces beyond this world. Unknowable. Uncontrollable. With the chaos-like the feel of elder gods.

In Tolkien’s stories, Gandalf rarely resorted to true magic.

If people in a magical world try to codify their magic, doesn’t mean that they’re right. They might fail, or at least miss some stuff.

When Writing Science Fiction, How Close To Magic Can Your Science Get?

We can bend the rules of physics – but keep it moderately plausible for scientists. After all, what are ‘hyperspace’ and ‘wormholes’ if not science-fiction’s method of time travel? Making time stand still while we travel generations away.

Remember, the concept of plate tectonics was just discovered 50 years ago.

Just because there’s a capability out there that we don’t know if we CAN do, doesn’t mean we know that we CAN’T figure it out eventually!

What Makes A World Stand Out To A Publisher?


I actually got to ask this question myself! The panel description had promised this, but as you see, they clearly hadn’t addressed it yet!

Publisher Jon Oliver chimed in that there are two things that you want to avoid:

  1. Don’t make your world too complex
  2. Don’t make your world too simple

Most fantasies have a pseudo-medieval European feel. It’s been done! Try something new.

Some stories are too excited about telling you all the information about the world, that they neglect the characters and plot.

Martin says, “make it your own.” If you’re writing something based on historical places, just make a historical fantasy. When inventing a world, “turn it up to 11, and do a left twist!”

It’s hard to figure out, the advice sounds basically like: “how do you win a race? Run Faster!” But if you can figure it out, it’s magical.

The Importance of Consistency

It doesn’t have to be consistent with reality, but it must be internally consistent. Remembering what you wrote earlier can be a challenge.

George RR Martin finds it difficult.

  • He’s “blundered into people who help.” The people who run the Westeros wiki have been very helpful. The site is un-vetted by him, but usually right.
  • He has notes, textbooks, and a DOS computer with search/replace capability
  • Most of his world building is in his head – thanks to a trick or curse of memory he remembers “[his] fake world far better than the real world.”

Another method of keeping track of everything that many authors, including Jeffrey Carver, uses is:

  • A spreadsheet with all names, places, and their descriptions

How Do You Convey World and Plot Building Information In A Sequel?

An info dump is only an info dump if the reader doesn’t care about it. Interweave it with the story–maybe tell it from a new character’s point of view–and you can make it interesting again.

Show what the characters do, and then filter in the world building as you need it.

As the writer, you need to know more than the reader about your world. If you must include everything, you can add appendices or footnotes. Using info HINTS, instead of info dumps, is a better idea, you don’t have to share everything with the reader.

Do Characters Mess With Your Plot?

The final question on the panel was more of a back-and-forth than summarizable tips, with other authors quoted. But I thought you might enjoy the conversation.

Martin said, yeah, they can be bossy. Sometimes they’re wrong. But usually, he just goes with it.

Carver mentioned that Jane Yolen when writing a story, found out part way through the novel that the character was gay.

Connie Willis is quoted as saying, “If my characters get uppity, I kill them!”

To which Alex Acks agreed, it’s true, “characters can be assholes.”

Then George RR Martin replied, “killing your characters? How horrible!”

And with that, my notes for this panel are done.

Vlog: Creating Worlds

Built Upon The Shoulders Of Giants

These notes are taken from the titular panel at WorldCon75. The panelists were George RR Martin, Jeffrey A Carver, and Alex Acks. The moderator was Jon Oliver.

Today, I’ll be sharing tips gathered from the titular panel on World Building. With quotes from George RR Martin and the rest of the panelists! Please enjoy!

Building a World – #Balticon Panels

The panelists for this were Joy Ward, Michael Underwood, Don Sakers, T Campbell, and JL Gribble

What Do You Find Most Writers Forget?

  • Geography (T Campbell)
  • Planets are big and not all just one climate (Don Sakers)
  • What’s outside the focus of the setting  (Michael Underwood)
  • Doing their research (Joy Ward)

What Cultural Blind Spots Have You Noticed?

  • What do you eat on an alien planet?
  • Klingon meter maid – who does everything else if it’s a warrior race?
  • Making unique people WITHIN a species/race, rather than the exception to the species/race
  • Do more than ‘warrior race’, ‘science race’, ‘ice planet’, ‘jungle planet’. Species and Planets are huge!
  • Economics!
  • Try to make sure you know how they handle Maslov’s Hierarchy of Needs (which Maslov hated and came up with just before a lecture)
  • Interpret things based on your culture’s society, NOT the writer’s personal culture. Study History to see how cultures other than yours did things.

Suggested Fiction

  • “To Hell And Back” – About an autistic hero and flips a lot of related tropes.*

Craziest Experience : Done for Research or That Got Worked Into Your Writing

  • JL visited the Parisian Catacombs.
  • Michael spent a semester at sea- hitting 10 countries, including the Viet Cong tunnels. “The world can be your library.”
  • T Campbell was walking home at 3am, from college in Savannah and someone ran at him. He ran the 2 miles home and heard someone shout, “Hey!” Looking about for the accomplice, he spies a neighbor, sitting on their porch, just hanging out. “You’re dumb for being out at this hour!” They shouted, tossing something at him. T caught it without thinking and looked down. It was a can of mace.
  • Joy Ward met an animal translator and her skepticism got talked away. Now, she’s (with the help of the translator) interviewed almost everything from elephants to hissing cockroaches. (Everything but seals.)
  • Don learned NOT to ask a hospital records staff how to illegally access 20 year-old records. (After asking at four different facilities…)

Other posts I’ve done on World Building Panels:

*Not sure who the author is. Looks like might have been refering to: The Damned Busters: To Hell and Back by Matthew Hughes

D*Con: Fantasy Writing Discussion w/Lackey, Dixon, Paolini, Jackson

How Fantasy Writing Changed My Life

w/ Angelina Adams(mod), Mercedes Lackey, Christopher Paolini, Chris Jackson, and Larry Dixon

Stories about Readers:

  • Lackey gets told all the time how Vanyel touched gay readers
  • Dixon – this is his 263rd panel. “We’re still fans, too.

What book/story would you point to for getting you into SFF?

  • Saucer of Loneliness – Lackey
  • The Ruby Knight by David Eddings – Paolini.
    • SFF tackles the big issues
    • Paolini was a scientist for 20 years, now is a full time writer, it literally changed his life.
  • The Deed of Paksenarrion by Elizabeth Moon & Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey – Jackson
    • – fantasy doesn’t need to be PG
  • Catseye by Andre Norton & Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey – Dixon.
    • “I was very young at a young age”.
    • It showed a time period that was neither period, nor unfamiliar
    • There was a process by which McCaffrey went from his idol to “Annie’s got my art on her guest room wall.

How do you diversify your writing style

  • honing your voice vs learning things to help the original style – Adams
  • It helps to be schizophrenic. It’s vital to stretch. His writing group has a new writing exercise every month – Jackson
  • Variety inspires your writing – Paolini
  • You cannot edit nothing – Jackson
    • NaNoWriMo is good for beginner writers.
    • Ass glue – gorilla ass glue is helpful.
  • Sanderson does vignettes that he says helps keep him from losing his minds – Paolini
    • After Eragon, [my] next dragon would be evil. (Because of burn out)
    • It’s hard to write a story from the villain’s point of view, they won’t BE the villain. (Because you make them sympathetic)

What did you think of the movie? [Eragon]

  • Paolini – Officially? It was the director’s vision and [he] can’t help but be grateful for the millions of new readers it brought in.
  • Unofficially? [He’s] trying to get it remade. The studio didn’t quite understand fantasy [tropes/etc].
  • Lackey – As Bradbury said, “at least I cashed the check.

For gamers- do you write what you game?

  • Dixon – I had to quit a game module, because the GM didn’t let anyone change anything or add anything.

Odds & Ends and Quotes

  • Lackey – Publisher won’t let her write more 500 Kingdom’s because it doesn’t make enough $$$.
  • Getting old ain’t for the weak” – Lackey
  • The books don’t age.” – CP

Who is your favorite character you’ve created?

  • Skandranon Rashkae- The black griffin – Dixon
  • Vreva Jhafae – the Courtesan Spy – Jackson
  • Saphira –  the dragon – Paolini
  • Victoria – romance writer/techno-mage and Joyeaux Charmond – a hunter in a dystopia – but that’s who I’m working on right now… – Lackey