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Do You Write #Mythic #Fiction?

 This year during the A to Z Challenge I had the Magnificent Seven working with me. One of these bright bunch of ladies who helped me survive from February to April this year is Csenge Virág Zalka. She’s here on Amlokiblogs today to tell us about Mythic Fiction, and how to adapt myths and folks tales into our stories.

Take it away, Csenge!

Last spring, during the A to Z Challenge , I wrote a book about folktales that feature superpowers. It ended up being a collection of 55 stories, and it was the most fun I have ever had with research.
I did it because I work a lot with middle and high school, and superheroes are all the rage these days. At the same time, less and less kids are introduced to the wonderful world of epics, legends, and mythology told in their original form. The silver lining? We can get them interested again. And apart from telling stories about superpowers (which definitely rocks!), is to use some of those old, old stories in our writing.

Mythic fiction and fairy tale adaptations are living a renaissance. As a professional storyteller, I am very, very picky about which ones I read. Here is a quick and dirty list of things that an author needs to pay attention to when attempting to commit mythic fiction:
1. Know. Your. Stuff. These stories have a history, they have layers upon layers of meaning, and they come from cultures other than your own. Do your homework before you start molding them to your own work. Trust me, they will mold easier. (By the way, did you know that Aladdin is Chinese?
2. Be respectful to the original. This does not mean you are not allowed to change it. It only means that you have to be aware of where the tale came from (see the 1st point), and that you should never, ever trivialize something just because you don’t understand it, and it seems weird or funny. Every story makes sense in its own cultural context.
3. Don’t be a cliché. Little Red doesn’t need to wear a red hood to allude to the original fairy tale. Remember, “charming” is NOT the prince’s name. And for heaven’s sake, don’t use the Disney names.
4. Know your fellow writers (and respect them). You are probably not the first or the only one adapting any folktale. Read (watch) the others, and learn from them. Not being the first is okay. Not knowing that you are not the first can get awkward fast.
5. Don’t assume your readers are dumb. There is a good chance people pick up a mythic fiction book because they are interested in mythology and folktales. If you hit them over the head with facts instead of giving them clues, they will lose the enjoyment of discovering the Easter eggs for themselves.

Csenge Virág Zalka is a professional storyteller and author from Hungary, currently working on her PhD in the United States. She blogs about her work as a storyteller on The Multicolored Diary, and about Hungarian cultural curiosities on MopDog. Add her on twitter @TarkabarkaHolgy. You can also find her on Goodreads.
Do you use Myths or Folktales in your stories? Do you have questions for Csenge? Do you want to add some tips? When was the last time you read a fairytale or legend, or a story/ novel that involved one? Want to check out Tales of Superhuman Powers?

Damyanti Biswas

Damyanti Biswas is the author of You Beneath Your Skin and numerous short stories that have been published in magazines and anthologies in the US, the UK, and Asia. She has been shortlisted for Best Small Fictions and Bath Novel Awards and is co-editor of the Forge Literary Magazine. Her next literary crime thriller, The Blue Bar, is represented by Lucienne Diver from The Knight Agency, and was published by Thomas & Mercer on January 1, 2023.

I appreciate comments, and I always visit back. If you're having trouble commenting, let me know via the contact form, or tweet me up @damyantig !

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  • Jemima Pett says:

    I've only just started on developing my Princelings world's mythology, so this was extremely useful, thank you Csenge. I was a great reader of mythology when I was a tween, and I'm sure I lost one box of books from my parents' house simply because I no longer have a book "Tales of Irish Enchantment" which I know I would never have thrown out!
    Funnily enough I have my first attempt at this new phase of sub-stories for the Princelings as my flash fiction this week (6/6)

  • Susan Scott says:

    Terrific post Csenge thank you and Damyanti for putting it up. Myth endures .. that's why they still have a fascination. Thanks for saying Aladdin comes from China .. Arabia certainly but good to know his origins. I often read books that interpret myths, legends and fairytales in a psychological way … endless interest in this. Incidentally, Einstein, when asked by parents how they could make their children clever like him replied: "Read them fairy tales".
    Garden of Eden Blog

    • I love that quote! 🙂 And I'm glad you enjoyed the post! When I was in the Storytelling program at ETSU, we had a whole semester on storytelling and psychology. Fascinating stuff.

  • Arlee Bird says:

    I haven't tried writing anything like mythic fiction. I guess I'm too grounded in the real world in recent times. There are a couple bloggers who sometimes write fiction similar to this and I'll read their material when it appears on their blogs, but I guess it's been awhile since I've read any mythic fiction in other sources.

    Wrote By Rote

    • See, for me it's the other way around. My home turf is historical fiction, and I'm a storyteller, so mythic fiction is obviously one of my favorites, but sadly I have never been good at writing contemporary real world stuff.
      If you want to read some of the good ones of the genre, Cathryn M. Valente and Marissa Mayer are my current favorites.

  • I don't write mythic fiction, but if I ever start writing I will use this post as reference.

    Damyanti..thanks for suggesting books that I can use to help me plot well.

  • Amita Gulia says:

    Hey nice post… i am struggling to write my first ever fiction….
    I erase all after every 10 lines. This is definitely gonna help me

  • I like folklore, and anything dealing with mythology as it fascinates me. Your post is great and I like the information it has. It should be loads of fun writing one of these.

  • Sherry Ellis says:

    I had no idea Aladdin originated in China. Very good tips here!

  • Nima Das says:

    very original thinking!

  • Usha Menon says:

    Hi Damayanti this is a very inspiring and informative post. I have never attempted to write myth fiction,but reading the tips in this post I will definitely get some books and follow your tips.
    BTW I don't know how to read the comments on my posts appearing in g+.I will be thankful if you can spare sometime and 'teach' me how to go about it.
    Much Love.

    • D Biswas says:

      Dear Ms Menon, I think you have your blog connected to your G+ account. As such all comments you receive should be accessible via your G+ profile. To access this profile, simply click on the G+ icon that appears on top of your email.

  • I never heard it called 'mythic fiction' but I believe that is what I'm currently writing. Thanks for sharing your guide to writing in this genre effectively and with respect to its origins.

  • Csenge and Damyanti, congrats, for coming with this superb post on mythic fiction. I never dabbled with it but its awesome tips to churn out a good story.

  • B says:

    I am not that great a writer .. never tried a hand at fiction


  • Babu Philip says:

    That is a wonderful idea!
    Thanks Damyanti for the intro of Csenge
    The terrific team member of yours 🙂
    This re-telling of Myths or Folktales are
    really an interesting idea. I never tried 🙂
    Thanks Csenge for the insight given in this.
    Keep informed
    Have a wonderful time ahead
    Wish you all a Happy and Blessed weekend
    ~ Philip Ariel

  • Amazing post. I'm fascinated by mythic fiction, both original and retellings.

  • cleemckenzie says:

    I like some retellings or adaptations, but I know they're hard to write. I did one that was published in an anthology and it got either 5 stars or a thumbs down. I think that's because readers bring their own experience from folktales to the reading of the "new" version. Some–I kind of fall into this camp–prefer them to be left as originally told. Yet I can't help but be tempted to dabble with some of my favorites. I loved your post today.

    • Thank you! 🙂 I too tend to like adaptations better if they hit the important points of the original. One masterfully done example I could mention is the works of Marissa Meyer (The Lunar Chronicles). She adapts fairy tales into sci-fi, and leaves it up to the reader to recognize the old elements. I love those books 🙂

  • I didn't know that Aladdin started in China! Wow! I did use part of a mythic tale in my second novel, but I only did a small amount of research. Part of my reasoning for that, is that it is the backstory for a secondary character. His life, in the novel, is what happens to him after the fairy tale ends . . . when his twelve brothers (or six, depending on the source) are completely healed from their swan-curse, and his wing (or feathers on his arm in some versions) is holding him back from having a normal life. Plus, he misses becoming a swan during the day.
    Does it make sense to use a character from a myth, and focus on what happened to them after the story ended? And, does it work to use them not as a main character but a secondary character? I'm not sure, but that's what I've done.

    • You decide how important the story is to what you are writing. And it is completely legit to write about what happens after 🙂 I just meant that it can lead to more colorful ideas the more one finds out about the original. It helps with the creative process 🙂

  • Vidya Sury says:

    Csenge, I had no idea Aladdin was Chinese!
    Great points in your post! And always fun to extrapolate and explore the original!

    Thank you!

    • Thank you! I am glad you enjoyed the post 🙂 The Aladdin thing is my favorite storytelling tidbit to tell people, together with "the sword in the stone was not Excalibur." 😀

  • Lexa Cain says:

    Funny and perceptive tips, Csenge. I've been pleased with a few adaptions. West Side Story being a notable one. In general, I'm in the superhero camp, as long as the superheroes are fun and unique. Have a lovely weekend! 🙂

    • When I was selecting the stories of Superhuman Powers, one of my main criteria was that the stories had to be FUN. I didn't include a bunch of tales that had the require superpowers in them because they were not very good stories. 🙂 Priorities.

  • Jan Newman says:

    I don't write mythic fiction, but this fun and informative post makes me wish I did.

    • Honestly? I haven't written one yet either, although one is in the works now 🙂 But I read a lot of it because as a professional storyteller I need to stay on top of things 🙂

  • That's a really smart idea to combine the two! Congratulations, Stephanie.

  • Superheroes tend to endure from one generation to another, when many other stories disappear. It's a subject that definitely requires both expertise and many hours of research. One little slip-up and the fans will know!

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