Archive for January, 2013

Tips for Writing Mythical Creatures

Posted in Writing with tags , , , , , , on January 19, 2013 by Dawn Ross

MC900432127 Troll

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about how to write fictional characters and I thought it would be fun to apply these tips for how to write mythical creatures. Some modification is needed, of course, so here it goes.

Get to Know Your Mythical Creature
First of all, let me point out that when I say mythical creatures, I am referring to creatures that are more animal-like than human-like. Getting to know your mythical creature starts with its history and nature. We will get into its description later below. Where does your mythical creature come from? Does it live in the mountains, sea, forest, desert, cave, or other?  Does it live by itself or does it live in a family group of other creatures? Has the creature been around since time began, was it thought to be extinct, or was the creature ‘created’ or bred recently? What does this mystical being like to eat? Is it a vegetarian or meat-eater; and if meat, what kind of meat? Does it walk like a man, on four legs like an animal, slither like a snake, or fly like a bird? Does it have a magic of some sort? What are its strengths, its weaknesses? What does it hate the most? What does it like the most? What do others think of this creature? Is it considered good or evil? Is it what people think it is or is it misunderstood? Is the creature considered a wild animal, a pet, or a beast of burden (like a mule)? Does the mystical being have human-like qualities? What drives your creature to do what it does? Is it motivated by instinct? Is it controlled by humans in some way, like how the Trollocs in the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan are driven by the Myrddraal? 

Ask yourself some questions about how your mystical being would react in particular situations:

  • If your creature sees a human being, what will it do? Will it attack it, run from it, or something else? Ask the same question about what a person would do when they see it.
  • If your creature finds an object it doesn’t understand, how will it react? Will it try to destroy it, ignore it, check it out curiously, or shy away from it?
  • How would your mythical being react if it were injured and/or put in a cage?
  • If your creature somehow found itself in unfamiliar surroundings, how would it react? For example, if a forest being finds its way into a city, a water being is brought onto a boat, a desert creature is led into the forest, and so on. What sort of situation would bring it out of its element?

MC900444725 Fantasy Unicorn

Describe Your Mythical Creature by Showing, not Telling
As when you write fictional characters, show, rather than tell, your mystical being in the four following ways:

  1. Action – Show the creature doing something that reflects its nature. For example, describe it while it is on the hunt or while it is eating. If it lives with other creatures like itself, show that relationship.
  2. Sounds – What sort of noises does your mystical being make? Does it roar, grunt, howl, squeal, buzz, or can it talk? Animals make all sorts of sounds that can be described with words. Consider the plethora of onomonopias. In fact, looking up onomonoia on Google might be very helpful in finding the right words to describe the sounds your creature makes.
  3. Appearance – What does your creature look like? To help your reader get a visual idea, it helps to compare your creature with animals or beings that we are already familiar with. Remember to show, not tell. For example, “It soared high in the sky and cast a great shadow over the land.” This tells us our creature has wings and that it is large. Another example, “Its scaled skin glittered like the facets of diamonds.” This tells us the scales are small and skin-like similar to a snake and not large and armored like perhaps that of a dragon. You immediately get the idea that this creature is snake or lizard-like.
  4. Thought – Depending on the nature of your creature, this one might not be necessary. If your mystical being is more animal-like than human-like, it is not going to have comprehensive thoughts. We can show something of its ‘thoughts’ by asking ourselves some of the questions asked for getting to know your mythical creature.

If you are in a writing slump, consider these questions as a writing exercise and write a paragraph or two about your own mythical creature.

5187029_s Green Dragon

Tips for Writing Fictional Characters

Posted in Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 5, 2013 by Dawn Ross


I’m still reading the Gotham Writers’ Workshop book titled, “Writing Fiction” and it has been exceedingly helpful so far. I am on chapter two now and learning about writing fictional characters. Before reading this chapter, I thought to myself that my book has great characters. But after reading this chapter I realize that my characters could use a lot more development. Here is some of the information I have learned from this chapter:

Get to Know Your Character
Or perhaps I should say characters instead of character. The more prominent your character, the better you should know them. Ask yourself a lot of questions about your primary and secondary characters. What do they look like, what is their background, what is their personality, and how do they define themselves? Then put the characters in certain situations and determine how they should act. Here are some questions I might ask about the characters in a fantasy novel:

  • If visiting a new city or town, where would your character want to go first? A tavern, an apothecary shop, the shipping docks, or the palace, for example?
  • What would your character do if confronted in a fight? Run, try to reason with the other person, pull out a choice weapon?
  • If your character had to leave their small village would they be excited, nervous, or reluctant?
  • What class do your characters view themselves and how do they view other people in different classes?
  • If your character suddenly came into a lot of money, what would they do with it? Save it, buy some needed items, spend it all at once on extravagant items?

Writing Fiction: The Practical Guide from New York's Acclaimed Creative Writing School

Show, Not Tell
Don’t just describe your character. Show the reader what they are like in four different ways.

  1. Action – Show your character doing something that reflects their personality. For example, if a drunk man is passed out in a tavern and his purse is visible and easy to take, will your character take it, try to wake the drunk man up to warn him, or ignore it and decide if the man gets his purse stolen it is his own fault.
  2. Speech – What your character says can reflect a lot about them. Do they prattle, do they speak intelligently, do they boast, or do they sound naive and gullible?
  3. Appearance – What does your character prefer to wear? Describe their posture and facial expressions.
  4. Thought – What does your character think about their surroundings? When your character watches other people do they pay more attention to the clothes they wear or to the weapons they might be carrying? Does your character walk into a tavern and pay more attention to how the barmaids look, how nice or rough the atmosphere is, if the tavern has decent entertainment, or if there are some gambling tables? Does what your character think conflict with how they act? For example, does your character hate nobility but behave reverently towards them?

The more I learn, the better I think my writing will be. “Writing Fiction” from Gotham Writers’ Workshop has a lot of helpful information and some great writing exercises to try. Asking questions about your characters is just one of many fun writing exercises to try. How much can you show about your primary character in just a paragraph or two? Remember, show, not tell.