Today, I have Amy Plum with me, courtesy of the Teen Book Scene Tour for Die For Me. She’s going to share a bit about how she came up with the mythology in her novel. Stay tuned at the end for a giveaway!
Creating Mythology with Amy Plum:
I don’t know if I’m the best person to ask about creating mythology, because I didn’t do it in a very organized way.
With my revenants, I started with the idea of an undead being that died over and over again, coming back to life at his original death age. In my mind, a revenant was something between a god and a zombie. And after that I just had to ask myself all of the why, how and when questions and kind of wait for the rationale to come to me.
Little by little, as I wrote, clear rules started to crawl out of the primal sludge. And as each rule emerged, it gradually clarified what the revenants were in my mind. For example, at some point, I thought, “Well, if there are good revenants, there have to be evil ones too.” And then I had to decide what they were and how they functioned.
It all came down to two things, I guess: equilibrium and truth.
In DIE FOR ME, when explaining the difference between the revenants and their enemies, Ambrose tells Kate, “The universe likes an equilibrium.” Mythology also likes an equilibrium: between humans and immortals. Between good and evil. Between fate and chance. If a mythology is too lop-sided it doesn’t seem real to me. So if you follow the equilibrium rule and write half of your mythology, by the default of equilibrium you’ve got the other half practically figured out for you.
And truth. No matter how wacko or out-of-this world a mythology is on the surface, if you read it and it sounds true, than the myth-maker has done her job. Every time I wrote a supernatural passage, I asked myself if it sounded true. And if it didn’t, I worked on it until it did. Or scrapped it altogether.
I think truth comes from a story’s connection with the real world and with other stories. If you can find links with history or with quirky but true aspects of the real world, you will have a firmer, more honest foundation to build from.
Beyond that is the scary (for me) step of making an actual hard-and-fast decision for your mythology that has nothing to do with equilibrium OR truth. Because sometimes you just have to decide that something is the way it is because YOU SAY SO. (I sound like my mom.)
For example, I got to this point in the book where I realized that I had to make my revenants impervious to bullets. The whole mythology needed it, even though there was no rational reason for it. So I just came out and said it in my text.
“ We use guns when we’ re expected to,” answered Charlotte, “ if we’ re fighting alongside humans in the cases I mentioned . . . bodyguarding and the like. But bullets don’ t kill revenants.”
My editor came back and said, “Why? I don’t get why bullets don’t kill revenants.”
So I put on my walking shoes and walked about five miles going over and over in my mind why revenants couldn’t be killed by bullets. And the only thing I came up with was “because my mythology needs it to be like that.”
At that moment I had this kind of revelation. I thought of all of the writers before me who had created the rules for vampires, werewolves, zombies and the like, and they ALL used the no-bullets rule. (Unless it was a special kind of hard- to-get bullet.) But I realized that they all must have gotten to the point as well where they said, “It just has to be this way or my story won’t work.” Which was kind of cool.
I went back to my desk and added on to Charlotte’s sentence:
“ But bullets don’ t kill revenants” —she paused—“ or others like us.”
And with those last four words I linked my revenants to already-established monsters, making my decision legitimate by historical usage.
Mythmaking is hard-going. It makes you kind of obsessed, because even on your off-time, your brain is trying to figure out how things work. But when it all comes together, man does it feel great.
I love your way of finding out how to work the mythology of the world your book is set in Amy! Thanks for sharing with us that process.