Using Myths & Legends to Enhance Your Story

Weaving mythology into your novel can add depth and resonance. How mythology influences story structure is explained fully in The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler, a book that I highly recommend. But aside from structure, you can use myths and legends to drive your story or an entire series.

Myths and Legends

In Circle of Light, book one in the Light-Years Series, attorney Sarina Bretton is kidnapped from Earth to become the legendary Great Healer. For eons, tales had been told of a savior, but as nothing occurred, the myth faded. Then the predicted signs started coming true and talk of the legend revived. Signs of the Coming included a Comet, Conquerors, Internal Strife, and a Plague.

It was said the legend would come to pass when the Great Healer married a Raimorrdan who was highly placed and who was born under the sign of the circle. The healing aura could only be activated by the power of love. But can Sarina learn to love Lord Cam’brii, the man she will be obligated to wed? Or does her heart belong to the rakish starship captain who transports her to meet her betrothed? In reflecting our own times, the similarities seem uncanny. We have a pandemic, political strife, and conquerors throughout the world. All we are missing is the Comet. Where is the Great Healer when we need her?

Sarina

Moonlight Rhapsody, the next volume in the Light-Years series, is based on the mythical sirens who lure sailors to their doom. Ilyssa, the heroine, has the power to mindwash men with her singing voice.

The Drift Lords series also relies on myth and magic. These stories derive from Norse mythology complete with runes, descendants of Odin and Thor, magic devices and mystical realms. The legend in this story is that “The six daughters of Odin must join with the six sons of Thor to utter the ancient words.” By chanting this spell, they will repel Loki and shut the rifts between dimensions. First the Drift Lord warriors must find their destined mates, and the women have to be awakened to their powers. We start with their team leader in Warrior Prince, book one in this saga that also includes mythological creatures like this sea monster.

Sea Monster

Using myths and legends works in mysteries, too. In Facials Can Be Fatal, there’s the legend of an infamous pirate that plays into the story. This was loosely based on the pirate Gasparilla who sailed off the Florida coast. Here’s an excerpt:

pirate

“A pirate nicknamed Red Ted, because of his lust for bloodshed, plied the waters off the Florida coast. He died in battle with an American naval warship. But when the troops arrived at his camp near St. Augustine, it was empty. No captives, no loot.”

“Yes, I read about him.” Even to Marla’s own ears, her voice reflected her excitement. “Warren mentioned this guy in his journal. He thought they might have uncovered part of his hoard.”

“Before his last voyage, Red Ted was getting set to retire. He’d loaded his goods onto a mule train and told his second in command to take it to Key West, where he planned to hole up in his later years. Then a sighting came for one more merchant ship that appeared to be unarmed. He couldn’t resist this last kill and set sail. The vessel turned out to be a warship hiding under a merchant flag, and Red Ted shot himself rather than be captured.”

“What happened to his mule train?” Marla asked.

“They were attacked by Indians on the route south. The natives made off with horses and mules and left them with fewer pack animals. They had to lighten their load and so buried some of the chests. They didn’t have much better luck as they headed into swampland and were beset by storms as well as bandits. With dwindling resources, they buried more loads along the way.”

“Hopefully someone kept track of those locations,” Dalton said in a wry tone.

“Only one survivor staggered into Key West. He waited for Red Ted until word came that the pirate king was dead. Ravaged by disease, he tried to sell his map but nobody believed him. He headed north, afraid he’d be identified as a pirate and hanged. That was the last anyone heard about Red Ted’s treasure. But the man had a pouch of uncut emeralds on him that provided him with a cushy lifestyle in the end. In my mind, that indicates the tales of Red Ted were true.”

Weaving mythology into your novel can add depth and resonance. #amwriting #writingtip Click To Tweet

Adding myths and legends to your story makes them fun and interesting beyond the ordinary. You can delve into history or mythology and magic while adjusting the ancient legends for your own needs. It gives an added dimension to your work and resounds within our storytelling minds.

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The Spark of Inspiration

Some writers say they write when the muse strikes them. They might go days without filling a manuscript page and work feverishly when the mood hits. I don’t believe in waiting for inspiration this way. As a professional writer, you have a job, and you must show up for work each day.

The Spark of Inspiration

However, I do believe there’s a certain spark about a story that serves as a creative faucet. It’s what caught your passion in the first place. Or maybe you’re struggling to find this elusive element. That’s where I am with my next Bad Hair Day mystery. Never mind the dozen other distractions demanding attention, such as reissuing my remaining backlist titles. So what’s wrong?

I know what the next Marla Vail story will be about in terms of the murder mystery. But I like to learn something new with each book. That’s what makes the story fun and special for me. In EASTER HAIR HUNT, it was learning about beekeeping, stamp collecting, honey production and Fabergé eggs. In TRIMMED TO DEATH, I researched Florida olive groves and olive oil scams. The range of topics I’ve covered in each of my books varies greatly, but each subject was something that interested me. I haven’t found this spark yet for book #17 in the series.

As an author, you don’t want to repeat yourself. I’ve done the historical angle, especially in FACIALS CAN BE FATAL when I used excerpts from my father’s 1935 travel journal. I should avoid mixing history and mystery for this next one. Science? Maybe, but this might not be a good idea when we’re all so paranoid about viruses. Food? Always an interest of mine, but I’ve already done olives, coffee, honey, and vanilla.

I’ve scanned through the news, hoping some esoteric topic will catch my fancy. Maybe I’m too distracted to really think hard on it. Likely it’ll be 2021 before I can sit down to write this book, because I have too much else to get done before then. However, I could work on the plot once I get involved in the research. Would you call this waiting for the muse? Or is it merely waiting until my mind is clear to focus on this story?

I know the moment will come when the notion hits me. Or I’ll get interested in diverse topics that I will have to fit into the mystery plot. This is similar to putting a puzzle together. I’d write the ideas onto mental index cards and then shuffle them around to see how they can be combined. This is a bit harder than an overall concept but it can be done. Either way, I’ll be excited when inspiration hits. How about you? Do you need that special spark to start your story?

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Writer’s Block

Is there such a thing as Writer’s Block? Or is it merely an excuse for poor planning? Because if you’ve properly laid the groundwork for your novel, you should know exactly where the story is headed. Some writers are pantsers and not plotters, and their novel writing experience is a meandering road that will eventually lead to the end. Whichever way you tell a story, the middle might become a muddle where the road ahead is obscured. But this doesn’t have to happen if you retrace your steps and build on whatever is already present.

Writer's Block

In terms of writing the story, I don’t believe Writer’s Block exists. Even when faced with the complexity of writing a novel, we can break it down into baby steps. One hour of writing, one page, one chapter. We keep going until we are done. However, in terms of lost confidence or too many outside distractions, it can definitely be real.

Loss of confidence comes from a variety of sources, such as a bad review, a publisher who rejects your next option book or dumps you altogether, a line that is cancelled along with all its authors. You might feel lost, doubting your talent and questioning which way to go. But if you’re a career writer, you’ll either ignore that nasty review and celebrate the good ones instead, or you’ll pick yourself up and find a new publisher or will decide to try the indie route.

Outside distractions can be another major cause of Writer’s Block. Disastrous world events can become huge roadblocks. Our writing becomes insignificant in the face of these catastrophes. Storytelling seems meaningless, and yet we have to remember that books offer comfort to our readers. It’s our calling to provide escapism and entertainment during troubled times.

Personal events are much more difficult to ignore. Some writers find sitting at the computer to be comforting during personal crises. Others find it impossible to write. That’s okay. We need to allow time to process what has occurred, and hopefully, someday the muse will return.

Speaking of minds, in my fiction writing classes, I advise writers to examine their character’s life space to get to know them. This is what’s in the person’s head at any given moment in time. For example, three items are occupying my mind right now that are blocking my creativity.

Because of Covid 19, I hesitate to start a new project when each day brings the possibility of getting struck down by the virus. I have to avoid the news and shut out the dire prophesies in order to get anything done.

Another big energy drain is our desire to move to be near our kids. We’ve been packing, getting rid of stuff, looking at houses on Zillow every day. After living here for forty years, this isn’t easy for us.

The business of writing is also taking up a large portion of my brain. I am still working on reissuing the remainder of my backlist titles. After these are done, I’d like to bundle them into box sets and run price promotions. These require a learning curve as well as more time and effort to put them into action. In fact, I could focus totally on marketing and never write another book. And what about those standalones buried in my desk drawers? Are they worth publishing?

Physical problems can be inhibiting. People with pain may be unable to focus. Surgeries require time to heal. Along with health concerns come aging issues. How much longer will we be able to keep writing? Is it worth the effort to start a new series? How many more books will we be able to finish in our remaining years, and is that how we want to spend them?

Yet being a writer is who we are. We write stories because it fills our time, satisfies an inner need, expresses our creativity and gives our days purpose. We hang out with other writers and contribute to the writing community.

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We’ve all been distracted by these problems and somehow we’ve found our way back, often to even greater success.  I suspect the secret is what I’ve told aspiring authors. Focus on the writing first thing each day. Shove aside anything else on your mind and spend an hour on your writing project. Then let the world flood your mind.

What advice do you offer writers struggling with these issues?

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Adding Front and Back Material to Your Book

Today we’re discussing adding front and back material to your soon-to-be self-published book. This is one of the advantages of indie publishing. You can add whatever bonus materials you want. In terms of Front Matter, less is better. You’ll want readers to access the first chapter as quickly as possible for the “Look Inside” feature on Amazon. So what should you include? Here are some options:

Front Material may include:

Cast of Characters
Copyright Page
Dedication
Family Tree
Map of Setting
Story Blurb with Review Quotes
Table of Contents

If you have a lot of characters, a cast of characters might be useful to the reader. Or it might discourage them from reading the book if they think it’ll be hard to keep track. I’ve had feedback both ways from fans.

The copyright page contains the book title, author, year of copyright, publisher imprint, statements about fair usage and permissions, ISBN numbers, and a Library of Congress number. Some of these are optional and some are not. We’ll discuss these choices more in another post.

Maps are always popular as are family trees. These could be offered in the back of the book rather than up front to save space. Same for the Dedication. A Table of Contents is critical for a nonfiction work. For a fiction work, this will be added when you upload your mobi or epub file to the different distributors.

Back Material may include:

About the Author + Social Media Links
Acknowledgments
Author’s Note
Book Club Discussion Guide
Call to Action for Newsletter and/or Reviews
Character Timelines
Excerpt of Sequel
Glossary
More Books by [Author] with Buy Link
World Building Details

After your story ends, you’ll have the chance to add bonus materials, such as a list of your books in series order, an excerpt of the sequel, reader discussion questions, research notes and more. Here you can put a Call to Action for your newsletter and/or reviews. Regarding buy links, keep in mind that certain vendors don’t like you to mention other sites. You’ll be safe if you use the book page on your website. Otherwise, you’ll have to change the buy link for each distributor.

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General Formatting Notes

My personal preference for e-books is to format my work in Times New Roman 12 pt. font, 1 inch margins, indent first line 0.33 inches, Widow/Orphan off, single spacing. I put a page break at the end of each chapter. The first paragraph of each chapter or after a space break is flush left. Your formatting source might advise something different. You can also upload your Word file to one of the third-party aggregators like Draft2Digital and they’ll do the conversions for you. More on this option another time. Next we’ll discuss Buying and Assigning ISBN numbers.

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Previous Posts on this Topic

Preparing Your Book for Self-Publishing

Why Self-Publish Your Book

 

Setting Goals for 2020

For writers, it’s important to set concrete career goals. These should be as specific as possible and ideally attainable. It helps to divide these objectives into creative and business aspects. As a professional author, you need to pay attention to both. So let’s see where I stand at the beginning of this new year.

Setting Goals for 2020

 

CREATIVE GOALS

1. Publish Easter Hair Hunt, #16 in the Bad Hair Day Mysteries.

This book is written but needs a final proofread before going into production. My cover artist is polishing the cover. The next step will be formatting, another inspection for conversion errors, and then upload for pre-orders. Sending out the book to reviewers, doing a cover reveal, planning the launch party and preparing for a blog tour are all part of the marketing for a new book release. The date is slated for March 10, so I have to get these tasks done.

2. Reissue mystery backlist titles and update earlier covers.

For purposes of author branding, my cover artist is tweaking my earlier covers to make them all consistent in terms of font, text placement, imagery, etc. One early cover has a total makeover and another one has a partial. The other tweaks are relatively minor. Adding to this task might be my four Five Star titles but they’re not on the horizon yet.

3. Revise and reissue romance backlist titles.

I still have six romance titles that need to be made available online. These early books require editing since my writing has vastly improved over time. I need about two months per book for this process as it requires one round of line editing and two rounds of read-throughs for polishing.

4. Do another audiobook.

I’d eventually like to put Writing the Cozy Mystery into audio. Or I could do the next Bad Hair Day mystery instead. It might depend on number 3 below.

BUSINESS GOALS

1. Bundle books into box sets.

Once my backlist titles are all updated, I can begin packaging them into box sets.

2. Participate in sales and giveaways.

Again, once my entire backlist is online, I’ll have more leeway to offer pricing incentives.

3. Experiment with going wide for audiobooks.

My audiobooks are currently available only on Audible, iTunes and Amazon. I’d like to see how they would do if more readily available to libraries and other resources.

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After Easter Hair Hunt, my next priority is getting all my backlist titles available online. Then it will be time for something new. But these books have been preying on my mind for some time now, so I have to get them done. It will be immensely satisfying to have all 27 books (8 romances, 16 mysteries, 1 novella, and 2 nonfiction titles) the best they can be and available to readers everywhere. At that point, I will face what to do next. What do you think it should be?

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Tripping Over Timelines

How do you keep track of timelines in your work-in-progress? Do you use graphs, charts, or plotting boards to note the days of the week? When I was starting out as a writer, I kept plotting boards. This was a poster board that I divided into blocks representing each chapter. After I wrote a section, I’d fill it in on the poster for a quick visual reference. These days, I use a chapter by chapter outline in a Word file. I’ll still fill it in after I write each segment. I add the days of the week so I can remember what day it is for each scene.

Tripping Over Timelines

Spoiler Alert!  As I was working on EASTER HAIR HUNT, #16 in my Bad Hair Day mysteries, I hit a major snag. The story begins on the day before Easter. It’s March. My hairdresser sleuth, Marla Vail, is seven months pregnant. Her mother wants to plan a baby shower. Meanwhile, Marla is chasing down her missing friend, Blinky, who disappeared after an Easter Egg Hunt at Tremayne Manor.

How much time has passed since Blinky had gone missing? Was it reasonable to think she might still be alive? Uh-oh, I’d better check on the timeline. This realization led me to a plot twist two-thirds through the story.

clock

I’d been concentrating so hard on the storyline, that I had lost sight of the subplots. If Marla is seven months pregnant, when is her due date? I had to go back to the previous book, Trimmed to Death, to figure out when she might have conceived. Then I printed out a set of calendars from https://www.timeanddate.com/calendar/

According to what I read online, Easter Sunday can fall between March 22 and April 25. In 2008, Easter was March 23 and Passover was April 20. Okay, my story will start on Saturday, March 22. By counting the weeks, I figured out Marla’s due date will be June 15.

calendar

By now, my story had progressed into April. Her mother could hold the baby shower on April 19, the day before Passover. I penciled in other events involving Marla’s friends and relatives. Now I know exactly what is happening, and when. Had I done this from the start, I wouldn’t have had to go back and change each conversation that mentioned these personal issues. I’d like this story to finish before Marla’s baby shower, so that could be my final wrap scene.

Sometimes you get carried away in the rush of storytelling and have to go back to fill in the details. What’s my advice? Get a calendar and follow your story along so you know which week you’re on and how long the action is taking. Sometimes you’ll read an entire murder mystery that takes place over a weekend. In that case, you’d need to keep an hourly account. Either way, keep track of your timeline from the start and save yourself some time-consuming revisions.

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Self-Publishing Made Simple – Part 2

Self-Publishing Made Simple – Manuscript Preparation

Self Publishing Part 2

Reissuing Your Backlist Titles

1. For older works where you don’t have a cohesive master file, you may need to use a scanning company such as Blue Leaf (http://www.blueleaf-book-scanning.com/). You’ll need a print copy to send in, and it won’t be returned. Send the version that’s the most up to date, i.e. later paperback instead of original hardcover.

2. After receiving your digital copy, review the story to correct formatting errors. Turn on the paragraph symbol in Word and look for weird symbols in between letters, missing or wrong punctuation, misinterpreted words, and misspellings. Search for ^- or an optional hyphen. Look for “die” instead of “the” or the number 1 instead of “I.” Italics might be missing or bolded instead. Look for “rn” coming out as “m”, such as “comer” instead of “corner.” In other cases “tly” might come as “dy”, as in “slighdy instead of “slightly.” Quote marks might be reversed, or there could be section breaks instead of page breaks.

3. If your publisher has provided you with a final pdf file, or you’ve downloaded an ebook file, you can use Calibre Ebook Management (https://calibre-ebook.com/) or Zamzar (https://www.zamzar.com/) to convert it into Word. However, the formatting may be messed up. In this case, copy the entire document onto a blank sheet and save it as a text file. Click on Remove Formatting (see symbol on Home page). Then reformat and save it as a Word file. You will lose italics but any weird justifications will be gone. You’ll have to read through the story very carefully adding in italics and looking for spacing errors or other problems as above.

4. Decide if you mean to revise the work and update the technology in the story.

Original Works

For a full-length original novel, hire a developmental editor and a copy editor/proofreader. Join author groups online and ask for names of editors who have experience in your fiction genre. You don’t want the local newspaper editor who’s your friend. Fiction is about structure and pacing along with grammar. You need an editor familiar with genre conventions. Experience at a publishing house is a plus.

Use a program such as Smart Edit (https://www.smart-edit.com/) to look for redundancies and repetitions. Revise your work as many times as necessary to give it professional polish. Ask beta readers to critique your story. Make it the best it can be and don’t be impatient, or your lack of care will show in customer reviews.

General Formatting Notes

I hire a professional formatter, so this section isn’t in my realm of expertise. However, I can share that we use Times New Roman 12 pt. font, 1 inch margins, indent first line 0.33 inches, Widow/Orphan off, single spacing. I put a page break at the end of each chapter. My chapter headings use Heading 1 so they get marked for the table of contents. The line of each chapter is flush left as per my preference. There are lots more choices here, but I’m not going into further details because your formatting source might advise something different. Or you can upload your Word file to one of the aggregators and they’ll do the conversions for you. More on this in a subsequent post.

The main point of this section is to be sure you have a polished, edited work that you’ll be proud to share. You can hire a formatter or learn how to do it yourself, but that’s later down the road after your manuscript is ready.

Self-Publishing Made Simple - Part 2: Preparing Your Manuscript #indiepublishing #amwriting Click To Tweet

Coming Next: Adding Front and Back Material

Are you interested in reissuing backlist titles or publishing new, original works?

 

Inconsistencies in Word Use

It’s important when editing your work to detect inconsistencies in word use. As I am revising my backlist titles, I am coming across several of these instances. One way that you can help avoid them in the future is to create a style sheet. Sometimes your publisher does this for you. Or you can note down observations yourself to make sure you follow through during the editing phase.

Here are some examples of items to note:

Two words or single word – town house or townhouse; coffeemaker or coffee maker, nightstand or night stand?
If you have different publishers, each one will have their own preferences. But if the editing is up to you, choose one way to list your word(s) and stick to it. Don’t know which one is correct? Look it up in your favorite grammar text. And if both are commonly used, choose the one that suits you and use that one on a consistent basis.
Wine types – Chardonnay or chardonnay? I’ve seen this done both ways. Whichever you do, be consistent for all wine varietals.
Character names – Chris or Christine? Jan or Janice?
In my recent book that I’m editing, I noticed that sometimes I referred to a character by her full first name and at other times by her nickname. This can be confusing for the reader. We’re reading about Jan through several chapters, and then there’s a Janice who shows up. Who’s that? Best to stick with one rendition, unless you happen to be giving the person’s full first and last name together, like in an introduction.
Terms of endearment – hon, sweetheart, or babe, as used by a particular character
If your guy is always calling the ladies “babe” then don’t have him switch suddenly to another word. It’s part of his characterization to use that one term.
Foreign words – chutzpah or chutzpah?
Decide if you are going to italicize the foreign word or not, and then be consistent throughout the story.
Hyphenated words – hard-boiled eggs or hard boiled eggs; fund-raiser or fundraiser?
Again, this can be a publisher choice. If not, look it up to see what’s correct or make your own decision about the hyphen.
Whatever your word choices, be consistent as you edit your work. Keeping a style sheet will help you remember which word to use.

Avoiding Word Repetitions

When editing your fiction manuscript, one thing you must watch out for are word repetitions. This might be a favorite word you overuse, or it might be a specific word or phrase that you use twice in one paragraph. You want to clean these up so they don’t pull your reader out of the story.
Word Repetitions
Here are a couple of examples:
Perish by Pedicure
The sergeant smirked, as though he knew all her secrets. “And then?”
Then she called to tell me about the job opening. I offered to put her up at my house, so we could visit while she was here.”
So she arrived on…?”
“Friday. I drove directly to the convention hotel so we could check in. That’s when I met Christine Parks for the first time. She brought down the rest of the staff for a preliminary meeting so we could go over the schedule.”
“How was her demeanor on this occasion?”
“Very much in charge.” Chris wore flashy clothes to attract attention, Marla wanted to add, but she bit her lower lip instead.
“Did her behavior seem off-kilter in any manner?”
“Not really, and she appeared to be perfectly healthy,” Marla said, anticipating his next question.
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In this passage, note how many times I use the word SO. It is a favorite word of mine in conversation, too. Currently, I’m revising my backlist titles. This book had already been through several rounds of edits at my former publishing house and through my own multiple read-throughs at the time. How come I picked up on this now? Maybe because I’m more aware of this word’s overuse. Whatever the reason, it popped out at me this time.
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Easter Hair Hunt (Work in Progress)
“This Fabergé egg belongs in that spot.” Lacey pointed a shaky finger at the case. “Someone must have stolen it and substituted a plastic pink Easter egg in its place.”
Marla saw what she meant. Her stomach sank as she realized the significance.
Somebody had taken the valuable Fabergé egg and substituted a fake one in its place.
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A software program that will help you pick up on word repetitions is Smart-Edit. Otherwise, you can do a search and find if you’re aware of your foibles in this regard. If not, a close edit of your manuscript may turn them up.
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