Episode 231: Writing in Existing Lore Part 2


On May 20th, Kasie and Rex looked at the rest of the list of creature lore with mermaids and fairies, etc. Here are the show notes:

Theme for the day

Writing in Existing Lore Part 2


  • What is “lore”?
  • Mermaids
  • Fairies
  • Other types
  • How to write an original story in existing lore
Photo by Dmitry Daltonik on Pexels.com

Segment 1

Last episode we talked about werewolves and vampires on this lore journey we’re on. We’ve looked at writing in other peoples’ universes, adding new stories to existing worlds, adaptations from books, comics, and last week we focused on the lore that surrounds various magical creatures, specifically werewolves and vampires.

This week we’re turning the lens on water lore like Aquaman, mermaids, pirates, and kraken. And then forest lore like fairies, fae, trolls, and elves. So let’s get to it.

Here’s a link for some water mythology but we’ll highlight the terms you’re likely to recognize:

  • Kelpie (Celtic) – a kind of water horse
  • Selkie (Celtic) – shapeshifter that toggles between a human and a seal
  • Grindylow (Germanic) – humanoids who live in ponds and creeks, sharp teeth and claws (Harry Potter made use of these creatures)
  • Sirens (Greek) – bird-bodied women living near in the sea near a rocky coastline
  • Kraken (Norwegian) (link) – giant, octopus-like creature; a new DreamWorks Animation film Ruby Gilman: Teenage Kraken in which mermaids are despicable (not based on a book, but supposedly inspired by John Hughes films and the 2010 teen film Easy A.
  • Sea monsters – of any size, latest iteration the Disney/Pixar film Luca 
  • Mermaids and Mermen – human-like creature who inhabit fully underwater kingdoms

How much do you have to know about the ocean to write in these lore stories?

How can you give these characters advantages over their human counterparts?

How can you give them disadvantages that make it harder for them to make trouble for or compete with humans?

How do these creatures exist? Are they born? Made? Is it a certain coming-of-age?

Segment 2

Some characteristics:

  • Helpful to humans
  • Dangerous or tricksters who trap humans
  • Live much longer than humans
  • Beautiful or compelling
  • Can take human form, but only for short periods
  • Have a strong pull to / sense of belonging in the sea

Some great SciFi and Fantasy underwater stories (link)


Pirates – humans who sail upon the sea, adventurers, thieves and rogues

Nymphs – nature sprites

What’s the appeal of ocean stories? Of ocean monsters?

Here’s a link to a website with a few to pick from.

A lot of myths explain the unexplainable – by creating monsters that enact violence, entrance a person or alter a human’s senses in some way that they act irrationally.

Segment 3

What about nature myths? The ones meant to explain why things happen in nature?

Let’s start with places because nature myths are often born out of a character finding themselves somewhere familiar, but now dangerous (think Alice and the rabbit hole, or Dorothy and the cyclone).

Forests (link) – since Gilgamesh we’ve enjoyed the wildness of the forest, it represents possibility and danger. It’s where Little Red Riding Hood met the wolf. As this link notes, forests are outside the known world, they’re on the edges of civilization and characters who enter them cross a psychological boundary.

What are some possibilities with forests? What are some cliches or expectations of a forest in your story?

Some books make use of specific terrain or landscape to drive the plot. This link lists several books that make use of landscapes like Antarctica (frozen desert), rice paddies (swamp), and the natural overgrowth of uncharted places (rainforest).

What contributes to the mystery of such places? Do we have rules or expectations for delivering stories with “forest” as part of the plot?

Living in the forest – fairies, fae or fair folk. These creatures are less-than-gods but more than human. They typically have some kind of magic (or trickery) and usually cannot lie (link). From Shakespeare’s Puck and Oberon to Holly Black’s modern series 

This blog has a history of fairies and cites a 15th century alchemist for separating the fairies into categories – air, earth, water, and fire. The Disney fairies are more utilitarian; they are fast-flying (air), water, garden (earth), animal, light, and tinkers (inventors/builders/engineers).

In the 19th century, the fairies get recategorized into nature spirits tied to the earth and higher spirits associated with the astral plane, between flesh and thought; one dude even applied a full classification system to them following Darwin’s model, albeit without actual specimens, right? So … he just made that shit up. In his models, the fairies evolved from plant-life but bypassed humanoid status and went from elemental creatures to angels.

Segment 4

So how do you write a story dependent upon someone else’s lore? Engaging with the vocabulary and history of the beings but making them your own somehow?

  • Start by reading – everything you can find in your lore genre; how have other authors worked with these myths?
  • Make a list – what are the characteristics you’re seeing? Magic? Beauty? Speed? Strength? Who’s giving what qualities to the creatures? Capture, too, the weaknesses of the characters, where are they vulnerable? How are those vulnerabilities leveraged?
  • Decide how the creatures behave in your story – how do they make decisions? How do they impact plot? What are the requirements of your story and how can the creatures meet them?
    • For example, if you need the characters to move around quickly and magically, consider if they can fly (on brooms?) or teleport or run very fast. Does that match the lore?
  • Write the rules of your creatures – call it your story bible – and explain how they got this way, how they turn others, what their biological make-up is, how magic plays into it
  • Test it — write short stories and flash fictions of your characters becoming these creatures or interacting with them

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