Striving for Character Consistency in a Mythical World
If you are young British girl who happens to be magically transported into another world, it can be very handy to find out that that a faun is really just a timid British man in a costume. It can make getting over the culture shock so much easier. But for the rest of us, this state of affairs can leave something to be desired.
If we should meet a faun, we would expect that a creature that looked so different from us would be different in other ways as well. We would expect it to have different values and beliefs then a 21st century human. If we were familiar with Greek myth, we might expect it to have some kind of magical powers. We might wonder if it knew any gods. We might even be afraid of it. But above all else most people who are drawn to myth would be disappointed to discover that a faun was no different than an average human male from where we came from.
Yet all too often, myth creators populate there worlds with creatures and characters who look different but don’t act different. We find elves that are immortal and have maturity of twenty something humans. We find barbarians who have the cultural sensitivities of a modern urban city dweller. And perhaps worst of all, we find dragons who want to live as willing slaves to scantily clad young females instead of eating them like a proper dragon would.
These things owe a large part of their existence to the very human desire for wish fulfillment. Nobody thinks that large, powerful, ancient, and intelligent creatures are going to want spend their lives transporting weaker, younger, and decidedly less intelligent humans on their backs. Furthermore this is not what the archetypical dragons would do. But some people decided that if riding horses was cool, riding dragons would be cooler.
To people who deliberately design their characters around wish fulfillment there is not much to say. We can note that artistically speaking, wish fulfillment in myth is no different than porn. There will always be a market for it and that market will always be saturated because any fool can do it. And even those who consume it most voraciously will find it forgettable. It will pass through their minds like refined sugar through the body. Exciting for a brief moment in time but it leaves nothing lasting.
But there are many myth creators who don’t deliberately set out to write wish fulfillment (or at least, not have that be the sole purpose of their story). Yet all too often they wind up with a bunch of people in faux medieval clothing who think and act just like modern humans.
A large part of this problem is immune to easy fixes. If the talent is lacking to imagine different beings, no amount of lectures is going to fix that. And if the education to understand that it is possible to have different values and ways of thinking is lacking then it is beyond the scope of a blog post to rectify that. But there is one thing that all myth creators can do regardless of talent and education. And that is believe in their worlds and have their characters act as if those worlds are real.
For example, it does not take a lot of talent or a deep understanding of moral philosophy to say “hey, I have created a world that has powerful necromancers in it. So what would I do if I lived in a world with powerful necromancers?” At the bare minimum, it would seem that in such a world it would be routine to burn the dead. One would think that the risk of granny being raised up from the grave to chaw on her former offspring would deeply bother people no matter how remote the risk might be.
But it seems that even this basic level of consistency is too much to expect from some myth creators. Huge disconnects between the nature of the world in a myth and how the people in the world act are the norm and not the exception. It is hard to escape the feeling that most myth creators never take the basic step of believing in their own worlds. They never enter into the world in their imaginations as being real and so they never notice the obvious inconsistencies.
What all myth creators should do regardless of talent or education is place themselves in their world. They should see the world through the eyes of the soldiers watching their battle lines being torn up by strange magic. They should sit in the seat of the evil wizard and think about what they would do if they had all that power and no morals. They should struggle to make a living in a world where the special (magic users, immortals, or whatever) have huge advantages. If myth creators do these things it will go a long ways towards making the world of their myth seem alive regardless of their other shortcomings.