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I am writing a story that is based on mythology. I have my own characters which have their own voice. One of those characters, the wise old man archetype, has certain qualities and has a background which is very similar to one of the characters from mythology. The more I thought about it the more I am convinced that it will make for a good reveal. Kind of tying the story firmly to certain mythological events (not from the story).

However, this is where I am stuck. I don't know what to do with this reveal or how to take it forward. I am sure the reveal is subtle and will make the readers go "why did I not make the connection?" as well as strongly include the mythology into the world building (kinda like alternate explanation for the mythology) but beyond that I am not able to craft it into a story line or an arc or to make it serve a purpose. What can I do to make a piece of information that has world building importance relevant to the plot ?


Edit: To provide an example which I have given in the comments below. The MC and his group run into the old man while on a quest and he decides to join them. Through the journey, the old man rises into the role of a teacher, teaching the MC a necessary skill (let's say summoning lightning). At that point, I can -

  1. Have the MC guess who he is (say Thor) and so is able to teach him
  2. Conversely, I could just say he is a master of the mystic arts and be done with it.

The thing is that by calling the old man Thor, I not only lend credibility to him being able to teach that skill, plus there are certain events which happened prior to the MC's birth, they easily become part of the Norse mythology (like a cause-effect and alternate history thing). The issue is that the reveal needs to happen in the middle of the journey and then I don't know what to do with the fact that he is Thor for the rest of the journey. The old man has his own character arc and I cannot decide how being Thor fits into that. Hope this helps.

OK, so I thought about it a bit more and thought it might help to have a pros and cons list.

Pros to revealing the old man is Thor -

  1. It instantly gives him a richer backstory. [True I could just copy his backstory but it won't be as relatable.]
  2. It is more believable that he is able to summon Lightning and can teach it.
  3. It ties events which have happened prior to MC's birth to actual Norse events. For e.g. Ragnarok caused a certain new element to be discovered which is then used to forge a destructive weapon

Cons to revealing the old man is Thor -

  1. I don't know what to do with the fact after the reveal. The old man has his own character arc and being Thor is not having any significance to it.
  2. All the above pros can be explained in alternate ways without calling the old man Thor.
  • So, your plot is not asking for "Deus ex machina", but you just happen to get one? – Alexander Jun 16 at 23:22
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    Is this a fictional in-universe mythology (e.g. Werewolves in The Elder Scrolls being connected to the Daedric Lord Hircine) which will need lots of revealing, or a real-world mythology that you are tying into your story (e.g. wise old man turns out to be the Norse god Odin) where you only need to reveal the tie-ins? – Chronocidal Jun 17 at 10:36
  • @Alexander: I am not sure what you mean. – user96551 Jun 17 at 19:31
  • @Chronocidal: It is the latter...wise old man turns out to be the Norse god Odin (although the wise old man does not say it so but the MC guesses it) – user96551 Jun 17 at 19:31
  • @user96551 I mean that suddenly one of your character's importance (and likely power) increases to outshine everyone else. This is more or less an equivalent of "Deus ex machina" plot device. This plot device is notorious for being a tool to resolve otherwise irreconcilable plot issues. But you don't have any plot issues that need resolving, correct? – Alexander Jun 17 at 19:56
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Does it need to be built upon?

If your character bumps into an old legendary hero, and they give a useful bit of advice, it doesn't necessarily mean that the hero is invested in your character's journey - just that their paths crossed. There are other stories unfolding elsewhere in your world that you aren't showing. Perhaps the old hero's story is "quiet retirement in a village where no one knows who he is"

If you find this is a repeating theme, then you might want to start thinking about those background events - why are so many old heroes, monsters, demons and gods "bumping into" your character with a "wink-wink-nudge-nudge"?

Is there some secret in their background - or in their future - that these mythical eidolons are aware of? Are they subtly directing their path or testing them for some reason? Or, do they do this to lots of people, and the only unusual thing is that, this time, it's been noticed?

Lots of authors feel the need to grab every detail, and tie it into an overarching plot. But others have mastered the art of "one-off" references, little titbits which add richness to the world without impacting the plot in any meaningful way, and may never be referenced again.

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  • The MC runs into the old man who joins the quest. On the journey, he teaches MC an important skill. Calling him Odin, lends credibility to his teaching ability as well as ties certain events which have happened long before MC's birth with the Norse mythology. If I do not call him Odin, I can very well say that he is a master of the mystic arts and so can do it and abandon the tie in to mythology. It won't affect the story line but it certainly takes away from the world. – user96551 Jun 17 at 19:59
  • contd...The issue I'm facing is that let us say, I call him Odin and it builds into the world but then that is not the end of it, the old man continues on the journey with the MC and I don't know what to do with the fact that he is Odin. The old man has his own story and his own development arc but the fact that he is Odin just becomes a bullet point and does not amount to anything more or has no bearing on the story after the reveal. It feels awkward. – user96551 Jun 17 at 20:01
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I think @Chronocidal poses an important question - in short;

"Is it actually relevant or just 'a nice idea'?"

If you find that it is an important part of the story that a link be made between a character and mythology, you can try going about it in the following ways;

1: Have your main character remember stories (because he was raised with them, for instance) and then tie some clues together that make that character seem 'oddly similar to a mythological one' - this would be based on your main character's own experiences with that character.

2: Have other people talk about that character - Either in conversations overheard by your main character or in dialogue with him/her. These conversations can be about "how he's definitely not ____ because ___" or "how he's oddly similar to ____". If your main character has a companion, the companion could be the conversation-partner with whom the similarities and differences are discussed.

Things that could make 'the reveal more difficult' could be;

  • The old man actively tries to build the image of not being 'the mythological one'...
  • The mythology's authenticity is questionable for X reasons - either to your MC or anyone else.

Things that could make the reveal realistic;

  • Your MC / the companion is curious and attentive.
  • The same or the other character is knowledgeable about mythology (if the character(s) close to your MC have different ideas/experiences/beliefs, it makes for greater conflict, big or small - conflict drives the story forward.

In either case, it can still seem a little 'forced', if it's not a truly important piece in the overall puzzle of your story.

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  • I think that question is what I am struggling with. You see, the MC and his group run into the old man while on a quest and he decides to join them. Through the journey, the old man rises into the role of a teacher, teaching the MC a necessary skill. At that point, I can - 1. Have the MC guess who he is say, Odin and so is able to teach him, 2. Conversely, I could just say he is a master of the mystic arts and be done with it. The thing is that by calling the old man Odin, I lend credibility (as in tied to actual mythology) to certain other events which have happened earlier in the novel – user96551 Jun 17 at 19:49
  • contd.. and also validate the old man's credential to teach that necessary skill. But then since the old man continues on the journey with the group, I don't know how to address the fact that he is Odin. I would say this is certainly more than a nice idea but I don't know how to deal with it after the fact. – user96551 Jun 17 at 19:51

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