The Importance of Knowing Your Stuff

My writing instructors always touted the importance of knowing mythology and religion. It is important, they always said, to know the Bible. To know Greek myth. To know your history.

Why? Because there are no new stories. We all know this. It’s pounded into our heads over and over – we aren’t original, we aren’t original, we aren’t original. And it’s true. Someone else thought of it long before you did and wrote it down on a stone tablet or really old paper. They probably used a quill or ash or a rock.

They thought of it long ago, and they wrote it down so that they could shove it in our faces (Okay, that might not have been the real purpose, but they’re laughing about it now!).

What’s the benefit of knowing these stories, of knowing what other people in the past thought of before you had the chance? The benefit is knowing what stories you are ripping off. Seriously. Okay, maybe that’s harsh. But the best stories are about human relationships, and we see the same ones pop up throughout history over and over. We can’t help that. We are what we are. But knowing your Bible, knowing your mythology, let’s you understand where you are just plain copying, and where you are making those stories your own. Writers often pay homage to their favorite myths by either modeling their stories after them, or using characters/objects from them. I think this is brilliant. These stories have stood the test of time for a reason. Audiences relate to these stories for a reason.

So the next time you start a story, do a little research. See where it’s been done and where it hasn’t. Make it your own, but remember the originals. Remember the where the tradition started.

What about you? Do you research any mythology before starting a story, or do you prefer to jump in without worrying about it?

5 Responses to “The Importance of Knowing Your Stuff”
  1. Most times, I just jump into the story. I know that most stories have been done already, but the time period a writer lives in can effect or change some details of the overall base story. The difference is in the details that surround the base story.

    You and I can write the same type of story, say a story like Romeo and Juliet, but because we are two different writers, have lived two different lives, seen different things, and see the world differently, the details we surround the base story with will be different and unique to us individually.

    People will be able to relate to the basic plot of Romeo and Juliet, but some will like your version better than mines because of the details YOU put in yours and vice’verse.

    Most stories have the Good guy trying to save the world. We don’t like all of these stories because of the details that separate them from each other. The Matrix has “The One” saving the human races from the Machines. Terminator has John Conner saving the Human race from machines. Though the base story is the same, some people hate The Matrix but love The Terminator and vice’verse because of the details, how the story is presented and executed.

    So, I don’t worry if my story is like someone else’s, probability says it will be every time, but the details in my story make it unique to me. Besides, someone may have told the story already, but “i” haven’t and that’s what matters to me. I have stories to tell.

    • That’s exactly right. No new stories. Just new ways of telling them. That’s the common phrase, isn’t it? That’s part of why I like knowing mythology and how it relates to the stories I’m telling. Gives me perspective on what I’m writing and how someone else would have viewed it in the past. But we are all still, obviously, free to write what we want. That’s what I mean when I say the best stories are about human relationships, and that they pop up over and over again. They always will.

  2. Maggie says:

    Write the story first, then before you write the next draft look at the Bible and mythology and see what kind of parallels to your story you can find there.

  3. It is interesting to see everyone’s own way of doing this. Obviously there is no right way to check your story for mythological parallels – many writers don’t even think to do this, and that isn’t a bad or “wrong” thing. Whether you write with the parallels in mind or you write first and find the symbolism later, at the end of the day it is all up to you as the writer to decide what story you want to tell, and how you want to tell it.

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