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Mythcreants: the Obsession With Stories That Got Out of Hand

It Started as an Innocent Way to Pass the Time

As a kid I spent a lot of time lying in bed, in the dark, waiting for the mysterious process some call “falling asleep” to take over. To make the time go faster, I invented stories. A lot of people proudly advertise how young they were when they started writing, but if you started late, I don’t think you’re missing much. As a kid my stories were just fantasies about being beautiful, kicking ass, and getting the guy after a long and tortured courtship. They felt good to me, and that’s all that mattered then.

Though I began by reading fantasy novels with my dad at bedtime, once that passed I had to pick out my own books to read. It was easy at first, but as I grew older, works that satisfied me became fewer and further in between. If I liked a book I consumed it obsessively, but in most cases I got fed up or bored and never finished – and these were books that had beat out thousands of others in being approved by a professional editor at a big publishing house. My friends and family handed me books they loved, but when I read them I thought they were trash.

But why? Why did I like some stories and get bored with others? I wanted to know the underlying formula that got me so hooked that I neglected sleep, homework, and family. If someone else liked it and I didn’t, was it because they were more tolerant of flaws or because we had different tastes? I spent long hours in book stores trying to predict what books I would like before reading them, and after a some years I formed theories to answer my questions.

Then It Demanded Its Own Website

There’s a problem with creating a conceptual framework that stays in your head: as it becomes more elaborate, conversations with others on the same topic become harder to navigate. If I told a friend I thought a story had too much candy, they would have no idea what I meant, and it’s not simple to explain.

When I did move past that barrier to engage in conversations about storytelling, it brought me a lot closer to the understanding I wanted. I now know I am unusually character-focused for a speculative fiction reader. The books others loved, but that I thought were trash, had poor character development. The books that bored me either slowed the pace or neglected the main character in order to better develop the world. My friends did tolerate flaws I couldn’t stand, but I also overlooked things that would have bothered them.

Naturally this only created more questions:

  • Is it possible for a story to be loved by all the different types of spec fic fans?
  • Is there one thing called quality or are there merely trade offs?
  • Could someone read a book, assess those trade offs, and then accurately predict who would like it?

I knew those answers couldn’t emerge without having more discussions with more people, and there’s no better place to do that than online. There is also no better place to exchange new theories and concepts – to learn from others with the same idea, or to present them anew. Being a web gal, a blog seemed natural for me.

Still Unsatisfied, It Grew Several More Heads

Before the blog even came to fruition, it occurred to me that more bloggers meant more traffic, more ideas, and more conversation. The first person I talked to was the one who got me started on this trip: my dad. He wrote fantasy, and I wrote fantasy, so we came up with a plan that went something like this:

Write Blog –> Get Traffic –> Sell Novels –> Profit!

There were some flaws in this plan. Mainly, would regular readers of fantasy want to analyze the difference between protagonists and heroes, when they could instead read about Benedict Cumberbatch‘s newest role? Unless my web visitors are as preoccupied with how stories work as I am, I just don’t think I can compete with his suave style and cool intellect.

But as it turned out, there were a number of people around me who were equally obsessed with spec fic stories. However, many of them didn’t write at all. Instead, they did roleplaying. Some, like my dad, did both. It appears that many of the same passions that fuel fantastic writing are also expressed in roleplay. It’s storytelling, but instead of being laid out carefully by a single architect, it’s done in real time, and it’s cooperative and interactive.

More exciting questions came to mind:

  • What are the similarities between interactive and non-interactive storytelling?
  • Do the same things that engage readers in books also engage players in roleplaying?

To help answer these questions, I asked the obsessed roleplayers if they wanted to blog. They did. Then I asked a scientist, and an editor, and another writer and… the more the merrier, right?

I erased and rewrote the plan my dad and I cooked up several times, until it looked something like this:

Write Blog –> Get Traffic –> ??? –> Save Indie Spec Fic Producers From Oppressive Agents, Publishers, Monopolies, and Fast Food –> ??? –> Profit?

For some reason, no one has been bothered by this change.

The Heads Got Unique and Stylish Hats

I’d found people who had things to say, but they weren’t sure how to blog about them. So naturally I stepped in to help them. I also realized that if we were going to be blogging together, we needed to go from a motley group of independent thinkers to a team with a joint identity. And we had to have some standards of quality, or else who would want to read our work? Before I knew it, I was wearing the editor hat. I don’t have any experience editing, but I have opinions, and that’s just as good, right?

With all my talk about stories and how I was going to start a blog about them, I met another geek named Emily who actually wanted to copy edit. Apparently some people are as obsessed with grammar and word choice as I am with stories. I don’t understand, but I’m happy to benefit from it.

My dad, Jack, decided he wanted to draw a webcomic, so that was added to the website. And one of the roleplayers, Oren, decided he wanted to start a podcast. Another roleplayer, Mike, said he’d post on social media. Pretty soon we had a enough hats to fill a whole stand.

But we’re all still learners here. We care about quality, and the quest for quality never ends.

Together They Became Mythcreants

Now we have a fancy name, a logo and everything! But that doesn’t make us complete. We still need you and your perspectives. Otherwise, how can we hope to discover the difference between quality and taste?

And we want all tastes that fly under the banner of speculative fiction, not just the most popular ones. LARPers? Let’s hear from you. Furries? Yes please. Fanfic? Absolutely, but first please send some Spuffy to [email protected] What? Your work exists to make sociopolitical commentary on the impact of magic in the Harry Potter universe? Well… maybe you could try writing some Spuffy?

There’s only one group of people we don’t want here: meanies. We’ll aggressively prune out comments that are mean-spirited, so you can feel comfortable sharing your ideas and constructive feedback.

We, the Mythcreants, have big dreams for the future. Get our works published. Help other people get their works published. Sell good books and campaigns. Maybe even quit our day jobs. We hope you’ll join us, and help this hydra become a monstrosity capable of doing battle in downtown Tokyo.

 

Comments

  1. Jack Marshall

    I don’t think I’ll send you Spuffy, but I have a similar unsolved torment: why do I usually enjoy reading an urban fantasy more than a fantasy fantasy, even with all the tiresome vampire neuroses and werewolf dominance issues? It’s true even though my heart dwells more in the fantasy fantasy arena. And why are the urban things so blasted popular?

    • Chris Winkle

      So then urban fantasies would be a “guilty pleasure” for you, though really there’s no reason to feel guilty. A story doesn’t have to fall within your normal tastes or even be intelligently written to play music with the heartstrings. Writers spend so much time talking about what books like Twilight are doing wrong, they forget to think about what they are doing right. It may be just catering to fantasies, but it still has real value for readers and therefore lessons for all of us to learn.

      If you manage to pin down exactly what about these books draws you in, I’d love to hear about it.

  2. Roleplaying Nerd

    I want to draw this multiple headed Mythcreants monster with stylish hats on it.

    • Chris Winkle

      I want to see your drawing.

      • Roleplaying Nerd

        Good. I’m into the drawing now; I’m drawing people outside of Mythcreants who have contributed an article or two as little lizards hanging around the Mythcreants Hydra. I am sure that there are many but I could only think of two. Could you tell me some of those people who have contributed an article or two but are not in Mythcreants?

        • Oren Ashkenazi

          I sent you a list over email, let me know if you didn’t get it.

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