World Building Beyond Basics: Part I – Legends

Every great story makes use of legends to add depth and intrigue to their tales.

Take Lord of the Rings for example and the Dol Guldur. Or Harry Potter and the Shrieking Shack. Or Game of Thrones and Castamere, or the comet, or the moon filled with dragons. Or how about The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time which has the legend of the royal family in which we get tiny sneak peeks into the darker side of Hyrule.

One way to make the characters truly real is to write in legends that your characters can react to. How do they view such legends? Are they scared? Anxious? Skeptical? Even if these legends don’t play a major role in the story, adding in legends can create deeper layers of story, plot, and character development that helps to draw your reader in and paint your world in their imagination.

Legends can offer your readers and fans several things:

  • Story depth and description
  • Fan theories and headcanons
  • Hidden references and correlations
  • A mystery to solve

Readers love one thing above all else, and that is being able to solve mysteries, put strange pieces together, and connect correlating plot points. Ok, so maybe that’s three things they love. These things create an interactive experience that will leave your audience craving more of your writing.

But how do you create legends and successfully add them into your story?

First, what exactly is a legend?

a non-historical or unverifiable story handed down by tradition from earlier times and popularly accepted as historical.

Dictionary.com

The depth of your legends is entirely up to you. They can be as subtle as one line of dialogue spoken by a mysterious character referencing something that is never again mentioned in the story, or it could be a major plot point in your story.

Examples

Less than 12 Parsecs

An example of a legend that is only briefly mentioned is in Star Wars when Han Solo says that the Millenium Falcon made the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs. Since the release of Star Wars, there has been much dispute over this line, since parsecs are measurements of distance and not time, but you can read more about that here.

One thing that a lot of films do is they over explain the legends of a fandom. There should be some mystery around the legends. We don’t need to know what exactly happened during the Kessel Run. The only purpose this line serves is to Illustrate the speed of the Millenium Falcon. It doesn’t need to be expanded. It serves its purpose in the story.

The Rains of Castamere

Or Castamere. We don’t need to see the kingdom destroyed. All we as readers need to know is that history repeats itself. The rains of Castamere is epic foreshadowing and nothing more. But I wouldn’t put it past Hollywood to ruin it by making a movie called the rains of Castamere and expanding that unnecessarily for monetary gain.

However, it should be noted that some legends benefit from being expanded upon. We won’t get into that today.


Building Your Own Legends

To create believable legends, take a look at the legends that exist in the real world. Was Hercules real or fiction? The world may never know, but yet it is accepted as history and almost everyone knows his name.

Some ideas for legends:

A war hero feared throughout the land

A girl who escapes the clutches of an evil entity and goes on to create an underground network of rebels

That one haunted ghost town no one will go to

Not a ghost town? Ok, then that creepy tower on the edge of town that no one will go to

The creation story of something in nature such as an animal or plant

Look to the sky. Any legends about what’s going on up there? Constellations? Aliens? Space explorers who never came home?

A nightmare creature that can mimic the voice of anything or anyone

A song sung about an event that happened long ago

A poem about the same event, written by someone on the other side of the world

The history of a person, place, or thing

A character did something really cool but no one believes them, but that doesn’t stop them from telling anyone who will listen

The most beautiful and deadly creature to exist

That landmark that seems so strange and out of place. What’s its history?

What ever happened to what’s his face? I heard he still haunts *Insert fictional setting*

A magical item from history suddenly reappears in our heroes storyline

The weird etchings on the walls of a sacred place. Where did they come from? And what do they mean?


How do you make these ideas more real? Try giving different cultures different legends. Maybe two cultures are at war because of a legend they both disagree on. Or how about giving all cultures the same legend about where life began?

Maybe these legends will act as prophecies in your story, or maybe they simply add history. Whatever the reason, adding legends into your world building experience will give your readers that extra depth that will keep them turning the pages and bring your fantasy world to life. 

Do you have any suggestions for legends? Leave a comment and let us know! 

Similar Posts: World Building For Beginners

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Happy Writing,
The Literary Kat

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