Last week I spent my commute time listening to the cassette tapes I have of Joseph Campbell’s lectures on Transformations of Myth Through Time. Good stuff that. I will often listen to those tapes either during or before writing a novel. I was at a point in my current WIP where I needed some inspiration. Listening to Campbell talk, I found that inspiration.
You can write fun stories without knowing anything about myth. Especially if you are a gifted writer or if you follow the formulas. But in order to write great stories, I think it helps to understand human mythology. Humans have been telling stories since the dawn of time. We’re pretty good at it. If you can find the common themes in all stories and work them into yours, you will connect to more people.
Campbell helps you see the similarity in all the world’s mythologies. Once you are aware of these common motifs, you can use them in your stories. I used the motif of the river being a vehicle that allows one to come closer to heaven in my WIP. It gives the bad guys an underlying reason for attacking the good guys and it adds a certain amount of sympathy to their relentless march across the galaxy. I also have a key scene wherein the empress kills her religious leader and thereby mixes the roles of state and religion becoming more of a deity than just a political leader.
I think mixing in these common mythological elements turns a simple Space Opera into a more interesting story and helps fill out the world building. My first Space Opera was simpler and didn’t touch on these things and I think readers can sense that unconsciously. It’s a good story, but not a great story. It doesn’t stick with you after you read it.