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Myths are stories that explain a natural phenomenon. Before humans found scientific explanations for such things as the moon and the sun and rainbows, they tried to understand them by telling stories. These tales — which often include gods and goddesses and other supernatural characters who have the power to make extraordinary things happen — remain popular today. As you start to think about writing your own myth, try these warm-ups. They should help you begin to plan your story.

Follow these five steps.

1. Pick out the natural phenomenon you want to write about.
Make it something that really interests you. If you live in the desert, you might want to think about the way a single rainstorm can cause a flood. If you live in the North, think about the way a snowstorm can cover the ground like an icy blanket. If you live near the ocean, consider the way the tide comes in and out each day. In other words, find something that is familiar that you can observe.

2. Observe carefully.
It helps to know a thing well before trying to make up a story about it. The old myths were created by poets and storytellers who were well-acquainted with nature. Find out as much as you can about the natural phenomenon that you've chosen. Go to the library and find out what it is scientifically — and read what other storytellers have said about it.

3. Write down what is actual about the phenomenon.
Keep a record of what you have observed or read. What are the smells, sights, and sounds connected to this natural phenomenon? If you are artistic, you might want to try drawing sketches or painting pictures. Think of yourself as a reporter, not a storyteller.

4. Write down key words from your research.
If you're researching the desert, the words you find could be: sand, rain, gully, wash. Then look in a thesaurus or dictionary to find as many synonyms, phrases, and meanings for your words as you can. For example, under "sand" you might find grain, granule, gravel, shingle, powder, pulverizer. As you are writing those words down, think about the images behind them. It's those images that will help you build your myth. For example, I thought of a pepper grinder when I reached the word pulverizer. Once you've got a picture in your mind, it's time for the big WHAT IF. . . ?

5. Ask yourself, WHAT IF?
Hop onto your image and head off into myth land. This is the point from which you need to start brainstorming! Take a picture in your mind of what an aspect of the world would be like if certain events happened. Then use this "what if" to create a story that explains why the natural phenomenon exists. The story can be as fantastic as you want.

For example, take the pepper grinder from Step 4. What if there was a chef to the gods who lived in a beautiful green countryside but became upset one day because no one ever complimented his cooking? While wandering around, he sat under one of those beautiful green trees and wished (always be careful what you wish for in a myth) that he could somehow make the gods take notice. And suddenly in front of him was a special pepper grinder that said, "Use me, and you will be noticed." And so the chef took the pepper grinder and used it that evening as he was seasoning the gods' stew. But instead of churning out pepper, it ground out sand — more sand than the chef had ever seen! The sand kept pouring out, completely covering the beautiful green countryside. And thus the desert came into existence.

Here are some tips that I've always found helpful in warding off fear of the blank white page. I recommend that you try them!

  • Be a reader. Read something of interest every day — something of interest to you, not to your teacher or your best friend or your minister/rabbi/priest. Comics count. So does poetry. So do editorials in your school newspaper. Or a biography of a rock star. Or an instructional manual. Or the Bible.
  • Write every day. You don't have to write about anything specific, but you should exercise your writing muscle constantly. Write about your day (journal writing); write your observations (descriptive writing); write your opinions (editorializing); write lists of ideas or titles; write jokes; write down the plot of the TV show or movie you just saw. All this exercises the writing muscle.
  • Hide the internal editor. Take a deep breath and just start. Don't worry whether something is good. Just let it flow onto the page. At this stage spelling, grammar, and run-on sentences don't count.
  • Learn a new word every day. It can be a word from another language or a new word to describe your favorite color. It can be a verb form or an adjective. It can be a noun or a poetic contraction. It can be anything, just as long as it qualifies as a new word. (My most recent favorite word is taghairn, which is Scottish for "to prophesy behind a waterfall while wrapped in a bullock's skin." I haven't found a place to use it yet!)
  • Don't let anyone discourage you from writing. If you become a professional writer, there are plenty of editors, reviewers, critics, and book buyers to do that. Now is the time to enjoy your writing without fear of being put down.

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