The Key to All Mythologies (or: cultivating spurious links)

A common thread between a lot of my favourite ways of collecting and getting and stress-testing ideas is, well, looking for common threads. Finding a strand in the tapestry of stories I like, or want to tell, or know relatively well, and pulling it to see what comes with it.


The scratchboard underpinnings of Scarlet

You can use the results to construct a theory (however spurious: quite useful for coming up with ideas for academic proposals and short stories), a conspiracy (also useful for plotting, per Tim Powers), a subplot, a thematic patterning, a deeper resonance to a simple image. It’s an excellent way to shuffle through your mental library for fun and profit, and to try out connections. And if you enjoy reasoning and arguing, or want to get better at them, it’s good practice.

Plus, it’s fun, and an excellent way to vary many games if you’re more into parlour games than more formal board/card games.


  • Game variations: Draw a card from Dixit, or three from Once Upon a Time, or one from Machine of Death, or a line from Masquerade, and see how many stories you can think of that (you can argue) they describe. You can get metaphorical/esoteric, as long as you’re prepared to back up your claims.
  • Writing/illustration: Think of a favourite story, and then choose a favourite/key element from it (for example, if you choose Cinderella it might be clocks, or glass, or lizards). Then start a list of other stories you know fairly well that also rely heavily on that element (Apollo 13? Snow White? Jurassic Park?). Try to get to ten.
    – Then step back and think about hidden connections that might exist — is there a trade in enchanted glass objects?
    – Maybe there are strong enough echoes that you could blend stories (could Cinderella be written to be about an astronaut?).
    – Or there might be textures and themes you could drag from one story into another (what if, when illustrating Cinderella, you make the enchanted lizards terrifying? or if, when riffing on stories about velociraptors, you make them beautiful?).
  • Or choose an object close to hand, and do the same.


(Also up now as a print on Redbubble)

8 thoughts on “The Key to All Mythologies (or: cultivating spurious links)

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