Myths, as our friend Sigmund taught us, are concrete examples of psychological processes. We only need to think about the infamous Oedipus killing his father without knowing it was him, Electra harboring nasty feelings against her mother or Robin checking out Batman’s outfit…no wait, bad example.
When a story is well crafted, it achieves the same level of meaning as mythology did back in the days of good ol’ Alex the Great, Ramses II or… Ch’in Shih Huang (yeah, he’s less known in the West, but he was still awesome).
Attributing symbols and basing some of your characters on archetypes will add a rich layer to your novel, script or short story. It will transform it from a “what you see is what you get” to a profound tale where multiple interpretations are possible.
As a writer, I am not ashamed of admitting that I often go back to my mythology books to get inspired. I even go as far as copying the structure of a myth. And I’m far from being the first to do that. Shakespeare did it all the time. So if the Bard wasn’t shy, why the heck should any of us be? The good news is, myths are abundant, rich and often very weird. If you think the Greeks are messed up, wait until you hear what American First Nations, African tribes or Hindus had to say.
I will end this post by revealing a secret. You liked The Hunger Games? After fifty pages or so, I started to suspect Suzanne Collins for finding her inspiration from the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. To prove that I’m not a lunatic, the author confirmed it first hand in an interview. So if you ever happen to experience writer’s block, or find your story a little too bland, you know where to look. Mythology can also help with story structure: I recommend reading Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces.