I’ll be honest, now that I’m trying to post here with some sort of regularity again, I sometimes have trouble figuring out what to write about. So occasionally I’ll look back through past posts for inspiration. Considering I’ve got about ten years of backlog (wait, what?!), there’s plenty to choose from. (Actually, the ten year anniversary of my first post here is tomorrow, which is CRAZY!)
In 2015, I wrote a pair of posts that I vaguely remember wanting to turn into a series. I couldn’t tell you why I never followed through on that, but here I am almost eight years later finally continuing on. The premise was taking a look at well-known magical and mythical creatures, exploring some of their history, and providing ideas for customizing the creatures for your own use in storytelling. So, welcome back to the How to Write Your . . . series! Today’s topic: unicorns.
Unicorns Through History
The horned horse.
Unicorns have been a part of folklore and mythology almost as long as we’ve had folklore and mythology, being found in Mesopotamian art, Indian and Chinese myths, and Greek literature. Many people believe unicorns were simply early descriptions (often second- or third-hand) of a rhinoceros, but their legend has since taken on a life of its own. It’s even become the national animal of Scotland.
The defining characteristic of unicorns has always been purity. Unicorns are best known for their healing and restorative abilities, especially against poisons. Their horns were considered to be either the source of their power, or at least where the majority of it was concentrated, making them highly sought after. And there are many legends that a unicorn can only be found or approached by someone ‘pure,’ though it varies whether that means purity of heart or body.
Make It Yours
So, say you want to include unicorns in the story you’re telling. How do you make yours stand out?
I feel like most unicorns I’ve seen in stories are solitary creatures, which always struck me as weird, considering horses are herd animals. Try playing around with herd structure. What sort of dangers or challenges do they face in their day to day lives? What sort of people or creatures hunt them? Also, consider how intelligent your unicorns are. Can they understand speech? Can they speak or communicate in any sort of way? Or are they just wild animals?
You can also play around with their power. What sort of magic is at their command? Where does it come from? What are they strong and weak against? How willing are they to use their power on behalf of someone else? Are unicorns a helpful sort, or does asking them for aid involve jumping through metaphorical hoops or meeting very specific standards? If so, what’s the reasoning behind those specifications?
What’s your favorite portrayal of unicorns in fiction?
Until next time, word nerds!