Three books of mytho-fiction later, it occurs to me that there are a few things I learnt on the way, some of which made me go: “I wish someone had told me that.” In no particular order, some of these friendly injunctions are:

First, know what you are writing
Bookstores might pile a bunch of different works together, but if you want to tell a convincing story, you need to be clear whether you are drawing from mythology to supplement a non-mythical plotline, or retelling a known story possibly from a different point of view, or even reconstructing a story with a different set of baseline assumptions – in effect, creating a different ‘story-universe’ while staying true to a broad storyline.

For example, one fundamental rule I used was to remove all magic and divinity from the popular versions of the Mahabharata. However, this meant that I had to find logical explanations based on science, politics, social theory - and many other things - to explain why certain things happened in a certain way. In short, mythology, mytho-fiction and mytho-historical fiction are not the same thing.

Keep the rules of your story-world consistent
It does not matter whether your story involves magic and fantastical elements, gods and demons, or human beings constrained by known boundaries of science. What matters is that the rules of your world cannot change to suit the convenience of your story.

Of course, your characters can always discover new powers – like Percy Jackson realising that he is a demigod, or Frodo Baggins finding the inner strength to volunteer to take the One Ring to Mordor. But you cannot spend three-quarters of your book claiming that astra-weapons have a scientific basis, and then suddenly have warriors infusing divine powers into their arrows by whispering mantras during the climatic battle. Consistency is the key to believability.

Research, research and more research
Myths are often more detailed and complicated that the popular versions we may have read of, or heard of as childhood stories. Also, there is no one definitive version because myths vary across different regions and languages, sometimes to the point of conflict.

For example, many southern Indian language versions of the Mahabharata have Panchali making a rather famous vow after she has been dragged in by Dussasan to the scene of the tragic dice game, that she shall not tie her hair up again until it is anointed with Dussasan’s blood. This incident has, possibly due to its dramatic appeal, made its way into many popular versions, including TV shows. Yet, a look at many narrations of the epic, including the critical edition, and we find clear references to Panchali’s long, plaited hair when she is later in hiding in Matsya.

Pay attention to the art
This rule is pretty generic to all writing, but I think it becomes all the more important when we are drawing strongly on existing material to craft our story – good writing craft is a must. At the end of the day, the value a writer adds comes from the way she or he tells a story - and language and attention to the craft is essential to writing in the mytho-fiction or mytho-history genres because often the story we tell is partly or wholly known to our audience. Novelty should not pass as an excuse for bad story-telling anywhere, but in the case of this genre it simply cannot take that route.

Respect the story
It has been around a lot longer than we have. Epics have endured because they are relevant and resilient both. Many writers have, over the ages been a part of this process by which these tales have flourished over millennia. Personally, nothing is more grounding and empowering than remembering that I am but one person in that long tradition of writers of the same story. It is an honour. It also is a serious responsibility.

Krishna Udaysankar is the author of The Aryavarta Chronicles.