In my in-progress novel, Chasing Shadows, I have used countless references to historical and mythological personifications of death such as Giltine, Charon and the Shinigami. But one big challenge for me was deciding on the balance between well-known figures and totally obscure ones.
I could count from memory several popular young adult series that incorporate the more well-known ancient Gods; Norse ones seem to be particularly popular lately. And, for that reason, I was hesitant to use this type of character too frequently. On the other hand, I was concerned that using too many unknown figures would weaken the theme and leave the audience feeling less connected to the characters. I knew I had to strike a balance but it took a lot of thinking to come up with a good middle ground with enough recognisable names to hook the reader in and get them engaged, but still with plenty of new and original characters who don’t yet have a strong type-cast from overuse.
My solution was to minimise my use of well-known figures and, more importantly, to make sure they lived up to their name when they did appear. That’s not to say I presented them as stereotypical, all-powerful beings, but instead I made sure that they had sufficient influence and reputation in the fictional world. In this way, I feel that the characters had more impact than if I had simply scattered them amongst my protagonists thoughtlessly. I also tried to throw in a few characters that fell somewhere between famous and unknown such as Charon and Irkalla. I’ve met a handful of people who know one or both of these figures, and more people besides who have heard their names but can’t quite place where from. This device was useful in casting more credibility on the characters who I was certain my readers would not have heard of. It gave the hint that all of the characters had some back story behind them, even if it was not immediately known to the reader.
To top it off, I also added a glossary at the end of the manuscript, which gave a two line explanation of each of the mythological figures. I must admit, this was partly in the hope that some of my readers might try to find out more about the characters. It’s an area of personal interest for me, so if I can nudge someone else into finding out more, I’ll be very happy with that.