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Exploring Kiyohimé: Writing Fantasy Worlds with Mythology and Fantasy Creatures

One of my biggest inspirations when writing fantasy worlds is global mythology and fantasy creatures. I’ve always loved old folk tales, and one of my favourite things to do when I travel is to explore the folk tales and old stories of the country I’m visiting.

This is how book 1 of Dynasty Codes: Origin Curse was created.

When I lived and worked in Japan, I used to love visiting the old castles and historical sites, and I’d learn about the folk stories and fantasy creatures from Japan. One that stood out to me most was Kiyohimé.

Kiyohimé is one of the few powerful female creatures of Japanese myth that I’ve been able to come across so far. Like most old stories, much of it is men, and the female characters are usually side characters or romantic props. Kiyohimé’s story, while based on romance, seemed different to how women are usually spoken of in old stories. Her story is one of power and vengeance.

Summary of the story of Kiyohimé

The story is retold in many forms, the main concept being about a woman named Kiyohimé who falls in love with a young Buddhist monk named Anchin, who was travelling and staying at her parents’ ryoukan (inn).

Kiyohimé's love for Anchin is unrequited, and when he rejects her advances and tries to leave, she becomes consumed by rage and jealousy. In her anger, she transforms into a dragon and chases Anchin as he flees. Anchin tries to seek refuge in a temple bell, but Kiyohimé coils around the bell and breathe fire, melting it and killing Anchin.

The tale is often interpreted as a cautionary story about the consequences of unrequited love, jealousy, and the destructive power of emotions, with themes of transformation and the supernatural.

Kiyohimé in Dynasty Codes: Origin Curse

Hard for a fantasy author who loves powerful women in history and fantasy to not use that for inspiration. I love dragons, and I love powerful and destructive female MCs, and I just had this vision of a young girl who had these powers and didn’t know what to do with them.

Enter Yoshiko, who wanted to be the perfect ‘good’ daughter, and was peaceful and trying to be diplomatic like her mother, was energetic and open minded, and who loved the arts. Seemingly the opposite of this destructive kiyohimé power.

I saw her so clearly.

She feared her inner power and what it could do, as it went against everything she wanted to be: peaceful, diplomatic, able to win based on her values and not by burning everything down.

Trouble is, the power of kiyohimé in Dynasty Codes was something I saw as an innate familial curse or power, one that travelled through the matriarchs of her bloodline, and something very eruptive, especially based on big emotions, like in the original story Kiyohimé.

You can’t always control your emotions, and when you lash out, bad things can happen. You have to be responsible for how you react.

Dynasty Codes followed the themes of the old story of Kiyohimé, with transformation and the supernatural and themes of vengeance and the destructive power of emotions. But instead of romantic love, it became the love of her family and her people, and the desperation to help them.

The background artwork for Dynasty Codes: Origin Curse, an adult fantasy book written by Sarah Kate Ishii.
Yoshiko's character was inspired by the old folk stories of Kiyohimé, a women who in anger transformed into a dragon with destructive power. I love to use old folk stories and fantasy creatures to inspire my book writing.

Writing fantasy worlds inspired by strong female characters in history and folklore

I’m always searching through global history and mythology and folklore for strong female characters. It’s something that fascinates me the most. But, we know that history and stories are written by those in power, and men have been in power and telling the history of humanity their way for a long time.

It’s hard to find strong female characters that have a story of their own, that aren’t tied to a man’s tale or their mother or romantic character.

(If you’re reading this and have some great female stories from mythology or folklore, comment and let me know!)

Even then, global mythology and folk stories are the perfect places to hunt for inspiration.

I’ve noticed in fantasy these days we get a lot of the same characters, creatures, themes. It’s still a world largely with male stories, and the female MCs we do have all seem very similar. Hunt through the old stories to find fascinating women to guide you. I think you’ll find stories you never expected that you’ll fall in love with and that will inspire you in ways you never expected, and it’ll help us feel connected to our history, no matter where in the world it is.

Exploring Japanese mythology and becoming astounded at how few female MCs there were made me go back and check the Celtic mythology I’d been raised on. I’ve loved Celtic stories since childhood, and found there were quite a few female characters in those, like the selkies. It helped me find stories again that I loved back then, and fall in love all over again as I took a new understanding of their stories.

My next WIPs are inspired by folklore again, with two stories based on British/Celtic mythology and history and one again on Japanese. I’m so excited to share them with you.

Fantasy Writing Prompt

Do some browsing in the library or online for mythology from the place you grew up or where you’re currently living. Pick a story, character, or creature that resonates with you.

Do a little spider diagram of ways you could use it.

Then write a short piece (even if it’s just a sentence, a paragraph, or a page) based on that inspiration.

Feel free to share it with me on socials!

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