Creating the Underworld: Defy the Clichés

Hi, P. J. Hoover here, back for a third day! Thanks so much for reading! Yes, we’ve all heard scary stories about the Underworld. There are hellhounds running amok and nobody who goes in can ever come out again. And don’t you dare eat anything. The Underworld is a scary place. It’s full of dead people. It’s the worst place on Earth (or inside Earth? Or not on Earth? Where is it, anyway?). But are all these images nothing but clichés?

Solstice is set half in the outer world (namely Austin) and half in the Underworld. The main character, Piper, pays quite a few visits down below ground, and as such, I, as the author, must design this world.

When creating an image for the Underworld, a good place to start is with the technical aspects. There are five rivers in the Underworld: Styx, Cocytus, Acheron, Lethe, and Phlegethon. There are three places souls can go: the Elysian Fields, the Asphodel Meadows, and Tartarus. There is a ferryman, Charon, who takes people across the river. There is a three-headed dog, Cerberus, who guards the gates to the Underworld. And finally, there is a god who rules over the Underworld: Hades.

Great, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, what, as the creator, can we do with this information? How do we create the lure of the dark side? Here’s my short answer: Defy the clichés!

For starters, there are five rivers. That is five opportunities to create vivid images of river locations that are distinct, memorable, and serve a purpose. In Solstice, each river stands on its own. And the best part? There are monsters in the rivers (my son’s idea. I think I credit him in the acknowledgments for this.).

The River Lethe was inspired by the Red River separating Texas and Oklahoma

Next, we can think about the lands. Sure, good souls go to the Elysian Fields, bad souls go to Tartarus, and those kinda in between souls head off to the Asphodel Meadows. And yes, each of these lands must be distinct. But in addition to these distinctions in appearance, how would the souls differ in the three lands? More specifically, how would Piper’s interactions with these souls differ? It totally has to be considered. But when considering, again defy those clichés.

In addition to the three lands, Hades has to live somewhere. I don’t imagine he has a permanent guest room in Tartarus. He is, after all, a king. He’s going to want to live the good life just a bit. Let’s give him a place to live, too. And it doesn’t have to be all dark and filled with fire. Why go with that cliché? Why not try something different.

When considering the world building of something like the Underworld, thinking through each detail and trying to diverge from the clichés is the first best step toward creating a world that will stand apart. Throw away the first idea that comes to mind. Throw away the second. And maybe go with the third.

Coming tomorrow . . . Putting it all together.

P.J. Hoover is March's Affiliate Blogger. To find out more about our guest author positions here at the League, click here.

P. J. Hoover first fell in love with Greek mythology in sixth grade thanks to the book Mythology by Edith Hamilton. After a fifteen year bout as an electrical engineer designing computer chips for a living, P. J. decided to take her own stab at mythology and started writing books for kids and teens. When not writing, P. J. spends time with her husband and two kids and enjoys practicing kung fu, solving Rubik's cubes, and watching Star Trek. Her first novel for teens, Solstice (Tor Teen, June 2013), takes place in a global warming future and explores the parallel world of mythology beside our own. Her middle grade novel, Tut (Tor Children's, 2014), tells the story of a young immortal King Tut, who's been stuck in middle school for over 3,000 years and must defeat an ancient enemy with the help of a dorky kid from school, a mysterious Egyptian princess, and a one-eyed cat. For more information about P. J. (Tricia) Hoover, please visit her website
by PJ Hoover
Piper's world is dying. Each day brings hotter temperatures and heat bubbles that threaten to destroy the earth. Amid this global heating crisis, Piper lives under the oppressive rule of her mother, who suffocates her even more than the weather does. Everything changes on her eighteenth birthday, when her mother is called away on a mysterious errand and Piper seizes her first opportunity for freedom.

Piper discovers a universe she never knew existed—a sphere of gods and monsters—and realizes that her world is not the only one in crisis. While gods battle for control of the Underworld, Piper’s life spirals out of control as she struggles to find the answer to the secret that has been kept from her since birth.


chihuahuazero said...

Thanks for this series! So far, I have put both articles onto my blog's upcoming article round-up.

PJ Hoover said...

Thanks, Chihuahua! I appreciate the support!