Hey, did you hear about so-and-so? Yeah, the tall fellow over there! Rumor has it that he’s the legendary Enth’r swordsman of legend. He won the battle of Weeping Marrow Pass using nothing but his wits and a pocketknife! They say the scar over his eye came from a duel from the devil…and that’s why we all live long lives around here, thanks to him.
Whoever that person is, be it a lost king, a barely heard-of superhero, a much-admired warrior, or a celebrity who broke all records known in existence, heck, even a good role model, the living legend is revered by many. That’s part of what makes a legend: rumors of their deeds have to be passed down with stories that immortalize or frame them as doers of great deeds.
The upshot of a legend is that it was supposed to have happened long ago. What happens when it turns out that the hero of last night’s bedtime story is really your next-door neighbor? As it turns out, the legends are true, and standing before you is proof. Because of the things he’s done, he’s a legend–a living legend.
Living legends are a testimony to their legend. There was a story or myth about them, and they were the main actor in said story or myth. Essentially, they’re a legend whether they like it or not, because the story was not concocted by them. If they just so happen to be alive after the story is made, then they rise of living legend status.
Now that we’ve properly established what a living legend is, we need to figure out how to incorporate that into a story. First of all, to have the living legend, you first have to make them a legend. This requires you to create the legend that they are associated with, the thing that truly makes them legendary.
Whether it’s inscribed on tablets millions of years ago or the news of the most recent war being abruptly won, there has to be some fantastic story connected with one prominent figure. If the “legend” was only a footnote, a side character in someone else’s big story, they’re obviously so: merely a footnote.
So concoct some big fish story about a famous battle being won, a record being broken, or a great miracle being performed (fictionally, of course: you don’t want to go spreading around a rumor in real life about Bob the Magnificent who handily won WWII with a blunt pencil).
The second thing you need is the living part. Here is a little more vague: “alive” can mean everything from youthful sprightliness to almost-dead-on-medication-super-old-near-to-expiration-and-fading-fast. Truth be told, it could be one or the other or anything in between, but be warned: the state of “alive” that your legend’s in will dictate (to a degree) your reader’s (and characters’) level of admiration towards the legend.
For example: if the man who won the battle of bull run (Stonewall Jackson, by the way) was by now a old and doddering man, he would be respected by those who chose to but scorned by young, prideful individuals. On the other hand, if Stonewall Jackson was as fit and strong as the day he won the battle (today, I mean) he would have had much more respect because a fit figure is so much more easily associated with great feats.
Consider this: if you want your characters and/or reader to look up in admiration at your living legend, you should probably make them very much alive (this isn’t taking into account whether or not they want to be a legend, whether or not everyone thinks they’re dead, etc.). However, if you’d prefer more of a hidden figure, feel free to make the legend an old, stingy gamekeeper who warms up to the hero given time.
So now we’ve got a legend, and the legend’s living. What now? Well, it’s worth noting that most legends are presumed dead. Honestly speaking, a “living legend” is no more legend than a “dead legend”. The point of saying “he’s a legend” is to say that he’s both far above everyone else and you also think he should be gone by now.
This means that you need to find a way for the legend to find a way to escape their legendicity (Is that a word? Heck, whatever). There needs to be an explanation why they’re still alive (especially after their daring exploits).
So those are my top tips on how to set up not only a legend, but a living legend. That sort of character makes a good mentor and a good mystery. As always, try to observe the best living legends in movies and books that you watch and read: it’s one of the best ways to improve.
Good luck, and happy writing!
Be sure to check out my latest novel, Book 1 in the Praetors of Lost Magic Series, and our Publications page. Until then, writers!