Now with 50% more dinosaur
There are certain things which, added to the blurb on the back of a book, instantly make that book seem twice as awesome to its intended audience.
For a small boy, it's dinosaurs. Or maybe pirates. (I was particularly amused by an ad in the back of one of Baby Smith's books for Captain Flinn and the Pirate Dinosaurs, a title that reads as if someone grabbed everything boys like off the Shelf of Ideas and mixed it up in a big bowl.*)
For a romance reader, it appears to be a man with a dark past. (Slightly off-white pasts don't cut it in the romance world; you wouldn't get far as a romantic hero if the worst secret you're concealing in the agonised depths of your soul is that you once nearly ran over a squirrel.)
For a sports fan, it's … *tries and fails to dig up any knowledge of sport whatsoever* … er, something to do with balls?
And for fantasy lovers, it has to be dragons.
Which is why you may find it a little odd that one of my works-in-progress used to have dragons in it, and I decided to take them out. If every fantasy tale is that much better with an added pinch of dragon, why deliberately make my novel less awesome? I mean, next thing you know I'll be taking out all the swordfights and making people duel with wooden spoons instead (for health and safety reasons, obviously).
The truth is, you're right. I could have kept my dragons, and they would indeed have been awesome. But I was swayed by that most dreaded of all forces when it comes to writing: Other People's Opinions. I'd read too many blogs and articles and critical reviews that said people were fed up with dragons. Dragons are such a cliché. If I see one more dragon in a fantasy novel I'll scream. Do something more original. And so my beloved dragons got the chop.**
Which was my mistake.
Because the fact is, People With Opinions are sometimes out of step with the opinion of the people. After all, if you went by everything that's written online, you'd deduce that the whole world hated Twilight – when actually, it's a small but vociferous minority. What critics and full-time reviewers and other writers feel about any given aspect of a book isn't necessarily what most readers feel. So, straight-up battle between good and evil? Still popular (Harry Potter, anyone?). Vast epic in which the end of the book is by no means the end of the story? Still popular (A Song of Ice and Fire isn't exactly failing). And dragons? Yep, still popular.
Trying to chase critical opinion is a futile exercise. You'll always be behind the cutting edge (no doubt soon the opinion-makers will be moaning about the prevalence of gritty violence in fantasy, just when everyone's decided that's the only possible way to get noticed), and you won't necessarily be giving your audience what they want anyway. The most important thing is to do what works for your own book, whether it's considered a cliché or not. If the story is good enough then nothing else matters.
So, maybe I'll reinstate my dragons and maybe I won't. But if I don't, it won't be because fantasy is so over dragons. Because if there's one thing I realise now, it's that – no matter what a few people would have us believe – fantasy will never be over dragons, any more than small boys will ever stop loving dinosaurs and pirates.
Hmm. Pirate dragons. Now there's an idea.
* I bet the sequel is Captain Flinn and the Pirate Dinosaurs: Mission to Outer Space. Or possibly Captain Flinn and the Pirate Dinosaurs: Football Robot Mayhem.
** Obviously not literally. If I were in a film about dragonslayers, I'd be the one who got sent ahead as an edible decoy.
2/6/2013 02:50:13 pm
Ah, so true. You know what they say, you can please all of the people some of the time but you can't please all of the people all of the time.
I think a fine balance needs to be struck between repeating the same old over and over, and presenting an overused idea in a refreshing way. Too often stories tip in favour of the former and it can be very boring to read about your typical 'knight slaying dragon' (this goes for other fantasy tropes too). It helps to know the tropes well, as it can guide you towards following it accurately or deconstructing it to highlight the point. So long as you can give a new twist on an old theme, I don't see the problem
5/6/2013 06:42:29 pm
Ah, well as a die hard dragon lover, I'll never be 'over' dragons. No, of course they're not a pre-requisite for a fantasy book, nor should they be. I'm a firm believer that there should never be any hard and fast rules concerning genre writing. Anything goes. If the author can image it, then have it. Do what you want and what feels right.
6/6/2013 04:19:43 am
There you go. THREE endorsements of putting the dragons back!
6/6/2013 03:52:39 pm
Looks like a unanimous vote for the dragons, then. And that's not even counting the dragons themselves, who are being quite vociferous about being reinstated. If there's one thing I know, it's that you should never mess with a vociferous dragon.
6/6/2013 03:57:37 pm
Very true. I think there's an element of blag to it. If you can write your book with conviction, then, no matter how far fetched it is, the chances are it'll stick. That's my theory, anyway.
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