From time to time I have the uneasy feeling that when I write about dragons I’m being unoriginal.
Fantasy books can contain any fantastical creatures I can create, so why stick to this familiar beast? Am I taking the imagination out of a genre that lives based on its imagination?
After deep contemplation, I decided no.
Dragons come in different incarnations
Some dragons have larger claws, some are better at string theory.
Some risk being eaten by a mouse, others could crush a town by sitting on it.
Some have a vocabulary limited to a hunting roar, a fighting roar, and a mating roar, others have invented as many words as Shakespeare.
Some are as subtle as a poleaxe, others are wilier than Fantastic Mr Fox.
Some will eat anything made of flesh and ask questions later, others will happily sit down for tea and scones to discuss Renaissance paintings.
Some can call hailstorms down on their enemies, others have a reliable security agency on speed dial.
That is to say, once you have a dragon you can be infinitely creative in designing the nature and abilities of your dragon. There’s scope for an ocean of originality.
Saying “there are too many books about dragons” is like saying “there are too many books about people”
A book isn’t just about a dragon.
It’s about characters (maybe dragons, maybe humans, maybe field mice) who want something, but something stands in their way (like a dragon). They battle the thing in their way and eventually get what they need, even if it’s not what they want. Or they die.
Or possibly it’s about something else entirely.
There aren’t too many books where two people meet, fall in love, have something come between them, then finally get back together. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of such books–they’re called romances–but there aren’t too many.
There aren’t too many books where someone gets killed and a detective (or harmless old lady, or cat) has to figure out whodunnit and why.
Again, there are a lot, but they’re all different and a lot of people want to read them.
Having a dragon is just one element of a book. (It may well be the coolest element, but it’s just one.) Every dragon book is different and there’s space on the virtual bookshelf for them all.
“Dragon” comes with baggage
The word “dragon” conjures an image for most people.
For many readers, the word carries emotional weight. A dragon is terrible, romantic, or monstrous.
But it’s always something.
Tell your reader that a kaoston landed on the beach, and their mind starts from a blank. Anything you want them to think, you have to put in their head.
Not true a dragon, and that can be a lot of fun.
Lull your reader into thinking your dragon is exactly what their preconceptions say, and then crack the earth beneath them and let them tumble into the unknown.
Contradict your reader’s preconceptions, or reinforce them in unexpected ways.
Or if you want a terrifying creature to swoop from the sky and devour the caravan, you can call it a dragon and there’s no need to stop and explain.
With a dragon you never start from zero.
Dragons are cool
You can disagree with me, but if you do you’re wrong.
I love writing about dragons, and a lot of people love reading about them.
That seems like a sufficient reason to write about dragons to me.
Did I miss any reasons why we shouldn’t worry about being unoriginal when we write about dragons?
Do you agree it’s not unoriginal to write about dragons, or do you insist on being wrong?
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