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C.C. Hogan

Paint Your Dragon

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Are your creatures or people going to be like us or not? Pick one!

In a way, this has as much to do with whether you decide you are writing a #fantasy or not, or even what your definition of a fantasy is.

When #Tolkien worked on the stories that would eventually make up the background of The Lord of the Rings, he was very clear that he was writing a mythology that shared common ground with Norse or Greek or Russian mythology and their pantheons of gods. The book came with a very clear warning sign that said "suspend all belief ye who enter here" and there was no attempt to make any scientific sense at all.

But not all fantastical storytelling is the same and some leans far more towards a recogniseable life and culture where the needs of the people have to fit in with what the world can offer.

To a certain extent, I have a little problem with the idea of ballistic-missile level magic. It often seemed odd to me that the great white wizard who could declare with blazing staff that "you shall not pass," could not just take a few idol pot shots at that annoying flaming eye on the off chance one of them got lucky. Don't get me wrong, I loved Tolkien's masterpiece, but they did seem to take the more complicated route of giving Sauron a bloody nose.

As with many other fantasy writing  all the way back to  the time of Homer, expecting the reader to avoid being painfully pedantic is taken for granted, but what if you want to try and join up the dots a little more, what if you want your reader to not only believe in your world but even imagine being able to live and survive there?

At that point, I think you have to redefine your definition of fantasy and though your world may more resemble something from the times of the Vikings, perhaps take a few lessons from some of the classic science fiction writers like Arthur .C. Clark or I. Asimov

It does not matter what your creatures are called, Humans, Apes, Cat People, #Dragons, Small Fury Creatures from Alpha Centauri, or Aliens, they need to fulfill some basic criteria:

  • Do they break any laws of physics? Belching fire may be problematic, for instance.
  • Do they seem to fit into the planet evolutionary trend? Have they the right number of limbs/heads/noses, and if not, is there a good reason in the story.
  • How do they eat/breath/drink? Making merry might be optional.
  • How does your strange creature make baby strange creatures.
  • Are they multi-coloured? Like with colourful parrots, there needs to be an evolutionary reason.

And the list probably goes on and on. Now, this might all seem a complete pain in the mythical three-cheeked backside, but it can also be enriching. I would not for one moment suggest that in such a world view every mote of a character's anatomy and presence should be analysed and explained to the reader, but if you want your over-talkative Lesser Spotted Mythopotimus to belch, then you might want to explain why, even if it is only to mention that eating the "sky-blue-pink ones always gives me wind."

If an animal breathes and walks around, it will use energy and it will have to replace it, just like we and our pet dogs do, and the limitations that can put on a character in a story might make a big difference to the telling and the plot. 

If a dragon has unlimited magical abilities and scales of one inch thick carbon steel then, to be fair, it has won before it has even woken up in the morning. But if it get's tired, or its scales are actually just thick skin like an elephant , so it is light enough to fly in the first place, then it is vulnerable and can lose. That becomes even more interesting if that previously invulnerable beast is on your side in the battle.

So, before you create your world and write your #books, ask that question; is it truly mythological, or it is simply a different world?

It could radically change how you learn to love your #characters. 


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