[This article is a guest post by fantasy author Denarose Fukushima!]
Much thought should be given when dealing with dragons, even ones crafted from words. There are so many kinds of dragons, so many different myths and legends, that it can be difficult to find authentic information about traditional dragons. The same goes for finding facts on a culture other than your own (which may have been very misrepresented in today’s modern media). A story with as much integrity as an author can muster is well worth the work.
After deciding that my story would be about a dragon in feudal Japan, I had to do the research. Though I am half-Japanese, I wasn’t raised with any Japanese customs; all of my knowledge comes from research that I conduct in my spare time as well as a class on Japanese Literature I was fortunate enough to take in college. I very carefully looked for the information I needed by reading up on dragons and how they were depicted in Eastern cultures. I already knew that in Asia, most dragons are usually shy, wise water creatures who can bring good weather for crops. But I wanted a dragon who was more villainous in nature. After a little work, I found the stories of Kiyohime and Yamata No Orochi, two Japanese dragons who were known for killing humans. I decided to make Ryuga a descendent of Orochi and have Kiyohime act as his friend. From there it was easy to develop their personalities.
But where would you even begin, when you want to write a story about a jaded dragon who refuses to sit by and let the world change around him? That was the biggest question I had to ask myself when I started to write “How the Dragon Won a Battle in a Never-Ending War.”
For me, there were a few very tempting options. I could have started with the samurai who would serve as an antagonist to the dragon. I had already written little unpublished tidbits for Sasayaki and knew his character much better than I knew my main character, Ryuga. However, I worried that he would steal too much focus if the reader only knew Ryuga through Sasayaki’s point of view, so I decided to introduce him later.
Starting the story with the death of Ryuga’s comrade had its appeal, too. I struggle to make the beginning of a story interesting enough for a reader to invest in, and death is such a loud, insistent thing, so impossible to ignore. But I wanted the character death to have more impact, and the reader wouldn’t have been very affected if they didn’t even get the chance to know the doomed dragon Kiyohime. I also had to show how Ryuga interacted with her and didn’t want to deal with flashbacks.
So I made the decision to begin with a simple meeting between Ryuga and Kiyohime. It would give the reader a good look at who Ryuga was and hopefully make them question how much he actually valued his friend before she died.
From that point, I knew there had to be an internal struggle. I wanted Ryuga to fight hard for his cause, even if it meant it would make him do terrible things. But even though he was determined, I wanted him to question himself. He had to think about other influences and wonder if he was really fighting for a noble cause. He had to doubt his own ability and even consider Sasayaki’s point of view. He would also need to be aware of the changes that were happening in his own character and decide if he could live with them.
After asking lots of questions and getting written feedback from my sister (who possesses a degree in Japanese Studies) and a couple of trusted colleagues, I felt more at ease with editing and could focus more on the events.
The hardest part after that was having to choose between making Ryuga seem more sympathetic or making him seem like a terrible villain. In the end, I’m not sure that I ever did skew one side more than the other; I had given enough thought to Yamata no Ryuga, enough for him to more or less think on his own, and the story was stronger without my own ideas of what the reader should or shouldn’t think pressing down on him. After all, dragons were meant to fly.
“How the Dragon Won a Battle in a Never-Ending War” can be found in the anthology From the Dragon Lord’s Library, available here!
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