Tag: fantasy

Of Dragons and Samurai: Plotting Out a Short Story

Dragon-Lords-Library-Cover

[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 I had already written little unpublished tidbits for Sasayaki and knew his character much better than I knew my main character, Ryuga.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!

Follow Denarose Fukushima on Twitter!

 

Here There Be Dragons…

ZZZZZZZ Dragon-Lords-Library-2-Cover

Do you like stories about dragons? The Fictioneers at 18thWall Productions have put together this anthology of dragon tales, and I’m fortunate enough to have one of my stories featured in it. “Quarine and the Isle of Spirits” tells the story of a young girl who decides to run away from home by building a raft and setting out on the open ocean, where she finds herself tested by an island of ghosts and her life rests in the claws of a mysterious sea-serpent. You can find the story HERE, or buy it from Amazon.com RIGHT HERE.

Making Friends of Monsters

Undertale title banner

I’ve slain a lot of fantasy creatures in my time. That’s the way most role playing games work: you kill monsters, you gain experience, you level up, and eventually you fight the last boss of the game and you win. Toby Fox’s indie RPG Undertale subverts a system that I’ve become quite comfortable with over the years and instead offers you the option of seeking a nonviolent resolution to every single fight in the game, from random encounters all the way to the final boss.

 

The story of Undertale is beautifully simple: you play as a human child of indeterminate gender who has fallen down into the monster world, and has to choose whether to save or destroy it as you find your way back home. It’s a ghostly Alice-In-Wonderland story with characters that are every bit as outlandish and memorable. But this fairy tale’s Alice has some heavy choices to make along the way.

 

Even though my fantasy trophy room is lined with the heads of slimes and cactuars by the hundreds, I do tend to play the kindhearted role in games when I’m given the choice between choosing an good or evil path. But usually even taking the “good” path means killing a lot of random monsters, or bandits, or postapocalyptic raiders. It’s only the big dramatic decisions that decide whether you are a hero or villain, not the thousands of insignificant creatures you kill in the name of gaining levels and powering up. The world of Undertale works differently, though. Every monster is treated as a life, with insecurities and motivations of its own. Whether it’s a wannabe commedian trying to tell jokes to you even as he attacks you (and worrying that his father is right and he won’t ever make it as a comic), to the adorable Tsunderplane (a sentient airplane that might have a crush on you, and is only attacking so you won’t realize she actually likes you), every random encounter has a soul. Right from the start, the game appeals to the player’s sense of empathy, humanizing the enemies it throws at you and challenging you to find peaceful ways to end the encounter instead of butchering them for the experience points.

Undertale fire lives here now

Empathy is in short supply in gaming. From all the First Person Shooter clones that train you to see human beings through the scope of a rifle, to RPGs that send armies of fantasy creatures after you, most games reward you for not caring. Undertale’s empathy-based gameplay is a refreshing change, but by being the exception it throws a glaring light on the rule. Adventure games train us to mow down hordes of foes without a second thought, and they reward us for doing it. In fact, Undertale‘s gameplay is so counter-intuitive to me that when I realized after sparing my first few monsters that I wasn’t getting any experience points for it, I strongly considered abandoning my original plan to complete the game nonviolently. Because I wanted to go up a level and see my stats increase. It sounds horrible when I think about how much I came to care for all the characters I encountered, but my first instinct was to feel cheated that I was going to miss out on growing more powerful. Where does that instinct come from? The answer, of course, is that a lifetime of Final Fantasies, Dragon Quests, and Mass Effects have taught me to enjoy the feeling of gain that comes from killing enemies without a care. I like getting cool new weapons and having my strength and health points increase. The phrase “Level Up!” is music to my ears. And that’s because most games don’t work at making you feel that your bloodthirsty actions have any cost. Well, in Undertale they do.

Undertale totally have to kill you and stuff

If you kill monsters in Undertale, eventually they are gone for good. The weird deer creature whose antlers kids draped in gaudy Christmas decorations? Gone. The dog knight that really just wants to be petted? Erased from the world. You can kill everyone. The game’s bosses? Each one can be destroyed, just like they are in countless other games, but in this world it’s going to cost you, because if you choose to play nonviolently, to do what the fans are calling a “pacifist run” of the game, they can become your friends. You can have friends that are skeletons and ghosts, a mermaid knight and a reptilian scientist that loves anime, all monsters that you can turn into allies and get to know better and have fun with. And all it costs you is some silly experience points and level-ups. Who cares about things like that when you can go on a date with a puzzle-loving, pasta cooking skeleton dork? And that’s Undertale‘s secret: it finds other ways to reward you. A peaceful playthrough of the game can be tough. You never seem to have enough health because you never went up a level, so the 20 health points you start with are the 20 health points you enter the final battle with. You get hurt. You die a lot. But you get friends and the reward of knowing you are doing the compassionate thing. And that is something that thrills me. Violence is the easy answer to problems. Love is harder, and leaves you hurt, but it is the power that saves rather than destroy. I’d rather make friends of these cool characters than kill them. They are monsters, but they are also people.

 

Having finished my pacifist run of Undertale, I can say confidently that love and kindness are rewarded in ways far better than merely making your character more powerful. It stands in stark contrast to the sea of games that encourage the player to put personal power and advancement over friendship and kindness. If that sounds sappy, well it fits the charm and humor of the game, but maybe we should question why love in gaming sounds silly to us, but killing a score of enemies to gain a level makes perfect sense. In a way, playing Undertale is like retraining your gaming brain. It rewards player empathy and caring, and it leaves you wishing there were more like it.