As is typical of beginning authors, when I first started developing my own fantasy world, I packed as much as possible into it. Every fantasy creature under the sun could be found roaming the planet, and usually all in the same area. Most of my stories originally took place in Aldaan, a small region on the northern continent I created, but the original version of Aldaan was known for a few native species: elves, gryphons, and dragons.
Dragons are one of those creatures that everyone seems to love. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered anyone who disliked dragons. Just those who liked them, and those who really liked them. I have friends who live and breathe for tales with dragons, so I’m sure they’ll be a little bit sad to read this, but Aldaan’s dragons? They didn’t make the cut.
When I was young, having virtually every type of fantasy creature seemed like a great idea. I loved mythology and spent a lot of time wondering what it would be like to live in a world that had it all, forgetting one very important point of world building. In a world without widespread use of books and long-distance communication, where travel is long and tedious, cultures tend to stay isolated.
In our world, we can usually connect mythical creatures to particular regions. Greek and Roman mythology gave us harpies and centaurs, while the Irish are responsible for banshees. We know about them because of widespread knowledge and ease of communication in modern times. Pushing all these creatures together eliminates any real cultural definition to the mythology. But more importantly, it just becomes too much.
A while back I picked up a sample of an e-book that sounded interesting, and the writing was good, but I ended up not reading more than the first chapter because the author had fallen into this trap. In the very first chapter, we had the human main character mingling with elves, orcs, vampires, centaurs, ghosts, dragons–pretty much anything you could think of. As I said, it wasn’t bad, it was just too much. It was overwhelming, robbing the characters we were introduced to of any meaningful or clear identity, since their only identifier seemed to be which mythological creature they were.
Truthfully, I feel like I only narrowly avoided this pitfall. I had a lot more variety in species in the first book for a long time, but when I sat down to finally finish the first draft–which meant starting at the beginning and fixing all the horrible mistakes–I decided that the best thing I could do for the series was cut anything that wasn’t absolutely necessary to the story I was telling.
And so the wide assortment of fantasy creatures fell by the wayside. Valuable and interesting, but not the best it could be, nor vital to what I needed. Like peeling layers of scratched and damaged nacre from a pearl to get to the quality gem hidden underneath.
When I was done paring, I was left with a narrower cast: humans, my own version of elves, and gryphons were the only ones to make it to the final cut.
But that’s not to say there won’t be others. Our world is a big place, and there’s a lot of the world I’ve created left to explore and develop. But they will have their own clear set of mythological creatures lending depth to their culture, and each of them will only exist as long as they serve a very clear purpose to the story.
Will there be dragons?