Behind the Scenes: How to Slay a Dragon

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Illustration by Madeleine Ebacher

Note: This post contains major spoilers for my short story, How to Slay a Dragon. If you haven’t read it yet, you can read it here. Or not. I’m not your mom.

This is my first post in my series, Behind the Scenes. Unlike my short stories that I post here, which are presented without any comments from myself, these posts will focus on my personal thoughts about each story and delve a bit into my writing process. They’ll be casual (read: full of typos) and hopefully some fun, as it’s not very often that writers are able to talk about their own writing like this.

That being said, I really enjoyed writing How to Slay a Dragon. It was a lot of fun, which any writers out there will know, is not always the case with writing. I was able to use a lot of classic medieval fantasy tropes that hopefully felt really familiar to a lot of readers. You have your young warrior, Tobias: he’s well-known in his village and soon to become the chief, but a dragon tears through his village unexpectedly and is generally terrifying. Like anyone in his position, Tobias knows that he has to do something about it. However, I didn’t want it to be like every other hero story. I wanted it to feel familiar and also challenge what we know about heroes and fantasy.

Which brings me to the ending. Hopefully the ending felt surprising, but not insultingly so. To me, a stereotypical story like this would end with Tobias slaying the dragon and returning to Briarwood a hero, which he obviously does not do. But it should make sense why he wasn’t able to do that. He was a somewhat experienced hunter, sure, but he had never faced a dragon before, and went off on multiple day journey, alone, with only a few supplies, to try and slay a monster that just a few days earlier was able to destroy his entire village by itself. He would have had to have been a god to kill the dragon by himself or just incredibly lucky. But he wasn’t, and ultimately got himself killed.

Which is a sad way to end the story, but I didn’t want readers to feel that sad when they finished it. I wanted the ending to be more ironic, because there was obviously no way that Tobias could have slain the dragon, but that might have not been obvious until the end or until you read it again. There are too many hero stories like this that have the main character defying all odds and coming out victorious, but I didn’t want it to end that way. Which is why I wrote the second half of the story from the perspective of the dragon.

Ahh, the dragon. She’s great. I actually like her as a character more than I like Tobias. Which is funny considering the story is more about him than it is about her. But I think she ended up being more memorable than Tobias, partly because she crushes him at the end, but also because she doesn’t really follow the stereotypes we have about dragons in fantasy. She has an internal monologue, but she’s just an animal. She worries about primal things, like sleeping and eating. She doesn’t have any motive to kill humans other than they’re annoying, she’s no Smaug hoarding gold or anything like that.

But she’s still incredibly big, strong and can breath fire, which should be a terrifying concept to anyone. She is at the top of the food chain. I’m sure there have been humans in this world that have been able to slay dragons, but it would have taken a lot of them. More often than not the dragons would win. Dragons are badass. Tobias was not. He was a young man who probably listened to too many stories about heroes killing monsters.

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