There are certain things which, added to the blurb on the back of a book, instantly make that book seem twice as awesome to its intended audience.
For a small boy, it's dinosaurs. Or maybe pirates. (I was particularly amused by an ad in the back of one of Baby Smith's books for Captain Flinn and the Pirate Dinosaurs, a title that reads as if someone grabbed everything boys like off the Shelf of Ideas and mixed it up in a big bowl.*)
For a romance reader, it appears to be a man with a dark past. (Slightly off-white pasts don't cut it in the romance world; you wouldn't get far as a romantic hero if the worst secret you're concealing in the agonised depths of your soul is that you once nearly ran over a squirrel.)
For a sports fan, it's … *tries and fails to dig up any knowledge of sport whatsoever* … er, something to do with balls?
And for fantasy lovers, it has to be dragons.
Which is why you may find it a little odd that one of my works-in-progress used to have dragons in it, and I decided to take them out. If every fantasy tale is that much better with an added pinch of dragon, why deliberately make my novel less awesome? I mean, next thing you know I'll be taking out all the swordfights and making people duel with wooden spoons instead (for health and safety reasons, obviously).
The truth is, you're right. I could have kept my dragons, and they would indeed have been awesome. But I was swayed by that most dreaded of all forces when it comes to writing: Other People's Opinions. I'd read too many blogs and articles and critical reviews that said people were fed up with dragons. Dragons are such a cliché. If I see one more dragon in a fantasy novel I'll scream. Do something more original. And so my beloved dragons got the chop.**
Which was my mistake.
Because the fact is, People With Opinions are sometimes out of step with the opinion of the people. After all, if you went by everything that's written online, you'd deduce that the whole world hated Twilight – when actually, it's a small but vociferous minority. What critics and full-time reviewers and other writers feel about any given aspect of a book isn't necessarily what most readers feel. So, straight-up battle between good and evil? Still popular (Harry Potter, anyone?). Vast epic in which the end of the book is by no means the end of the story? Still popular (A Song of Ice and Fire isn't exactly failing). And dragons? Yep, still popular.
Trying to chase critical opinion is a futile exercise. You'll always be behind the cutting edge (no doubt soon the opinion-makers will be moaning about the prevalence of gritty violence in fantasy, just when everyone's decided that's the only possible way to get noticed), and you won't necessarily be giving your audience what they want anyway. The most important thing is to do what works for your own book, whether it's considered a cliché or not. If the story is good enough then nothing else matters.
So, maybe I'll reinstate my dragons and maybe I won't. But if I don't, it won't be because fantasy is so over dragons. Because if there's one thing I realise now, it's that – no matter what a few people would have us believe – fantasy will never be over dragons, any more than small boys will ever stop loving dinosaurs and pirates.
Hmm. Pirate dragons. Now there's an idea.
* I bet the sequel is Captain Flinn and the Pirate Dinosaurs: Mission to Outer Space. Or possibly Captain Flinn and the Pirate Dinosaurs: Football Robot Mayhem.
** Obviously not literally. If I were in a film about dragonslayers, I'd be the one who got sent ahead as an edible decoy.