From Darkness into Light: What’s different about writing Grimdark and Comedy - Jordan Loyal Short

20 Feb 2024

Ok, I have a confession to make. I actually wanted people to read my new book. Crazy, right? But the number one feedback I got across the board was that my first trilogy was too dark. You murder one baby in a prologue and suddenly everybody gets touchy about it. Sure, though. Let’s chalk the infanticide up to a lesson learned.

So what now? How do you go from an operatic grimdark epic to something irreverent and adventurous? Step one: do not subject your protagonist to a life of ridicule and abuse. Brohr, my MC in The Skald’s Black Verse had a chip on his shoulder as big as the shattered moon looming overhead. He was haunted, literally. And a lot of people didn’t connect with him because he was fucking pissed about everything he’d been through. He walked a dark path that only got darker as The Dreadbound Ode continued in books two and three.

The Dreadbound Ode is a grimdark fantasy series by Jordan Loyal Short

Enter Viktor, star of City in the Dragon’s Eye. He wasn’t birthed fully formed, but he sprouted from this seed: I wanted him to have an innocence, and a tender side, that would be tested by his travails. I also wanted him to be fun, so he needed to be a bit of a rogue at times. In practice, this persona evolved over successive drafts. At first, Viktor took the stage as a brash devil-may-care rulebreaker who risked it all with every throw of the dice. And that was fun. But it didn’t leave room for his vulnerability. So on my next pass I softened his edges, giving him a vulnerability that Viktor hadn’t always possessed.

Then I got him drunk. And suddenly that silly side and that brash side could coexist with the sweet young man who was about to find himself in the eye of a shitstorm. Jokes flowed more naturally from there and I decided to give them free reign. One thing I discovered in the beta reading phase is that people have wildly different reactions to different forms of humor. What some found cringy caused others to laugh out loud. While writing the Dreadbound Ode, I did include several lighter moments and jokes, but because I needed to maintain a grimdark tone overall, a few jokes went in the dumpster. City in the Dragon’s Eye was a different matter. Although I did cut quite a few one-liner jokes because I didn’t feel they were good enough, it was liberating to push the boundaries. Ridiculous shit that would never have worked in The Skald’s Black Verse found its footing in a world where loveable disasters took the fore.

City in the Dragon's Eye is the first book in the Dragon Reich series

Theme played an unexpected part in the satirical humor found in City in the Dragon’s Eye. The Dreadbound Ode featured realistic and supernatural villains who shared the moral gray area with the protagonists. City in the Dragon’s Eye plays with the dangerous notions of fascism and white supremacy. But there isn’t moral gray area to be found there. Humanity has experienced all the horrors that take place when these ideologies run amok. And so we have clear cut heroes and villains in the Dragon Reich series, a distinction which gave me free reign to paint the book’s Dragon Supremacists in the absurd light that their arrogance and ignorance deserves.

So much changed in my process over the course of writing these four books. Even if my subject matter and tone had not changed significantly with City in the Dragon’s Eye, the way I went about things would have evolved. The more I write new stories, the more license I give myself to gloss over certain things, or take chances straying into unscripted scenes, confident now that I can fix things at a later point via editing. Quite a few times I even inserted notes like {insert joke here} confident that the comedic timing was right but not wanting to slow down to figure the joke out. In the end, I loved writing both styles, the Dreadbound Ode let me swing for the fences, slipping into grandiose prose at those epic moments that demanded near poetry to express the awe characters felt. City in the Dragon’s Eye let me keep the dick jokes.

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About Jordan Loyal Short


Jordan Loyal Short is an author of epic fantasy and a small business owner. He has worked in a variety of industries, as a waiter, bartender, copywriter and more. He lives in Washington state with his wife where he is currently daydreaming about the end of the world.