Recently I came across an interesting blog about The Technical Aspects of Writing Dragons. How could I resist such a topic? It was written by Whitney Carter and published on The Writer’s Path. You should check it out. I’ll wait…
Doo dee doo doo, doo dee doo… (That’s the Jeopardy theme, if you couldn’t tell.)
Carter does a good job of breaking down the variety of dragons found in legend in her section on dragons, drakes, wyrms and wyverns. If you’ve been following Wyrmflight for a while, you probably know the sub-categories of dragons go even farther than that. Sea serpents, for instance, are aquatic rather than flying. Drakainas and Nagas are human/serpent hybrids. And then there are the mundane creatures that are just named after dragons: Komodo dragons, leafy sea dragons, dragon salamanders and dragon trees. Dragon space ships. Dragon sunglasses. You get the idea.
I do quibble a bit with her mention of colored dragons being evil and metallic dragons being good. This, actually, is not from traditional folklore at all. It comes from Dungeons and Dragons, the role-playing game. Obviously D&D was a huge success and its trappings have had a lot of influence in entertainment. Still, to me, D&D just doesn’t have the stature of myth where so many dragons were born.
Carter goes on to talk about life cycles (breeding, growth, aging) but I think you should read her blog and see where you agree or disagree. Any number of creative writers can take the same subject matter and all end up someplace really different. That’s the fun of it.
What stuck with me, as far as the technicality of writing dragons, is that your basic decision is between a) choosing a legend and basing your dragons on that, or b) totally making it up for yourself. Both options have their advantages. In choosing an existing legend or mythology, your potential readers may already know the tale and are likely to be comfortable with it. You can get on with the rest of your story, knowing the readers are with you on who or what a dragon is.
There isn’t a lot of surprise, though, since the underlying legend is already known. By making up your own variety of dragons, you have the option to surprise your readers and keep them intrigued. There is a bit more work involved, but if a story catches on, you might even add a new scale to the body of dragon lore.
Personally, I have used both approaches depending on the story. In my middle-grade novel, Masters of Air & Fire, I created a new type of dragon, complete with family structure and life cycles. But in my short story collection, Aunt Ursula’s Atlas, I have different dragons in different stories. “The Dragon King” and “The Dragon’s Ghost” feature fairly typical European dragons, while the sea dragon from “The Dragon Stone” is more unique.
When you’re writing dragons, do you adapt from legends or make up your own? I’m interested to hear what you think.