by Whitney Carter
Writing dragons is a popular topic here at Invisible Ink, and one of my personal favorites. We’ve talked about general tips for writing them and some of the common types, and today I want to look at some of the more technical aspects of writing these mythical creatures. My number one piece of advice when writing dragons – or any other creature, for that matter – though? Ask the writer. ; -)
The difference between dragon, drake, wyrm and wyvern –Contrary to light hearted fantasy, these four are not always the same creature. Though drakes are sometimes called young dragons and wyrms extremely old, they each have their own characteristics. Dragons are six limbed creatures, possessing two pairs of legs and a pair of wings, all fully developed evolutionary.
Drakes are usually considered to be smaller and less capable version of dragons, though tending more towards evildoing in disposition. As a result, their cunning and trickery is said to surpass most dragons. Wyverns on the other hand only have four limbs (two legs and two wings) and are sleeker than most dragon species.
The winged appendages usually function as forelegs, giving wyverns a markedly different appearance from a dragon. Lastly, wyrms are snake-like creatures with massive and powerful tails, double jawed heads and wicked sets of teeth. If they have limbs at all, they are small and likely useless. Especially if you’re going to have more than one dragon-type in your work, keep your terms consistent and make it clear which one is which.
Color is important – Depending on which universe rules you’re following (or even if you’re creating your own) color is likely the primary way for non-dragons to garner information at first glance. One of the popular color theories is that chromatic dragons ( ie black, white, blue, green and red) are universally evil, seeking nothing more than to sate their insatiable appetites for blood and treasure, while non- chromatic dragons (brass, bronze, copper) are inherently good, often serving as guardians of lands or families.
If you’re anything like me though, this division took some getting used to. My first understanding of dragon coloring dictated that there weren’t any purely good or bad dragons, but that each one had certain specialties. Red dragons were fire breathers and burrowed deep into volcanoes to absorb intense heat, and blue dragons could be broken down further into different sub-species depending on the type of body of water they claimed. There isn’t a right or wrong theory on dragon color, but you should establish the rules for your own universe early on, and only deviate for logical and explainable reasons.
Aging and reaching maturity – When looked at in terms of a calendar year, dragons age rather slowly compared to humans, and they can be vastly different creatures in each of the stages. Baby dragons are all going to have a degree of helplessness, but there are several things that factor into how quickly they get their wings under themselves, including how involved living parents are, their geography and their adaptation to that geography.
For instance, consider plaines dragons – they’re quite long and slender and have one of the most expansive wingspans of all dragon species, but because of the wide-open nature of their territories, they must be lightning fast for hunting and avoiding conflict. A baby dragon who cannot quickly learn speed, stealth and evasion techniques in a place with limited shelter is unlikely to survive. Juvenile dragons, like teenagers, are just coming into their own and are often hot-headed.
Their nests are typically not well hidden, and they tend to not have any discretion when it comes to the items they loot and the places they loot from. As a result they’re easy pickings for any dragonslayers; this means that very few dragons will reach maturity and even fewer will become truly ancient. It’s also not unreasonable to expect that the older a dragon becomes, the less he wants to interact with the wider world, hence their reclusive nature.
Dragon reproduction – So here’s something that’s not discussed often at all, probably because dragons are most often written as a dying breed of solo creatures. But every creature in existence has some kind of family unit, even if those units are temporary. Just as famous as dragons themselves is their eggs, which would mean that most of the time dragons are more reptile than mammal.
The finer details on everything from the courtship of the parents to incubation and hatching of the little one are largely up to you, but consider that most dragons across the board mate for life, and hatching could arguably be one of the most difficult things a dragon must ever go through. The egg stage might also last for several years, depending on the type of dragon you’ve created. Check out this article, which I found particularly interesting.
Guest post contributed by Whitney Carter. Whitney is an avid fantasy writer and blogger currently working on her debut novel, Alpha Female. When not writing, she can be found either under a large pile of purring cats or amid collapsed bookshelves. You can find more of her work here and here.