Monday, March 7, 2016

World Blip – To Dragon or Not to Dragon


These mythical creatures are the most famous beasts out there. More common than phoenixes, less discriminated against than unicorns and pegasi. They come in all shapes and sizes (like elves, but cooler) and generally appreciate treasure (like dwarves, but cooler).

You can find dragons everywhere in fiction, and in many “non-fiction” settings. You’ll find dragons incorporated into culture after culture. They might look like snakes with legs or majestic four-legged scaly beasts with wings and fire. Sometimes they speak; sometimes they just rampage and destroy.

And they’re awesome.



Consider this: does your story need dragons? I mean, dragons can fit into any genre, except maybe Victorian His-fic, and now I kind of want to see that happen. 

See, dragons can be used in all sorts of ways:
-Guardians of treasure (The Hobbit, for instance)
-Protectors of secrets (Dragons in Our Midst)
-Steeds of the air and magical companions (Dragonkeeper Chronicles)
-Extinct creatures of symbolic magnitude (Wheel of Time)
-Cute little cat-like creatures that bestow magical powers through self-sacrifice (oh wait, that’s one of my novels, whoops)

(As a side note, my mentioning these titles does not equate my recommending them; two of the titles? Sure. But these are just examples, yes?)

These little [er… large] creatures can come in handy for any number of plot and character needs. They can be villains, mentors, or allies. Some can communicate with spoken words, others through telepathy.

Aren’t they overdone?
If they really are everywhere, why should all sorts of writers use them? Won’t that make them cliché?
Well, yes and no.

Munching on Deep Thoughts

There are a few aspects of dragons that are cliché, and some that are not. Others are neither cliché nor un-cliché, they are simply too well-known for us to get away with.

For instance, a dragon that guards a treasure in a cave is too well-known. Tolkien used it, so you shouldn’t. Too many people know his story and will begin to picture your story as a knock-off. It’s not a happy truth, just a true one.
Now that isn’t a cliché because it hasn’t happened successfully all that often. It’s just that one instance of it is so well-known that people will call you out on it.
So. Just shy away from “dragon living in mountain with gold” and you’ll be fine.

A common cliché among dragons is the ability to communicate telepathically. I’ve seen this is many novels and it’s getting rather old. I’d rather the dragon just… talk. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with telepathy, it’s that it’s been done so often it no longer screams “I’M UNIQUE PAY ATTENTION PLEASE”.

There are some types of dragon-lore that are not cliché, however.
-Flightless dragons: I’m currently writing a novel (it’s my brainchild) that includes dragons which, for the most part, cannot and do not fly. There are only a few – very old – dragons that can actually fly. Instead they’re more like Chinese dragons: long and snake-like with small wings and a rather nasty habit of killing people.
So many dragons fly in stories, when they don’t have to. Besides, flightless dragons are interesting. I mean, even the real world has them. That makes them cooler, in some ways.

-Fireless dragons: so many dragons breathe fire. It’s one of those aspects that aren’t cliché in the same way that people with hands aren’t cliché. They just are. At the same time, however, dragons that don’t breathe fire are unique. They’re special.

-Wyverns: these are those weird kinds of dragons that have only one pair of legs, instead of two.
You find these almost nowhere, nowadays. But it can add an interesting dynamic to your story, just like using Chinese-dragon-like creatures.

Are Dragons Diverse?

There’s nothing wrong with a dragon.
In fact, dragons are great. Fantastic.

At the same time, however, they’re common. Like elves and dwarves and fairies and dogs and humans are common. Sometimes being unique requires trying something new. It means making up your own creatures and developing your own races.

Other times, a dragon or an elf is just what your story needs.
I’m not against dragons in stories. I am, however, against mediocrity.
Don’t settle for average or common. Your story should shine vibrantly in an ever-growing sea of less-than-fantastic books. Use dragons if you wish; that’s fine. But also remember to look past the common and on to the new and the strange and the wonderful.

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