1. Brandon P.
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    Brandon P. Senior Member

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    Dragons in name only?

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by Brandon P., Aug 25, 2012.

    I am ~1,700 words into a fantasy short story that features dragons, but my dragons differ a lot from those of any mythological tradition. They don't breathe fire, hoard gold, possess humanlike intelligence, or talk; they are basically wild animals preoccupied with survival. Only one of my various dragon species can fly, and although the story's major dragon character is an apex predator who eats both people and other dragons, there are some herbivorous dragons as well. The only thing my dragons have in common with standard fantasy dragons is that they're large fictional reptiles. The story itself is admittedly a variation of the classic "hero saves community from dragon", but the setting is also extremely different; the heroines are black women in reptile skins rather than white men in shining armor, and the prevailing culture has an African rather than medieval European flavor. In short, there's barely any of the traditional dragon mythos in my WIP.

    I recall that fans of traditional vampires like Dracula strongly disliked Twilight's take on the creatures, insisting that "real vampires don't sparkle", which makes me wonder if I should really call my animals "dragons" if I employ so few of the old dragon tropes. Honestly, I only use the term "dragon" because it's the most familiar label for large fictional reptiles. On the other hand, my understanding is that even old-school dragons varied from story to story and that mythologists have classified a lot of otherwise unrelated mythical creatures into a "dragon" category.

    I suppose my question boils down to, "How much can you modify a mythical creature while still keeping the label?"
     
  2. Pheonix
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    Pheonix A Singer of Space Operas and The Fourth Mod of RP Staff Contributor

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    Using your twilight reference, Twilight made vampires mopey teenage losers that sparkle instead of dying in sunlight. People for some stupid reason love it. Dragons are a little more flexible. What you're describing above has been done before, and no one has said anything about them not being 'real' dragons. Chinese dragons for example are very different from western dragons. Dragons can basically be whatever you want them to be, and as a writer, so can anything else. You have that power as a writer to do what you want in your story.
     
  3. luna claire
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    luna claire Senior Member

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    I agree with Phoenix. I enjoy fantasy stories and fairy tales and as a reader of those genres, I had no problem with the dragons you described. Your WIP sounds very interesting, by the way. :)
     
  4. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Dragons are easier to manage than vampires. With vampires, there is a set established lore behind them (ie, hate garlic, the sunlight, OCD about counting rice, etc.) That's why many traditional vampire fans hate Twilight because it goes against the established lore. Vampires are supposed to feel pain from the sun and shrink away from it, not glitter and sparkle. They're supposed to be out for blood, etc. Now, what you do with that specific lore is up to you, but that's their lore and you can't change it. You could quite possibly write about vampires in space, and as along as you find some way for them to still adhere to their lore, you can do it.

    Dragons, at the core, are just giant flying lizards that spew fire. This gives you more wiggle room, as you can now literally make up your own lore behind your dragons. I once read a series about the Napoleonic Wars being fought using dragons. It was the Temirare books, IIRC.

    Same thing with elves. Immortal magical race with pointy ears. Give them your own unique lore and roll with it. Zelda did it, The Elder Scrolls did it.
     
  5. Kaidonni
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    Kaidonni Member

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    Not aimed at anyone in particular... The vampires 'sparkling' is a variation on how vampires cope with sunlight - they don't always die in sunlight. If you've ever watched Bram Stoker's Dracula (or was it Interview With A Vampire?), then you'll be aware that vampires in that didn't turn to dust in sunlight, they became pale and weak. Checking tvtropes.org (no amount of garlic or crosses can save you now!) reveals that in the original folklore stakes didn't kill vampires, they merely stopped them from leaving the coffin. Reading further, one will discover that there are some very long-winded methods to killing vampires.

    While I haven't read Twilight, nor do I intend to, I applaud Meyers for trying something different (although I personally wouldn't have gone with sparkling, the growing pale and weak sounds better - if I saw someone sparkling, I'd advise them to go see a doctor!). The fact is that she decided to try something different, she took a gamble, and it paid off. Some people like it, some people don't, and people should not be looked down on just because they like something different.

    True, vampires seem to be less flexible in how to write them, but it helps to have a knowledge of all the different types of vampires, not just those expounded by Hollywood (because I can picture some people - note that I am not referring to anyone here - thinking vampire lore is what Hollywood spews forth from the gates of oblivion, and building arguments based on that rather than actually checking out all the folklore, etc).

    More on topic, write these dragons how you wish to - for a start, European and Asian dragons are very different anyway. You cannot write by committee, and must make your own decisions. I choose to write about 'were-creatures', but they will not be supernatural creatures in the slightest, nor horror-based; if some people don't like that, that is their choice, but how they are written and whether other people like them or not is NOT their choice (granted, people turning into some variation of an animal form is rather flexible!). Aside from that, if you keep asking questions about what is okay, you'll never gain more confidence. It's your story, you tell the reader what dragons are within the confines of the story, and that they can like it or can go read something else.
     
  6. NuttyStuff
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    NuttyStuff Member

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    I would give each species a separate name, and maybe make a food chain, but keep the name Dragon as the Family name like us and Primates. I think your dragons species sound awesome by the way, it sounds like good fantasy.
     
  7. Lorddread
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    Lorddread Contributing Member

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    Really the only consistent "rule" about dragons is that they vaguely look like reptiles. Also I don't think the problem with Twilight is different vampires so much as overpowered vampires.
     
  8. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Tolkien invented the tall, beautiful, wise and immortal elf. Until he wrote LOTR, I heard that elves were only short, mischievous and sometimes even evil.

    If you feel your creatures are dragons, then go ahead and call them dragons - the biggest achievement for a writer is probably to reinvent a term or idea to the point of it being widely accepted and replaces the old norm. It's a good thing, and there will always be haters, so ignore them :)

    On the other hand if you don't even think of your creatures as dragons and it's just a convenient term, perhaps think of a fantasy name - perhaps you could invent a whole new species :D
     
  9. BrandonCHFG
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    BrandonCHFG New Member

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    On the flip side, if you took away the tag "dragon", you remove the reader's instant connection with your creatures. As you have it, you will get the connection with the reader, but your separation from the tried and trope should help the familiar still seem original.
     
  10. CyanideBreakfast
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    CyanideBreakfast Member

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    I pretty much agree with all of this but I want to add a comment anyway. One of my favourite series of books is Anne McCaffery's Dragons of Pern, and I apologise right now if you've read any of her books and if you haven't then I highly recommend it!

    In her books, dragons are genetically engineered animals based off an indigenous life form of the planet. The indigenous species are named fire-lizards, are about the length of a forearm, chew a phosphine bearing rock to breath fire, have limited intelligence and come in 5 colours: golden queens who are egg layers; bronzes who mate with the females, browns, blues and greens who are also female but have poor maternal instincts and their eggs rarely hatch. The dragons are named such because they resemble the mythological creature but they don't hoarde treasure. They have to chew the rock to produce flame (apart from the queens as this would make them sterile). They have telepathic abilities, can teleport between places and between time and in the final book of the series McCaffrey began to explore their telekinetic abilites. These dragons are the 'good guys' for lack of a better description and are bound to one rider their entire life. When the rider dies, the dragons dies; if the dragon dies the rider sometimes dies, but if he lives he is only half a man. It's more complex than that but the basics are such. The dragons also have limited memory and intelligence but can understand significantly more than their smaller cousins, with the exception of one dragon, the white Ruth who has many unusual and special abilities (he is probably my favourite dragon in the series!)
    In addition to the dragons and fire lizards, there are also creatures called watch whers, who were created the same way as dragons. They are not beautiful though. They are photosensitive, have short, stubby wings and while they can teleport they are unable to communicate telepathically and are not bound as tightly to their human as dragons or even the fire lizards are. Books in the Pern series written or co-written by McCaffrey's son look into this and are also worth a read to see different views on these legendary mythological creatures, if nothing else.

    Anyways, hope you get what you're looking for.
     

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