In case you haven't been following along, the two head honchos here at Darkwater Syndicate are fantasy authors. Dragons feature prominently in their works, and the dragons in their stories couldn't be any more different. Over the years, this difference of opinion has led to heated discussions, near-fistfights, and the errant thrown shoe.
Today, the two seek to resolve their differences in a debate over whose depiction of dragons is the most accurate. But before we get into that discussion, let's introduce the debaters.
[ASJ]: Gladly. If you're going to talk about dragons as a viable race, you need to take a page from science and see what works and what doesn't, from an evolutionary standpoint. Dragons can't be big, lumbering, cold-blooded brutes for the same reason dinosaurs aren't alive today. Why? Much as that fiery death-comet helped speed things along, any creature designed along the same lines as dinosaurs would be inefficient, and nature has a way of making inefficient creatures go extinct.
That's why I put forth that dragons: (1) are warm-blooded, (2) small, (3) intelligent, and (4) social.
Warm-blooded animals can live in almost any environment. What's more, their level of activity isn't dependent on their body temperature. An iguana caught in a freak cold snap will likely become so sluggish as to fall out of its tree, where it will lie helpless, unable to move until the temperature rises.
Moving on to the next point, smaller creatures have a better chance at flight than larger ones. There's a principle known as the square-cube law. I won't get into the mathematical details, but basically, the bigger a creature gets, the larger the surface area of its wings needs to be. Minimum required wing size increases far faster than body size. So, for a given modest body size, you'd need wings on the order of a B-52 bomber to get off the ground. The weight of the muscles required to power those wings alone would exceed any potential lift the wings could produce. Now take birds as an example: they're small, lightweight, and warm-blooded—all good traits for a species that can fly.
The last two traits, intelligence and social living, go hand in hand. Social behavior is something that the most intelligent species engage in because the odds of survival increase when individuals work together. Naturally, to engage in social behavior, you need some baseline of intelligence.
The dragons in my fantasy books have built a country of their own that is jockeying for advantage on the world stage. The series is set in the age of sail—massive trade fleets exploit foreign markets, dodging pirates to bring home a wealth of cargo.
[RPP]: Thank you. Maybe it's because I'm old, but I'm a traditionalist. For me, dragons are: (1) big, (2) ferocious, and (3) exist to make a point. That last one topic may sound a bit esoteric, but I'll explain fully when I get there.
Why big? Why not? What you have to keep in mind, at all times, is that you are writing fantasy. Fantasy is not constrained (or often concerned with) such real world concepts as true-to-life physics. Maybe, if you were writing hard science fiction a la Asimov, you would be obliged to "show your work," as my grade-school math teachers used to say in our long division lessons. Otherwise, the genre allows you to magically do away with such things, so far as you can push the reader's suspension of disbelief. Thus, if you want big dragons, you can have them, because you're writing the story.
Why ferocious? For the same reason the dragon exists in your story in the first place. Let's look at the technical aspects of writing a story. You need to ensure that every character serves a purpose. If you're writing a story where a knight must save a princess from her nasty dragon captor, the audience expects that at some point there's going to be a big, bloody fight between these two characters. How better to ramp up the drama and show off your hero's prowess than by having him vanquish a mighty opponent? Here, the dragon character serves a discrete purpose—to make the hero look good. That's its purpose, the point you're trying to get across. The dragon is there because it reminds you to cheer for the good guy. Why else do you think St. George and the Dragon has been painted so many times across the Renaissance by so many different artists?
The dragons in my book are akin to traditional depictions of dragons. Which is to say, they're big, brutishly powerful monsters that walk on all fours. They weigh tons—get outta here with that square-cube law crap!—and they're forces of nature in their own right. Whenever a hurricane or an earthquake threaten, do you run outside and fight these calamities? Of course not. You run and hide, and wait until it's over.
There are four dragons in my book—really, five, but that last one's a secret and I don't want to spoil things for you. Each of them is an intelligent creature, able to speak to the main character, but also with its own agenda, and their desires don't always align.
Now, before you call foul and say I can't have a beastly powerful dragon that's also intelligent and can speak, let me direct you back to my main point, which is: I write fiction, I can do what I want. What's more, their cunning makes them all the more dangerous, notwithstanding that they're already super-apex predators.
Each of the dragons encountered serves a purpose in the overall story. Cyan, the main character, is an impulsive jerk who'd sooner lop off heads with his battle-ax than shake your hand. He's on a quest, only, he doesn't actually know that what he seeks is something far greater than what he's set his sights on. Without spoiling the biggest twist in the book, through battling the dragons, Cyan comes to grips with the most negative parts of his life, and—however inadvertently—learns why he's been wrong for so long.
[???]: Stop! Stop right his minute!
[MODERATOR]: Ladies and gentlemen, please stand by as there's been an unforeseen interruption to today's discussion. Someone's approaching the microphone table... And who might you be?
[AM]: My name is Apara Moreiya, and I'm an associate editor at Darkwater Syndicate. I couldn't help but overhear all this talk about dragons. Frankly, I'm surprised I wasn't invited to this discussion.
[MODERATOR]: What makes you think you're qualified to discuss the topic of dragons?
[AM]: I am one.
[MODERATOR]: Oh. Well, I suppose you're right. Whose story are you in?
[AM]: I don't think you thought that through completely before speaking.
[MODERATOR]: So... then how are you here?
[AM]: I walked. My office is two doors down the hall. Look, I'd really appreciate it if you could keep it down in here—I've got a stack of submissions I need to get through by this Friday...
[MODERATOR]: Well, I... I mean, yes, I... I'm sorry. We'll try to be a little quieter. Oh, but before you go—would you consider yourself small, lightweight, and warm-blooded; or huge and ferocious?
[AM]: My coffee's getting cold.
[MODERATOR]: Well, that's all the time we have, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for tuning in to our discussion, and good bye for now. Please keep the discussion going and let us know what you think in the comments!