Writing Dragons: The Wild Dragon
Reading time: ~5 minutes
The wild dragon is one of the most basic draconian forms. Despite the fact that it may be of whatever age (from young to ancient), it remains only little more than an animal. Usually, these creatures are depicted with two hind legs and two winged limbs in place of front legs, so more often than not they fall into the “wyvern” category. Depending on the creature’s size, a certain importance and uniqueness is attached to it: small wyverns are the rank and file when it comes to flocks of airborne predators, while more sizable wyverns are considered uniquely significant predators. Their intelligence varies from the one of a completely feral and aggressive beast to that of a dog. A good example of this type of dragon would probably be Daenerys Targaryen’s dragons, as they neither speak, nor do they harbor any deeper aspirations, such as greed or lust for power.
At first, when they are young (and Daenerys is a more of a tribal spiritual leader rather than a queen), they only care for survival. Once that is settled, by them growing in size and ability to the point that they can hunt their own food (Daenerys actually acquires a decent army when they first display their prowess by burning a slave trader alive). After that, they grow up to young adolescence, and their increasing power allows them to burn through an enemy fleet, essentially expressing their fiery prowess in a completely unbound and chaotic manner. When Daenerys becomes a queen of her own city though, this raw and unrefined power that actually allowed her to lead the (up until then) tribal army, ceases to work efficiently. The dragons start to cause trouble, and this trouble gradually escalates; at first it is a shepherd that complains that the dragons devoured his sheep, then it is a father who claims the dragons killed his child. Daeneris realizes that in order to sustain the dragons’ feral power she has to place them, and not her subjects, as the priority, essentially turning into a tyrant who places more weight on maintaining her power rather than her people’s well-being. Of course, she is the valiant protagonist, so she opts out of becoming a power hungry overlord much like the previous owners of the city.
As such, she chooses to repress the dragons, locking two of them away in a kennel-like dungeon. The dragons’ liberation from the hand of her advisor Tyrion is actually a critical point in Daenerys’ character arc. It is this advisor that approaches the dragons with caution (much like he approached Daenerys) and releases them from their chains; after they’ve been let out of the dungeon, they evolve into formidable rulers of the sky, and Daenerys develops into a just and wise queen (that heeds her counselors’ advice rather than rushing in with little to no planning and strategy). Finally, she grows into a dragon rider, mastering her animal side to the point that it obeys and protects her. Faced with the opposite element, the King of Winter, she loses a dragon to the cold, probably to balance the scales of power between the forces of dark and the forces of light. Still, after mourning, she persists on seeking to respond to the calamity posed by the white walkers, in spite of the loss of one of her dragon-children and the potential destruction of all that she has accomplished thus far.
In general the character’s arc is more than vaguely reflected on the dragon, all the way from subdual, to repression, to understanding and integration. The wild dragon is, by all means, a complete and self-sufficient archetype that can allow for an enrichment of the plot and as a tool to lead or mirror the character development. The critical point about it is one of the two: 1)the fiery temperament or 2) the cognitive limitation owed to their animal nature. It is these two themes that allow the animal dragon to act from its visceral core, this type of action always carried out with the absolute confidence of a being that knows it is second-to-none in the food chain.
What does the animal dragon stand for?
If the dragon is not tied to a master, their existence is the embodiment of Nature’s force, usually lead to roam around by the purest instinctual drive, with the intention of surviving- and wreaking havoc upon mankind while they’re at it. Their nests or hideouts are barren of civil life, desolate places where Nature has donned on its most violent and dangerous mask. Depending on the story, this setup can be a starting point for a journey or its own destination.
This can be, more than great leverage to lead protagonists down interesting paths for character development, especially if we accept the notion that outer phenomena are clearer reflections/ proxies of the character’s inner workings which are, understandably, more nebulous than words or acting can express. As such, they can be applied to embody the character’s flaws and weaknesses. When faced with a wild dragon, if the protagonist’s weapon of choice is nothing more than the same-old-techniques (that are based on the aforementioned flawed thinking), the dragon will definitely overpower and defeat them. Instead, the protagonist has to elevate himself to an entirely new level of thinking, overcoming his own flawed habits and developing past them in the process.
Keep in mind; wild dragons are A-P-E-X predators, so a whatever the protagonist’s urge, the dragons must have it 10x. Does your character have some feral urge that he has to overcome? Is he finding himself angry or violent? Most importantly, does he repress these feelings? Bring him face to face with a wild dragon, and only let him win if he resolves them. Is your character too reckless and rushed? Face him with a bull-horned, electric dragon that is fast as lightning and ten times more rushed than the character. Again, and remembering that wild dragons imply victory over nature, your character has to tap into his human mind and carefully craft a strategy so as to outsmart the dragon.
An important thing to note is what exactly transpires after the character has actually defeated the dragon. Slaying it is an age old motif, however it may fall short for the 21st century audiences, seeing that ecological conscience is a central cultural theme. If you do not pay mind to that, slaying it is a classic outcome. However, the character can tame the dragon, enlisting him as a companion. This implies that the character is the master of both worlds, both the human and the natural, and depending on the dynamics between them, this mastery can turn out to be tricky, if not wobbly. Striking this balance can be the focal point of a character arc.
Is the dragon treated like a multiplier of force, like battle equipment that allows the character to conquer his enemies with first-seen violence? Nature is viewed upon like a tool used to further add to man’s well-being and victory. Is the dragon treated like a pet, with a bond forming between the two? Nature is somewhat valued and appreciated based on its own merit, but human life retains its central spot. Or maybe the dragon is actually reborn to a higher self of its own, displaying higher intelligence and emotion (that it cannot express with words), and a familial bond forms between it and the protagonist? Nature is then displayed as an entity of equal importance, more as a partner and less as a servant. As is understandable, the relationship between dragon and protagonist is not static, and it should follow character development by providing a window to the character’s soul.
This said, be mindful of the evolution of the dynamics, and beware the character’s reflection on the dragon- if the character fails to permanently resolve the sentimental theme of his arc, maybe the newfound power that the dragon has bestowed him with actually feeds his darkness and pushes him towards the tyrant archetype (essentially downgrading the dragon to a stepping stone rather than the avatar of an apocalyptic ending).
Have a dragon story to suggest? Even better, have you written any dragon stories of your own? Shoot me a message and you’ll have yourself a new reader.