I said I wasn’t going to write about writing (much), and you’ll see I’m not. I’m writing about dragons, and that’s entirely different.
The seed of the idea for my current work in progress comes to me when I’m watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer. My thought process goes approximately like this: “Wow, fantasy is more fun than real life. I want to write a book about dragons.”
I didn’t say it made sense.
Having made this decision, I have to deal with the big question faced by everyone who decides to write about dragons: How do I make them fly? My physics is a little rusty, but I’m guessing any creature as big as a truck would need football field-sized wings, and if its muscles could even get up the strength to move them, flapping would snap its bones in two.
Dragons should be cool and terrifying, not mournful and broken, so that’s a problem. (Actually, a depressed dragon with self-confidence issues might be a great story, but it’s not the story I’m writing this time.)
I want to be true to physics, so I start by wondering what the biggest creature that’s ever flown is, on the basis that if it actually happened it’s probably possible.
I’m from New Zealand, so I’ve heard of Haast’s eagle, a huge kick-ass eagle that hunted moa (think, ostrich, only bigger and less stupid colours). I recommend you check out the link—I’m sure it’s entirely scientifically accurate. I’ll wait.
Haast’s eagle has been extinct for hundreds of years (hence, no photo), though I hear that doesn’t keep tour bus operators from warning tourists to watch out for them when they’re sightseeing in the New Zealand mountains.
Sadly, Haast’s eagle only weighed up to 13 kg, and a dragon of this size would be a pathetic beast indeed.
I’m certain that something bigger has been capable of flight, and so I go searching. Wikipedia comes to the rescue: “Pterosaurs include the largest flying animals ever to have lived.” Eureka! They’re not actually dinosaurs, but “prehistoric archosaurian reptiles closely related to dinosaurs”. Close enough.
Look at the wingspans on those things—up to 13m (43 ft). Since most people are less than 3m tall, those are massive wings. An army of dwarves could camp under them.
But would a dragon the size of a pterosaur be massive enough to eat a man in one bite? (Not that that happens in my story. Well, it might. I’m not telling. But really, what fun are dragons if they don’t occasionally eat people?)
Further reading reveals that it’s really hard to tell how heavy an animal was by looking at its skeleton, but science can’t rule out flying creatures as large as 250 kg (550lb).
How would that be for a dragon? A “light riding horse” might weigh 380 to 550 kg, so we’re talking about a dragon with half the mass of a horse.
I know a dragon could seem big for its size given its huge wings, dagger-like teeth, and flame for breath, but a half-horse sized dragon screams puny to me. Even if I stretch the science and say dragons are the same size as a horse, they’re disappointing. The worst kind of dragon is a disappointing one.
I want dragons the size of a juggernaut.
Maybe that’s a little overboard. But still, dragons should be freaking huge.
I feel that science has failed me on the dragon flight front, so I have to consider alternatives. I can see two.
- Dragons can’t fly. What kind of pathetic dragons would those be? Is it even fair to call them dragons if they’re flightless? Sure, Komodo dragons can’t fly, but everyone knows reality is a poor imitation of fantasy. No, my dragons have to be able to fly.
- Dragons fly using magic. This is a cop-out, but it could work in some circumstances. Like, if dragons are magical in other ways. My dragons have certain unusual talents, but they’re not magical as such, so we’re a no go.
I am not happy and require significant cheering up.
Then I realise I’m missing the obvious solution. Of course my dragons can fly. They’re dragons.
If my reader can’t handle that she’s reading the wrong genre.
Do you have any better solutions to the dragon problem? Do fantasy worlds that bend the laws of physics without using magic bother you? What are the most egregious abuses of physics you’ve come across? How do you deal with these types of problems in your writing?
If you enjoyed this post, why not sign up to get every post straight in your inbox? Or to avoid inbox-bloat and still never miss a post, grab my monthly update.