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More on Dragons

Thank you to everyone who shared their thoughts on dragons last week.  I found everyone’s comments very helpful and its reassuring that my imagining of my dragons fits into the general wavelength of what I am working on.

This week I’m chewing over a very different problem.  This project I’m working on is prose and involves dragons.  Not a Dragon but a multitude of diverse dragons.  In comics this is not a problem.  I send the artist I’m working with very long and detail description of a dragon and he or she draws a dragon.  In prose, I don’t want to bog the reader down in two pages of prose every time there is a new dragon sighted.  So I need to develop a descriptive short hand for them and the confidence to not describe their physical characteristics every time they appear.

For example,  ”Jalina bore herself through the crowd with a dancer’s grace, stepping around people as if they did not exist, her pale eyes never leaving the target of her pursuit.”   In this sentence we can see Janlina, an image of her forms in the mind, even though we really have very little idea of what she looks like.  We assume that she’s human, but what if she’s not?

“The dragoness they called Jalina bore herself through the crowd with a dancer’s grace, stepping around people as if they did not exist, her pale eyes never leaving the target of her pursuit.”  What do you see then?  What more information do I need to give the reader in this case, assuming you have not seen this character before?



I see a smaller, maybe wingless dragon or wings tucked close on the back, about the size of a horse when standing upright on all fours. The body is lower to the ground when running (kinda like a cat’s lope) and it is very streamlined. But if you wouldn’t have said stepping, I have an image of a Chinese dragon in my head.

I’m seeing a woman (bipedal) who is only vaguely not human looking. Golden eyes with vertical pupils, almost golden skin (I don’t know why gold colored, but we’re talking dragons and that was my first thought), taller than the average human, moving through a crowd in pursuit of another person. I see the dragon having taken a human form while in what I presumed was an urban setting. My mind kinda operates in film like imagery, so the scene starts out above a crowd in a town, following one individual who stands out due to coloration etc. The camera zooms in until you can tell she’s following someone, and then zooms in more till it focuses on her eye and reflects the person she’s following in it (kinda a, whoa! look how intense she is on this individual).

I only think of draconic features because you said she was a dragon earlier in the post. I think the problem might be that you are using descriptive language most commonly associated with humans. You might try using descriptors that signal animal like or inhuman characteristics. For instance (using your example):
”Jalina stalked through the crowd with cat like grace, weaving around people as if they did not exist, her pale eyes never leaving the target of her pursuit.”
This signals some hunting action, and cues the reader to think of the character in a less human light. Hope this helps.

You can also add “trigger words” which convey additional imagery, eg:

“scales which glitter in the sun”
“reptilian skin which blends perfectly/contrasts sharply with the green robes worn by the people in the crowd”
“Serpent-like tongue flickering upon seeing target”
small puff of [cold] fire/smoke from her nostril from excitement/ concentration (something her teachers still try to teach her how to control”
“Her [leathery] skins folded on her back, -making them imperceptive- ready to be deployed if she needs to take flight/be airborne within seconds”
All these can quickly create a context, without having to spend too much time on descriptions.

You can also show some measure of size by the crowds reaction:
Scrabble not to be trampled = huge
being pushed aside/having to make room = big
no interaction/no one noticing as she glides between their legs/passed their feet = small/tiny

So my comments on the matter are make sure you are very clear. In both those cases I have no clue exactly what I’m looking at without prior context.

Some things to keep in mind:
I might have some keywords that you use when you first describe and later reference things like flight such as “a small patch of brightness tracked the ground as the tilt of her wing changed signaling the beginning of her downward spiral towards her prey” (maybe not the best wording, but working in something like talking about wings or aerial maneuvers helps ensure the reader knows she a dragon (or in the full dragon form).

I’d spend that time with maybe not pages, but with a paragraph or so on describing the form of the new creature/dragon before you. Determine what are good “defining characteristics” for a dragon. For a human you might say, small, short, thin, fat, wirey, glasses, broad shoulders, low-backed or slinky dress, beady eyes, short spikey hair, eye color, mannerisms etc. Obviously some subset of those would make up the defining character: for instance he was a tall lanky man with broad shoulders that hunched slightly forward. His small beady eyes pierced through perfectly circular gold-rimmed glasses that stayed firmly planted on his face despite his drunken gait. You could lead into a head wound for the surprise fact (he’s not actually drunk! omg!).

Find things that are descriptive. Perhaps the length, or shape of horns on the head / tail. Patterns in the scales, how many colors are there, are the ones on the face different than the body. if you’re having the polymorph-able variety of dragons you may be able to somehow pull these descriptions through into the human-form descriptions as some of those traits should carry with them unless the whole point is to make it hard to tell which dragon is which person…


Probably not the best person to give an opinion, since I don’t “see” things when I read, but — I’m not sure what the difference is between the two versions. I have to agree with Someome above me, without context, I have absolutely no idea what’s going on. More importantly, unpacking “dragoness” into something visual that isn’t a generic, presumably lithe, pale-eyed human being is impossible without more information.

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