Previous Entry Add to Memories Tell a Friend Next Entry
09:14 pm: Rant on winged humanoids
Long time, no see.

And because trying to work on the “good points about urban fantasy” rant was blocking me like hell.

1) Remember that the wings will be part of your character’s body. This is patently obvious, unless your character is someone who just recently acquired wings, say as part of a genetic experiment or a magical transformation, or can take them on and off at will. But it does get forgotten. People in fantasy stories who have had wings since babyhood will act as if they don’t know how to handle them.

Why? It’s the same anthropocentrism that I’ve talked about in other rants on nonhumans. The author sometimes can’t comprehend that just because wings are unusual for her and everyone else she knows, that doesn’t mean they’re also unusual for her characters. So she writes them as if they were humans+wings, instead of winged humanoids.

Once again, body-centered writing is useful here. Think about the weight of wings, the difference they’d make in balance and locomotion, the accommodations that one would need to make in walking, leaning, sitting, lying down (see also point 2). If a movement or gesture would be too awkward for someone to make with wings, such as lying down perfectly flat, then don’t have them do it. They’ll have their own substitutes, particularly if they’re adults.

Think, also, of what wings can add. What do they contribute to gestures, especially in the way of emphasis and communication? How do they make their owners’ lives easier and more convenient? Someone who’s lived for thirty years, winged, in a society where it’s the norm might not be as afraid of falling, might be used to plenty of room, might value the warmth that comes when she stands embracing someone not only with her arms but with her wings.

Now, though, we’re straying into territory that properly belongs to point 2.

2) Consider how wings fit into your characters’ culture. Think they won’t alter it much? Think again. Human cultures are shaped silently but massively around the facts that we walk upright, that we have hands, and that we have little hair and no tails. Wings might not play as heavy a part in the creation of culture as hands, but I bet they’re no less important than an upright posture.

Among the things that, will at a minimum, need to be considered:

-Casual communicative gestures (wings, especially if they’re colorful, would attract attention at a far greater distance than the wave of a hand).
-Conceptions of space (birds and pilots, like fish, live in a three-dimensional world).
-Metaphors, insults, and names.
-Architecture in general.
-Games and play (something that, in many fantasy novels, no one seems to do).
-Stories, especially those that explain the creation of the world and the sentient kinship to animals; winged humanoids might feel especially close to birds, bats, dragons, or insects.
-Protections from weather.
-Expectations of average physical endurance and prowess.
-Arrangement of cities and towns.
-Territory, borders, and nationalism.
-Weapons and armor.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that everything needs to be created completely differently from most common human objects. Perches would be of little use to someone who could fly to them but did not have the kind of bird-foot necessary to grip them. Clothing would have to fit around the wings, but couldn’t be too loose and flowing or it would get in the way of flight (and it might need to fit differently around the torso in any case, if your invented species has large flight muscles there). Decide what needs to be adapted, but decide also on the depth of acknowledgment that you want to give any one particular thing in your story.

3) How fragile are the wings? This will determine a lot about how your invented species participates in war and conducts medicine, if nothing else. If your characters’ bones are hollow and fragile, they might be skilled in setting and healing them, and a broken bone is nothing to worry about. On the other hand, if a wing, once broken, can never be truly mended, or if a hole torn in the leather of a bat-pinion is always open, they would probably have evolved sophisticated protection. (Skilled smiths at an appropriate technological level might be able to make lightweight metal sheaths for wings that could be worn into battle).

The society can, of course, make accommodations for those who tear wings, have to have them amputated, or are born wingless, the same way that human societies have always made accommodations for those with chronic diseases or who are disabled. But to have no protection at all is nonsensical.

4) Decide on the feelings towards air/the skies/the wind. Here, after all, is a new natural realm not traditionally open to most human societies. In the technologically-oriented, capitalist societies where it is, airplanes fail to give many people that feeling of soaring freedom that wings would. How do your characters treat the chance to hunt in open air? To soar, to circle, to share the dreams of birds? How do they use and exploit the winds? How do they react when bad weather confines them to the ground? How and when can they fly after dark?

Depending on technology level and local conditions, the winged humanoids might or might not have a lot of time to sit around contemplating the sheer aesthetics of the air, but humanity has always reacted to its natural environment. The idea that you don’t need to is a distinctly modern one, only a few generations old; weighing against that is about two million years of evolution that attunes us to the conditions of other life. So how is that environment braided into their lives? Do they give equal time to air and ground? Do they go back and forth between them depending on the season? Do some skilled hunters and gatherers make their living exclusively on the wing, while others stay lower? What external threats or cultural holds might prevent them from doing everything they can to exploit it?

How does the sky get into the art? What about rain, snow, clouds, the sun, the moon(s), the stars? They might well have a better understanding of weather than many human societies on the ground do, since they might be able to get above the clouds and see the sun shining on while a storm pummels the ground below. Do they follow migrating birds and butterflies? How far do they travel? How much do they try to model their lives after other species, and what do they learn from them?

Once again, don’t overdo this. Not every piece of art and activity in a farming society will concern farming, so there’s no need for everything in a flying society to concern flying, either. But it should be omnipresent, rather like the wings themselves.

5) What other adaptations do they have that make flight easier? It’s much more than just wings that drive a bird’s flight, after all. There are also air sacs, hollow bones, flight muscles, streamlining of the body, tails to steer, various kinds of feathers, and a general shedding of weight; get too heavy and you can’t get off the ground. Which, if any of those, do your characters have? Or do they look like normal humans except for the wings and rely on magic to give them lift?

Perhaps they’re not modeled after birds, but after bats. Bats, however, are still fairly light and small, and their flight pattern is far different from that of a bird. How does having leathery wings instead of feathered ones affect your humanoid species? Do they also need echolocation and a nocturnal existence?

Or perhaps they have wings that resemble a dragonfly’s or a butterfly’s, as the majority of fairies in fantasy artwork do. How do they keep the dust on their wings from rubbing off, as happens to butterflies and moths, and becoming less flight-worthy? How do they keep them from crumpling? These wings are generally so light that, if your humanoid species is not small, then they are almost certainly going to need magic to fly. However, I’d be interested in seeing other adaptations made, such as short, spiraling flights that conserve energy and don’t risk the wings. Not every winged species needs to be capable of lengthy migration the way monarch butterflies and Canadian geese are. They might keep close to the ground and use their wings mostly for leaps and gliding.

Or perhaps the wings are of a different sort altogether—like a flying squirrel’s flaps of skin, say. I don’t think I’ve ever read a fantasy story like that, which increases my desire to see one. That would require further adaptations to the body, and the people might wind up looking rather less humanoid.

I can’t say what or when the next rant will be yet.

Current Mood: thoughtful
Tags: , ,


Page 1 of 2
<<[1] [2] >>
Date:August 26th, 2007 04:10 am (UTC)
You might find it useful to look up this flying creature. This is from Wikipedia, not the most authoritative source:

Pterosaurs (Pterosauria); now extinct. A dinosaur-era reptile (although not technically a dinosaur) is believed to have been the largest flying animal that ever existed: the pterosaur Quetzalcoatlus northropi. The maximum size of this soaring giant was believed to have been about 127 kg (280 lb) and 12 m (40 ft) across the wings. Some incomplete remains, however, demonstrate the existence of larger pterosaurs, with some estimates suggesting a maximum wingspan of 18 meters.
(no subject) - (Anonymous)
[User Picture]
Date:August 26th, 2007 04:29 am (UTC)
*grins* This brings back so many memories...when [info]telesilla and I drove from Boston to Sacramento with my stuff and one very hairy cat, we passed much of the time developing what we called the Wingverse. Worldbuilding geeks that we are, we worked on figuring out details for an Earth in which roughly 5-15% of humans have wings that could be used to fly.

We mostly handwaved the mechanics, except to say that wingfolk tend to be thin, muscular, and have incredibly high metabolisms. Winged children are cautioned not to even try flying until they've finished their growth, because their muscles aren't strong enough for it. There are flight schools around the world where winged teenagers spend as long as two years learning to fly.

We concentrated on what social dynamics were involved. We decided that we didn't want wingfolk to be directly analogous to gays and lesbians, so we said that in most places, wingfolk are honored, and considered special in a good way. Almost all of them in the developed world tend to go into creative professions--there are a lot of winged actors, but not so many winged lawyers. There are all sorts of specialists who provide services, like clothes and furniture designed to acommodate the wings, and places where wingfolk can go to get professionally groomed. Because things like getting dressed and grooming usually require help, a lot of wingfolk live communally. In keeping with the semi-tribal ethos, winged fashion tends to involve a lot of body art, especially tattoos.

...and now I want to go poke at one of the pieces I started last year, about two rival winged skiers (there's actually separate Winged Games in conjunction with the Olympics).
(no subject) - (Anonymous)
(no subject) - (Anonymous)
[User Picture]
Date:August 26th, 2007 04:56 am (UTC)
All very good points. (And flying-squirrel-like people would be all kinds of awesome.)
[User Picture]
Date:August 26th, 2007 05:49 am (UTC)
I have a serious wing fetish. Everytime I role play a character with wings I'm always thinking about what it would feel like to have someone touch them; annoying, pleasurable, ticklish? And how does it feel to do a full body stretch when one has wings? And is their impatience with sitting down because you could be in the air? How do they fold? Is there conscious movement of flight wings and wing tips? Is it more intimate to hug someone with the arms or with the wings? How intimate is grooming? Is it a sign of trust to let someone else handle the wings if they're particularly delicate.

And clothes modifications were always really interesting.

I've bitched at cartoons and comics that have a character with a nine foot wing span, walking around with a trench-coat but no obvious hunchback or lumps.

The other thing I've loves is when the wings aren't material but are spirit wings. Like Jean Grey's Phoenix's wings from X-men. Just how is that manifested? Are they telephathic manifestations of power and move with the power of her mind, or is their sympathetic connection to her shoulder and back muscles?

And then there's the colours of the feathers[ black with blue-red-green highlights, or dove grey with tiny hints of purple and what those colours might mean in terms of pigmentation and race and how they match up with the rest of the humanoid body....

Have I mentioned I have serious wing fetish?
Date:August 26th, 2007 01:29 pm (UTC)

Urban Fantasy

I’ve been writing unearnestly for almost two years. I have a depressingly small number of words in mostly disjointed segments of a story that I refer to as “rural fantasy.” I don’t much like the swords and sorcerers fantasy anymore. They all run together in my mind, pulped from the same meat grinder. The vampire thing has really been overdone. At B&N (the only game in town anymore), only the big names or formulaic writing is on the shelves. Borders will take a chance on a new author occasionally, but is about the same as B&N but with smaller shelving and fewer stores.

The biggest problem I see with urban fantasy is it’s the same fairies and elves repeatedly. It’s as if Ireland invaded America and the old world fairy fights off the new world fairy. There’s no room for anything different.

Charles DeLint may not be the most original writer but at least he left the Northeast and delved into the Southwest a bit. Unfortunately, he fell into the same trap of old world v. new world. C. J. Cherryh’s Ruslaka and other books were good. Orson Scott Card did an excellent job with his Russian-based fantasy. The rest seem cut from the same cloth.
Date:August 26th, 2007 02:40 pm (UTC)
For some reason, I don't think about winged humanoids much. There's a wargame called Dominions 3 that features such a race as partially influenced by Zoroastrian mythology (Yazatas and Spentas are the particular mentions), but I don't have anything to add beyond that data from left field.
Date:August 26th, 2007 04:09 pm (UTC)
1) I could see the wings becoming a problem if the protagonist is a teenager, where it would probably interact with puberty. It would still be annoying, but it would at least make some sense so far as "adjusting to body" goes.

2) Along with culture, I'd say economy would also be massively affected. I mean, the first thing I thought of was property disputes over wind currents and thermals. And wearing metal would only make you a lighting rod. And, and, and...
*cuts of before going completely crazy*

I would like to see a rant about weapons in fantasy. I mean, swords are nice, but most author don't really seem to know how they work. It made made me so mad that I gave my protagonist a baseball bat. Don't need a Wise Old Mentor to know how to smash someones face in.
Date:August 26th, 2007 04:33 pm (UTC)
I love the idea of inventing different everyday gestures using the wings; that's something I'd never have thought of on my own! It would also be interesting to work on new terms for all things wing-related - discovering whether the wing-centric vocabulary would be related to birds and their movements, or be a completely original set of terminology.

I think the weight of the wings would be a fairly important aspect to include, too - how might the human body adapt (especially as it grows old) to the extra bulk?

Do you mind if I friend you? I've been lurking and reading your rants on LJ for a while, and they're always thought-provoking.
Date:August 26th, 2007 06:58 pm (UTC)
This is making me wonder how much wider women's hips would be--I mean, unless children are born wingless or with only stubs, the wings would make labor more difficult, if not impossible, for a normal woman, wouldn't they? And there'd probably be new kinds of birth complications with wings getting caught the wrong way or what not...
Date:August 26th, 2007 07:46 pm (UTC)
Hey--- Long time reader, first time poster, but this one really caught my attention, since two of the stories I'm working on at the moment involve winged characters as they fascinate me--- one a society, another in isolation.

Point two I actually think I have a decent start on, since the whole concept for one of the stories began as a culture thing, with the various colors of wings playing a sort of "pure of this kingdom" propaganda bit within the various royal families (they're really the only strains of genetics that have retained a solid color. The average Joe on the street would probably have eyespots, brindled stripes, splotches, or black--- which is a mix of gold and red genes just as it is with hair color--- on his wings). And if the wings are a point of identity for the royals, I imagine they would eventually be a point of identity for the entire society, probably resulting in the same sort of wing-color stereotypes we associate with both nationality and hair color.

The architecture and clothing, on the other hand, are giving me a lot more trouble, and are mostly why I haven't started writing it yet (well, that and the way I imagine they'd need the spine of a cat to preen properly). Godric, a winged character of mine in a society of largely nonwinged characters, I had an easier time with, because it was just frankly easier to keep track of the problems he'd run into rather than work around them in the design of buildings.

Point 4 gives me a lot to think about, though. *goes to do so*

Anyway, thanks for a great deal of food for thought.

---Lady Loki
Date:August 26th, 2007 11:50 pm (UTC)
This rant came just in time! I've been working on a story in my head about someone who gets wings by genetic experimentation, but somethings need a little more thought. This will help me out tremendously! Thanks!
Date:August 27th, 2007 12:21 am (UTC)
This is exactly what I needed. I'm writing a story that takes place in a society of winged people, and this helped alot. The narrator is from an earthbound society and he's looking in.

I hadn't considered the art factor or the affect the weather had on it. Or a air bourne game for that matter. Perhaps something similar to polo without leaning too far into quidditch...

What about divisions, though? Regular human beings seperate themselves by religion and skin color, what would happen if the majority of the winged humanoids had brown wings while a minority had, say, black wings? Or blue and pink, it doesn't make any difference. Wouldn't there be a lot of tension between the two groups simply because of wing color?

(no subject) - (Anonymous)
(no subject) - (Anonymous)
(no subject) - (Anonymous)
Date:August 27th, 2007 04:42 pm (UTC)

This reminded me...

Of The Dark Crystal (an old fantasy movie) as soon as I read point one. The way the female gelfling - whose name I have totally forgotten - saved the protagonist by revealing she could fly was pretty interesting because although it seemed like a big plot convenience the way it was presented was quite well done. The male protagonist was as shocked as the viewer to find out she had wings and wanted to know why he didn't (being of the same race but never having met anyone else until he met her) and she simply laughed and said something along the lines of, "Of course you don't, you're a boy!" The way it was just slipped in that yes, the females of her race can fly, was kind of cool I thought, rather than a long rant about how through evolution only females developed the ability blahblah. It was just something she was used to and a part of who she was. Great rant as always from a long time reader, first time commenter!
Date:August 27th, 2007 05:39 pm (UTC)
Hmm. Funny. #2 sort of reminds me that there may be repercussions to warfare beyond the level of individual armament and fighting techniques--a subject that I've dealt with in greater detail somewhere else ( Might be worth checking even for an experienced fantasist. ;)

(BTW, this is Lay/l_clausewitz over from LJ)
(no subject) - (Anonymous)
Date:August 28th, 2007 12:46 am (UTC)
Another great rant. I've only recently found out about these but I've been reading them ever since...It's great to soak up the knowledge of one older and wiser than me :D
Keep up the good work!

Date:August 28th, 2007 08:12 am (UTC)
I only glanced at this post so far but already noticed that even though I presently don't have any winged characters as such, I do have people living in the sea, and you're bringing up a lot of points that I should take in consideration concerning them. Living under water, even though their city is inside a bubble of air, would be very different from living on land.

Anyway, I am going to friend you since you seem to have a lot of interesting things to say about these things :)
Date:August 28th, 2007 12:53 pm (UTC)
I'd like to nominate my pet hatred: giant retractable wings.

I am a regular sporker at deleterius, and lately we've been swamped by fics featuring Winged!Harry Potter, Winged!Legolas etc. They invariably have ENORMOUS feathered wings which can somehow be retracted when not in use. Where do they go? How do they fit inside a human body? The writers never explain.

Your comments on the adaptions a winged species would need are interesting. I'd say that even with hollow bones, etc., human-sized creatures could never be agile fliers. They'd glide more than fly, and probably have trouble lifting off from ground-level.
Date:August 29th, 2007 02:51 am (UTC)
Jack L. Chalker in one of the Well World books has a flying species that is like squirrels. They live in a densely packed forest where the trees usually grow close enough together for the branches to form roads, but there are clearing. In the clearings the species jumps and then glides through to the other side.
Date:August 31st, 2007 09:44 pm (UTC)
A poster at recommended this journal in a thread about fantasy world building petpeeves and this journal is absolutely wonderful.
You definately gave me food for thought, and I'm going to check this regularly. And make an account for insanejournal.

I even got a plot bunny. I had never thought about flying squirrels, but they are really interesting.
Would people who have flaps of skin like a flying squirrel has wear parkas all the time? Or just really big jumpers?
Date:September 3rd, 2007 10:19 pm (UTC)
Very handy ^_^

Just wondering, have you ever done (or plan on doing) an essay/rant about writing accents?
Date:September 9th, 2007 11:50 pm (UTC)
Good food for thought!
Date:September 25th, 2007 03:48 pm (UTC)

Flying squirrels

"Or perhaps the wings are of a different sort altogether—like a flying squirrel’s flaps of skin, say."
Jo Clayton's Skeen's Leap trilogy features a race of gliding people with flaps of skin, that look rather like cloaks when they're folded. It's ostensibly science fiction, but once she crosses the Gate, it's much more like fantasy. Very interesting premise -- of a planet with a Gate in it that only opens when the sun flares. Various races have at one time or another colonised the planet, and during flare time, representatives have all crossed over. On the other side -- a world where wildly different sentients all live in proximity, if not harmony.

She's got an extremely lively, character-driven writing style that I much enjoy.
Date:December 8th, 2007 05:54 am (UTC)


You just had to give that reminder on wings...Now I have to be all geeky and share.

1)I actually did a math-class-doodle that, following tradition, ended strangely with two characters nicknamed BatBoy and FlyingSquirrelGirl...this then led a discussion with my best friend as to how exactly clothing would work on FlyingSquirrelGirl, since her "wings" weren't separate limbs...our final decision involved magnets, and all her clothing coming in "front" and "back" pieces...

2)One of the characters I'm currently writing has bat wings...she also has a very light bone structure, claw-like tapering to her fingers and toes, and several different body-language "words" derived from how she moves her wings.

3)(Did someone say wing-fetish?) Finally, I've been planning a modern-myth series involving the god Anteros (Eros' lesser know brother), who is described as having butterfly wings. I had a sort of epiphany on this one...Wings are proportionate to the creature's body, right? (except in special, not-just-wings-for-flight cases)...just how thick is a butterfly's body, compared to it's wings? I'm not sure about my proportioning or how well flight would work, but I visualize Anteros' wings as being about an inch thick, which at least makes them a little less damage-prone
Re: Wings - (Anonymous)
Re: Wings - (Anonymous)
Date:February 14th, 2008 09:17 pm (UTC)
laaaaate comment :D

there's an interesting winged culture in China Meiville's "Perdido street station"; the Garuda are essentially bird people, where flying is an integral part of the culture. The greatest punishment is amputation of the wings, and a garuda character spends much of the book attempting to regain his flight.

The culture of Garuda is interesting; they're nomads, and not particularly materialistic (you try flying with a big box of gold), but with great effort maintain a vast library. Their principles revolve about freedom of choice, which is something you might expect to follow from being as ultimately mobile as flying allows.
jacketsshops - (Anonymous)
Date:August 18th, 2008 05:33 am (UTC)


4 "XEf&ZFb` sailfish boats %J4'p[)%0SB
Powered by InsaneJournal