Mohamed Ali may have floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee, but so too can the characters in your fantasy stories… quite literally. Don’t feel that you have to keep to stereotypical fairy wings, there’s so much unusual inspiration in the natural world to help you take flight. It’s worth taking some time to read about and watch slow motion videos of the form of flight you wish to use (be it flapping or gliding) as it will help you to paint a realistic picture of the use of wings in your story. There are strengths and weaknesses behind all types of wings and understanding this can help with your plot and the various challenges your characters face in your story.
- Butterflies – OK, I know, these are your stereotypical fairy wings. Gorgeously painted with extravagant designs and colours, the butterfly is one of nature’s most endearing flying creatures. But take a step backward from all this and you may find inspiration from a butterfly coming forth from the primeval soup of its chrysalis to emerge as a soft, vulnerable creature that needs time, sun and wind to have the strength to fly.
- Bats – Look closely at a bat’s wings and you’ll see that they are like extensions of human arms. The elbow is hidden within the wing and the long splayed “fingers” and hooked “thumb” support the thin membrane of skin that covers the wings. They essentially swim through the air and are able to make parts of their wings rigid or relaxed to help them fly. Take a look at this short video and you’ll see the extraordinary strength and beauty of their wings, which is not apparent at full speed.
- Flying fish – This ancient fish has the ability to evade being eaten by leaping from the water and gliding for quite a distance. They’re used beautifully in the film The Life of Pi when they leap over poor Pi in his boat scaring the wits out of him. But did you know that some types of squid also glide over the surface by pushing themselves out of the water using their natural propulsion system and it is believed they may also propel themselves once in the air. Some types of ray can also breach the surface and glide – the mobula ray is about 1 tonne in weight though, so you wouldn’t want to be nearby when that happens.
- Flying dinosaurs – What I love about flying dinosaurs is that although they were essentially the first types of birds, many of them had lots of really sharp teeth, were gangly in appearance, had leathery skin and quite a few were utterly enormous. Those that went on to evolve the first feathers had an almost furry appearance in comparison to birds today. Although there were many types of flying dinosaurs they did have difficulty moving about on land and taking off was a bit of a challenge. They were also trailblazers for flying, evolving down various paths through trial and error, where the dead-ends were those that just didn’t get it right.
- Beetles – True, plenty of insects fly or glide, including ants, bees, flies, locusts, spiders, etc. but I’m going to single out beetles. Beetles have “secret” wings which they keep safely protected beneath a stiff outer casing called their elytra, which are essentially hardened wings. When they need to fly, the elytra separate to expose their soft membraneous wings, whereupon they simply take off and whirr away. Some beetles are extraordinarily beautiful and have mesmerising colours that shimmer like a peacock’s wings. The unfortunate thing about the way a beetle flies is that it can be very noisy, direct and occasionally defensive, which is probably why it hasn’t attracted the same romanticised following as butterflies and bees.
- Flying lizards – Little draco lizards leap from branches (video) as a defence mechanism and although this isn’t truly flying, the stunning zig-zag patterns and spots on the creature’s green and brown wings are what grab you.
- Birds – Of course I couldn’t have a blog about wings without mentioning birds. But I would urge you to look beyond the everyday for inspiration. For instance, the way an eagle takes off, flies and lands is vastly different to a hummingbird, pigeon, owl, albatross or parrot. There are loads of web sites out there that explain how different types of birds fly, their wing shapes and the pros and cons of their specific form of flight.
- Fish and whales – Yes, back to fish, but don’t look past the fact that although wings may be used to fly in the air, fins are used to “fly” in the sea. The most majestic “birds” of the sea must be rays, which glide so effortlessly through the water like giant ships.
I’ve started a Pinterest board with some inspiration on wings and flying.