I asked in the last book (and I will keep asking till I get an swer) House Andrews or the mod. Please please what do I need to research on to get good understanding on how to develop such complex unique worlds and beings? I have narrowed it down to Xenobiology, Evolution and anthropology. Am I missing anything?Gail
I am a young writer who has a problem of not researching well before writing about something. I absolutely love science fiction fantasy like this and I do write things like this. But as I am considering self publishing I want to give it all I can. Please how does Ilona Andrews know how to classify alien races so well? What resources do they use to know these things. Like how they get the culture and social mechanisms and biological of aliens sound so authentic. Is there a guide out there?Hopeful Fan
Tell us the secret!
Oy. I guess I would recommend auditing a biology course at a local 4-year or community college. Just basic Zoology. And possibly something like Ecology, Evolution and Society from Texas State, although it will likely be sleep-inducing. Self-study won’t really get us there, because we’re looking for a systematic understanding of the biological principles. Self-study is great when you want to find out something about a specific subject, but we need to get a feeling for how biological organisms develop and interact with each other. A broad foundation.
Let’s take the Oomboles. There are certain cornerstones a budding civilization must hit to develop into a space-fairing nation. Two of those are using tools and communication.
A fish can’t effectively use tools. Fish do modify their environment. For example, male puffer fish build elaborate nests.
But anatomically they are limited to fins and mouths and things they could accomplish with those. If we want to make them use elaborate tools, we either need to modify their fins into tool-wielding appendages or give them tentacles.
When it comes to the underwater communication, people usually default to whales and dolphins, marine mammals. Vocalization requires an internal air supply, and it seems pretty obvious that it would be best accomplished by having lungs. While fish have a swimming bladder filled with air, it falls behind the lungs in noise producing capacity.
However, fish do vocalize.
They chirp, they click, they vibrate their air bladder, and some of them pass wind in a chorus.
As amusing as it would be to have a fish alien that communicates exclusively by farts, it’s hard to imagine complex exchanges taking place in this way. The fish also have a number of other sensory systems that help them orient and sample the chemical composition of water. To fish, chemical changes in their environment would be of critical importance, so they would detect when someone released the body fluids. But we’re not interested in those mechanisms for the time being because our fish would be out of the ocean in self-contained habitats.
However, we do know that most daylight fish have color vision that’s at least as good as a human’s. If we add brightly colored fins to the equation, a fin display becomes an effective and fast way to communicate. Also, humans find the fish fins and colors fascinating. We’ve been drawing them for thousands of years on all sorts of media including our own skin.
If we settle on find as a communication device, we will need some sort of translator. The oomboles probably don’t leave their oceans too often, and it would be logical that their tech might experience a malfunction here and there.
So here is the complex explanation of how oomboles work. That’s what most people would expect the process of creating an alien species should be like: a careful consideration of biological principles.
This is what actually happened. I was scrolling through Facebook and saw this video with a soundtrack.
And I went, “Hehe.”
That’s it. I had the oomboles. It took approximately 5 seconds. Within that first 5 seconds, I had the entire concept with the snow globe habitats, fins, and funny tech. And then I showed it to Gordon, and he thought it was funny, so we sat down and wrote it with zero research.
I did the research for this post, but at the time, I had enough basic biology to just drive on. The only snag was identifying the fish in the video because I wanted a pic of it for the post, but there weren’t that many signal blenny pics on the stock site, so it was time wasted.
I asked in the last book (and I will keep asking till I get an swer)… what do I need to research on to get good understanding on how to develop such complex unique worlds and beings?
I see this a lot, an idea that there is a secret formula writers are hoarding, a systematic approach that guarantees success. That you need extensive background preparation and note books filled with detailed notes on society and character’s birth signs. That there is a road map you must follow and milestones you must hit with complex plot diagrams and worldbuilding. And if you do all of that, you are guaranteed a compelling narrative.
We don’t do any of that. You know how much preparation we do before starting a new story? Zero. We sit down to write, and it either is something or it isn’t, but we won’t know until we write it. We research only when we absolutely have to.
Your writing comes from the complex mix of things that you are. Your aliens are just as unique and special as ours. They come from your unique set of life experience and knowledge, one we could never hope to replicate. If there was a formula and required reading, then publishing houses would churn out bestsellers by the dozen every Tuesday.
So if you absolutely want to get a good biological background, Zoology 101. Probably nature documentaries. If you set me before the tv with National Geographic documentaries on a loop, I will probably come up with all sorts of aliens in self-defense, because I would eventually get bored. My advice is to concentrate on filling your brain with cool stuff and see what happens.
Less focus on study and more on hehe.
Cheers to the beauty in nature around us! Good news for a Monday 😉
Brittany Lockhart says
Was the signal blenny the fish you spent hours googling a few weeks ago? I remember wondering which cool fish would have you stumped that long. I’ve been down a few of those rabbit holes myself trying to ID a fish I’ve seen while diving. He’s really neat- thank you for the video 🙂
Yep, that’s the one. I really wanted a pretty pic for the blog post, but there were no good stock images and we try to use only images we purchase the rights to unless they are obvious memes or in common domain.
Andrea Smith says
I had a few different type blinnies /gobies fish in my salt water aquarium BC(before children). They’re pretty cool and come in a variety of colors but it’s fun watching them gobble sand to eat micro organisms. Singal blenny is telling everyone look at my bright colors but I don’t taste good.(poisonous)
PS I’m guessing lack of pictures is related to how hard it is to take good pictures of fish inside aquariums, the glass it oftern 1-2inch thick.
As an educator, I really wish we could let this be more of an organizing principle: find the “hehe.” I REALLY would like to use that for teaching writing and research.
I do have a question on Dominion names. Are they given or chosen? Specifically, I’m curious about “She who controls the fate” and “He who is immune to fate” because those seem very much like one is a response to the other, and I wondered if Kosandian chose that deliberately or if someone chose it for him.
Thanks again for your willingness to answer questions and share your process.
Kat M. says
I’m looking forward to hearing more about those titles, too. There’s a lot going on in those few words. I imagine we’ll hear more in future chapters ????
+1 on the “finding the hehe” – it’s my favorite part of this post and I perfectly describes what I love about House Andrews.
Donna A says
There’s a distinct difference between recognising an author knows what they’re talking about but still writing a good story and not distracting from it and an author who belabours the reader with their knowledge and infodumps so that the it feels forced. I think that’s more important and probably more difficult to do. Luckily House Andrews do it well ????
Side note, I just finished Harbinger and I can’t tell if I’m excited or p*ssed ????
Luv’ed Harbinger but it feels like only one third of the book.
Donna A says
I thought I was somehow cut off mid-paragraph. Fingers crossed for less than eight years ????
Amen to that.
Yuppers – hoping for much less than 8, but not holding my breath…
Right?!? I hadn’t counted but knew it was way long since the last one. And I loved this book, from seeing more of my favorite characters to the setup for some really interesting moral questions to explore in the next one. In fact, it reminded me distinctly of the challenge involved in redeeming Hugh, which turned out so well, so I have high hopes. I didn’t love the cliffhanger though.
Infodumps: I am halfway through a book right now, the most recent in a long-running series, in which at least 50% of the book so far has consisted of infodumps. It feels like the pace is finally picking up now, after a long weary slog. I expect I can finish this book, which was in serious doubt for a while. However unless it’s the final book in the series, I will not be finishing that series. It needs less lecture and more hehe.
Michael Hall says
What I really want to know is if we will have to wait five years to resolve the cliff-hanger ending. None of the previous Tinker books had such an uh-oh ending. I have tried multiple times to think of exactly how Ms Spencer is going to resolve the cliff-hanger ending. I loved all the combination of all the various charactors from the short stories though.
I supported Ms Spencer on Patreon for a while, and earlier on in the process of writing Harbinger she was thinking that cliff-hanger would happen only about 1/3 – 1/2 of the way through the book. But then too many characters with too many stories, and Harbinger got split into two books (I’m hoping it’s still only two). So I’m sure she does have an idea where it’s going, as that would originally have been the end of Harbinger.
++1000 on hoping the next one comes out soon!
I disagree, most chapters we get from HA ends in a fantastic hook & cliff hangar. This one is just an especially good one!
Moderator R says
This thread is discussing the book Harbinger by Wen Spencer, not House Andrews works ????.
It can be confusing at times when the comment section veers towards other authors!
Thank you Mod R, it was kind of jarring.
Next one is in the works
Mary Carter says
Thank you for taking the time to answer this so thoughtfully and completely!! You take such good care of the BDH!
Mary, your comment made my day. I am now smiling. You are very welcome.
Kat M. says
Ok, that fish is awesome. I love it. I certainly now have a better understanding of what the oombole are doing in their giant snow globes. I love that you introduce aliens who need space suits in an Earth environment.
Persistence, on the other hand, can get a little bullying with this kind of attitude. “I’ll keep asking until I get a response” is just so rankling. Rude.
As always, thanks to House Andrews for sharing your creations and your time with us. I value it more than I can express.
PS – I just finished my third reread of the Will Wight “Cradle” series, and I’m so glad y’all recommended that. It’s so obscure that I would never have heard of it, otherwise.
I loved that series, too, and got the rec from HA.
Laura Attoe says
I have a shelf of books that have changed the way I think about the world. Most of the books on it are non-fiction. Most of them are about some sort of model of the world or humans.
So maybe think about your models. I agree with HA that doing the actual writing is key, however, it sounds like you are interested in broadening your information base, and I love sharing books that I’ve loved, so here is my list below.
Laura, please combine your books into a single comment. Just titles and author, otherwise the blog software will decide you are spam and we will have to fish your comments out one by one. Thank you.
Laura Attoe says
Will do, thanks for letting me know.
(I wass leaving room for people to individually +1 books.)
Laura, I looked at your list so far and you’ve posted a sex help book and a stress relief book. The topic is zoology. Please stay on topic, thank you.
The reason why both Mod R and I are on top of this is because people will read the comments and forget that the links came in from a reader, and a couple of days later someone will accuse me or Gordon of posting these recommendations. So you are not being singled out. This is just normal procedure. We curate out of necessity and bitter experience. 🙂
Donna A says
Some might say she is…????????????
Be as it may, on posts like these, which are educational and might be read widely, we have to vigorously keep the discussion on point. 🙂
I’ll jump in this thread. Nature documentaries are delicious, but I find books (or audiobooks) go deeper into the material. The Red Queen by Matt Ridley is a fascinating look at how evolution works. Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari talks about how culture and society can evolve. And I always recommend A History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson because it’s about how we (humanity) learned what we know and is just a good general primer on “science”.
Please pair the list down to titles relevant to the topic of zoology and biosystems. Thank you.
Laura B says
Any other parents learning zoology through Wild Kratts and octonauts? Obviously not everything translates because it’s meant for kids but they do a surprisingly good job with general concepts.
Yes!!! I have to admit I learned about a lot of new creatures by watching octonauts with my kids!!
Thanks for the video clips – they’ll be working their way into some A-level lessons next year on ways in which animals communicate! (Ducks & mating dances is a fun one to watch; it’s not quite in the cute cat category, but if you know your moves you can identify the species of duck based on the order they dance them to attract their mate – and the really funny part is getting serious 17 & 18 year olds to act them out!)
Linking to your point on Zoology/Ecology etc. a really fascinating area to consider reading/researching into is ‘physiological ecology’ – it was one of the optional modules I did back when I was doing my B.Sc – and there are a fair number of popular science books out there to give your original questioner a taster on how species interact with their environment which might provoke some ideas on possible mechanisms for communicating; including how some modify their environment to suit themselves.
You get a +1 for that remark “making serious 17 & 18 year olds act them out” Seriously a sense of humor. 🙂
Signal blenny might just be my new favorite social media creature. ???? So far they’re right at the top with the Huskeys. So dang cool!
Judy Schultheis says
I’ve missed a lot of things you’ve said in your posts, but not this one. Of course, it might be that starting from funny has always struck me as the best way to go about things.
One thing I’ve noticed about your main characters – they don’t do mean jokes. Not even Hugh at his most asshole-ish. Bad jokes, yes – with great enthusiasm – but not mean ones.
No, when Hugh was mean it went clear through the bone.
This reminds me of the debate of hard magic vs soft magic (https://www.brandonsanderson.com/sandersons-first-law/), and the spectrum of authors meticulously developing all the details of a world (fantasy or sci-fi) vs to just start writing and see where it goes. Have to find the balance that works for the author and the particular world.
Erickson Todd says
John Scalzi’s aliens in “Agent to the Stars” communicate entirely in really awful smells.
Ants communicate mostly with pheromones. Not sure how they are released. It makes sense that they emit them through farting. Or burping. Not sure what ant pehromones would smell like if enlarged enough for a human nose.
Moderator R says
A lot of people *can* smell ants. I’m not sure if it’s specifically the pheromones, but they definitely have a scent.
I believe you may be thinking of “The Android’s Dream.” The gaseous mackerel definitely reminded me of that book.
Your Hehes are always full of good!
Thanks for the jazz fish!
Colleen C. says
I always choose more hehe.
> Less focus on study and more on hehe.
I wish I was still in school. I would totally get that written on a mug and give it to my teacher. 😉
I confess that my favorite part about IA’s worldbuilding isn’t the cool zoological details, but the emotional stakes (emotional worldbuilding?). No matter how secondary a character or species is, their history is written in a way that makes me care about their storyline. I’m not sure if I’m making any sense. ????
Also: I apologize if this is off-topic but I’m listening to the GraphicAudio ONE FELL SWEEP that came out today. I love it so much. Please, please do adaptations of your other series (like HL and KD and Edge). I know the audio rights might be complicated, but it would be so cool if it ended up happening.
Yes, the GA of Clean Sweep added SO MUCH!!!
I have to add something here, though — Ilona and Gordon did a world-building class last year that I took and it was *incredibly* helpful and enlightening on how they approach world building. It was a simple system that was elegant in its simplicity and how to apply it across the various types of world-building needs out there.
I wish I had gotten a transcript. (I thought I did, though for the life of me, I cannot find it.)
My life went a bit pear-shaped afterward, but recently, I’ve been able to put those discussions into practice and for the first time in a long time, feel that creative joy of building a world again (without weighing myself down on useless information).
I am all for the hehe! Thank you!
I have no desire to write but love these looks behind-the-curtain!
Sara B. says
Cris Reads says
“Your writing comes from the complex mix of things that you are”. I love this, and “hehe” as a measure of creation is exactly what I aspire to do ????
More hehe- that’s my motto!
And I’m glad to see that my mental image of the Oomboles’ movements pretty much matched the movements of the signal blenny fish posted above- thanks to your great descriptions.
What you two have are stellar imaginations!
Funny fish story:I knew a manufacturer/seller of bass fishing lures (rubbery worms) in umpteen different colors. His clients would blame the lure for their lack of catching fish if the color of a batch was the teensiest bit off from their last purchase. He thought that was hilarious, because most of the morning and most of the evening when most people are out fishing, the fish are essentially color-blind. They are nearsighted and see things in a blur, and have fixed monocular lenses. In tests, any color would do if the fish liked the lure.
Answer: Watch more YouTube videos!
(Thank you for the insight into your processes.)
I think what you do well is maintain a consistent thread with your biology or zoology or whathaveyou. So it ends up feeling like you researched the hell out of it. Its not just biology and aliens either. You do it with magic, and technology too. Maybe you aren’t technically correct, but you’re consistent and logical, so it works. Not all authors manage that nearly so well.
And yet, every time I googled some mythical being or fairy tale that I didn’t already know*, you’ve gotten it right. I always thought that was research. You guys must hold a tremendous amount of folklore in your heads.
*exception given to those mythical beings that have been written EVERYWHERE, namely vampires, werewolves, and Fae. An author can’t possibly get it right or wrong, only new.
Moderator R says
The takeaway from this post isn’t that House Andrews don’t do research. The opposite is true! As they always say, you have to know the rules really well in order to break them 🙂
However when looking for that initial “spark” of inspiration and imagination, it’s not about writing extensive cross notes and series bible outlines with inspiration boards. It’s about consuming varied media and living life with more hehe in it 🙂 . See also https://ilona-andrews.com/2021/writing-what-you-hate/
I appreciate you sharing these “secrets”. Your patience and generosity is amazing. Thank you.
If you’re interested in “weird” sea creatures, I highly recommend checking out any of youtube vids from MBARI (Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute). Bloody belly comb jellies, tube worms, carnivorous sponges… I’ve been learning so much!
I love the parting comment XP
That is an utter delight! Thank you!
Cris Reads says
<3 Less focus on study and more on hehe <3 It took me many years to understand that I was not “wasting” my time when I was not studying or doing homework related activities in youth. Therefore I knew I needed to rest from time to time, but I felt guilty. I wish I had read a comment like this back then. <3 Thank you <3
Moderator R says
To be honest, the “You’re not doing anything again!” whenever I was reading is probably one of the reasons I love books so much. I was always a contrary little sybarite, and the fact that it signified indolence gave me that forbidden treat thrill :D.
Disentangling moral value from “productivity” is a very complicated process, I wish you luck with it!
Oh dear me yes. Especially on family vacations. “Why aren’t you out at the pool meeting people instead of reading!” Well, because I actually _like_ books ????????
Cris Reads says
Goal already achieved ???? It just took time and priorities arragement.
LOL, the only books I *didn’t* read in school were the ones that were assigned. Some of them I finally got around to reading as an adult, and then wished I’d read them back in the day. Aside from the fact that my grades would have been better, some of them were pretty decent books. But if they were assigned, I had a really hard time cracking them.
I never have been able to get through anything by J.D. Salinger though.
Moderator R says
I’m still convinced the people who put together the mandatory reading lists in my native country were in the employ of the enemy ????. Or at least had the end goal to put young people off reading.
I was fortunate to have a very well developed reading appetite due to my extra curriculars, because the school list and its insistence on 1800s rural dramas about land owning would have made me hate it too.
Maria M. OToole says
Ah, Thomas Hardy. At the risk of starting a blog war, what a waste of time…
Bill From NJ says
I read a comment years ago about science fiction and being scientifically accurate to the nth detail, and the writer ( it may have been Heinlein) said that the hard science won’t be important to most readers and I agree with him. The Martian, which is very much into the hard science, has some whoppers in it, like Mark being able to lift the node cone off the rocket ( it supposedly weighs 900lbs or something) to get rid of it..in the end it doesn’t matter bc the story is compelling.
This argument has been going on for a long time, like Vern snorting at wells for creating an unknown substance to get his travellers to the moon ( on the other hand, Vern knew his method of getting the ppl to the moon wouldn’t work,every objection the nemesis in the book makes in fact is true).
I have a book I wrote ( for fun, it is a piece of parrot droppings) that uses a combination of the Pauli exclusion theory with action at a distance to be able to do something . I would be a physicist would laugh, but it is plausible enough since both are accepted fact, if not together.
And almost anything can be gotten around. Ilona points out that a species without arms or appendages, like a dolphin ( who I think are smarter than humans,esp these days) couldn’t do space travel. Yet what if a waterborne or fluid born species developed finely tuned telekinesis and telepathy to overcome nor being able to manipulate or speak?
And how many stories have ‘that violates the laws of physics as we know it…but then again we are relative idiots who once thought digital watches were a great thing?’ ,( my homage to Douglas Adams).
Write the story then work out the cover story, the story is more important than the science, perfect science and meh story,=meh experience as a reader.
What great advice. And I’m not even a writer. It’s great advice for life in general, you know?
I wrote a STTNG short story once about first contact miscommunication based on cephalopods. They didn’t hear and we didn’t display complex color patterns across our skin. Both sides initially classified each other as zoological specimens. I hadn’t though about it for years until the Oomboles, so thank you.
Jeff Wang says
Have you ever painted yourself in a corner?
JR Rowlings has stated that at the end, she felt that Hemione should have ended up with Harry. But she couldn’t make the story work.
Or just totally didn’t feel like the next story?
How does one avoid becoming GRR Martin or Jim Butcher?
Moderator R says
Ilona has previously addressed this topic here https://ilona-andrews.com/2021/writing-what-you-hate/
I hope this helps ????
I can’t really comment on other writers and painting themselves into the corner. 🙂 It’s not my place.
But I can tell you that Gordon and I have done it recently and there were some mental contortions to get things to fit. We literally stared at each other, mumbling, “How is she still alive?”
It happens. You can get tunnel vision during a project.
Were you trying to kill ‘her’? Or allow ‘her’ to survive?
I’ve heard some authors talk about their characters as if they were really living people – I didn’t realise that they also could avoid death if they want to!
Mind you, on some TV shows & films the ‘plot armour’ that some characters develop is truly remarkable – and not nearly so well rehearsed in some cases as Mischief Theatre’s falling stage screen with the actors in the window! (The Play that goes wrong – well worth a watch!)
Thank you for such awesome advice!!
Love this breakdown and advice as a reader:) thank you for sharing!!!
If anyone wants to learn more about morphology, I highly recommend checking out the Roanoake Gaming channel on YouTube. He’s a trained biologist who does breakdowns of movie and video game monsters/ aliens/ diseases and how they’d work on a biological scale in the real world. I’ve learned so much about the potential for carbon based life forms by just listening to his observations and theories on fictional species and how they fit into our world.
Hahaha reminds me of this:
The secret ingredient of my secret ingredient noodle soup is ….. nothing!
Kung Fu Panda. Sometimes we enjoy seeing how the sausage is made lol. Thanks for the insight ????
Cody D says
The amount of research that often goes into subjects like this is staggering to me. Authors are underappreciated for how much time they have to take to make sure things are as accurate as possible. On a similar subject and not at the same time… Ilona I wonder if you’d have some advice for me on this… My GF was a traditionally published author with HarperCollins looking to start her journey of self publishing. She’d like to take control of her Goodreads account as a start. How did you achieve this? I’m sitting here talking with her about it right now and thought I’ll ask one of my now favorite self published authors!
Maryann Jones says
What about the mushrooms that they have found that they say communicate with language?
So, that’s not quite what is being said. This is a decent overview:
On the one hand, this made me giggle, as I’d once trolled a neuroscience journal club by presenting a paper on electrical signal guidance and the role it plays in hyphae development (fungal filaments, basically). They were asking for it – they’d asked me not to present anything on sea slugs, because “no one wants to hear about that”… when my core research was on sea slugs. (Basically, you had the people who worked on vertebrates, and those who did not. The vertebrate folks would often insist that anything that wasn’t about vertebrates too boring to look at. Which sounds to me like *people* too boring to hang out with, but it was grad school…)
So, what’s being shown is some kind of complex electrical signalling, that shares some features with a language. We don’t know how it works, what it’s used for, what the signals mean, or even if they’re really significant. (And certainly, there aren’t any implications that mushrooms are intelligent and talking to each other…)
But! This doesn’t mean this isn’t a great jumping off point! This is some really cool research – just, it’s often being presented in a somewhat sloppy, misleading way in the popular press. And I’m enough of a stick in the mud that I like being very clear what we actually have support for… before using it as a jumping off point for fiction. (I’m waiting to see what is the final form of the fungal elder god Ursula Vernon asked me to build for her a bit back… the book is coming out this summer 🙂 )
(As an aside, mushrooms are far from the only things that use electrical signalling. Heck, after the weirdoes went off and made our own journal club, I presented a paper on electrical signalling in trees, just for fun…)
Donna A says
Fungal elder god…
I’m sold, sign me up right now. I already love most Ursula Vernon and you’ve just tipped the scales into hell yeah!
I wouldn’t usually mention something like this, but this particular conversation took place on Twitter, with the expected chorus of other folks, so I figure it’s a matter of public record.
Donna A says
A quick peruse of forthcoming T.Kingfisher gave me two (yay!) books, one in April and one in July. July’s What Moves the Dead (nice pun) is about a mycologist so my guess is that’s your culprit.
My lips are sealed but my fingers are moving swiftly to press buy now….
For the original question people, I’d highly recommend looking up Steven Brust’s “Cool Stuff Theory of Literature”.
(As I work on my next book about worldbuilding.)
100% this. I have a wide range of interests and have been used as a sounding board for a few friends writing sci fi\fantasy or their own RPG. It’s a lot of fun to get with folks with similar interests and just let your imagination flow. There’s also nothing like – as a person that would never write a novel or RPG to look at something in print – and know that I at least had a small part in the process 🙂
More deeper research happened if it was REALLY important to be fully “doable” within current physics\whatnot – but I’d say take that bit of an idea and workshop in a group where you can. Our fearless leaders here are lucky that the group also happens to also be at home and working on the same book 🙂
“Less focus on study and more on hehe.” I’m trying to imagine the college admissions industry hearing this hahaha
Then do the Dushgubs have inspiration from the Endar? You wrote about them in A Questionable Client. I was always curious about their stories, and if they were from Slavic Folklore. Search engines keep thinking that I want information about a Slavic (cal)endar.
Blennies! I recall the name from some class or the other but who knew they had jazz fins! Hehe
Thanks for the Monday chuckle.
Penny S. says
Yippee! Two posts today. My temporary escape from doing taxes last minute. Now I’m wondering what Dina’s tax returns look like.
I was a marine biology major in college. We once watched a video with the blennies in class. I had one of those awful moments when stress and exhaustion and the fish popping out of burrow made me laugh where I couldn’t stop.
You brought me back. ???? to days when a little fish made me laugh uncontrollably …
Gail Storyteller says
Answering this question means more to me than you know. Thank you thank you thank you so much for this. It is probably going to bore me to sleep but I think I’m gonna start binge watching nature docs and maybe just take a basic course or read a text book on the areas I want to learn.
I have been been writing from my heart and based on inspiration alone for years (granted I was a teen for most of those) and I have always felt something missing. I am hoping that by filling my mental dictionary with some stuff I can make my writing more…authentic, I guess.
Your reply is awe some And I am going to copy and paste this some where so I never forget it.
Super relieved to know there is no one formula out there (or maybe it’s a I’d-tell-you-but-I’d-have-to-kill-you kind of situation) hehe.
Thank you again for the taking the time to reply this with such detail. You have made a young writer’s day (scratch that, writing career) today and I hope you all know how much we your fans appreciate you for the worlds and characters you’ve given to us. Currently re-reading my Kate Daniels collection so this couldn’t have come at a better time.
Much love you and yours. Stay safe out there.
Angela Knight says
Can I recommend some books that might help on the writing front?
Romancing the Beat by Gwen Hayes.
Goal, Motivation and Conflict by Debra Dixon. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00DZ01FRY/ref=dbs_a_def_awm_bibl_vppi_i0
Both those books are excellent. I’ve been using GMC for years, and Romancing the Beat is very good.
Angela Knight says
Bwahahahahaha on the Blenny fish.
That is the silliest thing I’ve seen this week.
This moment shall forever be known as “The Birth of Jazz Fins”. It is the silliest!
A note on self study – I’m guessing you mean self study in a pretty limited way, like the focused web search sort of thing.
You can go really far with self-study, if you are up for being rigorous about it. For getting foundational knowledge in a field, you can, for instance, go read a textbook – this nice this about this approach is that you can read reviews, and find a really good textbook, with an approach that works well for you (if such a thing exists.) (Look, I think a lot of undergrad textbooks are pretty terrible, and the publishing model is worse. But there are a bunch of serious texts out there where each chapter is written by an expert in the field, and those can be great!) There are also a lot of high quality courses offered free online. It’s all about sticking with it.
I know this is going to sound about as fun as a gynecological exam to a bunch of you. (Though having textbooks that don’t suck helps a lot!) On the other hand, you get to do it at your own rate, and there isn’t a test. And as you get into the more specialized areas, there are a lot of books written by experts in the fields that don’t cost as much as textbooks per se, and are sometimes quite readable. (There are also the books written by experts in their fields aimed at a more general audience. Some of which are really great.)
I don’t really have recs for a general biology textbook. I mean, when I was moving from software into biomed, I read through Campbell’s Biology, which is certainly highly regarded? And it’s decent.
Albert’s Molecular Biology of the Cell, OTOH, is a serious reference, and totally worth the money.
Principle of Neural Science (Kandel et al – we used to call this “KSJ” but the main authors have changed over time) is another one I’d recommend. Read the first dozen chapters, and then use the rest as a reference as things come up.
I feel like I should have something on evolution, but the one book that I really love is Felsenstein’s book on mathematical population genetics – which is freely available from his site, last I looked, but isn’t quite what’s being looked for here.
This all is a pretty hard core approach, though. I mean, it made sense for me, not the least because I’m pretty much interested in everything and it tracks my whacky career path. But also… not everything is based on biology. It might make more sense to focus on extrapolations on the things you already know well? And then do the research for the specific bits you need along the way.
(Also, hitting up friends with specific backgrounds is beyond legit. Someone I am dating was asking about how to make a virus that would behave in a particular way for a story, so I gave her an overview… but didn’t have target molecules in mind that would map out right. So! I pinged an immunologist friend, which turned into a hilariously horrific conversation, but darn, that will do it. Another friend was looking for input on a robot focused story, so I asked my PI if he’d like to join in, and we had a fun chat over zoom – he has a serious MechE background, whereas I’m a bit more of a weirdo there.)
Moderator R says
This is the lovely thought out response of someone with extensive experience in academia and structured study, who has expert friends and resources at their fingertips. They know exactly where to look, have formed discernment in selecting the information they seek and the scientific jargon to be able to access it.
Which is a wonderful position to be in, certainly, but not a privilege available to everyone – such as perhaps young writers looking for advice ????
But let’s also keep in mind that I didn’t start there! I mean, I was a former Chinese major working as a software engineer, who happened to read up on genetics and epidemiology for fun not that many years ago. (But mostly by reading things aimed at a general audience. I mean, clearly, I was an major nerd even then.)
I think most people already have a sense of what ways they learn best. Did you do best reading the book and get nothing from the lectures? Hey, textbooks are out there, and the best thing is you can read reviews so you get one you’re more likely to like, as opposed to whatever the prof happened to assign. If you always did better with the lectures, you might check out the available videos. And if you need to interact with real people, or want the accountability, taking a class might be the best way to go.
But these resources do exist, and you don’t need a degree or any special background to learn them. (Depending on what you’re aiming at, you might have to work up to it, though? I mean, general bio before taking on Molecular Biology of the Cell!)
I’ll definitely cop to having a magic network of cool friends with cool expertise 🙂 A lot of us enjoy consulting from time to time, though. (I mean, recently, most of the Science Fiction I have written has been wrapped up in grants – which is a pretty constrained form, not to mention generally kind of stressful. Getting to play in actual fiction is freeing.)
Tylikat, if someone is a beginner and wants to understand how evolution, zoology, and ecology fit together, it is very important to attend an actual class for the systematic approach. Formal education at a college level, specifically in the beginning level classes, aggregates knowledge. Reading a textbook is not a good substitute for having access to someone who had studied the subject for a minimum of 8 years, is passionate about it, and able to answer questions on the fly.
You cannot match the comprehensive nature of those beginning courses with self-study because you cannot aggregate something on your own since you don’t know it exists. You literally have no way to gage which chunks of the information are of most importance. You can self-study later, but you have to have a foundation on which to build your tower.
I have tested out of the freshman level botany and zoology in college and had an option of moving on, but I chose to take them anyway because self-study showed me exactly how much I didn’t know.
As to your other points, auditing a course doesn’t obligate one to tests and with the online learning readily available, there is absolutely no reason not to take advantage of that. Formal education exists for a reason. 🙂
Definite +1 for Alberts and Campbell – if you’ve studied Biology at A-level in the UK, or AP in the US it should be fully accessible if you work through from front to back (as in, if you need something from a later chapter, make sure you go back to the references they mention within the text to the earlier ones) – and both are usually available online for not very much at all (new editions come out every year or so for University Students, but older ones are commonly available on the second hand market).
If you’re in the UK and have only done GCSE – for biology, Mary Jones is a very accessible A-level textbook writer (and has written a lot! both individually and in partnership with others) – not so sure about AP equivalents, someone from the US will probably be able to recommend some useful half-way houses to those Tylikcat mentioned
Moderator R says
There appears to be a misunderstanding ????.
The blog post covers how self study can give one a grasp of the basics and be excellent for deepening the knowledge on one specific topic. Your recommendation of accessible A level textbooks and “if you need something from a later chapter” seems to address the same points.
What Tylikat is contradicting, however, is Ilona’s statement that self study in itself is unlikely to provide someone with an exhaustive understanding of how biological systems develop and interact ????.
Not exhaustive but rather fundamental. 🙂 We are talking about learning the broad principles.
So true on the hehe;) All this talk about zoology and biology has inspired me to reread Seanan McGuire’s Incryptid series. Really fun- cryptozoology at its best (family of super kick-butt cryptozoologists). Two words- aeslin mice- hysterical! Cheese and cake to all;).
I love how supportive House Andrews and Mod R are (no pirate jokes allowed;). Thank you for all the time and thought put into all of your posts and the responses given. You are very much appreciated.
I must say that my background in biology which included a class in comparative zoology does give me particular enjoyment of scifi and fantasy, especially world building, but I mainly go with my imagination. I love to explore the authors imagination as well. So many possibilities. It’s just fun. Let yourself have fun. If you are a writer you can’t not write, temporary stalls notwithstanding. What if… All the best in your journey.
Jennifer Morris says
I loved this post, thank you! More hehe! Yes! Better than 42! Of course the answer to life is “more hehe”, it is so obvious now that you point it out :-).
“Less focus on study and more on hehe.” A well-lived life in a nutshell. Thank you. 🙂
If you already have half a concept. Worldbuilding stackexchange is a good way of refining it. (They’re not enthusiastic about “do all my worldbuilding for me” questions, which is fair enough.)
Lynn Thompson says
Thank you Ilona Andrews for the post.
As a biologist I found your explanation excellent. The other element that people don’t consider is having an active imagination. Or asking”what if?” What happens in this environment/ climate/ situation?
Titan enjoyed Friday’s snippet. Looking forward to next one. He also excavated my transplants from garden. Sigh. Knucklehead pup.
Three cheers for hehe!
This is really interesting. You mention traditional ways of improving you own knowledge base- books and classes- but do not mention consulting with experts for specific relevant details. Do you ever try to seek out experts to interview? If so, how do you search for them and how do those interactions usually proceed?
Moderator R says
House Andrews can add a lot of detail to this, but I will briefly answer here that yes, they consult experts for a variety of topics, from cultural sensitivity to medical accuracy, such as https://ilona-andrews.com/2020/did-you-press-the-corpse-with-your-finger/
This post is an answer for a beginner writer’s questions. “Have an already established extensive network of specialist consultants” is not exactly a helpful tip ????.
I ask for expertise all the time and often pay people for it. However, before I can ask an expert a question, I need to be sure I can understand the answer. For someone trying to create an alien species, there is no need to consult an expert. There is however a need to understand the fundamentals of biology.
As I said in the post: “Self-study won’t really get us there, because we’re looking for a systematic understanding of the biological principles. Self-study is great when you want to find out something about a specific subject, but we need to get a feeling for how biological organisms develop and interact with each other. A broad foundation.”
I think that in general we all need to focus more on hehe.
oooo, pretty fish picture…
“Less focus on study and more on hehe”….I like that. Get things done, but have some fun and be easy about it.
Maria M. OToole says
So a sort-of biology question here (crypto-biology, anyway):
All the cool critters and arcane “peoples” that inhabit KD’s world? Are all of them sourced in folklore and/or cryptozoology? I know a lot are; I think I had read Bulfinch, incomplete and slanted as that is, by the time I was seven, and any that I haven’t recognized off the bat (as I recognized Anubis’s demon critter, and Bran’s warp-spasm) and have looked up, I have found, like the hodag (Rhinelander, Wisconsin— somehow that figures).
Or are some of them out of the fertile brains at HA? The Impala worm comes to mind…
Maria M. OToole says
Or are some magically evolved from known biology? Again, the Impala Worm comes to mind…
I see advertisements for an online website for world building. This is called worldanvil, or campfire, they changed their name but I don’t know which way. (It may be not proper to talk about on this site?I understand if mod removes this comment) You still have to do work. But you can record your ideas. It may be a good idea for people to check it out before contacting writers for help. There are lots of free apps for beginners. There are even lectures on skillshare for any job or hobby, including writing.
Every winter we head to Roatan for our vacation to avoid the snow and enjoy the diving. Now I have a new fish to search for ????, thank you!