Terrall in Depth

Terrall in Depth: Avian Design and Influence

By now, I’m sure most of you are familiar with this cover. It shows an New Delta avian, a bright purple bird with arms. They live on perches, shit where they stand and use their beaks to manipulate the world. Most of them also Talk. Like. This.

In essence, these are fantasy parrots, specifically large macaws. My influences are spelled out in the book’s dedication:

To Rocco, Daisy, Louie, Sweetiepie, Elvie and all the other large macaws at the Wilson Parrot Foundation who inspired the avian characters in this book.

Those are real birds who live the Wilson Parrot Foundation where I volunteer and I used them to create my avians.  I spent many hours watching and recording them. I put many of their actions verbatim into the book, including the dancing in chapter 42.  In fact, Rocco here:

is whom I based Sisqub, the Avian Syndicate’s leader, upon. Rocco is a very regal, refined parrot who I always imagined speaking perfect English.

Now let’s get into the nut and bolts of character design.

In fantasy, animal/human hybrids are almost always humans with animal characteristics. Your fantasy bird-men look generally like this:

Stock fantasy here

While actual birds look like this:

This is Jake

Note when Jake lifts his wings, he’s using his huge pectoral muscles to lift. You can tell his by his chest muscle being flexed.  Because the placement of his feet, his body is remaining in line with the ground, causing each flap to lift his entire body.  Jake could take off from this position if his wings weren’t clipped. His leg would move back into a straight line.  This is why I placed my avian’s arms where they are, so they can be used to easily carry things during flight and fold along their body when not in use.

Birds are also very light, with hollow bones. Also, every single feather (and every strand in those feathers) has a unique lift equation associated with it.

As for that sketch above, why that creature can’t fly should be obvious. When he flaps his wings, he’s flapping them back and forth, not up and down. Therefore, he’s creating absolutely no lift at all. There are other problems too: lack of feathers, weight and so on. Basically, BAD FANTASY ARTISTS! BAD, BAD!

Yeah yeah, I know this is fantasy so people can make  up whatever they want. This is true, but when I went about designing Terrall, I asked myself: if fantasy creatures actually evolved, what would they look like and how they live? That is why I based my birdmen on actual birds, using parrots, the birds I come in contact with the most.

This tenet is all over the place, even beyond my avians. It’s why my version of dark elves don’t live underground, since if they did they wouldn’t have dark skin – more on them when I get to Deltan elves later on. Once I reveal my versions of cat-men, dog-men (kobolds), lizard-men and mermaids in later stories, you’ll also see a similar design philosophy at play.

In essence,  my world is science-influenced fantasy (though not science fiction). Here’s another way one could look at it: instead of starting with humans and adding animal characteristics, I start with animals and add human characteristics. There’s a big difference there.

I  could go on talking about why the avians are portrayed as criminals (part behavior, part plight in the pet trade) but I don’t want to have to spoil the plot right now.

A Clear and Feathered Danger is currently free on Smashwords for a limited time.

What Lies Within, the second K23 Detectives novel, can be purchased for .99 cents at Amazon or Smashwords

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