Winging It

While my beta readers are finishing up critiquing my latest draft of Withered World, I’m turning to my next project, NightWind. In the process of planning this story, I’ve realized that I need to learn about wings.

Rion (pronounced Ree-own) is a winged warrior. Concerned in part that people would assume she’s an angel and wanting to stay away from any sort of lore, I decided that I wanted her wings to be detachable. So now, my story has entered the realm of steampunk. It’s only going to have a little steampunk woven into it, mostly in the mechanical references. It’s a small device in a grander fantasy tale. But, because steampunk is the mechanism (plus a little magic too) behind her wings, I now need to learn more about wings in general and decide how I want the wings to be designed and how they work.

Because I’m also dealing with fantasy here, I can use some of the “magic did it” element to explain away some of the mechanics, so I don’t have to do any physics or engineering type of research. Thank goodness! But, I do want to have a good grasp on how the wings look and I want it to be *somewhat* believable.

When researching wings, I’m looking for that ultimate match of steampunk meets natural. My story has a lot of naturalistic elements in it, so I don’t want the wings to appear to be too mechanical. There’s got to be some sort of happy medium (skewing to the natural side a bit though).

I like the idea of the wings folding up into a neat little package when not in use. Sort of like these would:

folding wings
Found here

They would attach to her uniform and fold into a storage space (though they would make a much bigger package still than you see below) between her shoulder blades. Sort of like this:

wing attachment
Found here

The natural element will come through in the actual look of them. If you look at real steampunk wings on Pinterest, you’ll see that they are very bat- or fairy-like in many cases. I like the feathers on this example and how this melds the natural and the mechanical together. I think this is the winning piece of inspiration. My wings will be a bit bigger and more dramatic and have characters and spells/runes etched along the mechanical pieces and woven into the wings. I kind of like the white undertones. Originally, my wings were going to be all black. But perhaps I’ll reconsider this.

wing look
Found here

Wings can also be a useful storytelling mechanism. They can express emotion (if they are an attached appendage), societal hierarchy, age and more. The winged characters in my story don’t fit this bill, though. But now that I know what my wings will sort of look like, I have some tips for you when considering wings on your own characters.

  1. Think about size ratio. For your wings to work, they have to be big enough to hold up your character. Tiny wings don’t really work on a full-sized human, for example.
  2. Who has wings and why? What sets them apart from the other characters?
  3. How do the other characters feel about this winged person? Jealous? Or are they beloved?
  4. Are your wings removable (mechanical) or attached and part of your character’s body?
    If they are a part of his/her body:

    •  How do they get in the way? Is it hard for them to walk through a doorway, sleep on their back, etc.?
    • How can they help you express the character’s emotions? Do they droop? Beat with irritation? Something else?
    • How else can they be used? In battle, to cushion something?
      If they are removable:
    • How do they work?
    • What is the mechanism of their removal?
    • What are their limitations?
    • How do they look? Are they straight mechanical? Or are there other elements that influence the design?

Thinking about wings has been a bit of an eye-opening experience for me. I didn’t realize the number of things there would be to consider as I create my Aviatrix – this is her military classification. The group as a whole, Airmen, includes 10 characters of which Rion is the only female. The male members of this elite force are called Aviators. (Just another way steampunk influences this story)

Have you ever created a winged character for a story/novel? Please share your thoughts/experiences in the comments!