Tuesday, February 8, 2011

RESEARCH: Carola Wetlands

I have a peculiar fascination with understanding the local environment for my stories. A great number of fantasy novels have the environment as scenery and moody set-pieces. Many of them describe the environment in beautiful and haunting ways but there's very little depth behind it. No sense of an ecology. Now, whether ecology is more important than story-appropriate scenery is a matter for debate. I'm not arguing one way or the other. I just like trying to set up the environment so it makes sense. It helps that since I'm using Australian flora and fauna I get to learn more about my own country.

Of course, the biggest problem with naming the flora in your country is that you can either make up names for all the flowers (which can often end up irritating the reader) or risk giving flowers names that might annoy purists because, after all, why does this fantasy world have eucalypts or elms or pines, anyway? I've noticed over the years that many animals and plants mentioned are generically American / English. I think one of the primary reasons why a lot of readers tend toward the generic with their plants is the risk of naming flowers that the readers can't visualise. If you say, white rose, I know what you're talking about. If I talk about pigweed, will you?

I've found the way around this is to pick plants that have very evocative names. Sure, if I write 'pigweed', odds are you'll imagine a very different plant to the reality but it's a name that does at least conjure up an image. It's better than samphire which, despite being prolific in certain Realms areas, really does require its own description. Or worse, the Latin name for something.

So here's some adapted research (research turned toward world building and has already been fantasised):

The Regency Capital is located within the on a floodplain of the lower River Stafford lying 5km south of a major wetland – Carola Wetlands. The Carola Wetlands segment of the lower River Stafford floodplain consists of the main river channels and a diversity of wetland habitats including a series of creeks, channels, lagoons, billabongs, swamps, and lakes. Between the water-bodies are extensive areas of low-lying floodplain that are flooded during high river levels with receding floodwaters being retained in temporary wetlands. The Carola wetlands supports many aquatic fauna and waterbirds, some of which are migratory and also provides important habitat for many terrestrial fauna species, including refuge for wildlife during the dry season.

The floodplain supports extensive stands of river red gum and black box woodlands (both harder to visualise - would require description). There are fringing reeds and sedges (easy to visualise), Herbland (more a category of flora), Samphire Shrublands, saltbush shrublands, and Lignum Shrublands (all free require description). The fringing reeds are Common reed and Spiny sedge (easy to visualise even if the image evoked is wrong). Submerged vegetation include ribbonweeds and red milfoil (second one would be tricky to visualise but is easier in context with ribbonweeds).

The birds include White Egrets, Glossy Ibis, White-bellied Sea-Eagle, Red-necked stint, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Curlew Sandpiper, Greenshank, Caspian Tern. Regend parrots breed in hollows or Vier red gum, Musk duck, blue-billed duck, freckled duck, glossy ibis, banded stilt, square-tailed kite, peregrine falcon, white-bellied sea-eagle, blue-faced honeyeater, striped honey-eater, and the restless flycatcher.
Many of these you can visualise because the first word is generally a description and the second word is a category of bird you've heard before - honeyeater, eagle, duck. The last one sounds like an insect.

Southern bell frog in the large wetlands. Yabbies are best in the warmer months and often caught in backwaters and in deep water. Hoop nets are relatively inexpensive and suit most conditions. Hmm, do you foreignors know what a yabby is?

Animals include common brushtail possum, feathertailed glider, broad-shell turtle, eastern tiger snake, carpet python, lace monitor, mussles. There are also feral goats, pigs, and rabbits making themselves at home after a few hundred years of habitation.

Rare plants: Dainty maiden-hair, swamp daisy, black-fruit daisy, water star-wort, pale flax-lily, small-flower beetle-grass, pale-fruit cherry, purple love-grass, hooked needlewood, nutty club-rush, creeping boobialla, jagged bitter-cress. Tee hee, I like this range of choices. They're all very evocative. I particularly like the creeping boobialla and jagged bitter-cress.

Fish include the Murray cod, silver perch, freshwater catfish, golden perch, bony herring, Australian smelt, Murray rainbowfish, flat-head gudgeon, dwarf flat-headed gudgeon, unspected hardyhead, murray hardyhead, and redfin perch.
This is more useful when it comes to describing food. The trouble is I don't eat fish so I can't describe their flavor properly.

The landscape overlays a series of horizontal sedimentary formations ranging from sandstones to limestone over which lies sands ranging from fine to coarse sands. Soil type changes greatly over the landscape with the ancestral floodplain being dominated by both neutral and alkaline grey self-mulching cracking clays, neutral brown siliceous sands and neutral firm grey siliceous sands. The highland buffer zone soils consist of alkaline red calcareous earths, alkaline friable red duplex soils and neutral brownish sands.
I have an obsession with geology. I'm not incredibly well-versed in the science but I do love rock samples and the strange patterning.

So, what do you think? Am I over-thinking it?


  1. I think you might be over thinking it a little. One of the other reasons why we stick to generic is that explaining what a flower looks like is likely to slow the story down to a crawl.

    On the other hand, my mind does do some running along those lines too...


  2. Absolutely. I do find a certain joy in blending such description into the narrative in a way that is both striking and succinct! I'm not actually big on flowery description in general when describing anything, let alone flora / fauna. I'm hoping that with a mixture of precision and choice of evocative flower names I can straddle the line and evoke a more foreign world. Of course, it's all about the plants you pick ... a red bottle brush pinned behind the ear is far more evocative and precise than a 'red flower' or a sprig of wattle (who knows what a wattle is?).

    So, where has your mind been running lately, hmm? :p

  3. Bah! Wish there was an edit fnction on my own comments.... :p What I meant was 'I agree with you, however I find a certain joy in blending.....' The way it reads makes it sound like I mis-read your post and thought you were saying something different. Note to self, re-read my comments before publishing. :-)