Nature details: how do???

I have a confession to make: I grew up in suburban Dallas, and I simply Do Not Grok Nature.

On the metric of effort-to-result, putting details about nature into my stories is probably one of the most labor-intensive things I do. And I don’t even mean long, rapturous passages of lyrical description about fog creeping over a pond at dawn or something like that; I mean that unless I make a conscious decision to go do some research, my characters walk through forests of Generic Trees, listening to Generic Birds make Generic Noises. When I do the research, it winds up being half an hour of effort for half a sentence of result.

I’m making an effort to improve at this, and having discussed it with some writers, I think a large chunk of what I need is simply better resources for the information, or better ways of finding the resources. Field guides are helpful, but even more helpful are books or websites that talk holistically about a specific landscape, so that I get integrated information like “down by a watercourse you’ll see these trees and these birds and these flowers,” rather than separated lists of all the trees found in a region, and all the birds, and so forth. I feel like this is relatively findable for the United States, but much harder for other parts of the world, especially non-Anglophone parts. Any recs for such things? I mostly use this for secondary-world purposes rather than this world, but I’d love to be able to have characters ride across grasslands that look more like Mongolia than Nebraska, or cope with environments like tropical jungles that we mostly don’t have here. Could be formal field guide-type stuff, or just somebody writing with really evocative specificity about not just the mood of a place, but the specific flora and fauna to be found there and how they behave.

(I know one bit of advice is “get out there in the naturez yourself!,” but that would mostly only help me learn to write about the northern California landscape. I do get out in the naturez, but I can’t just go hang out in Mongolia whenever I want.)

4 Responses to “Nature details: how do???”

  1. Anthony Docimo

    I can recc the book _Last Chance To See_ by Douglas Adams & Mark Cawardine with lots of fun descriptive language and humor; also the sequel by the same name – a tv mini-series documentary hosted by Stephen Fry and Mark Cawardine (in honor of the late Douglas Adams)

    In addition, I’ve enjoyed the scenic descriptions by Gerald Durrell in his books & think they’d be a pretty good match for what you’re looking for (from decades of collecting animals from pretty much every enviroment i can think of offhand, to setting up the Jersey Zoo, to conservation work worldwide)

  2. Rowan M

    Slightly belated here. I’ve got attached to a website called iNaturalist (, which is mostly meant to be a citizen science project to record nature, but their explore function would be great for research. For example if you wanted to find all species of bird in Mongolia you could a) do it, b) find lots of photos of those birds from many different angles and c) recordings of birdsong etc. Ditto insects, plants, anything.


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