Using Bugs In Your Writing

Content Warning: Vivid Bug Talk.

I hate bugs. I mean, I reaaaaaaallllllly haaaaaaaate bugs. When I have anxiety attacks, they frequently manifest as the feeling of bugs biting me all over. I developed a hundred and one horrible ways to kill cockroaches when I lived in Florida.

And yet.

I also really love to garden. And guess what gardens are absolutely full of?

So I’ve learned more about bugs than I ever really wanted to know, and I’m still, of necessity, learning on a daily basis. Moving out to the country has given me an entirely new set of terrifying, gross critters to understand and cope with. Millipedes, assassin bugs, toxin-laden bristly caterpillars, and some weird-ass form of scarab beetle that is bright gold and apparently hunts the aforementioned poisonous caterpillars.

Of course, butterflies and dragonflies are also bugs, of the type I love best: they’re pretty and they stay out of my house. Bees, hornets, and even wasps I can steer around as long as they’re not aggressive or close to the house (because my husband is allergic and ER visits just ruin my day). Daddy Long Legs don’t bother me. I like most spiders, even inside the house, as long as they’re not poisonous. (Large furry spiders in the house get escorted out or squashed with extreme unpleasantness.)

I suspect most folks have a similar squeamishness about insects. They are, unfortunately, an essential part of any ecology, even subterranean ones. Writers need to have a bug encyclopedia set up for their story. There will be spiders inside and outside. There will be ticks, and flies, and creepy-crawlies. Water striders, honey bees, dragonflies, and centipedes. If there aren’t any bugs showing up in your stories, unless you’re dealing with a spaceship or other hermetically sealed environment, there’s a vital world building component missing.

Also, how your characters react to bugs says so much. Does your villain freak out over cockroaches? Does your hero let a dragonfly land on his hand? Does the shopkeeper come screaming at you with a broom, only to swat at the huge spider on the wall behind you? Bugs are a great device for adding a visceral ick and tension to a scene. I know the horror stories that affect me the most deeply are the ones where I have to deal with vivid descriptions of insect swarms. The scene in Good Omens that squicks me out almost to nausea is the one where the demon comes through the phone and devours an entire office via becoming a swarm of maggots. That stuff is nightmare fuel for me. You can bet that a smart showman will know that fear and be able to capitalize on it. A mage looking to terrify his opponents can turn their oatmeal into a bowl of millipedes.

…You know what, I have to stop here. I’m getting itchy just starting to think of the evil things characters can do with bugs to mess each other up…. eurrrggggghhhhhhhh runs for the shower, freaking out

…maybe I’ll pick this topic up some other time. *shudder*