13.3: What Writers Get Wrong, with Aliette de Bodard

Your Hosts: Dan, Mary, Aliette, and Howard

This year’s third-week episodes will all follow a common theme: “what writers get wrong.” Each of these episodes will feature an expert guest who will help us understand what writers get wrong about something in which they have expertise.

Aliette de Bodard will be co-hosting several of these week-three episodes, but this week her role is “subject matter expert.” She has several fields of expertise, and among the hats she expertly wears which writers often fail to correctly describe is a hat labeled “motherhood” (note: not an actual hat.) 

Credits: This episode was recorded at WXR 2017 in the Baltic Sea by Bert Grimm, and mastered on dry land by Alex Jackson 


List the subject matter experts in your life. Make checks next to their names this year as you speak with them about their expertise (it’s like a to-do list.)

The House of Shattered Wings (Book 1 of Dominion of The Fallen), by Aliette de Bodard

9 thoughts on “13.3: What Writers Get Wrong, with Aliette de Bodard”

  1. As a currently pregnant person w/ 1 under my belt, I just felt like adding my 2 cents:
    -I wouldn’t say I can tell personality before birth, but my mom said she could (and she had 5 of us).
    -One of the aspects I hate about pregnancy, personally, is that once people find out they treat you differently. The “how are you today?”s become so much more pointed, any time you’re hungry for something people assume you *must* be craving it.
    -Every time you turn over, get out of the car, (as mentioned) stand up (esp. from the floor), it takes longer and you’re likely to hurt yourself. It feels kind of like cramps but it’s not- it’s called ’round ligament pain’ and it stinks.
    -Not everyone’s water breaks. Very few people’s break before the contractions start. Mine did, actually, but that didn’t mean the baby was coming- it took 8 hours with pitocin (contraction-inducing meds) to get labor to actually start. But if you do have your water break, you *don’t* leave the hospital. Infection is not only possible but likely and also deadly.
    -Not my experience but something interesting- my BIL was trained as an army medic and was told he was not authorized to deliver babies; his instructions were, if the baby was coming, to give the mom loads of ibuprofen and literally hold the baby in while they rush to the hospital. Which could be an interesting scene in a story, I’m sure.
    Hope these are useful to anyone. More experiences never hurt.

  2. I heve quite a problem as my family is rather multi-experts in everything so like if I want to know something i just ask my mother about it.
    And there are mothers and births in fantasy like Robert Jordan and David Eddings, so there.

    1. I would strongly recommend talking to your mother at length rather than using Jordan or Eddings as references for writing motherhood stuff.


    2. Even if those authors “did their homework” and presented those topics in a way that would sound right to some mothers, I think you’d find that other mothers had different experiences and it would still be a great idea to check with some other “sources”.

      Despite what pop-psych and the self-help industry would tell you, people are really different, and their experiences vary a lot. If you asked me what it’s like to be on codeine or similar drugs, I’d tell you that instead of being in severe pain, you’re disoriented, nauseous… and still in severe pain. This would be absolutely truthful to my experience, but not true of many other people’s experiences.

  3. What a great topic. I’ve thrown books across the room that got something wrong about pregnancy. As a long time historical renenactor I researched medieval pregnancy and childbirth just because I found the topic interesting. (My own kids were born under modern medical supervision!)

  4. I think this will be a great series of episodes.

    There are so many experiences to have that few of us ever get to have even close to all of them, and even then our experiences of what seems to be the same thing can be extremely varied.

    Whether one is writing a book or worldbuilding for an RPG, the last thing one wants to do is fall back on cliches or things “everyone knows”.

  5. Love this episode! And assuming the tip jar hasn’t overflowed yet, I’d like to add my two cents as well, if that’s all right. It mostly applies to SFF, though.

    1. Journeys, especially on horse back, including a pregnant woman are going to take at least twice as long. I’d like to see any woman riding a horse while a baby is squashing her bladder and not have to stop every couple hours.
    2. It’s not over once the baby comes. A woman’s body takes weeks if not months to stop bleeding and hurting and healing. And that’s with modern medicine. I’ve read books where the mother goes riding days after giving birth with no trouble and no pain.

    Also, I think it bears repeating that just because someone has experience with the topic or expertise you’re writing about, doesn’t necessarily mean they’re an expert. I once got upset when a book “got something wrong” regarding something I felt I knew a lot about. A week later I learned that someone I knew had had that exact experience I’d read about. So while sensitivity readers are extremely important, you shouldn’t take every criticism from your general readers about representation at face value. Like you all said on the podcast, everyone’s experience is different, which means you won’t be able to match every reader’s expectations, even if they fall within the group you’re representing.

  6. What do writers get wrong? This could take a while! But Dan, Mary, Aliette de Bodard, and Howard are going to eat that elephant, one spoonful at a time! Starting with pregnancy and motherhood, with Aliette as the subject matter expert. So let’s talk about when the baby moves, takes its first breath, or your innards shift back where they should be? Dad, don’t faint! Read all about it, in the transcript now in the archives or over here


    and remember, pack the wound with moss. And cross your fingers.

  7. I liked this episode, and am looking forward to more episodes like this.
    I did recall one novel in which a pregnancy is actually an integral part of the plot: “Dragon Prince” by Melanie Rawn. It’s an amazing epic fantasy read. Unfortunately, it’s been so long since I read it I couldn’t comment on the “accuracy” of the pregnancy/birth described; I do recall that key elements of the plot turned on the birth of one child, not only in this novel but also in the series that followed. In addition, Melanie Rawn is such an amazingly talented writer, I recommend studying her work in general to anyone who is interested in writing fantasy.

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