It’s a different sort of thing, building an entire world.
I mean, for me, as a horror writer, it was always a bit easier. Think of a situation and then either plop the characters into a real town or city or into a fictitious town or city in the real world. Sometimes a bit of both. In the Serenity Falls trilogy it was both. Most of the story took place in the imaginary town of Serenity Falls, but there were parts set in Manhattan and Chicago and a few other locations I’ve been to in my life.
See? Easy. You can wing that sort of thing and even cheat a little with a map if you feel the need. Making your own world is different. Even if I decide that I want to work in, say, early Medieval Europe as a foundation for the technology of the land, I have to work out additional aspects and a lot more of them than I originally considered.
In this world (or a close approximation where the author has added magic into the history) there are certain aspects that are still covered. People from England will have English names. There will be exceptions, of course, but mostly that’s a fair assessment. There might even be a few adjustments for time frame, but that can be sketchy. Everyone talks in thees and thous and the next thing you know, your readers are getting annoyed. I use that as an example because I actually ran across a fantasy book that did that once and it annoyed me exactly enough that I set the book down and never bothered again. That was long enough ago that I can’t even remember the book, but I can assure you I never bothered with that author again. I know that sounds harsh, and I certainly don’t like to hear it about my own writing (pretty much it happens to everyone sooner or later) but there it is. My money is precious to me and it was a lot more precious when I was in high school and scratched out enough money after school to keep me in comic books, books and the occasional movie.
Where were we? Oh, yeah, world building.
The thing is, you can get lost in that sort of detail. You can go crazy with names, especially if you’re doing historical twists on the real world. A thousand years ago the name Jesus Christ wasn’t pronounced the same way. I imagine most names weren’t. Go read some Shakespeare and see how much of that glorious prose is used in regular conversation and I think my point will be made. I think accessible characters and languages are important, because those are the exact things that used to tick me off as a reader. When an author gets so bogged down with details of name and culture and history that means nothing to the progression of the story that it snaps me out of my comfortable reading zone and makes me remember that I’m reading a book.
So that’s one of the serious issues I had when it came to building a new world.
Let me explain that a bit more if you will.
I decided to make up a brand new world. I didn’t want ancient England or Greece or the Ivory Coast before it was called by that name. I wanted a new place, with new landmasses, new oceans, the whole nine yards.
Do you know what the problem with that is? If your answer is “No,” you aren’t alone. Neither did I.
We’ve touched on names. Listen, as much as I hate odd sounding names and locations and exotic titles that can yank me out of my reading zone, I also have an issue with barbarians named Phil, and common names for every new and exotic location. It’s a pet peeve of mine. It was also a serious challenge for me. I wanted the best of both worlds and that meant I had to make it work as best I can.
So let’s look at names. There are names and then there are titles. And you know what else? There are nicknames. They are not always the same things.
As an example let’s look at Tusk. Tusk is one of the Sa’ba Taalor, the bad guys of the Seven Forges story, at least from one perspective, and he is initially introduced simply as Tusk. Later we learn that his name is actually Tuskandru. Later still we learn that his full name and title is Tuskandru, Chosen of the Forge of Durhallem and Obsidian King. His friends get to call him Tusk. That’s enough for him. Rest assured, not all of the kings in the Seven Forges are that casual. Another quick example and we’ll move on from this particular subject. One of the other Sa’ba Taalor, one of the females of the species, is introduced as Swech. The character who meets her and contemplates her moniker isn’t sure if that’s her name or if it’s a nickname because she has dark gray hair and her name also means “Soot Hair.” In reality her full names is Swech Tothis Durwrae. As they are a rather casual people, she has no titles.
That is a total of two people from one nationality out of the dozen or so that have been introduced into the series so far.
See what I mean? There’s a lot more detail involved in the creation of a world than I thought there was at the beginning of this series.
The good news for me? I like doing this sort of thing. It’s fascinating.
Names have meaning. I’ve met several people from several different areas of Africa who all had very different names that had one thing in common: They are named after the day of the week when they were born. Apparently that’s a fairly common practice in parts of Africa. Not so much here in the US, but that’s part of what makes names fascinating for me. In parts of Europe for the longest time your name reflected your chosen profession or where you were born, depending on circumstances. The variables are nearly endless.
So too, the history of the world. We are all the products of our history to one extent or another. One person is born into wealth and power and trained to deal with the world in a certain way. Another is born into poverty and has to approach the world in an entirely different manner. One is given every advantage and trained to handle adversities. The other’s entire life might be adversity.Does the Empire allow slavery? Does the Empire condone or condemn the use of magic (We’ll get back to that one in a minute.)? How many gods exist? For Seven Forges, that last one is a doozy. Think about history for a second. Our world history. The whim of Emperor Constantine changed the way a sizeable portion of the world looked at theology. How? Constantine decided that the only legal religion would condone a single god. Monotheism. Allegedly he did this on a whim, because he found it less confusing. Imagine if he’d decided the only acceptable deities were the ones worshiped in Rome or Greece at that time. By a simple twist of fate or destiny or what have you, we not have Christianity as a driving force in many parts of the world.
History impacts every part of the world you build and whether or not you use that history it’s best to have a grasp of it.
Geography is fascinating stuff, too. There but for a mountain pass that was properly defended by a hundred soldiers, a dozen legions might well overtake an entire country. Because it is well guarded, the land beyond remains safe as long as no one can figure out how to scale through the rugged mountains.
The area where vast treasures lay hidden might never be found if there isn’t a river running through the area, because everyone who tries to get there dies of thirst and their horses die, too. Back to history for a moment: once upon a time maybe there WAS a river there, but the source dried up or was diverted and now that hidden treasure is under a desert.
It all interconnects. The faith of a people can shape their traditions. The names they choose might well be taken from the names of their gods, the names of the ancestors, the job they do, the day they were born, the moon sign they were born under, the whim of a shaman or queen. The choice to be a farming community or a gathering of raiders might be decided by the weather conditions in an area, or whether or not the land is too rough to allow proper cultivation of the soil. The war between the Ape People of Durgoh and the Cat Folk of Chinei might come down to something as trivial as a cat person marking the wrong sacred tree and offending the devout ape person that saw the blasphemous act. For that matter, the name Durgoh might be an insult in the language of the Chinei and miscommunication might be all that is responsible for the skinning of hundreds of ape folk who never meant harm.
Building a world is a blast. But you have to know what you’re getting yourself into, don’t you? Before I wrote Seven Forges I have never been obligated to keep a lexicon of names. That lexicon is now several pages long and includes fifteen gods, several different locations and countries, and no less than five different peoples who do not always play nicely with each other. There is a history between these peoples and not even I know all of that yet because I don’t have to know all of it yet. I get to make it up as I go along, but it has to make sense, it has to be organic. If it isn’t, you can bet it won’t work out properly for me as the writer or for any potential readers.
They used to have an old saying on maps about what lay beyond the known territories and what might be out there. As a sign of potential danger they’d put “Here there be Dragons.”
Here there be Dragons, indeed.
Which, of course, is another consideration when you’re building a fantasy world. What sort of monsters do you want to have wandering the lonely, deserted places where travelers sometimes get lost? What names go on the maps to warn of the unknown?
In a lot of ways Seven Forges and the world of Fellein are foreign territory for me, too, and I’m loving the chance to explore.
Thanks for having me as a guest at Bookwraiths.com
James A. Moore
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
James A Moore is the author of over twenty novels, including the critically acclaimed Fireworks, Under The Overtree, Blood Red, Deeper, the Serenity Falls trilogy (featuring his recurring anti-hero, Jonathan Crowley) and his most recent novels Blind Shadows as well as Seven Forges and the forthcoming sequel The Blasted Lands.
He has twice been nominated for the Bram Stoker Award and spent three years as an officer in the Horror Writers Association, first as Secretary and later as Vice President.
The author cut his teeth in the industry writing for Marvel Comics and authoring over twenty role-playing supplements for White Wolf Games, including Berlin by Night, Land of 1,000,000 Dreams and The Get of Fenris tribe. He also penned the White Wolf novels Vampire: House of Secrets and Werewolf: Hellstorm.
Moore’s first short story collection, Slices, sold out before ever seeing print.
He currently lives in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia. Meet him on his blog.
BE SURE TO CHECK OUT MY REVIEWS OF THE SEVEN FORGES SERIES
SEVEN FORGES (PART 1)
THE BLASTED LANDS (PART 2)
Brilliant post, thanks so much for sharing!
As a fantasy/sci-fi author, I’m all too familiar with the name conundrum. My solution is to avoid names as much as possible, especially for minor characters. A sergeant called Blob can simply be referred to as “Sarge,” a tribe leader called Blob the Magnificent can simply be “the Leader,” etc.
This is how people remember characters, anyway: “who’s Zzarg again? Oh, Blob’s dad, whom we met for approximately one paragraph back in chapter 1.” Why not get rid of the name altogether and have Blob just say, “Hey everyone, this is my dad,” instead of “Hey everyone, this is my dad, Zzarg”? Zzarg can then reappear at the end with the words, “Blob’s dad appeared at the door. ‘Who wants pizza?’ he asked the exhausted group of demon hunters.”
I totally agree with you. Sometimes, it seems that an author is so worried about getting every characters name out there that he/she forces it into the narrative instead of just letting it happen naturally. In real life, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a nice conversation with someone then asked later who I was talking to, because no one introduced us. That is how I, at least, learn names in real life.
Exactly! I’m terrible with names, but great with relations (“what was the name of that girl hanging out with Sam, again?”) I believe our brain is hard-wired like this, using relations to forge memories.
Great post! I can’t even imagine trying to put together a new world. It sounds both fun and daunting 🙂
*does a surfer voice* DUUUUUDE sometimes the details can go overboard and authors can get freaking crazy with names. When that happens I’m immediately pulled out of the story.
Loved the post!
Nice post! Is this your first author/guest post? Either way, nice job on roping him in 😀
Yeah, James was nice enough to be my first author guest post. Now though I like it so much I’m going to do this more often. 🙂
I think that is a great idea!
Two great resources for worldbuilding are Patricia Wrede’s questionnaire and the Mythopoets Manual. Those and other good ones are linked at a Pearltrees post.
Thanks for the links. I’m going to take a look at those. 🙂
Pingback: INTERVIEW WITH JAMES A. MOORE, AUTHOR OF THE SEVEN FORGES SERIES |
Pingback: WHEN KORWA FELL (A SEVEN FORGES SHORT STORY) by JAMES A. MOORE |
Pingback: Author Spotlights |