Fantasy Literature: World Building: Mistakes of the Masters (part II)

This post continues my discussion on world building for fantasy literature. Previously, I discussed the authors Tad Williams and Brandon Sanderson and some (in my view) mistakes these authors made in certain works of theirs. As I said, when one develops a fantasy world, one wants to make it as realistic as possible without sacrificing readability. J.R.R. Tolkien could have written all his dialogue in The Lord of the Rings in Elvish, but he didn’t, because he realized that that would have made the work virtually unintelligible to the average reader. The key is to strike the right balance between those characteristics unique to the fantasy world and those characteristics common to our own.


One technique I’ve stumbled upon (largely from reading Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn by Tad Williams) is to use mnemonic devices in your writing, particularly for characteristics that might be confusing and difficult to remember for your Earth-readers. For example, in Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, Tad Williams references the months of Novander and Decander, among others. That struck me as a clever way to accomplish two things at once: 1) provide a list of names for the months of the year that are unique to one’s world, and 2) at the same time, make the list easily understood and recognizable by the majority of readers in The West. Obviously, Novander and Decander are parallels to our own November and December. The reader will get that right away and won’t have to refer back to the index, thereby ejecting herself from the story, in order to sort it out. I liked the technique so much, I borrowed it for some of my own work (I use Novenya, and Decendra in The Children of Lubrochius).


Now, another mnemonic device can be used for characters with multiple names. In my own work, I have a character (only one, so far) that is referenced by three different names. My solution to the explosion of confusing names that so bedeviled Tad Williams’ Shadowmarch series is to make the names similar to each other: different enough so as to be distinct, but sounding alike enough that the reader will easily remember them. Specifically, there is one character who is referred to by the following three names: Korina, Zarina, and Sarina. One must be careful with this technique, though; it works best with only a very small number of characters. If one has something like a complete pantheon of deities and gives multiple names (all of which sound similar) to each one, it may come across as sounding forced and unnatural. In such a case, one would have to come up with some other technique.


In my next post, I will discuss how to effectively manage units of time and other elements of a story with a numeric designation.

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