This post will contain spoilers for parts one, two, and three of my serialized story The Hunted.
If you haven’t read it yet, you can find it at the following links.
And now, on with the post!
To begin my world building process, I always start with an idea. Don’t we all? I’ve stated before that I’m not a plotter. I don’t write an outline. I’m also not actually a pantser. I’m a weird combination of the two. When I first come across an idea, I have more of a pantser type of writing style.My plottery ways come later. (Yes, plottery.) I write the scene in my head. I may skip over giving characters or places names. The idea is to recreate the vision into words before it is sucked into oblivion.
Sometimes, this is as far as a story will go. That’s fine. To get the idea out is the main point of this exercise. It’s not about perfection but about testing the waters. I can always tell if I can breathe more life into a story by this initial scene. Sometimes, this beginning won’t make it to the end and be cut. Other times, this part of the story may be moved. Most often; however, it is the beginning and will remain at the beginning.
For The Hunted, part one represents the opening of the world. When I wrote it, it was bare bones. The town and the maid didn’t have names. Lexanna had a slightly different name. The attack from the demons was an isolated event. It’s like a play where the stage is dark and the spotlight shines on one bright place, leaving the rest shrouded in mystery.
When I began part two, I moved Lexanna from her hometown to a new place. This meant that I had to differentiate the first town from the second. I knew the world was being born.
The town names were the first thing to be added. Shirgrand – the name of Lexanna’s hometown, Orvigrand- the town where the refugees are taken, and Harbigrand – the King’s town.
I had a very specific thought process in creating these names. First of all, it is a fantasy world which means I wanted something a little bit unusual. I didn’t want it to be too fantastical. I also wanted to denote that both towns were larger in size. I had mentioned that Lexanna’s parents were the strongest magicians in the region. Putting them in a small town didn’t feel right. I also decided that Orvigrand is where the regional lord lives. This may seem counterintuitive to my placement of the most powerful magicians, but there are reasons for it that will be revealed later.
To denote the larger size of the towns, and by adding something familiar to readers new to the world, I used the word grand as a suffix. This then becomes a naming convention. Towns of larger size will all have the word grand at the end. To further denote this, one of the testimonies mentions another location – a village. Shishnils. This may seem like a nonsense word, but if you break it down you can see another naming convention. The first three letters are Shi – Shishnils and Shirgrand have this in common. This denotes a smaller village near Shirgrand. Nils is based on the world nil – or none- which puts it opposite to grand and gives it a smaller feeling overall.
Another reason for using the word nil as the suffix comes down to what is revealed about magicians. They are assigned to locations to live and work and they are fond of luxury. A smaller town would be less appealing, and that means there are no magicians there (none, zero, nil.) If you need magical help, never run to a town that ends in nils.
The next place names to be added was a very important place name – The Ossuary of Minds. In this story, I chose to use the word magician instead of mage, wizard, or sorceress. When you write a lot of fantasy it’s nice to change things up. Similarly, I wanted to use a slightly different name for where these magical people congregate. Ossuary is actually a very ominous name, (but The Hunted is meant to be a dark story.) It deals with the dead. It’s a tomb of dead minds. This is deliberate, and the truth of it will be part of the story. (Some of you may be able to guess.)
Finally, I added some regional names. Klimok – the region in which Lexanna lives, and Nexem – a forest through which they must travel. I also named two mountain ranges and a river. This is when I begin to draw the map.
Normally I draw my maps by hand, but I made this one with my awesome paint skills.That makes it easier to share.
From this blank map, I can start to add new locations.
By creating a map, I give myself an idea of distance. It also gives the world a more tangible feel. I can keep my locations straight in my mind.
Lexanna’s name was originally Lexa. It’s a small change, but in lengthening the name it had a better flow with the character. From her name, and the idea of a fantasy setting that isn’t too fantastical, I derived my naming convention for characters.
Names which are similar to common names in Western civilization in the modern era, but changed slightly, is not an uncommon way to name fantasy characters. It’s a simple convention and especially good for people who are bad at making up names. Just look up a name, change a few letters, and ta-da, you have a fantasy name.
The name of Lexanna’s maid, Mircy, is again deliberate. It stems from the word Mercy, and if you thought that, then congratulations! You guess correctly.
For last names, I went with one or two syllable combinations picked randomly for sound. I’m going for a harder sound in the story. A lot of K, G, and X sounds give the language a certain flavor, even if the only words we ever learn are places and last names.
The one name that should stand out among the others is that of the mysterious stranger: Yogindar. His name is longer than two syllables and is not a recreated Western sounding name. It’s a harsh name, and heavy. The difference in his name is a clue to his character – one that will be revealed.
Putting it Together
As you start to put these pieces together, it’s like finding the pieces of a puzzle and snapping them into place. More of the world is revealed merely through the names and places you create. With solid naming conventions, it’s easier to tell the story overall. It also gives your readers a subtle guide to understanding a world that is otherwise alien. In all, good naming conventions just make the whole process better for everyone.
The main thing to remember is that it doesn’t matter if you are doing your world building in advance of writing or while you write. The only important thing is it happens. The more you write, the easier this process becomes until it feels automatic. That automatic feeling is actually just your confidence kicking in, and that’s a great place to be for writing.
Thank you for reading! If you have anything to add please feel free in the comments. Next week The Hunted will return with Part Four. Who or what was hiding in the shadows outside of Pilser Tower? Tune in next week to find out!