So I know that the blog has been quite review heavy recently, so I thought it was time to mix it up and write an article that wasn’t about a specific book. But what does that leave me with? Well, quite a lot. So I sat and thought about what to write, and I settled on something to help make your world more thorough and real. Now this may not apply to everyone, so I apologise in advance if this isn’t for you. But, hopefully we can all learn something along the way!
World building. Love it or hate it, it’s definitely an important step for most science fiction and fantasy writers. You need to make sure you know how your world fits together, how all the elements work and what its limitations are. Maybe you don’t like worldbuilding and you’re a writer that just dives in and discovers things along the way, and that’s cool too. (Some people may even be very envious of you!) But I think most people like to at least have some sort of plan before we go ploughing off into the relative unknown of our stories.
Now, there’s load of aspects on world building, and the scope of it can range between genres and stories. Of course on how much you is dependent on you as the author, but if you’re writing a fantasy novel set in your version of a paleolithic Japan then there won’t be much point in mapping out the whole solar system!
Anyway, that’s not the aspect of worldbuilding I want to talk about today. Although there will be a blog post on it in the future. Today I want to talk about mythology, folklore and how that might affect phrases and colloquialism.
I think that this aspect of worldbuilding is something that can really add an extra dimension to your world and really bring your work together. They say it’s the little things, and I think they’re right (I don’t know who they are though), it’s the small things like unique swears or phrases that can really make a difference. This also means that if you’re just using phrases from the real world but you’ve taken a lot of time to build the rest of your world it can be jarring for the reader and bring them out of the experience.
Let’s take an example of how a badly inserted phrase could do this, we’ll use ‘By Jove’. And we’ll be assuming for this example that the world the characters inhabit is a completely separate world to our own. It has different continents, different gods, and magic; a fairly standard, but separate, fantasy world.
Now maybe you have a gentlemanly character and you want to keep him regal in the eyes of your readers but he’s just been surprised for whatever reason. “By Jove” would be a good way to maintain the appearance of a gentleman, if the story took place in the normal world.
But because it’s a fully fledged fantasy universe in its own right, the phrase doesn’t make sense. The phrase ‘by Jove’ essentially means ‘by God’ but is derived from the Roman god Jupiter. So if we’ve got a world where none of these gods existed then what our gentlemanly character has done is just said a random nonsense word. Hardly conduct that will keep him gentlemanly in the eyes of his peers.
So that’s one example of how a simple phrase can be jarringly out of place if you’re creating your own world. Similarly if you had a science fiction universe and someone used that phrase, if you’re using the real world as a base, how far into the future are you? Would that phrase still be used? It’s barely been a few hundred years and it’s already practically disappeared from modern use, so will it still be here in a few hundred more?
Right so that’s an example of something to look out for, there might a phrase you think nothing of putting in but it has its basis in something that you just don’t have in your universe. That said, don’t go too crazy with this, I like to think that if you’re reading a sci-fi or fantasy novel you can think of it being translated into something we can understand so I wouldn’t worry overly much.
But let’s look at an example of something you can create and hopefully give greater depth to your world.
We’re going to take the paleolithic Japan that I mentioned earlier as a random example, going through some aspects of the world we can create phrases and oaths that reflect the world the characters grew up in.
This story is going to be set at the end of the last ice age, so after a quick bit of research into the period and the area we know that Japan was connected to the mainland at this point and the general habitat would be forests and woodland for what is now Japan and tundra-like steppes for the bridge.
Paleolithic Japan, the black lines show the modern day countries
So, we have a few facts about the world our characters inhabit: There’s been a permafrost for longer than living memory; there’s deep forests in mainland; there’s wide open, almost barren, plains reaching far to the north, and they used mainly stone tools. By taking just these three facts about the world we can create a few phrases for our characters to use that will reflect the world they come from.
The permafrost can be used with regards to tenacity, stubbornness or for something that’s never going to happen, for example something like: “I’ll let you go when the ice melts!” in a similar vein to “when pigs fly.” You could use the ice and/or stone aspects for exclamations, perhaps: “Melted ice, boy! Get back here!” or “Broken stone that hurts!
These are just a couple of quick examples, but you can see how taking the aspects of the world that you have created and your characters inhabit can really add an extra dimension to your writing. It will really help to take the reader out of their world and firmly plant them into yours.
You could also use a similar technique to subtly suggest to readers that a particular character is from a different cultural background than those around him. If this strange character is using phrases and words that are strange to the people around him and alien to the setting then you can hint that the character is far travelled.
Anyway! I’m rambling now really. But hopefully from this you can see how these little touches can bring depth to your work and really hold the readers close.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this post and we shall of course be posting more in the very near future! In the meantime, good hunting!