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5 World Building Tips (Vol 3, #9): Names
Here are today’s world building tips! The theme is names. You can read more in Chapter 9, “Creating Names,” from Cultures and Beyond, (The Art of World Building, #3).
Tip #1: “Avoid Apostrophes and Hyphens”
The use of both is cliched. If doing this, make sure most names from that culture are the same so that it doesn’t seem like we’re just trying to be exotic, which is how this got a bad reputation. The hyphens are caused by concatenating a mother and father’s surname. An apostrophe replaces missing letters and we can easily live without doing that.
Tip #2: “Keep Names Short”
Long names are a way to distinguish one race from another, but no one likes trying to sound out Limineraslyvarisnia, for example. However, such names can exist, so if we do this, only use that long version once and shorten it for the rest of the book, such to “Limi.”
Tip #3: “Alter Existing Words”
We can take words we see around us and remove or replace letters and syllables to make new words. We can add prefixes or suffixes. We can substitute vowels. These techniques are fun and effective.
Tip #4: “Surnames Sources”
We can use places, occupations, nicknames, and first names for “last” or surnames. This helps us reuse places and names we’ve already created. Places can imply a character’s origins, but some, like “Hill,” are too generic for that. Professions can imply at least their parent’s background, such a blacksmith getting the last name “Smith.”
Tip #5: “Avoid Name Generators”
There are free online programs that can create names for us with a button click. A quick search will turn them up. But they tend to feel impersonal and when we need multiple names, these programs are unlikely to create ones that seem to fit together.
Summary of Chapter 9—Creating Names
Many techniques exist for creating names of people, places, and things, and all of them leverage our creativity to make the results and process more satisfying than using name generators, which are also discussed. Caveats and pitfalls abound, for while a great name elevates our story, bad ones turn off audiences, or keep them from talking about a character with an unpronounceable or unspellable name. We look at the differences between given names, surnames, compound names, and different ways to leverage parts of our invented world for all of them. The tips in this chapter will make this required activity fun and rewarding.
5 World Building Tips (Vol 3, #1): Languages
Here are today’s world building tips! The theme is languages. You can read more in Chapter 8, “Creating Languages,” from Cultures and Beyond, (The Art of World Building, #3).
Tip #1: “Read Books”
There are several books on how to create a language, including The Art of Language Invention (italics) by the guy who created Dothraki for Game of Thrones (italics). Reading this will convince you this is doable or not – and what you need to know if doing yourself or even hiring someone else to do it.
Tip #2: “They Can Be a Distraction”
No one but us understands these words and they can distract a reader. Even those who take the time to sound them out have been pulled out of our story while they do so. We may want to just avoid this altogether.
Tip #3: “We Have Three Options”
We can ignore language creation, we can make up nonsense words as we go along, or we can create a real language to one degree or another. The only people who’ll really know which we did are conlangers, a small group of people whose opinion might not matter to us!
Tip #4: “You May Coach a Narrator”
If you hire someone to create an audiobook for you, you’ll need to coach them on how to say everything unless you do the book yourself. Make sure you can say everything yourself if this might happen.
Tip #5: “Hire a Pro”
The Language Creation Society’s (LCS) site at https://conlang.org/ makes it easy to hire an expert for as little as $100 US or up to $800. The difference is how much they give you. But understanding what we’re getting may require reading those books I mentioned.
Summary of Chapter 8—Creating Languages
Creating a language is one of the most challenging aspects of world building, but it’s also one of the few that we can outsource; how and where to do so is discussed. Even so, some basic terms must be understood so we know what we’re buying and receiving from our expert. If we choose to do it ourselves, we should consider whether it benefits our audience and how, or whether it’s even a burden that we can save both them and ourselves. This chapter will not teach world builders how to invent a language because there are entire books on the subject, and those are referenced here, but it will discuss the pros and cons of constructing a language and what we lose by not having one (or more).
The Art of World Building Workbook is being created now and I’m determined to get it done before the holidays for those of you wanting a present, or a gift to give to the happy world builder in your life.
The book will come in two editions: fantasy and sci-fi. Click the link for more details.
5 World Building Tips (Vol 3, #7): Items
Here are today’s world building tips! The theme is items. You can read more in Chapter 7, “Creating Items,” from Cultures and Beyond, (The Art of World Building, #3).
Tip #1: “Use Standard Forms”
Don’t be afraid to create magic items that are typical in form, like jewelry or clothes. Being able to wear the item minimizes the risk of loss and keeps it handy when it’s suddenly needed. This is a huge advantage, so while a magic ring is a cliché, that form of item is also helpful.
Tip #2: “Limit Their Powers”
For both tech and magic items, make sure they don’t solve a character’s problems perfectly or it’s too convenient. Something must go wrong. The battery in a tech item might have drained. A magic item can suffer a similar fate, a rationale being that whoever created the spell wasn’t powerful enough to make it better.
Tip #3: “Avoid Talking Items”
The infamous talking sword is a fast way to get mocked, and yet we have devices that talk to us now, not to mention AI in SF, where we can get away with it. But in fantasy, it’s still frowned upon without a good explanation.
Tip #4: “Marry Form to Function”
The purpose of an item doesn’t always match its form. The powers in magic rings, wands, and staves have little to do with their shape. This is often true of tech, too. When the purpose is more active, marry function to form, such as an arrow or sword designed to strike something.
Tip #5: “Invent Regular Items, Too”
Everyday items acquire significance by being associated with famous (or infamous) people and events, like a prophet, hero, villain, or royalty. We and our characters are less likely to make a big deal of these, but creating them fleshes out our setting. Besides, making a big deal out of everything is like having high drama every moment – it’s too much.
Summary of Chapter 7—Creating Items
Whether magical, technological, or more ordinary, memorable items exist in our setting whether we mention them or not. SF likely expects them, and fantasy often has at least one magic item someone has or covets in a story, but even ordinary items can be given significance through association with important people, places, or events. This chapter discusses how to invent their properties, origins, and form, and how to determine who is likely to use or want them. The creation of an A.I. is included.
For those of you curious about my world building, there’s a new (actually written in 2007) book coming out. I hired a conlanger to create the magic system language and I just got my first sneak peak the other day. It is looking great and is called Nu’Eiro. You’ll have to read the book to see it in action.
I mentioned this in one of the webinars. The Dragon Gate (The Dragon Gate Series, #1) is now scheduled for release on December 1, 2020. An updated blurb is now up, but my temp cover is slated to be replaced in mid-November.
You can pre-order the book now!
5 World Building Tips (Vol 2, #7): Water Travel
Here are today’s world building tips! The theme is water travel. You can read more in Chapter 8, “Travel by Water,” from Creating Places, (The Art of World Building, #2).
Tip #1: “Confusion is Normal”
There are many reasons that determining how long it takes to travel on a wooden ship sailing is hard. This includes oarsmen being unable to row continuously, wind speed not being constant or in the same direction through a journey, damage to ships, and different degrees of encumbrance (how weighed down it is) all changing estimates. Maybe it comes as no surprise that we aren’t sure how long a trip will take, but Creating Places gives you enough info to figure it out.
Tip #2: “Know Your Ship Rates”
Wooden ships are rated based on how many guns and men they have, though the number of decks and masts can imply this as well. In a world without guns, we can still rate them based on armament. Ships of different rates were unlikely to take on ones much bigger, so take this into account when determining which vessels your story needs.
Tip #3: “No Guns? Now What?”
In a world without gunpowder, there are no cannons, making our ships tame…unless we find an alternative. Catapults, trebuchets, and ballista all have their pros and cons. The latter could be the best and most effective replacement without causing other believability issues in your work, but you’ll need to understand the number of crew needed to operate one vs. a cannon.
Tip #4: “Know Your Ship Types”
Whether it’s a galley, brig, frigate, galleon, sloop-of-war, or ship-of-the-line, our ship has an appearance, size, capability, and reputation we can utilize with skill if we know it. We don’t need to invent something new because readers seldom see these and aren’t bored with them. We can make changes at will, provided they make sense, because many variations exist on Earth anyway. Feel free to tweak the design of a known vessel…once you know where to start.
Tip #5: “Determine Base Speeds First”
Most wooden ships average between 2-6 knots over a long trip. They can be becalmed (0 knots) or reach tops speeds of 11 knots, but none sustain that without magic. We can fudge the time needed, but we should know what’s possible. This includes being able to convert miles to nautical miles (multiply it by 1.151) and then divide the nautical miles by the average knots to learn how many hours would pass.
Summary of Chapter 8—Travel by Water
Landlubbers have difficulty determining how long it takes for any ship, whether powered by oars or sails, to traverse a distance. This chapter explores the factors affecting sailing speeds and what vessels are most likely to be used during an Age of Sail period. Calculations are provided for realistic estimates. Both long and round ships are discussed, including the galley, brig, frigate, galleon, sloop-of-war, and ship-of-the-line. In fantasy, we have species and warrior types who might be part of our crew. We might also rule out gunpowder and cannon, which means having ships with no real fire power or which use alternative weapons, some of which are examined. Subscribers to The Art of World Building newsletter receive an Excel spreadsheet that performs calculations in kilometers, miles, and nautical miles.