Elements of Fantasy #3 – Language

Welcome to another episode of Elements of Fantasy! Last time, we talked about The Quest and looked at why the hero’s journey is so prevalent in fantasy fiction. In this episode, we’ll be exploring Language…

Google ‘fictional languages’ and you’ll turn up hundreds of references to the fantasy genre, as well as equal amounts of references to Klingons. Fantasy is a genre that has become intrinsically linked with language, whether we’re talking about complex, working languages such as quenya and sindarin, or piecemeal, ‘flavour’ languages like Valyrian or Thalassian.

dwarven runes

The tradition of inventing languages for use in fantasy fiction can be traced back to our old friend J.R.R. Tolkien (like so many things). The practice may even pre-date Tolkien, but he is regarded as the first to have constructed a fully-functioning language with its own writing system. Quenya and sindarin are elvish languages that feature in Tolkien’s works and they are taught today as fully-realised languages.

Continue reading

Elements of Fantasy #2 – The Quest

Welcome to the second in the Elements of Fantasy series! Last time, we talked about Wizards, Warlocks and Witches (and magic users in general). In this episode, we look at the Fantasy Quest…

I want to start off by talking about, what is for me, the quintessential fantasy quest. I’m talking about The Hobbit. I know, I know, I must mention Tolkien in one way or another in many of my posts! I love Middle-earth and I love the stories set there – it’s as simple as that.

So, The Hobbit. One of the first ever fantasy books I read as a child, I remember being captivated from the first page. Essentially, it is the story of a man who lives in a secluded and somewhat xenophobic community and is taken out of his comfort zone when he is dragged along on an epic journey to the other side of Middle-earth to face off against a dragon. As expected, Bilbo Baggins is not a very willing participant in this quest, nor is he the kind of hero who enjoys being away from his home comforts. But as the story progresses and Bilbo has to face ever more terrifying enemies and difficult obstacles, he slowly grows into his new persona and even finds himself enjoying the adventure. After the quest, he returns home a changed hobbit and the rest is history.

The Hobbit

It’s the stuff that great childhood fantasy is made of. Little people with hairy feet? Check. Little people with beards (and most likely hairy feet)? Check. Wizard? Check. Dragon? Check. I could go on. But at the heart of the story, when you strip it back to basics, there lies the simple tale of a reluctant and unlikely hero on a quest to steal a dragon’s treasure. Continue reading

Elements of Fantasy #1 – Wizards, Warlocks and Witches

You don’t know how hard it was to resist adding “…Oh My!” to the end of that title. But this is planned to be a (relatively) serious series of articles, so resist I did.

So in this, the first in a brand new series entitled “Elements of Fantasy”, I want to explore one of the most defining elements of fantasy: magic users. I’m starting with perhaps one of the most expansive topics, probably because I’m a masochist, so this may very well end up becoming “Part 1” of an article on magic users.

A magician is someone who uses or practices magic that derives from supernatural or occult sources.
Wikipedia: Magician (fantasy)

Good old Wikipedia. Have you ever failed us? Well, yes, many times, but I’m pretty confident the above snippet is accurate. Continue reading

Niklaus: Part One – An Invitation

Happy Friday, everyone! Today marks the final day in our Festive Fantasy Week celebrations for 2013. I want to share with you now a short story that I’ve been working on in the build-up to Christmas. Now, I’d hoped to have it wrapped up by now, but it’s not quite there yet. However, that might not end up being such a bad thing. I’m going to release it in three parts here on the blog, hopefully having the whole thing on here by Christmas Day.

I really hope you enjoy the story and make sure to stay tuned for Part Two, which should be posted over the weekend.

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Niklaus: Part One – An Invitation

Tobacco smoke snaked up from the pipe and obscured the old man’s face like a veil of fog. Impossibly blue eyes danced from behind the smoke, framed by a briar patch criss-cross of wrinkles and scars. The man’s weathered face—so dark, so lined and like old boot-leather—was encircled by brilliant white hair, so overgrown now that the man’s mane and beard were indistinguishable from one another. His thick, pale lips formed a perfect circle as he took another drag from the pipe and let out the smoke in a series of silent whispers.

‘Tell me that last part again,’ he purred. ‘About the deer.’ Continue reading

Worldbuilder’s Workout – Transport

Worldbuilder's Workout

In our last Worldbuilder’s Workout, we talked about Distance. Well, today we’re going to look at Transport.

By Land

By their very nature, fantasy worlds are usually medieval, in technological terms. What did people use back then to get around? Horses and their own two feet? It’s sort of correct, but not very imaginative. Horses/mules were important because they were the tools that drove society. They drew wagons and carriages, helped farmers work their fields and transported goods from one place to another. However, they were also expensive; in much the same way that some people can’t afford to buy a car nowadays. Bicycles weren’t invented until the 19th century, so walking was the other option. But that shouldn’t be the end of the matter. Think how someone who buys a horse and cart could profit from it. The medieval world had taxis, just not as you know them today.

Carriages

By Sea

Sailboats and rowboats are usually the transport of choice for the high seas. When you start bringing in steam-powered ships, you edge out of fantasy territory and start to add in steampunk elements. There’s no reason why you can’t do this, but I’m talking about standard fantasy here. Writing about ships and adventures at sea can be really good fun, but you need to know your stuff. Look up some basic information on sailboats so that you have a good idea of where everything is on one and how they worked. You can adapt things for your story’s needs, but I find its always best to stick relatively closely to established real-world rules.

By Air

Now, this is an interesting one. Airships or dragons/giant birds are usually what we’re presented with in fantasy. I find airships don’t sit well with me. Warcraft uses them, but I feel they detract from the fantasy setting a little. Giant winged creatures, on the other hand, can sometimes work if done well. However, I would advise steering clear of dragon riders or anything similar, as this has now become a huge fantasy cliche, in my humble opinion. Magic systems providing flight is another option, of course, which I cover in the final section.

Airship

By Any Means

Depending on how cleverly you can do it, you could try to invent new ways for your world’s inhabitants to get around. It could be magic-based or not. What about a new species of animal that’s different to a horse in some way? How about a crude and unexplained form of electricity that is used to give speed to ships? Or what if instead of roads there were tracks and horse-drawn wagons ran on them? The possibilities really are endless, it’s just up to your own imagination!

What’s your view on transport in fantasy settings? Got any ideas/questions for the community?

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Remember – if you missed the chance to take part in the second episode of our community-written fantasy story, you can still leave your entries by following the below link!

Friday Fiction: The Story – Episode 2

More Worldbuilder’s Workouts…

Worldbuilder’s Workout – Distance

Worldbuilder’s Workout – Distance

Worldbuilder's Workout

It’s Wednesday, it’s time for a brand new Champion Post! I figured I’d kick off the new Worldbuilder’s Workout feature with the topic of Distance.

When you’re creating a fantasy world, one of the most important things you need to work out is how big it is. It’s no good creating a smorgasbord of countries and regions if, when you start writing, it only takes a few minutes for your characters to traverse them. Similarly, you don’t want to get to the climax of your story and then realise your protagonist needs to travel for six months before they can take on the bad guy.

So, here’s the big question. How do you work out distances?

First, you should work out what sort of size you want your world to be. Is it roughly the size of Earth? Is it smaller? Larger? Here are some rough measurements for our own world:

Circumference = 24900 miles / 40000 km

USA coast to cost = 2500 miles / 4000 km

UK north to south = 420 miles / 680 km

Once you’ve decided what size the world/landmass is, you need to choose a unit/units of measurement to be used by the inhabitants of your world. For my own story, I currently use leagues for distances traveled and a unit of hands for height. It feels satisfyingly medieval/old world and yet it still gives an accurate impression of distance and movement.

Here’s a few simple conversions for changing our modern measurements into archaic ones. If we look at the unit of one mile, the other measurements are:

Miles = 1

Kilometers = 1.6

Yards = 1760

Feet = 5280

Leagues = 0.3

Furlongs = 8

Link = 8000

Chain = 80

If you want to be really original, you can always create your own units of measurement. It might be a good idea to keep the calculations the same as one of the above, though, to make it easier for you.

Now that you have your world measured out and you know roughly how long it takes to go from A to B, you can go ahead and plan out how your characters will move around their environment.

I hope you enjoyed reading today’s post – let me know what you thought. Next time we do a Worldbuilder’s Workout, I think I’ll talk about transport, whether it’s on land, at sea or otherwise.