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.

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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.

Antique/Fantasy Map Tutorial – Coming Soon!

Keep an eye out over the next week or two for my upcoming series of articles which will feature a step-by-step guide on making a really nice fantasy map in GIMP. Part one will tackle getting your ‘antique paper’ background in place and generating a realistic-looking fractal for your landmasses and oceans.

Let's make a map!
Image via Google Images

I’ll also throw in a couple of variations on the style, if you want a slightly different type of map. In the first part of the series I’ll also throw in all the links to resources that you’ll need to create your map.

In the meantime, why not download GIMP and have a play around with it? It’s a great (free) Photoshop alternative that I now prefer to Adobe’s offering.

~ James

Building a Wiki For Your Novel

Recently, I’ve been working on a new method of fleshing out the finer details of my novel-in-progress. I like to call it a Wiki, even though it’s not necessarily hosted online anywhere. I spent a couple of hours looking at various wikis for such worlds as Westeros, Midkemia, Warhammer 40K Universe and Middle-earth. I looked at character pages, location pages and other miscellaneous pages for objects, historical events etc. Now, I love looking through wikis, Wikipedia being my favourite, and I love the way that the information is presented. It’s easy to read, quick to find important information and fun to explore.

Here’s a nice example from A Wiki of Ice and Fire:

Jon Snow

Jon Snow is the bastard son of Eddard Stark, by a mother whose identity is a source of speculation. He was raised by his father alongside his true-born half-siblings, but joins the Night’s Watch when he nears adulthood. He is constantly accompanied by his albino direwolf Ghost. At the beginning of A Game of Thrones, Jon is fourteen years old.

Character and Appearance

Jon was raised by father Eddard Stark, alongside his true-born half-siblings. Eddard always treated Jon the same as his trueborns and Jon got on well with his half-siblings, particularly with Robb and Arya. Jon always had issues with his bastardy and eventually chose to join the Night’s Watch, where the circumstances of his birth were of little importance.

Jon has strong Stark features. He has a lean build and a long face, with dark hair and grey eyes.

History

Ned brought Jon back after he returned from Robert’s Rebellion and insisted on raising him with the rest of his family. Jon got along with most of the Stark family, but Catelyn always considered him an outsider and his presence served as a constant reminder of her husband’s infidelity.

Yada yada yada…

As you can see, there are nicely defined sections, the information is concise but descriptive and in just a few paragraphs we already have pretty much a decent character profile. Depending on which character I am dealing with, I like to have an additional section on Equipment & Attire, too. As I write the wiki page, my character is growing and forming in my mind and I can gradually add more details about them as I go along. As I develop my story’s plot, I go back to the wiki and add the individual characters’ progression through the plot. Check out the example below:

Recent Events

A Game of Thrones

When the family encounters the direwolf pups after Gared is executed for deserting the Night’s Watch, Jon takes the albino pup, as it is an outcast from its litter. Jon’s position both inside and outside the family subtly chafe him over the years until, when he nears adulthood, he joins the Night’s Watch.

Tyrion Lannister accompanies Jon to the Wall, and their friendship is fostered by their shared position as noble outsiders. Jon is initially resented by the other Watch recruits because of his noble background, but he eventually learns to fit into the crowd. His actions towards his fellow recruits exacerbate the lasting enmity from the caustic master-at-arms, Alliser Thorne. Jon also protects Samwell Tarly from bullying by some other recruits.

Lord Commander Jeor Mormont appoints Jon as his personal steward and squire in order to groom him for command. During a wight attack on Castle Black, Jon saves Mormont’s life and receives serious burns on his hand. Mormont gives him the Valyrian steel bastard sword, Longclaw, of House Mormont, and has a direwolf head engraved onto the pommel in honor of House Stark.

Although Jon has learned to fit in with the Watch, he has difficulty separating from his old life. At the outbreak of the War of the Five Kings, he tries to desert to join Robb’s army, even though the common penalty for deserting the Night’s Watch is death. His new friends bring him back, however, and save him from this fate. Jon finally decides to honor his bonds and abandon his Stark past.

I go through a similar process for non-character pages. Let’s take an example from the LOTR Wiki on the Rangers of the North:

Rangers of the North

The Rangers of the North, also known as Watchers or simply Rangers, were the last remnant of the Dúnedain who had once populated the Northern-kingdom of Arnor.

The Rangers usually wore grey or dark green cloaks with no identifying ornaments except a six-pointed cloak-clasp in the shape of a star. Another identifying feature was that all of them wore a green longcoat. Equipped primarily with swords and bows, they were quick, versatile, and experienced riders.

History

Characteristically elusive and enigmatic, the Rangers spent most of their lives in the wild, visiting towns and villages only on rare occasions. The Rangers were led by Chieftains. These Chieftains could trace their lines back to Isildur himself and his father Elendil. Though the Chieftains were designated figures of authority for the Rangers, the scattered people had no official headquarters or capitol after the disintegration of Arnor and possibly lived in temporary camps scattered about the wilderness…

Etc. etc. etc…

The pages for events, organizations, weapons or ideas are much shorter than that of a character’s, usually. They contain less sections and sub-sections because characters are usually much more complex than objects, places and concepts. Usually.

Once I’ve completed the individual wiki pages I like to combine them all into one file and keep it on my hard drive with my other project files. If I ever need to look something up or add a detail to my world, I just open the wiki and do what I need to do.

At some point over the next month I’m going to put together my own method of making really nice antique fantasy maps in GIMP, a free Photoshop clone. I guarantee you won’t want to miss it!

~ James

A Bullet to the Brain: Writing Like a Sniper

I read an interesting article the other day about how snipers think when they’re carrying out an assassination (linked at the bottom of this post). They interviewed the sniper with the ‘most kills’ in the world and he said that being a sniper is a very intimate job.

Camp Hansen, Okinawa, Japan (May 21, 2004) - A...
Image via Wikipedia

You spend ages watching the target, getting to know their routine, their personality, their habits. This got me thinking that writers are really not so different to snipers.

When creating/getting to know a character, a writer gets only a small scope to use to look into their life. Anything outside of that circle is pitch black and invisible. We patiently watch the character going about their daily routine, learning what motivates them, what scares them and everything else in between. Occasionally, we will leave them for a while to look around their surroundings, getting the lay of the land and understanding the local culture. Once this is done, we return to learn more about the character, their family and their friends.

I thought that this was a good analogy and it sums up how I go about creating a character. I wonder if anyone who’s reading this has other methods that work well? Are there any other ‘sniper writers’ out there?

That’s all for today. Roll on Friday and the weekend!

 

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