How to Find Interesting Words and Names for Your Fantasy Writing
Tolkien was a Philologist which made him an expert at linguists and the history of languages so it easy to see why his writing is filled with wonderful names of characters, creatures, and places. You don’t have to be a philologist to also find words that fit into your fantasy writing and accentuate the feel of your created world. Here are some tips and hints on how to do it.
Keep a small notebook of Interesting Names and Words
In the course of your daily life you run into streets, names, and places that you find interesting. Get in the habit of remembering them and writing them down. Looking through an art book the name of the artist Hieronymous Bosch struck me and the surname Bosch ended being the main characters in one of my novels. If you are familiar with the fantasy paintings of this artist you will get an instant feel for what this character is like. If you carry a PDA you should create a document where you can jot down interesting names as you come across them. Having this list is an invaluable tool because if during your writing you create a new character or place you don’t want to bring the writing to a stop because you don’t have a name. Having a list will help you find something that fits right in. When adding words to your notebook jot down a quick note as to what the word feels like. Does it give the feeling of strength or of softness? Does it evoke a feeling of mystery or of danger? These little notes will help you in finding the right word when you are in the process of writing.
Maps are an Excellent Resource
Break out the maps you have. I live in New England and it is filled with a multitude of old British names for cities and towns. Who can resist words like Braintree or Framingham? You should also use the online map services like Google Maps or Mapquest. Simply pick a country that you feel might have interesting words that would compliment the type of fantasy you write. Great Britain and Germany are two of my favorites and an endless source of material for me. Who can resist a little German town called “Hugelsheim”? It sounds like a place Hobbits would live!
Dictionaries and Encyclopedia
Random browsing through an English dictionary can reap many interesting words and phrases. With a random flipping through the pages you can find a lot of material and the larger dictionaries have extra resources such as a listing of geographical places or common foreign words and phrases.
This is my favorite method. I have a conversational ability with German which gives me a bit of an advantage because it offers a whole set of words and phrases with a very medieval sound which is perfect for my style and genre of writing. If you have a second language you should use it as a resource. If you don’t speak a second language you should pick up a translation dictionary. One of the pocket sized ones is an inexpensive option and I recommend you don’t get the English to Foreign language dictionary. You should get the foreign language to English version such as the German to English dictionary. Getting this type is much more helpful in that you can simply scan through the German words looking for attractive sounds. Then look up the English of it to see if it makes sense.
Add a Glossary to Your Novel
If you are writing a fantasy novel and you have quite a few creative, made-up or foreign language words you should add a glossary to the back of your novel. A glossary is something that can enrich your reader’s experience. It is like discovering and adventuring through a new part of your world. But do not make it excessively large. An overly large glossary can be more of a chore than a pleasure and it could be an indicator that your book is too difficult to read.
Hearing the Words
Creative names and words that are not commonly found in the English language can be confusing to a reader. You want to exhibit a sense of fantasy and a unique feel to your worlds but you don’t want to alienate the reader with difficult pronunciation and poor comprehension. The words you choose should accentuate the reading experience and not cause the reader to pause in order to understand the new word. You and your reader think and hear in English sounds so the words will be pronounced using a pre-determined set of distinctly English sounds. You should always say your new words out loud to get a feel for what they sound like. And if you are drawing on a foreign language for your words you shouldn’t assume that your reader knows the language and the correct pronunciation. You should assume that your reader will read in an English manner and pronounce the word accordingly. Pronounce the words out loud as an English word and see if it still sounds attractive.
The very nature of a fantasy novel is to whisk the reader into a new world and the only tool you have to do this is words. Choose the names of places and characters carefully and you will enhance the reader’s experience and convey a sense of your world. But always maintain a balance in your word choice. Excessive use of creative words can distract from the readers experience. You don’t want to force you reader to frequently stop and re-read sections because the names don’t make sense.