Eight Best Tips On How To Create A Complex Fantasy World (Part II)

In the first blog post on this topic, we looked at the first five of the eight best tips on how to create a complex fantasy world. There, we discussed that it is advisable for writers to:

  1. Decide The Key Locations For The Plot;
  2. Use Non-Visited Locations To Affect The Plot;
  3. Determine How The Landscape and The Climate Force POV Characters To Make Critical Decisions;
  4. Decide How The Climate And The Landscape Affect Geopolitics (And The Plot); and
  5. Create History And Mythology For A Location, And Use Them To Impact The Plot.

Continuing on from these, we shall assess the remaining three of the eight best tips on how to create a complex fantasy world.

Tip 6 – Give Places In The World Emotive or Evocative Names

The name of a place, by itself, has to tell the reader a story. On Earth, every country, city, town, river, forest, etc… has a name, and every place has acquired its name for a reason. That reason holds a story, and the writer should aim to evoke an image and a tale in the names of his/her locations.

This applies regardless of whether the writer is naming worlds, kingdoms or empires; cities, towns, villages or castles; or forests, mountains, seas or rivers.

6A. Worlds, Kingdoms And Empires

Writers must be creative when coming up with names for worlds, kingdoms and/or empires. They can choose any name they like; however, again, they should aim to give them evocative names.

Worlds

When it comes to worlds, JRR Tolkien named his world as Middle-Earth; Terry Pratchett named his as Discworld; and George RR Martin named his as The Known World. Each of the names of their worlds either evokes an image of a medieval-like Earth, or a planet on a disc, or a map that still has wonders to behold beyond what is known.

The fifth of the eight best tips on how to create a complex fantasy world is to make the names emotive, like Discworld.
Terry Practchett’s Discworld

Kingdoms And Empires

For kingdoms and empires, though, it is much harder to give them evocative names.  Raymond E Feist names his countries as The Kingdom, The Great Empire of Kesh, and Lesser Kesh. All three names give an indication of their size and importance within the world (and it is obvious from the name that the Kesh are a people).

David Eddings did something similar with his world, as he named countries as the Kingdom of Riva, the Kingdom of Cherek, the Seven Kingdoms of Karanda, and the Dalasian Protectorates. All of these, again, give the reader an indication of the size of the respective countries.

General Rules Naming Worlds, Kingdoms and Empires

Thus, as a general rule, putting the word ‘kingdom,’ or ‘empire,’ or ‘protectorate,’ or ‘free city’ (or something else of that ilk) before or after the name of the main people or god of that country should suffice.

I would personally like to add one other feature about designing the map/world here. If writers wish their maps to bear some semblance to Earth, they should create names for countries that resemble their counterparts on Earth in their correct location on Earth. So, western countries should have names that would sound apt for a country in the West, while countries to the near and far east should have names that would be fitting for those parts of the world.

It is for these reasons that George RR Martin names his kingdom in the west as Westeros, while there is a kingdom to the distant east called Yi Ti that is meant to resemble medieval China. (But this also has the additional implication that the founders of Westeros were west of something. If they had believed that Westeros were in the centre of the world, they would not have called it ‘Westeros.’)

6B. Cities, Towns, Counties, Villages And Castles

Like with naming a world, naming a city, town, county, village and/or a castle must be emotive and evoke an image and a story in the reader’s mind. For example, in Tolkien’s Middle-Earth, some of the most evocative names are The Shire, which conjures up images of a rural people working on the land; and Helm’s Deep, where an image springs to mind of a stronghold that would have high walls that would cost many lives to seize.

Similarly, CS Lewis for The Chronicles of Narnia often adopted names such as Witch’s Castle and The Stone Table. Lewis wrote his Narnia series for children, so the names are somewhat risible to an adult audience. Nevertheless, Witch’s Castle produces an image of a nasty place where the evil witch dwells; and The Stone Table does what it says on the tin (so to speak), by evoking an image of a stone table, where key decisions (that have consequence for the plot) are made.

The sixth of the eight best tips on how to create a complex fantasy world is to give castles an emotive name, like the Witch's Castle.
The Map of CS Lewis’ fascinating world of Narnia. At the top, slightly to the left, is the Witch’s Castle.

How To Use Non-Emotive Names

However, writers should not limit themselves to names that automatically conjure up an image in the reader’s mind. Rather, they should name a few places (at maximum) that have unique connotations to the story.

Tip 6B – Example 1

Hobbiton is unique to LOTR as it is the village where hobbits (who only exist in Tolkien’s world) generally come from, including our main protagonists Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin.

Tip 6B – Example 2

Casterly Rock, though, has an altogether different and darker reason for its name. It is the ancestral fortress of House Lannister, based on the top of a large rock alike the one in Gibraltar. According to Westerosi lore, Casterly Rock belonged to House Casterly thousands of years ago (hence the name). But Lann the Clever (whom the Lannisters descend from) hoodwinked the Casterlys out of their own home and slaughtered them.

Yet, the Lannisters kept the Casterly part in the name of their fortress for good reason: to warn others, who dared trifle with them, that the Lannisters have cunning, brute strength and ruthlessness as part of their arsenal.

6C. Forests, Seas, Rivers and Mountains

Again, all such names have to evoke an image or an emotion in the reader’s mind.

Forests

For example, in George RR Martin’s Known World, he names two of his forests as The Kingswoods and the Wolfswood. The Kingswood gets its name because it is near the capital and where the King hunts; while The Wolfswood is called thus as it is in the North, near Winterfell and where the wolves reside (both actual wolves and the Stark ones).

Rivers

For the names of the rivers, Martin is no different. One, he has named a river north of The Wall as the Milk River. Of course, the river’s water is not literally made of milk. Rather, this is how it looks to observers since its surface is frozen all year round.

Two, south of the wall Martin has named the river that flows through King’s Landing as the Blackwater Rush. It implies a foul, brown waterway travelling at speed through the capital.

Seas

Naturally, Martin is not the only author who has used evocative names on his map. Joe Abercrombie, in his First Law trilogy, used some highly emotive and evocative names when naming some of his seas.

One he names as the Circle Sea, as its circular waters surround the Kingdom of Midderland. Similarly, he names another as the Sea of Knives, thereby conjuring up images in the reader’s mind of knife-like, sharp rocks that stick out of shallow waters (ready to break the keels of ships).

The sixth of the eight best tips on how to create a fantasy world is to make seas have an emotive name, like the Circle Sea.
The First Law Trilogy’s map, with the Circle Sea in the centre, surrounding the Union and Midderland.

Mountains And Hills

Tolkien was not averse to using emotive names either to form Middle-Earth as well; in fact, he saved some his most evocative names for his mountains. The Lonely Mountain invokes an image of a sole mountain in the middle of a flat terrain, with nothing of comparison within eye-range; while the Misty Mountains raise images of fog covering a set of frowning mountains, as if to give the range a shadowy, foreboding aura.

In a very different way, Brandon Sanderson in his Stormlight Archives gives one sets of hills an emotive name too because he names them as the Unclaimed Hills. Here, he gives the reader the idea that the hills are warred over, with kingdom after kingdom trying to conquer them, while tribes (and other monstrous creatures) ambush soldiers to make holding the hills impossible. Thus, they are unclaimed because it is practically impossible to do so.

Tip 7 – Be Consistent With The Language Of The Places

The seventh of the eight best tips on how to create a complex fantasy world centres around being consistent with the language of the name of the places that writers create.

Years ago, I read an interview with a fantasy author who used different (made up) languages while explaining how he named the places on his map. Then, I read a critique of his work. This critic explained why this was not a wise idea. I would tend to agree with this critic because names written in another (made up) language do not evoke an image in the reader’s mind.

This is the case even if writers have created their own language for the story and translate the name into the ‘Common Tongue’ for the reader.

Sadly, translations do not have the same impact upon the reader as the ‘Common Tongue.’ Also, if there is a translation why would writers bother using the made up name in the first place? To me, this defeats the purpose of the made up name.

Tip 8 – Know When To Use Exotic-Sounding Names For Locations

It is tempting for writers to be creative and give a city, a river, a castle, a mountain, etc… a made up, exotic name (that borders on the unpronounceable). Credit where credit to writers who come up with these names as they be highly imaginative, genius and/or amusing.

However, there is a problem with exotic, made up names for places: they emote and tell the reader nothing about the history and the location of the place. Therefore, alas, such names are best avoided.

Thank You

I hope you have enjoyed the eight best tips on how to create a complex fantasy world, and that they have helped you. I want to reassure you that creating a world is no simple to task and my map took me close to a decade to draw and name (and I am still making alterations to it).

Nevertheless, I have greatly enjoyed creating my world and making it as complex and as sophisticated as possible. I hope that the same is true for you.

Paul

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