The joys of coining words for your story

I’m sure that a lot of the stories being set up for National November Writing Month will be fantasy/sci fi. It’s a great genre – I write in it myself.

Fantasy and sci-fi adds all sorts of fun ‘extras’ to the writing challenge – like making the setting ‘different but not too different’. One of the best ways to create a sense of ‘difference’ in fantasy world building is to coin words for it.

Part of the Westlands of Agorathor.
Part of the Westlands of Agorathor.

The master, of course, was Tolkien. He coined whole languages – several of them – along with part-lexicons for other languages that gave a staggering depth to his world. For the rest of us, it’s still handy to create a few words to give that sense of exotic to the setting. The trick is to be judicious – too many and the reader will get confused.

There’s also the issue, these days, of release to Kindle and Amazon’s automated ‘error checking’ systems, which trigger on all kinds of things that are actually correct- just unknown to it. Too many ‘errors’ of that kind and the book still gets flagged by the system.

A couple of coined names from a fantasy story…

The other problem is making them consistent. If they’re meant to all be from the same language, they need to reflect each other in sound and syllabic construction. It’s hard to suspend belief if your hero leaves the village of Cachalot and arrives at its neighbouring village of A’ar n’lithoowxyryx, both of which are meant to share language and culture. Of course, there might be a good reason why the other village has that name – but you’d better explain it in the story.

When developing the world of Agorathor, I figured that a handful of unique words would add just enough points of colour to the tale to make it different-but-same. Because I was writing in English I also wanted the words to be English-sounding – again, for that ‘different-but-same’ feel. And here they are:

Sylluth – a large tree with prominent above-ground roots.
Sipe – a species of duck.
Carnite – a rare translucent mineral that appears red in sunlight.
Submalite – a common dark-coloured form of rock, similar to granite.

I’ll doubtless have to develop a few more – but that’s it for now. The first of the stories will be published soon – watch this space.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2016

4 thoughts on “The joys of coining words for your story

  1. I love coming up with new terms for my writing! That’s part of the reason why I’m having so much fun writing in my silly sci-fi universe — everything’s exotic and alien, so everything necessarily needs exotic and alien names. I try very hard to keep all the naming schemes appropriate to the species (i.e. my “Ssrisk” species use a lot of Ss and Ks and Rs), and hopefully I succeed, lol.

    Excellent point on that, by the way — about naming consistency. This tends to happen in a lot of the self-published books I read — everything’s going fine, and then I run across a name that is totally out of place and completely pulls me out of the story. I think that’s either a case of the author not realizing the need for consistency, or the author simply really liking that name and forcing it in where it shouldn’t go.

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