Journey to the Land of Words

Need a word? No problem. You’ve learned lots of words in the years you’ve been around. Remember elementary school? Oh yeah, there was an entire drill with cute pictures…

Cat, bat, sat, rat, fat, hat, mat…

So, you need a word you don’t already know? Rejoice, for the resources waiting to provide you with the word you desire are beyond imagining, especially in this computerized age. If you’re willing to take the time there’s no word, English or otherwise, that you can’t find.

Unless you’re a fantasy writer seeking to construct a world.

What’s the word for those gigantic platforms suspended between massive trees in Forstava? You know, the ones the ora’ean construct entire cities upon, some at different heights and overlapping others?

Keep walking, the next arboreal isn't far.

Keep walking, the next arboreal isn’t far.

Uh oh.

Not only isn’t Google bringing up the word I’m looking for, but Google is telling me there aren’t any ora’ean living in Forstava because there aren’t any ora’ean and Forstava doesn’t exist.


Time to summon a word from the deepest recesses of my mind…


Nice word. I like it. Works for me and it’s grounded (whoops, pun) rooted (whoops, another…) derived from the real word arboreal, which is of or relating to living in trees. That wasn’t too hard.

Uh oh.

What’s the word for the trees they suspend arboreals from? You know, the ones they train to extend branches to others and then weave together? You know, the ones they teach to supply water to the ora’ean (that don’t exist) living on those arboreals? You know, the trees with the black bark and trunks that are often fifty feet in diameter?

Logouve trees.

And on it goes. After awhile you’re screaming at fictitious gods and uttering newly invented swear words because you’ve forgotten what that word was that you used in an earlier chapter.

And then there are the locations (Brillica), celebrations (Auraluma), objects (crypt vessel), historical events (Dying Time), creatures (cirque cat), spells (Implosion Cycle)…

Perhaps you’ve given new meaning to existing words (gargoyle, practitioner, seer)?

kinda, sorta a cirque cat

kinda, sorta a cirque cat

Time for a glossary (or whatever you want to call it). Time to create a record because our overworked brains aren’t going to remember everything, and inspiration doesn’t always coincide with the moment the word is needed.

You don’t want to lose inspiration.

Too, because you have that glossary you become braver and more willing to expand your fantasy vocabulary, to journey deeper into that land of words where your world becomes ever richer. Yes, as you may have guessed, I created a glossary and it’s been invaluable, especially because I was away from my WIP for several years. It’s also another aid for keeping your spelling consistent (so is saving words to your computer’s library).

Anyone else have any successes, horror stories, or insights when it comes to managing world building language in a glossary? Please share.

5 Replies to “Journey to the Land of Words”

  1. I think a glossary is a great idea. For a world I created, I made not just a glossary but an encyclopedia so I could keep track of words, major historical events, legends, etc. Until then my world’s history was just bouncing around in my head and randomly distributed between parts of stories all over my hard drive. It was hard to compile, but it really made things easier. Great post!

    • An encyclopedia? Excellent! What matters is that the author comes up with an organization that works for them and you’ve clearly done that. I, too, have a history (The History Notebook post), so there’s some overlap with the glossary. From the way you describe what you’ve done I get the impression that your organization has made it easier for you to build upon what you’ve already created. Thanks for the comment.

  2. When Creating Fantasy Worlds, I also find it helpful to write an Encyclopedia full of histories, country/kingdom information, ecology, customs, anything world-related. When coming up with words for a Fantasy World, I like to come up with a “psuedo-language” or just a brief set of words in each language to maintain consistency and a sense of realism. One thing you may want to avoid is just coming up with cool-sounding words off the top of your head. One, too many made-up words can only serve to confuse the reader and Two, if there is no consistency with the construction of the language/words, then the made up words don’t seem “real”. For instance, in Lord of the Rings, Minas Tirith is The White City, while Minas Morgul is the Dead City. Without having Tolkien explain anything, I know that Minas = City.
    I’m not sure how much help that is. I just recently found your blog and I find it quite interesting. I look forward to reading more about your journey of writing a fantasy novel!

    • You make a very good point—and you’re absolutely correct. I’m no genius when comes to languages like Tolkien was and so make it a point to recognize my limitations. That’s why the story focuses on a country where my language is spoken. The ora’ean, who border their lands, also speak their language while also having an ancient language that surfaces from time-to-time. I’ve a limited vocabulary I created for them based on rules I formulated with their culture. For consistency I adhere to that vocabulary, but limit its use…it’s for adding color only. Your warning about “made-up words” is well taken and one that heartens me, for I sensed early on that random creations exposed the language’s randomness. These days I develop most words utilizing existing lexicology. I want to thank you for your comment, for it’s comments like this one that help make me and everyone who reads the comment section better writers.

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