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Author Topic: The names of items in Fantasy...
Member # 8405

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I don't like to create words for things that already exist. But, in certain scenarios, I question whether using the original name will take some of the uniqueness out of my story.

I don't want people in my story constantly being like "HEY! That's named a Zweihander... Maybe this story actually takes place on our world!"

Where do you draw the line?


Drugs. If someone is smoking marijuana, do you call it marijuana, or do you create an entire new plant that magically has the exact same effects? Same with opiums, various herbs, and etc.

Names of weapons, or armor. Zweihander, or Claymores. Whenever I read any of these names, I immediately think of the cultures behind them, too. But it seems tedious, again, to rename every single 'cultural' weapon.

Not just tedious, either, but an information dump. If every 'named' item is unique to a culture in my world, I imagine the process of information dump would be unavoidable. And yet, I strive to have something very 'uniquely real', and such cultural weapons would certainly add to that...

Hopefully I'm being clear here. My friend forced a bit of liquor on me, and I'm not much of a drinker.

Second Edit: I guess I should also add that I want the world to feel very familiar. This is so that the less-hardcore Fantasy folk can read it and enjoy it. It seems though, that many of the 'Great Fantasy' books, are one's that do have extreme amounts of world building.

I guess this leads us to another question: Are the 'Great Fantasy' novels still great amongst the general population, or are they mostly considered great amongst the folk that read Fantasy?

I would consider Lord of the Rings a fairly difficult read for those not interested in Fantasy. Was it widely read among non fantasy-readers before the movie? Or after the movie, for that matter.

[This message has been edited by Gan (edited August 02, 2010).]

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Rather than edit myself for the fifteenth time, I thought I'd just add this in a separate post.

I've been looking at books about medieval weaponry, combat, and the like, as I want the combat in this world to be very raw and real like things were. I've found a few good ones on Amazon, but I thought perhaps some of you may have some suggestions on top of those. Or perhaps, articles and online resources.

And yes, I know about google, and yes I have used it for this particular topic. But I find through actual recommendations I can avoid the torrent of false information, and perhaps find sources I wouldn't normally find. My problem with google isn't a lack of information; it's the extreme redundancy and falsity of much of the information found.


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Member # 8857

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There is a group called the Society for Creative Anachronism and, among other things, they recreate medieval combat with safer versions of the weapons. The group was started in California by some SF&F writers who wondered if people could actually do some of the things they wrote about them doing in combat. They started with broomsticks and trashcan lids but quickly moved on to more sophisticated substitutes.

I was in the SCA years ago and the combat is a lot of fun. There are chapters of the group all over the US and the world. Most of them are very nice people who might even let you try on their armor and swing a sword for a bit. Go to www.sca.org to see if there is a group near you.

As far as names of weapons, there have been all kinds of different names for the same weapon so make your own if you would like. The Flemish "Goedendag" (a club/spear hybrid) translates roughly as "good day." Flailed maces of a certain type were called "holy water sprinklers" because of their resemblance to items used in the Catholic mass. Soldiers, and people in general, are inventive when naming things - you can be, too.

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Member # 8617

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This topic of naming things has come up before.

In its extreme, you could take your concerns so far that you must create your own Smeerp language. If a character is smoking ganja, let him smoke ganja. Just keep in mind the level of technology needed to created the drug. Smoking weed is low level tech, making crack or meth is a tad bit more chemically involved.

I think you have to find your balance. None of my steampunk characters set in a seconday world are ever going to use a Bowie knife or wear a Stetson hat. They will use revolvers and machetes though, and wear serapes and top hats.

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Member # 8368

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Well, you're still going to call a sword a sword, right. So the question is, where to draw the line.

I think Zweihander probably intrudes too much, possibly because of the introduction of a second real world language. But an Englishman of the period might not have called it a Zweihander, either. At the end of the day, it's a two-handed great sword. Call it that and readers very familiar with fantasy or medieval weapons will think "Zweihander". Those who aren't will picture Aragorn's sword from LoTR. Everybody will have a good enough picture to go on with and understand the story.

Unless the sword is very, very important to the story, you don't want it to intrude too much.

There's a really delicate balance here that I find myself fighting from time to time. As writers, we research these things. There's such a strong temptation to put them into the story and then we just have to cut them back out. I still suspect that I've got a little too much information about sword-making in THE IGNORED PROPHECY for my blade smith. I had to learn it. He obviously would know it. How much does the reader really need to know about the process of drawing out the blade, shaping it, and tempering it? Really?

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I think that there is a fine line between when things are too specific. When you invoke reality, you are tied to it. I would be fine with a fantasy world smoking pot, but then I expect pot to function as it does in our world. With swords, using that specific of a name, you have to question if your audience will know what type of sword that is anyway. It might be too specific a name to actually get recognition and so you might as well use the made up name. If the object is named after a person, I would change it. I would also try to change brand names (sound simple but like kleenex comes more naturally to me than say tissue paper so if they had need to wipe their nose, I might very well have them using kleenex without thinking- assuming they are not a society that uses handkerchiefs).
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Gan, Consider that the sales of LoTR likely tripled (my own wild guess) after the movies were release. That makes it probable that a far wider reader base picked up on it, post-movie. Which May give clue to the question about (Are the 'Great Fantasy' novels still great...)

I've heard ganja referred to as 'hafling weed stick' in DnD circles before. Maybe let the characters name it. If it is consumed the same way and has the same effect, those with familiarity will get it easily, those with little familiarity may not know one way or the other. And a vast array of wild drugs have been availible since long before modern pharmacuticals came around. Check out South American cultures and the natural stuff they used for 'spirit walks' (pre-North American Indian time frame) and such.

If you don't own one, then pop into a half-priced book store and browse through the DnD books such as 'Arms and Equipment Guide'. They have done a tremendous amount of research and have hand drawn pictures of almost everything listed. It will tweak the imagination if nothing else. The same is true for spell and magic related info.

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I've so far I tended to find, and remember I'm still a novice, that renaming things isn't to difficult, as long a you use the generic words in the description.

examp:- Illinium drew her sh'hem, a ceremonial curved dagger with a razor sharp edge. The allotment of would-be captors came to a complete halt. Though there eyes danced and watched the twinkle of gems upon its hilt, there greed wavered as she held the wicked implement above her head ready to eviscerate anyone who dared to touch her or any jewel upon her.

Since you're talking in English things like - sword, dagger, blade, I feel can be used to describe how the weapon looks if it has a different name. This gives the reader something quick to compare to in there mind. This is my basic thought at least.


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Cont. Again with drugs, and in the real world they're constantly renamed. It should not be to hard to get the reader to understand.

Examp: Vicurs eyed the syringe, it's configuration for the Harnock's thick two fingers and thumb would still work with his lucky four. The crystal clear blue of Narcotic bewitched his eye. Maiseen, like an alien devil lay in waiting for Vicurs to journey across the void and be the first to risk it's unknown properties, and worse yet--Unknown consequences. Surely he didn't need the full dose for the difference between a Harnock's body mass and a Lycanthian was at least two to one.

The word narcotic could be replaced with liquid, but narcotic I believe is fair to use as a description even if the world is alien.



[This message has been edited by walexander (edited August 02, 2010).]

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I would like to point out that there are so many different types of weapons besides the usual sword, staff, mace, hammer etc. There is kopis, khopesh, xisphos, kontos, sarissa, rhompaia just to start with. These are authentic names and therefore sound a lot more exotic. Wikipedia can give you even more of these.

You also might find this link interesting. It's a fantasy forum and the thread speaks about realism in fighting. The person who wrote it even continued by writing short stories, concentrating on fighting/assassination techniques:

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walexander - I gently suggest research into the difference between "there" and "their", and "its" and "it's".

There are a lot of "real-world" words that many audiences won't know are real-world words (several of MartinV's examples, for instance). To some extent it depends what you want to do in a world-building sense. Do you want to ground the reader with familiar terms, to allow their own understandings into play, or do you want to give a sense of strangeness, distance, difference?

I do think things that are obviously drawn from a particular language should be avoided if that language is not in existence (or paralleled) in your story's cultures. So I would be cautious about using "Zweihander", for example, if there was nothing Germanic anywhere to root that into. "Claymore" is perhaps less contentious but for me still conveys Gaelic overtones - if you tell me someone is weilding a Claymore, I am going to get a set of mental images that come with it, so if you tell me that N'kose is using it to hack through tropical undergrowth to reach the lost city of Jambura, that's going to jar me out of the story.

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walexander - I gently suggest research into the difference between "there" and "their", and "its" and "it's".

lol, you don't have to gentle say it T. When I'm typing faster than my brain can think I still make these common errors. I usually go back and look for them later, but sometimes my brain runs on ahead and leaves my common sense behind. I was just making stuff up as examples, and didn't check anything, which wasn't the brightest thing to do on a writer's forum.

I already did the research on them a while back, but its a matter of beating it into my brain so I can do it without thought now. It will be one of my bad habits that will be hard to break. I've had a lifetime of doing it wrong, and only a short time at attempting to do it right.

But thanks for the nudge. I'll need a lot more before I get this all this down.

Thanks T.


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Thanks for all of the suggestions and links, everybody. It'll help out immensely once I finish the rough outline. I've done so very little with fantasy, and I really haven't read tons of it, so anything beyond the general rules I seem to know little of. Haha.

MartinV: I see that's on the Bethesda forums -- Is someone else here a Morrowind/Oblivion fan? :P

Edit: Wow. That link was absolutely fascinating, Martin. Thanks

Working on the other links and suggestions, now...

[This message has been edited by Gan (edited August 03, 2010).]

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Wow, Morrowind and Oblivion? I loved those for the openness of the areas. Their stories were fairly good too, although Morrowind's story line takes the cake.
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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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There are probably lots of fine lines when you get right down to it.

Even things we consider generic, like swords (and minutes and things like breakfast and houses and animals, and so on) could be called something even more generic, or at least acultural.

sword => blade or weapon (or cutter/slasher or sharp edged club even?)

minutes => heartbeats (also problematic--heart may not be generic enough--bodybeats?)

breakfast => first food (morning meal might not be generic enough--daylight meal or first light meal?)

house => shelter or dwelling (or darktime cover?)

I'd recommend thinking about getting as primitive as you can in your basic terminology, and then getting creative and less "generic" in making up terms that would be relevant to the culture in your world and story.

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