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I'm really not interested in creating a language for my world, especially having to make up names for the peoples and places. Or drawing maps. Mainly because I'm neither a good linguist nor a good drawer, and worried it will turn out badly like some other series I've read, or be too similar unconsciously to my favorites. Are there ways around this when writing an epic fantasy?

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to the site. Questions about the worldbuilding process are on-topic (and imo really helpful!) here, but this question seems to straddle the line between the worldbuilding process and the writing process. In particular, the line when writing an epic fantasy implies you need help describing the world to an audience in addition to making it. A helpful answer could either be on-topic "here's an introduction to easy mapmaking + conlangs" or off-topic "here's how to omit place names in your writing". I'm tempted to vote to close as answers will likely tend toward the latter. $\endgroup$ – Zxyrra Feb 20 '20 at 17:16
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    $\begingroup$ My advice is to use an online generator to get your names, or to wait until you're done writing and look back to reflect. As for the map - no one has to see it. It can be helpful to draw a map just for sake of logical consistency in your plot, but you don't need to show your sketch to readers. $\endgroup$ – Zxyrra Feb 20 '20 at 17:18
  • $\begingroup$ I meant this as a purely wordbuilding question. $\endgroup$ – mmj Feb 20 '20 at 18:13
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    $\begingroup$ @Zxyrra Remember that some of us use world building for games, where you absolutely must show the map to players. Not everyone is a writer... $\endgroup$ – Muuski Feb 20 '20 at 22:47
  • $\begingroup$ @Muuski I think you'll find a lot of tabletop RPGs do not require maps. $\endgroup$ – rek Dec 19 '20 at 3:43
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Maps, languages and other world-building isnt a requirement, and can in fact be a point of annoyance for the readers. Having some aes mokdai (local dragon lord) who uses his G'radhid Talons (a type of magical spear) in the Habdabib ceremony (important to celebrate the Jastran season halfway through winter) in the city of Urdal (a smaller regional city in the small country of Galhallen with a rich culture stuffed with more names) is going to get tiresome very quickly.

What is more important is the information itself and how it fits in the story. Lord Of The Rings has a massively deep lore explained in the Silmarillion (probably bad spelling there) but its not required for the story of a bunch of saps that have to get the magical mcguffin across the lands while things fall apart around them. The maps and languages a nice and all, but are actually mostly irrelevant to the story. The most important thing to know is that you have the high passes of cant-remember-mountain, and that you have 2 alternatives: through Moria or all around the mountains through Rohan. And just that sentence is all you need, the map is an extra, a bonus but not required. I never needed to know what Sauron really was. Its explained in the Silmarillion, but as an almost force-of-nature evil he does fine.

Focus on making the story awesome, the lore can wait. And nothing makes the lore more awesome than an invested reader.

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You don't need to make up languages. Most works just ignore the problem. This is commonly referred to as Translation Convention.

You can do the same for people and place names. Sure, your character's real name is ᡂꛡࡁߚ, but we'll just call him "Bob". (If you like, you can mention that you're doing this.) Another approach, which is fairly common¹, is to use "Native American" naming conventions², i.e. use names like Stormbringer, Clearwater, Dances at Dawn, Sits with a Stiff Back... Obviously these are also subject to Translation Convention, but they also provide a gentle reminder that they Aren't In Kansas, and can double as a Meaningful Name. Alternatively, of course, there are random name generators out there, or you can make your own.

(¹ I'm using this in the book I'm currently writing. Wings of Fire also uses it; characters have names like Clay, Tsunami, Moon, Winter...)

(² Almost surely not unique to those cultures; that's just the example I know offhand.)

As for maps, depending on what you're writing, maybe you don't need a map. If you do, well, there is no reason you need to show the audience. If you need a map (even if it's just for your own use), but don't feel capable of producing one yourself, there are various tools available; just search for "worldbuilding tools", "map generator", and such. One I've been playing with recently is Azgaar's Fantasy Map Generator.

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  • $\begingroup$ Tolkien did this with the whole of the book being transcribed in English I believe, I never thought of doing this for inworld names because Tolkien only used it for narration purposes. $\endgroup$ – mmj Feb 20 '20 at 17:31
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    $\begingroup$ @mmj Not quite sure what you're saying, but as part of his "translations from the Red Book" framework, Tolkien mentions that Frodo Baggins is itself a translation from the actual name used in the Red Book. $\endgroup$ – pboss3010 Feb 20 '20 at 18:17
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    $\begingroup$ @mmj Further reading on that. The example I always remember (quote is from LotR Appendix F): "Meriadoc was chosen to fit the fact that this character's shortened name, Kali, meant in the Westron 'jolly, gay', though it was actually an abbreviation of the now unmeaning Buckland name Kalimac." $\endgroup$ – Rand al'Thor Feb 21 '20 at 12:21
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    $\begingroup$ OTOH, if you name your dark elves John, Mary and Judas, you might have trouble persuading others that the setting is a high fantasy and not a parody. But of course, you might get away with that :). $\endgroup$ – Edheldil Feb 21 '20 at 13:33
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    $\begingroup$ Those "Native American naming conventions" are actually the most usual method of making names. Ancient Greek and Persian and Hebrew and Germanic and Slavic etc. names were made this way; it's just that nowadays few people know enough Greek to realize that names like Cleopatra or Archimedes or Aristoteles are of this kind. (They mean, respectively, Glory of [Her] Father, Greatest Planner, and Noble Goal.) (Germanic names like Wilhelm, Adelaide, Ingrid etc. are opaque today because of sound changes.) (And Persian and Hebrew names were always opaque for people who were not Persians or Hebrews.) $\endgroup$ – AlexP Dec 20 '20 at 22:01
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Team up with a buddy.

Hollow Knight is one of my favorite works of literature in the form of a videogame. Team Cherry made it by having the original creators focus on mechanics and design only. The two of them added the names, backstory and context later. It ended up being a beautiful mythology.

When Valve developed Half-Life 2 and Portal 2, they their teams developing mechanics while Chet Faliszek (a.k.a. Mr. Awesome) did the text and setting.

Even Monty Python had a similar process. John Cleese and Graham Chapman would write together, with Cleese doing the frameworl of the sketches and Graham adding the layers of absurdity. Thus the dead parrot sketch was born!

Stan Lee was famous for worldbuilding, but he never did it alone. He would provide backstories and relationships but a lot of the worldbuilding proper came from Steve Ditko (who created all the mysticism around Dr. Strange - the Eye of Agamotto for example was Ditko's idea), Jack Kirby and even Moebius.


So if you don't like mapping and naming, have someone do it for you (and with you). You may end up having a lot more fun that way :)

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    $\begingroup$ Most writers don't draw their own maps. If you're good enough, someone will. $\endgroup$ – Mazura Feb 21 '20 at 2:46
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Write some investigative scenes...

Imagine your protagonist back when they are middle school age and write a scene in which they are making a presentation to their class. In their own voice, have them tell the class about a particular historic event and how it influenced all that came later.

Imagine your protagonist's love interest at a coming of age ceremony, reciting the family history to their assembled love ones.

Write a few epitaphs for famous historical figures, listing their life accomplishments and the family they left behind.

Write the summary page of a college level thesis on language evolution in your world.

For each question about the details of your fledgling world, write a scene or written artifact to provide an answer. In using your writing process to slow down the usually rapid-fire question/answer cycle, you will give your imagination time to find the best answer to each challenge.

Then print out all of these informative scenes and put them in a box for future reference. They are not intended to be part of your finished book, just some tools to help you illuminate and discover your world.

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I suggest researching Earth's actual history in the classical and medieval periods. Take notes of features from various cultures and empires you would like to incorporate into your world. Don't be afraid to go as far as the muse takes you, both in terms of document sources and inspirations. Things like the rank structures of armies and noble families, demographic data regarding "mundane" factors like nutrition and average education levels, and the etymologies of common names in various times and places of history.

One site I recommend for fantasy worldbuilding inspiration is The Ancient History Encyclopedia at ancient.eu.

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  • $\begingroup$ I just took a quick look at that website, very nice source, but your saying I should take certain obscure names without worrying about the etymology? $\endgroup$ – mmj Feb 20 '20 at 17:34
  • $\begingroup$ Not necessarily. I'm talking in the more abstract sense. Take a look around at the etymologies of names that they came up with and i think you will get a clearer picture for the ways that people in your own fictional world will develop their etymolog(ies). $\endgroup$ – Jem Feb 20 '20 at 17:40
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One thing to do is draw a different type of map.

If your story is set the way too popular fantasy society based on feudal Europe, why not show makes of Feudalism? You could have one map that shows the kingdoms in a region, and then another map showing the dukedoms that each kingdom is divided into, and a third map showing the countships that each duchy in each kingdom is divided into. There might be 10 kingdoms, 100 duchies, and 1,000 counties.

I've seen many maps where the USA is shown as a solid block along with neighboring countries. I have also seen maps which show the USA divided into states. And I have also seen maps showing all three thousand plus counties in the USA.

In a feudal society, each county would have been divided into many lordships or manors, just as counties in the USA contain municipalities. And I have never seen a map dividing the entire USA into many thousands of municipalities. But it is is quite common to make maps showing all the municipalities in a county or a region containing a few counties. And it would be equally difficult to show all the lordships or manors in a map of Feudal Europe. But a map showing all the lordships in the feudal county the main character lived in would be feasible.

What about a political map showing the political subdivisions in a non feudal country?

For example, the early Roman Empire was mostly composed of hundreds or thousands of city states consisting of a capital city and farmland around it. In each city state aristocrats competed to be elected to to the city council and as magistrates. Above the city states were the governors of the dozens of provinces, and above the governors the emperor. City states were divided into districts called pagi.

In the later Roman Empire the levels of administration were increased. A district or pagus was part of a city state which was part of a province ruled by a governor which was part of a diocese ruled by a vicar which was part of a prefecture ruled by a praetorian prefect which was part of the empire ruled by one or more emperors.

So even a non feudal country could use maps showing various levels of political subdivisions if they are important for the story.

And one thing to do in a feudal or more centralized state is to draw a chart of organization instead of a map, showing who has authority over who. And if the country has a bureaucracy many people will have non territorial zones of authority over their subordinates in the bureau.

Or maybe the entire story takes place in large caravan with hundreds of people and camels crossing a desert, or an elephant caravan with hundreds of people and elephants crossing a lush but uninhabited jungle, and you might need to make an organization chart of the expedition, and maybe another chart show likes or dislikes who. Or the entire story might happen on a ship at sea or a starship with hundreds or thousands of people aboard and you will need an organizational chart to keep track of people's roles.

Or maybe the story is set in an isolated mansion where a large family has gathered for an event and a murder happens. In a fantasy or science fiction story the family might be non human or have life extending technology, so there could be many more generations of cousins and their ancestors alive at one time than is normal at the present. So you may need to make a family tree to keep track of everyone and make notes on how they feel about each other.

So whether your society is a galactic Empire with billions of densely inhabited planets or a tiny isolated group of travelers, you need to figure out how that society works before you start creating events that stress it close to or beyond the breaking point.

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Yes. Thinking and doing draft and plot what plot writing sessions basically you are feeling out the world it's functions, its layout when you just write it plop your characters into what you think is the world then see if it still is that. I don't do maps, I do clothing design, I don't design buildings I search pintrest and Deviant art for inspirtations or approximations to what is in my mind as I don't draw buildings externally. Instead I make house plan layouts so see their homes. Now keep in mind picture surfing isn't to copy that exact thing its a refferance so you can imagine it better. But yes you don't need map skills or langistic skills just do what you can to make it visable and real to you have all 5 senses walk into your world feel the weather or taste their spices things like that can help.

But really it's just a lot of thought then putting it down you can learn so much about your own world how it runs, who runs it, and what towns are where if you just write it don't try to adhere rigidly to what you think you want this world to look like it will evolve slowly and show you. Like I have a small town located to where my mages live the mages had open fields all around and flat terrain but this grew as I wrote now the world over many months told me the mages live in a city, they have a city of helpers next to them, they have fields and deep forests and a huge river near them. The human town moved 5 times and is now huge it's a city dependant on the mages I did not have all this when I started it grew and evoloved now I can see the both areas to the point I've now made my own rough city maps so I can see what my characters are seeing in these places.

You do however want to make up town names, you don't have to go all fancy but you don't want to have a Batman as that is a real town in the world. Using Wiki to see city and town names of the regions you are inspired by can help you draft up your own names also there are mixing sites that will scramble and make a lot of new words see:

https://www.nameacronym.net/name-combiner.aspx

https://www.babynamesdirect.com/blender/

https://www.mithrilandmages.com/utilities/CityNames.php

Now why did I just give you a baby name scrambler? Because you can put in anything towns, plants, wood names, whatever and it will mix it up.

Mithril is a rando town generator use it to find ones you find agreeable then use either baby names or nameacronym to mix it up the acronym allows for a 6 names to be mixed at the same time generating a billion options.

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Language is easy, don't write a language unless you really want to, very few readers will ever engage with it and it really does not help you write the story. The only thing you might have to consider is terms for your fantasy elements, do you have giants beasts, well those will need a name, have magic based on glowing rocks well the rocks will need a name but there is no reason to reinvent the wheel, for the most part use your normal native language.

As for naming people and places, that is on you, characters and locations need a name, its basically impossible to follow a story with no identifiers. You could take the goblinslayer route and use characters jobs/outstanding features in place of names, Farm Girls, Dwarf Shaman, Novice Fighter are the actual names of characters in the story. Consider however your characters need names even if they are unconventional ones. This is important for you to fully form a character concept in you head you will need to call the character something. If you can't bother to do that then chances are your characters are not fleshed out enough to be interesting.

For map making first you don't need a map, some of the best authors did not created maps until after they had many books and even then often they used maps created by fans. Or make the map after you have written the story following your characters journey. A map just for the sake of a map is not really a good feature. Tolkien had a map but his story was about a physical journey, where a map is a very useful tool for tracking a journey. If your story takes place entirely in a single town or area, you don't need a map. If travel is not an important part of your story you also don't need a map. The Conan stories did not get a map until several books in, you just had vague descriptions Cimeria was in the north Stygia in the south and that was about it, travel itself was just kinda skipped over most of the time, the story just jumping from location to location so a map was not necessary.

You should also consider the scale of your story. If the your story takes place in one city you don't need a map of the continent, but it might be a good idea to have a rough sketch of the layout of the city even if just on a napkin marking the major parts of the city. Just becasue you make a map does not mean you have to publish a map. You can also expand a map as you write more books, the map pulls out and you get more and more of the world as the story itself explores more of the world. If your story deals with political intrigue between warring states then you will need a map for your readers to follow along. If your story is about an epic journey then a rough sketch of the journey may be helpful. Consider if a map would actually hep your readers follow the story.

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If you don't forsee those things being important to your story, don't waste your resources on them. Just don't for all of those things.

Just don't make a language. The characters always speak a language strikingly close to English in stories written in English. Reading a book with a bunch of weird terms is confusing and sucks. If you wanna get fancy sprinkle some Italian or Spanish in there or something.

Just don't make up place names. Use real names or names other people use in books (those are also real names or based on real names). Name places after people. Do you know how many fantasy locations are named Albion?

Just don't draw maps. I liked the idea of having my setting on a large plateau, so I used Iran. My story takes place in (not) Iran. The culture is mostly like Kowloon Walled City, a completely different, real place I found interesting.

Overall, having to keep track of a bunch of names detracts from the story experience, and originality is no where near as important as execution. Just look at classical art. The subject matter is quite often literally the exact same thing; you'll see two or three paintings of Chronos eating his child, eight to ten virgin Marys, and a bunch of fruit. What matters is technique: those brush strokes, the pallette, the use of light. It also helps if you can make your audience feel something. In worldbuilding this is done through setting, not coming up with funny names.

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  • $\begingroup$ "The characters always speak a language strikingly close to English in stories written in English." Rather, the author always translates for the convenience of the audience: this is known as Translation Convention. Sometimes this is lampshaded by having dialog start out in another language and suddenly switch to English. Sometimes you'll even see aliens "speaking English" struggling to understand a human who is actually speaking English! $\endgroup$ – Matthew Dec 21 '20 at 14:12
  • $\begingroup$ (Citation for the last point: the Chanur series... although I'd have to go check if Tully is definitely speaking English. In any case, it's made clear that the aliens aren't speaking English.) Something else you'll see (again, I want to say Chanur did this) is two factions that can't understand each other with the POV alternating between the two, but always in English. (Also, while we're using English, this all holds for whatever language a work is authored in. In Russia, for example, extraterrestrials all speak Russian.) $\endgroup$ – Matthew Dec 21 '20 at 14:22
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, I get that. The effect is still the same, though. Your characters could have never heard of England and be living in R'ulutho'nopteph, but you aren't going to expect your readers to know the fictional R'ulutho'noptephese language to read your book, so it's unnecessary for the author to come up with their word for "coffee," or "fairy-smiting sword." Unless it's something completely unique, there's no real necessity. $\endgroup$ – Morgan Dec 21 '20 at 18:45
  • $\begingroup$ Also, all puns and wordplay are going to be based on the reader's language. If there's a misunderstanding over language, it's going to be a misunderstanding that works in the reader's language. $\endgroup$ – Morgan Dec 21 '20 at 18:48
  • $\begingroup$ Right... I'm in the middle of writing a book in an alternate world in which presumably there is no such thing as "English". I have, on several occasions, been aware of having jokes, puns or just pleasant alliterations (e.g. names of stores/businesses) that work due to English. If anyone questions how this works, you wave your hands a lot and cite Belessario's Maxim. $\endgroup$ – Matthew Dec 21 '20 at 18:58

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