Adventures in World-building: Writing Local Color

Imagination can take a writer far; what it can’t do is take a writer to the moon and back whenever it pleases. Writing Fantasy is a wonderful experience, but writing local color in Fantasy to make your towns, villages, and cities appear dynamic is a difficult task. Here are some ideas and resources to consider when give your world a rich, vibrant, colloquial vibe.

Consider Manner of Dressfantasy-181304_1920

Your characters will not be running around naked (or will they?). But you can not assume your readers will expect to see the protagonist wearing brands like Hollister and The Gap. If you’re working with portal-quest or immersive fantasies, your reader is going to expect description. If you’re like me, you don’t hold a working knowledge of the names of every fabric or style worn. Thus, it is necessary to use the tools available to you (I praise the wonderful Google for giving me the power of infinite knowledge at my fingertips). The Phrontistery is a website with word lists for the eager writer or English Language enthusiast. You might utilize the list of fabrics. Sometimes the mind picks the fabric most necessary for a character’s journey; other times, the mind picks the fabric most necessary in creating beautiful prose. Can you say: vibrant, violet-velveteen?

Devise Dialects

If your story takes place on a single island inhabited by a single culture or linguistic group, then this section may not apply. However, most worlds include vast regions, countries, and cultures, all of which will contain their own customs, languages, and dialects. If you’ve written dialogue phonetically for the purpose of conveying dialect, you’re ahead of the game. But if this territory is unfamiliar, you should look at and listen to various English speakers around the country and the world. Perhaps the people of your region to the north will be inspired by English speakers in New Zealand. Perhaps your mountain hermits to the West will be infused with the verbal tendencies of English speakers from the Rockies in the United States. A good place to perform “research” on these dialects is The International Dialects of English Archive, assuming you’ll write your dialogue in English.

Normal_noekken_som_hvit_hest_01aConcoct Believable Creatures

Is humankind the only race present in your story? In most cases, I would assume not. The real world is full of animals, so placing them within your story will add to this idea of “local color”. Creating these unique, customized creatures for your world will give it depth. Not to mention, your readers will be fascinated. A technique of mine is to consider animals within an ecosystem and then to combine their features. And there you have it, a new beastie. You might take a common forest deer and give it the snout of a wild boar or the tusks of walrus. Innovation is key. Perhaps the most important part of this process is design, so refer to Merriam-Webster’s Visual Dictionary for the Animal Kingdom.

Coming up with these small details is very much a part of the world-building process, but even writers of  liminal fantasies can benefit from the activity. Knowing these details allows you to engage with the people and places you’re writing.


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