If you are writing a brand new fantasy world, should you ever use the world herculean?
Should you use the word chronology?
How about chaos?
To reference this very blog, what about fury?
Oh, or nemesis?
Is anyone an adonis?
Should voices echo without the tale of Echo and Narcissus?
Can a siren wail a warning, if a siren has never lured someone into the sea?
A bard can’t have a muse in a world without the muses.
My world doesn’t have the god of war. However, certainly some things could be described as martial.
A trip can’t be an odyssey if Odysseus has never traveled the long, long way.
Could something be an ambrosia, if the gods never ate it?
Can someone truly harp on a subject, if harpies never screeched?
I am not sure someone can have a mentor if Telemachus never needed a teacher.
Should anyone get lost in a labyrinth, if there is no Minotaur?
Can you point out someone’s Achilles’ heel if he was never held in the river?
Let’s just mention asking what someone’s fate is here for a moment.
Language is a tricky thing. Where do you draw the line between fully using the language, but also realizing that some words don’t make any sense in the world you’ve created?
We, for the most part, write our books in our first or a familiar language. For me that is English– a language influenced by languages and cultures across the globe. We borrow from the French and the Greek, from the Spanish and the Indian, from the Arabic and the German. English is a ravenous language, hungering for more words to throw down its gullet. Although we might now want to stop and research the etymology of every word we place on the page (we would write our books even slower), we should be aware of where words come from.
Language has history.
Language builds worlds.
There isn’t a simple answer to word usage in novels. However, it’s something to be aware of when you are writing fantasy.
What do you do when you are writing a world in which Hercules never performed his labors, the god of time was never spoken of, or the tales of the Furies never passed from generation to generation?
Language affects myth.
Myth affects language.
I avoid using words and phrases where the legend is still present. I know that sounds a bit wacky- let the legend speak to you. Is it present? However, what I mean by that is that words like herculean and muses and Achilles’ heel all are still based in the listener and user’s knowledge of the myth and metaphor. Words like echo or chaos or fury, while still mythological in etymology, are not linked to the knowledge of the myth as others. I know that is shades of meaning, and layers of understanding, and some people might heartily disagree with me.
Another way I could say this is: I will use words where the definition has surpassed the myth, rather than the myth surpassing the definition.
Language choices really can put a writer between a rock and a hard place. Or wait, is that between the devil and the deep blue sea. Or is that a Scylla and Charybdis?
Those are just some musings for the day.