On Language

Here’s something that I have never seen discussed on those endless writer-advice blogs and websites: how to really approach language when you write fantasy (or anything else).

Some of them touch on it (there’s a real antipathy towards using apostrophes as part of naming strategy in fantasy and sf, for example) but no one really gets down to the nub of it.


So…for a purely personal take, I want to say that merely being clear, merely describing accurately the thoughts, feelings and action, these are not enough. A writer needs to work past the purely utilitarian aspects of storytelling and think about the majesty, the music and the poetry of the language they use.

Beyond the necessity of conveying information, and noting that everyone cautions you about things like not overworking a word, and not “overwriting” to the point that your style becomes ponderous or pompous, there is the need to open the reader to really being able to drown themselves in your work, to lose themselves in a new world, and to really believe in it.

A reader needs to hear the beauty, and see it in the mind’s eye, not simply be told it is beauty.

A reader needs to experience the horror or the tragedy, deep in their bones, not merely be grossed out by a lot of verbal blood and guts.

The words must cascade down into the brain and embody the terror or magnificence or despair, in ways that no “rules” can teach you to do.

A writer needs to love the words. “Good enough” will not suffice.

And the words need to be beautiful on the page, beautiful in the mind’s eye as well as in the mind’s ear.

What else is writing, if not mental music? What good is a word-picture, if it doesn’t resonate on more levels than “information received”?


No one can teach you this. There are no rules for this that I can set down in some easy listicle.

If you can’t do this, well, you may still write. You may still publish. You may still sell books.

But lots of things that people claim are “art” are merely product. They are decent product, free of grammar errors and typos, and reasonably satisfying, but they aren’t “art”.

And if you are not breaking some new ground in your work – if you’re just telling the familiar tale – then pedestrian prose just lumps you in with a million other writers who can do exactly the same thing.

What’s the point of that?


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