"My name is A'lashan Fai'r," the Dowindra said, smiling. "Welcome to Sar'boran."
I nodded, and adjusted the corfan at my side. I looked around the Fenuril, and saw other Redanda standing at their posts. Shu'fi moved among them, heads bowed as they attended to their tasks. I touched the dinfar just behind my ear, and felt more than heard the chirping affirmative it gave.
"Thank you," I said. "Please, take me to the Umbrine. I have news that will not wait."
|What the shit did I just read?|
If you've read your share of fantasy novels over the years, chances are good you've come across passages like this more than once. Ideally you'll only see nonsense like this later on in the novel (or hopefully down the line in the series) when the reader already knows what all these terms mean so they can properly picture a scene. Too often, though, authors will just dump barrels of fantasy terminology onto their readers' heads, forgetting that while they have lived in this made-up world for years, the reader just got here, and they have no clue what you're talking about.
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What The Hell is That?
If you review the paragraph I opened with, you realize that there's no context for almost any of the names and terms getting thrown around. What is a confar, for example? Is it a weapon? A badge of office? Both? Neither? And the person our protagonist is talking to is referred to as a Dowindra. Is that a profession? A species? A social position? What the hell is that thing behind his ear? Is it an actual cricket, like a magical creature, or some kind of bonded enchantment that connects to his brain?
You're introducing your reader to a world that's foreign to them. If you just dump them in the deep end, though, they're going to feel like they're reading an upper-level science textbook with absolutely zero foundational knowledge to understand what they're looking at.
|And what the hell is this nonsense?|
In order to ease the reader into your world you need to give them a sense of the familiar first. Allow them to get their bearings. For example, is your setting more urban, or agrarian? Cities and farms are concepts that readers can easily grasp, and it will give them some kind of context before you come down to more confusing details like the made up name of a city or country, districts, the ranks of the rulers, etc. Even with smaller elements, you get far more if you focus on descriptions before you assign names to things so that your reader actually knows what they're supposed to be envisioning later on when the name pops up again.
As an example, consider the following.
The stranger glanced around the room, his eyes taking in everything and everyone. His right hand never strayed far from the blade hanging from his hip. Short and curved, with a heavy guard, the steel practically hummed with power; a sleeping dragon waiting to roar into life. Though the stranger seemed a hard, dangerous man on his own, the confar announced that he was there on the orders of the guild.
This sort of thing gives your audience a much clearer image of what a confar is (a potent sidearm), and the sort of people who wield it (professional fighters in service to a particular guild). But before the item was named it was described, and given an association with an individual to help put what it is into context, and why seeing it might be kind of a big deal.
Once you've established what something is, you can just refer to it by name. Whether it's a particular fantasy species, an ethnicity, a magic item, a social rank, once you've given your audience a tutorial/introduction to it, you can cement it as part of the lexicon.
Easing The Reader In
Most folks who write genre fiction understand that they need to explain some things to readers. Common tropes and elements can usually be put in without much explanation (we get what a troll, or an orc, or a goblin is, so you only need to fill in the blanks if it differentiates from "standard" fantasy tropes), but anything that has an unfamiliar word attached to it needs an explanation to make it stick in the reader's minds.
There's another thing to remember, though... you need to pepper these things in here and there. Don't try to make your reader's do the cinnamon challenge to try to swallow everything at once.
|Just three more schools of magic... you can do it!|
If your readers get a lot of terms just thrown at their face right out of the gate, it becomes a distraction from the story you're actually trying to tell, and the world you're trying to build. Then instead of falling in love with your protagonist, or getting invested in the threat imperiling your setting, they're just trying to remember the difference between the Alfashni and Kekouri, and which ones have beaks, and why they're so sensitive about jokes regarding coconuts.
Space out how often you introduce new elements to the world, and try to feed them to your reader in some kind of sensical order. The easier it is to chew the lessons, the less they're going to distract or frustrate your audience as they try to get into your story.
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That's all for this week's Craft of Writing! For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, or at My Amazon Author Page where you can find books like my cat noir novel Marked Territory, my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife, or my most recent short story collection The Rejects!
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