Landscape Lexicons

Image Source: “Purple Forest”, copyright Melody Daggerhart. A forest seen through Trizryn’s dark elf night vision, perhaps?

I stated in a previous post that I had been reviewing my older books in the Elf Gate series to refresh my memory for plot consistency. One difference I noticed with my early writing compared to my writing now is a shift in the poetic nature of the landscape. Not that my writing has ever been overly poetic, but I do have bursts of inspiration here and there. And I feel I had more bursts of inspiration in the first book than in the fifth. It was a lamentable discovery because I realized I had more fun describing my world in the first book than I’ve had in subsequent ones.

This is ironic because the editor of my first book had to pull those landscapes out of me. She told me to “spend some time in your world” so that I could get to know it better and therefore transport readers. The fantasy genre is expected to offer different places or times. I know it’s one of the features I enjoy most about that genre — getting to see new, imaginative realms. Allowances for word count even take this into consideration. It’s why fantasy and science fiction novels are often 150-180K (or more!) compared to their smaller cousins from other genres, which are anywhere from 50-100K for current world settings and about 100-150K for historic settings. The more familiar readers already are with the setting, the fewer words are needed to describe the setting. The farther removed the reader is … the higher the word count needed to introduce a completely different world.

So, what changed between my first and the fifth books?

I think plot is to blame. Poetic descriptions beautify writing, but without a plot the novel is worthless. So, word count must be prioritized on plot. My first book was an introduction to the series, so it really had only one plot: get the characters to work together toward a common goal. That’s it. Simple. The following books, however, delve deeper into the subplots that were hinted at in the first book. So, a morning in the first book might be all purple and orange stripes in a sherbet-morning sky, when I see a 200+K word count on the third draft of book five, I’m more likely to whack that poetic description to sunrise.

This morning I read a rather lengthy, but very good and interesting article about landscape words in The Guardian from Robert Macfarlane. ( It’s a great article for linguistic nerds like myself in terms of rediscovering old words, inventing new words, and realizing how little we pay attention to words that describe our environment. It made me reflect on my own landscapes in my world building, and it rekindled the flame of wanting to spend time in my imagined realms. Perhaps a handful of unusual words could add texture without being wordy, such as “sherbet-skein sky” to describe that purple-and-orange-streaked sunrise. One of my favourite such words is mizzling. It perfectly describes a misty drizzle that can’t decide whether it wants to rain or not. And I’m always enchanted with hoar frost, so I had to add that to my winter landscapes in the series, too. But there are so many particular marvels in real environments that could be used to verbally paint our worlds, it really does strike me as sad that we no longer notice and are losing those words from our vocabularies.

Something for me to consider as I continue to revise the fifth book in the series and begin the sixth book in the series … in spite of word count. Time to revisit the forests, caverns, and floating islands of my imagined worlds and pay attention to their landscape lexicons.


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