I love to swear. And oddly enough, so do most of my characters.
I know there are those (wrong) people who say including blue language cheapens the work, or that it’s a copout for not being able come up with something clean and clever. But swearing—properly deployed–is a part of language, and it can be beautiful, rich, and deeply meaningful, and boy, can it feel great.
But how does that relate to world building? Well, you’ve got your orbiting fortress filled with 35th century clone-warriors, or your fire-realm of demons—you can’t just stick any old word in their mouths. What do they even think is dirty? Do they have the concept of shame? What topics are Not Spoken About? What makes clone-father flinch, or the demon queen blush?
When you know what words are forbidden, you begin to learn what ideas are dangerous, and that’s a key that unlocks the world you’ve created. And when you’re world-building, you can’t afford to leave anything to chance. If it isn’t clear to you, it isn’t clear.
When I was writing The Demon Door series, I set my non-human characters in a fire realm. They live in the partly rebuilt ruins of the once great city of Eriis, their world having been magic-bombed into near-oblivion by the dreaded humans. While I certainly didn’t Tolkien out on everyone and come up with a new language, I did liberally sprinkle invented words throughout the text, with the idea that it would create a more specifically alien environment, and be that much more disorienting for the humans that might accidentally stumble across it.
The Eriisai are surrounded by the sound of the wind and sand, and I used a lot of double vowels to that effect, particularly in my naming conventions. The people of Eriis don’t have much, but one thing they have plenty of is sand, and the very first curse word I wrote in Eriisai was rushta, which means both ‘sand’ and ‘shit.’ And because my Eriisai are clever and love word play, we are led to understand it describes something both abundant and worthless. The title of the first book is The Sand Prince, so immediately one gets an idea that the titular prince is not exactly a hero in the eyes of his people. (He’s a lovely guy once you get to know him though.)
In the case of my royal family and their friends, cursing is related to station—not too different from our world, at least in public—that’s the ‘properly deployed’ part. The prince’s mother, the demon queen I mentioned, raised Rhuun better than that (in her estimation), so when he does swear it has even more impact—for instance, at his wit’s end stranded in the human realm with only a stubborn human woman for company. (His human lady friend teaches him how to curse in English, which he enjoys thoroughly although not always correctly.) His best friend Ilaan is an unusually magically gifted non-royal, and likes to swear to see what effect he’ll have on people, although this is the reason he does most things. Ilaan’s boyfriend Niico is a sports star, and as we know, the famous get to make their own rules. (Not in front of the queen, though; she’s terrifying.) And if Queen Hellne lets one fly, well, best to head for the exits.
When you’re putting together your magical world, don’t stop at flaming swords or fantastical feasts. Give your people a chance to voice their frustration, their anger, their amazement, their delight—after all, they’re only (in) human.
Kim Alexander grew up in the wilds of Long Island, NY and slowly drifted south until she reached Key West. After spending ten years working as a disc jockey in the Keys, she moved to Washington DC, where she reported the traffic and spun the Oldies. After a career upgrade, she became the co-programmer of Sirius XM Book Radio, which gave her the opportunity to interview some of her writing heroes, including Anne Rice, George RR Martin, Neil Gaiman, Stephen King and Margaret Atwood, among many hundreds of others. She began writing when she ran out of authors to interview (and they pulled the plug on her channel.)
She currently lives with two cats, an angry fish, and her extremely patient husband close enough to the National Zoo to hear the lions and the monkeys, at least she hopes that’s what those noises are.
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About The Sand Prince (The Demon Door #1)
Two worlds. Bound by magic. Divided by a door.
On the barren, war-ravaged demon world of Eriis, the fierce queen Hellne fights to keep her people alive and her son Rhuun’s heritage a secret.
On the green and gentle human world of Mistra, demons have faded into myth. Only a handful of old men and fanatical children still guard The Door between the worlds.
Different and shunned by his demon kin, Rhuun finds refuge in a book that tells of a human world of water and wonder. Forced by his mother’s enemies to flee Eriis, he finds himself trapped on the other side of The Door in the very place he has read and dreamed about—Mistra.
Chained to the deadly whims of a child who guards The Door, Rhuun must balance serving and surviving, even at the risk of exposing his true identity. Riskiest of all is his task of kidnapping an infuriating young woman who is about to find out that the demons of Eriis are much, much more than just an old bedtime story.