One thing I’ve done and done with every edit (at least of a fantasy or science fiction novel or story) since I started at TSR in 1995 is to create a word list / style guide. I’m going to share my basic template here and encourage everyone to create and maintain this resource. I guarantee it will be a valuable tool, not just for you, as you finalize your story or book – or more! – it is something that you not only can but should give to editors and others who work with your text.
You will be surprised how often I, as an editor, get manuscripts in which the spelling of even the names of the main characters changes subtly throughout the text. Rules for initial caps and other things can easily be applied more or less randomly. But a sense of plausibility is often signaled in the subtlest of ways, including the judicious application or careful revision of an existing grammar and usage rule that works on a subconscious level so that your world just “feels real”. Believe me, you will really appreciate it when it prevents an editor like me from “fixing” a perceived “bug” that was an intentional part of your worldbuilding. The word list warns your editor in advance that this was intentional and not a typo.
From TSR to Wizards of the Coast, we maintained a style guide that included world-specific word lists and one that covered “fantasy” in general as well as D&D terms that were the same from world to world defined our contemporary American style (es is armor, not armor).
Below is the beginning of my novel or series specific word list / style guide with some basic things like which country you are from (and yes it does matter) and how you want to deal with the difference: I have a bad feel for it, thought Galen and I have a really bad feeling Galen sent telepathically to the rest of the party.
The words on the sample list actually apply to any fantasy world. You will find many of them in the dictionary, but you would still be surprised how often I see authors not only improperly but inconsistently using them when two or even more versions of the same thing come up, like Warcry, War Cry and War Cry.
Most importantly, this is where you can change the spelling of character names (it’s Galen, not Galan), place names (Hellmount, not Hell Mount), and other made up words that are unique to your world (ghost wand, not ghost), may include employees). You may also have a separate made-up language, so the Martian word for spirit staff is Gliurbexthat you want to italicize throughout, so it should be italicized in your list to indicate this.
Include plural forms too, especially if they have something strange about them, like jinn (singular) / jinn (plural). Don’t be afraid to deal with you Not I also want to spell something like: dwarfs (no dwarfs) – or vice versa for your book!
Take a look at this, think about anything you might notice, and be sure to keep it as a guide for your final makeover / polish. Some things, like the second in command, won’t be recognized by a spell checker. Those are three perfectly fine words, and your computer has no idea that they should have hyphens in certain cases: Bronwyn only took command of the caravan for a second before the fireball started … that’s right, and so it is: Galen regretted giving Bronwyn’s approval to the deputy as his face melted from his skull.
Word List / Style Guide
Any word that appears in this list Italicsshould always be there Italics.
Every word that appears in this list with a first letter or in ALL CAPS should always have an initial cap or be in ALL CAPS.
Direct character thoughts in [roman or italics].
Psychic / magical (etc.) communication in [define style].
English (US, UK, Canada or AUS).
Ax (not ax)
aye aye (not aye-aye, which is some kind of monkey)
Demon Spawn / Demon Spawn
Djinn (singular) / Djinn (plural)
Dwarfs (no dwarfs)
godforsaken (in a world with multiple gods!)
forged as hell
Hell spawn / Hell spawn
waiting lady / waiting lady
Long sword (not a long sword)
Longbows / longbows (pl. Longbows)
Man-to-arms / Men-to-arms
Nock (put an arrow on a string)
scry, scried, scrying, scries, scryer, scryers
Shapeshifter / shapeshifter / shapeshifter
Spellcaster / Spellcasting
Ghost staff / Gliurbex
Swordsmen / swordsmen / swordsmen
Your word list is most important when it deviates from obvious sources like the dictionary or the Chicago Manual of Style. Consistency is king in pretty much all things and a huge part of what makes your fantasy world seem plausible. It tells your readers: I’m interested in this thing that I created, and I’ve worked to make it feel real.
– Philip Athans
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