Building Worlds and Characters with Unique Phrases


12/22/20231 min read

Just as a “familect” is rife with family jokes and stories, so too should be your characters’ dialects. As in reality, history and culture should help shape language.

I love hearing new regional phrases. A positive "anymore," as in "anymore, I hate going to the movies," and "shoot a monkey" are some of my favorites from my grandparents' southern heritage.

While a generic “by the gods” can give your world a little fantasy (or historical!) flavor, giving your characters and races more unique idioms can add layers of complexity to their differing cultures and histories.

The Songs of Chaos by Michael R. Miller

For instance, early uses of the phrase “serious as a summons” help communicate the ingrained and monumental nature of the scourge’s threat against Holt’s society in The Songs of Chaos. If you've not had the pleasure of reading these books, kingdoms issue a "summons" in order to gather people into one place to lure out the scourge monsters for mass slaughter.

The Ninth Rain by Jen Williams

In The Ninth Rain, different groups and peoples have their own unique phrases.

Noon’s "fire and blood" matches up with her winnow magic, while “by the roots” makes much more sense for an Eboran—an elf character with a literal tree god.

Of Blood and Fire by Ryan Cahill

“Water becomes just as thick as blood if you go through enough shit together.”

Rist’s words in Of Blood and Fire are an excellent example of how you can adapt known sayings from the “real” world to illustrate how your character’s experience of life differs from the norm.

The Demon, the Hero, and the City of Seven by A. E. Kincaid

Unique terms and phrases can also help with fleshing out society at large or setting the mood for a setting.

One moment of confused debate over a “Beadledonian” stone’s throw versus a King’s or a Giant’s stone’s throw told me plenty about the surreal absurdity of society in Kincaid’s humorous tale—and the type of satirical humor I could expect moving forward!