In my first series, the LonTobyn Chronicle, the creation myth of the world held that originally the two lands of LonTobyn had been one large land mass. Arick, the first god, gave the land to his two sons, Lon and Tobyn, as a gift. He wanted them to shape the land, to make of it whatever they wanted it to be. But Lon and Tobyn were young and they fought constantly. Arick grew weary of their bickering until at last, in a moment of rage, he smote the land with his mighty fist, sundering it in two. Forever after, one land was Lon-Ser (Land of Lon) and the other was Tobyn-Ser (Land of Tobyn). And also forever after, when people in LonTobyn (including my characters) cursed in anger or frustration, they said, “Fist of the God!”
For my second series, Winds of the Forelands, the people of the Forelands believed in a pantheon of gods, one of whom was Bian the Deceiver, God of the Underrealm and master of death. All who died went to the Underrealm, but while some, the honored dead, spent eternity in a place of light and comfort, those who lived lives of evil spent eternity tormented by flame and dark, evil creatures — a conception of the afterlife that was similar to our own conception of hell. When people in the Forelands expressed anger or fear or frustration they said, “Demons and fire!”
In my new work in progress the religion centers around a duality embodied in a god and goddess, Sipar and Kheraya. One is land, the other is water; one is death, the other is birth; when one is ascendent the other is quiescent, and so the seasons are Sipar’s Stirring, Waking, Ascending, Descending, Fading, and Settling, and then Kheraya’s Stirring, Waking, etc. At the Equinoxes, one is Awakening while the other is Settling; at the solstices, one or the other is said to be Ascendent. As I say, a duality. Yin/Yang. Whatever you want to call it. When someone in this world (Islevale) curses, they generally say, “Damn them both!” which is as offensive as any curse invoking the lord’s name would be in our own world.
Why the focus on curses? Because worldbuilding is a topic that doesn’t really lend itself to a single, manageable post. It’s huge, and highly individual. But by using something as simple and common as invective, we can reinforce whatever worldbuilding we’ve done. “Fist of the God!” is a throwaway line much of the time. But even so, it deepens the reader’s sense that he or she is someplace different, someplace where the normal rules of our world might not apply. The word “damn” doesn’t appear in the LonTobyn books because there is no damnation in their religious system, so it would be utterly anachronistic. There is damnation in the worlds I’ve created since, so “damn” actually means something.
The language our characters use both in dialog and in internal thought, not only tells us much about the character him or herself, but also about the world in which he/she lives. Just as the things we say in our day to day lives reveals much about our world. “Thank God.” Ah, yes. We live in a society that is largely monotheistic. “Go to hell!” Not very nice, but quite revealing. “Achoo!” “God bless you!” Also revealing, not only theologically, but also historically.
The worlds we create for our fiction ought to have religions, histories, social customs, cultures, as well as physical attributes, climate patterns, etc. Much of this background is revealed to readers over the course of a book; much of it is not. Sometimes it’s important that we as writers know this stuff, even if we don’t dump all that info onto our readers. And sometimes things can be hinted at with expressions, adages, and, yes, curses.
Worldbuilding is a process, but it’s also a rhetorical strategy. Background shouldn’t always be explained; sometimes we need to breathe life into our worlds just the way we breathe life into our characters. In fact, I like to think of my world as just another character in the story. Does it speak? Yes, it speaks through my characters with phrases like “Demons and fire!” and “Damn them both!” Does it act? Yes it does, through the histories and religions, social norms and physical terrains that shape the actions of others. Most of all, it draws people into the book, just as a good character does.
What curses do you use in your stories? What are their origins? What do they mean?David B. Coe http://davidbcoe.livejournal.com http://magicalwords.net http://www.davidbcoe.com