Worldbuilding: Even the Dogs Have Names

Three Gardens of the Moon.jpg

Worldbuilding is something most writers have to think about to some degree. But none so much as a fantasy writer. In fantasy, everything is "made up". Content might be based on elements of reality, but the finished product is always fictitious. The dilemma is how far to take it. When John Scalzi wrote Old Man's War he made up only what he needed to tell the story. He might have mentioned such and such place, but unless that place was actually visited by his characters he didn't do anything more than create the name. The other side of the pendulum is someone like Tolkien who spent his lifetime developing the world of Middle-earth and only wrote a handful of novels as a result.

The solution to this dilemma is to find some middle ground. Create enough to make the world believable but not so much the writing itself never gets done.

Which brings me to my point of including the cover for Steven Erikson's Gardens of the Moon above. Gardens of the Moon is the first novel in The Malazan Book of the Fallen series. The series spans ten books with various other novels and novelettes written in the same world.

One of the things that struck me as to the deepness of Erikson's worldbuilding is his cast of characters listed at the beginning of the novel. In its entirety, the cast listing spans four pages. There's the usual soldiers, gods, wizards, rulers, etc. But there's also dogs. Yep, even the dogs have names.

(As an aside, I have to say it is sooo much easier flipping to this cast listing anytime I need a refresher on who's who with a print book as opposed to an eBook.)

Now, these are no ordinary dogs but Hounds of Shadow. Here are their names:

  1. Baran
  2. Blind
  3. Gear
  4. Rood
  5. Shan
  6. Doan
  7. Ganrod

It's no surprise that each Hound winds up having as much personality as any other character in the series. By giving them names, Erikson has made them relevant, substantial, and marked them as players in the vastness of this epic series, one book of which is even called Toll the Hounds.

This unexpected relevancy is something I've taken to heart as I continue work on my own Alchemancer series. Cause, you know, I have some hounds of my own who could very well have personalities of their own in the next novel. They're still around, they're still mean, and they still want to kill Aaron, so why not? Whereas Erikson has a pack of seven hounds, I have a pack of a dozen. And it is a true pack, with an alpha, a bitch, and their brood. It's going to make for a fun dynamic for some characters who were important in The Five Elements but who really didn't play a major role.