Expressions and figures of speech, such as similes, proverbs, and idioms, are aspects to a fictional language and offer worldbuilders a chance to include a small element with a large impact. These verbal statements can be an easy way to highlight important features of your world while demonstrating to any audience that this world is something new and exciting. However, care must be taken with their use if your world does have an audience, as presenting too many of them in too short a period can be immersion breaking.
Designing Fictional Expressions and Figures of Speech
When adding figures of speech to a fictional world, two approaches can be used: changing real world expressions to include fictional elements or inventing completely new figures of speech altogether. Consider the following examples of these approaches to generate a new proverb:
Altering an Existing Proverb
|“Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.”
|“Don’t count your gryphons before they hatch.”
Creating a New Proverb
|“The dangerous gryphon waits to buck their rider.’
Altering an existing figure of speech versus inventing new ones is a choice that needs to be considered carefully. Merely altering a phrase that already exists within the real world means that any audience familiar with that phrase will be forced to consider the real-world equivalent, something that can break immersion or come across as lazy worldbuilding. However, this may be appropriate given the tone of the world, and comedic, whimsical, or worlds targeted for child audiences may benefit from an altered metaphor rather than risk losing the audience to a new phrase they do not understand.
When inventing new figures of speech, it is important that an audience grasps the meaning of the phrase, even if they do not fully understand the terminology. Contextual clues can be used to help frame the meaning. If your world is a hobby world without an audience, this obviously does not apply, and figures of speech can be as obscure and dense as you wish.
A simile compares two different things using comparison words like ‘as,’ ‘like,’ ‘such as.’ Similes are frequently used to introduce audiences to fictional elements by way of contextual clues.
- Big as an ox
- Clear as mud
- Easy as ABC
A proverb is a concise and widespread statement of folk knowledge, usually gained through experience and repeated down the generations. Proverbs offer more room for worldbuilding compared to similes, as inherent to them is what your people consider wise. Proverbs might not only tell you something about the world, but also how a person should react to it.
- The enemy of my enemy is my friend.
- Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.
- Fortune favors the bold.
Idioms are phrases with meanings that can only be understood in context, and not from the phrase itself. It may be best if worldbuilders with audiences avoid the use of idioms unless sufficient context is provided to allow an audience to understand.
- Kicked the bucket
- Once in a blue moon
- Stick your nose in something