World Building: Names, Languages, and Mythos

Some of the most challenging world building for me is in the paranormal area. I have stories centered around a pack of shapeshifters who can move from human form to wolf form. “Oh, werewolves,” you say. Nope. Not quite. The term “werewolf” implies things in modern day…they were bitten by another werewolf. No, they weren’t. They lose control and rampage through the countryside at night. Nope. They can’t control when they change—and it’s under the full moon. Not so much. They’re basically a big, hairy person walking on two legs with a beast’s head. Oh, seriously not. So the question becomes: What do you call them?

Well…that’s where it gets complicated. Again, you don’t want to call them something someone else is already using. Or that has been used for a famous movie or something. And in werewolf/shapeshifter stories, that’s an extensive field to cover. I had a term I planned to use when I finally got these stories out of my head and onto paper. And someone else wrote a series of books using that term. *ARGH* Her characters are entirely different from mine, and it’s set on a different planet. Oh, well, doesn’t matter. So, I came up with another term. And it got used by a new author I hadn’t read yet as the name of her main Pack of werewolf-like shifters. Again, I was using it for the entire race of shifters…doesn’t matter. The next time that happened, I gave up—gave up on using a term in English.

Sure, I can just make something up, except that when I tried, they mostly just sounded stupid. I realized what I need was something believable…but, to be believable, there needs to be some sort of backstory to the word.

When I was first coming up with these stories, I had seen a special on the Falling Lakes in Croatia, and the wildlife there, and was fascinated. It’s on my short list of places to visit someday. I always thought it’d be a fascinating place to have my wolves come from in their background. HOWEVER, as I am terrible at making up my mind, I am also a huge fan of Celtic stuff, and have always had a strong interest/draw towards Scotland and Ireland. I was torn on which direction to go.

Luckily, research is fun and useful! I checked out some information on Celtic culture and discovered the Celts—and all their little foibles like Celtic knotwork—migrated well into middle Europe, through Hungary, and into what is today Croatia. Bwa ha ha—I can have BOTH!

The Web is a wonderful place. I found a handy translator site that had Irish (Gaelic), Croatian, and Hungarian options, another one that offered Old English, and a third that did Welsh, Scottish Gaelic, and Irish Gaelic. Let me first say how grateful I am that modern English doesn’t use all the freaking accent marks, carets, umlauts, etc., that other languages do! And I found websites that discuss ancient gods, goddesses, and folk tales that have all sorts of tie-ins to werewolves, shapeshifting, and intelligent wolves in general.

So the last week has been full of fun, as I type in terms to translate and come up with strings of unpronounceable things in two to five languages and then start massaging them. Unpronounceable isn’t going to work.  They need to sound good out loud. And be easy to say.  And not stop the reader’s eye as it crosses the page. And not sound stupid…

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