I had a couple other things in mind to write about this week, but then as I was working through assignments for the current run of my online worldbuilding course for Writer’s Digest I was moved to action!
This week we’re talking about government and religion—I know, your parents told you not to do that, but it’s kinda hard to talk about worldbuilding and leave those out. Of the seven students in this run of the course, six people sent in assignments for this week, and of those six, three of them called their governmental bodies the Council.
Okay, so, before you worry that if you take one of my online courses I’m going to bitch about you in public, please know that all three of those people wrote amazing stuff. And I’m seriously not just saying that. I’m always delighted by the quality of the work that comes through these courses, and this week in this class was no different. I’m not complaining about the quality of the writing, just this one thing, this single word that I see over and over again, and not just in 50% of the worldbuilding course assignments but in probably that same percentage of full manuscripts that come across my desk. One after another, after another, after another.
So this is it.
Today I begin a one-man crusade against the Council!
The Council must be stopped!
First off, please refer to my rant against the use of common nouns with an initial cap here. Absorb that, embrace that, be sensitized to that, and also please notice that the Council is the very first entry on my list of (negative) examples.
Before you panic because the Council is all over your work in progress, know that there’s about a 99% chance that your fantasy or science fiction governmental body can work exactly as you describe, because like the talented people in this course who thought through the function of that body and made its decisions and actions personal, so their characters were actually affected by its policies and decisions, most likely all you need to do to fix your Council-infected work in progress is search for the word Council and replace it with… anything else!
I’ve said this before, but let me say it again: Maybe 90% of worldbuilding is naming things. So then why would you want your things named the same as everybody else’s (or even half of everybody else’s) things?
I’ll answer that for you: You don’t!
You want the names of your worldbuilding elements to reflect the creative energy you’ve put into those details and the creative energy and individual artistry you’ve put into your characters, your story—every aspect of your writing.
What to call it then?
My thesaurus app returned:
1 the town council: municipal authority, local government, administration, executive, chamber, assembly, corporation.
2 the Student Council: advisory body, board, committee, brain trust, commission, assembly, panel; synod, convocation.
3 that evening, she held a family council: meeting, gathering, conference, conclave, assembly.
Any of those will do for now.
Thanks to Google Translate here is Council in a few other languages, which one works for you?
Or, y’know… just make something up!
You can do it! The Council must be stopped! Who’s with me?