Since I was a wee lass I’ve hunted for the perfect location for a fantasy novel to take place. Oft times, my camera sat only a stretch away, so if the magic of the scenery moved me, I could attempt to capture it on film. This was more difficult to do than one can imagine.
I’ve found many pockets of wonderful locations throughout Atlantic Canada and on my travels. The pictures I’ve gathered easily show the location, but when it comes to revealing their beauty through words in a novel without pictures, at times they’re tough to describe. That’s when you need landscape lingo.
Writing fantasy requires me to learn landscape lingo, the basic names for the structure of the land. After all, who wants to travel through a bland forest all the time when the countryside, glen and meadow are free for the taking?
Below is a selection of words which help describe setting, whether fantasy or not.
Drumlin: a ridge or oval hill formed by deposit from a glacier.
Glebe: 1. Soil; earth field. 2. A portion of land assigned to a clergyman as part of his living (Mom, who originated in Newfoundland, often said glebe: Tom’s gone up around the glebe. I’ve concluded that in her area of the island, people employed the word to indicate a tract of land, as in a person’s property, a vacant lot or similar section of land regardless if a clergyman owned it, lived there or not.)
Glen: a small, narrow valley
Grassland: land with grass on it, used for pasture.
Grassy: covered with grass: a grassy meadow.
Grove: a group of trees standing together.
Heath: 1. Open wasteland with heather or low bushes growing on it; moor: A heath has few or no trees. 2. Any of a family of shrubs and plants, especially any of several evergreen shrubs of this family that grow on such land: Common heather is a species of heath. 3. Referring to a family of woody plants: The heath family includes the blueberry, cranberry, heather, and rhododendrons. (Many might think this word refers to landscape in Scotland only, but the terrain in Newfoundland can easily be described as heath.)
Hillock: a little hill.
Hinterland: 1. the country or region behind a coast; the inland region. 2. a region remote from and outside the influence of major urban centres; backwater.
Hollow: a small valley: They built their house in a hollow.
Hummock: 1. a very small, rounded hill; knoll; hillock. 2. a bump or ridge in a field of ice.
Isthmus: a narrow strip of land having water on either side, connecting two larger bodies of land: The Isthmus of Panama connects North America and South America.
Knoll: a small rounded hill; mound: The house stood on a wooded knoll.
Lea: a grassy field; meadow; pasture.
Meadow: 1. a piece of grassy land; a field where hay is grown. 2. low, grassy land near a stream.
Moor: open wasteland, usually hilly or high up and having low plant growth. (and from The New Lexicon Webster’s Encyclopedic Dictionary of the English Language, Canadian Edition, 1988: a tract of open uncultivated ground, usually grown over with heather and coarse grasses and having a poor acid, peaty soil.)
Moorland: an area of moors.
Pasturage: 1. the growing grass and other plants that cattle, sheep or horses feed on. 2. pasture land.
Pasture: 1. a grassy field or hillside; grasslands on which cattle, sheep or horses can feed. 2. grass and other growing plants: These lands afford good pasture. 3. put cattle, sheep, etc. out to pasture. 4. Feed on growing grass, etc.
Peninsula: a piece of land almost surrounded by water, or extending far out into the water: Nova Scotia is a peninsula.
Prairie: a large area of level or rolling land with grass but very few or no trees.
Terrain: land; a tract of land, especially considered as to its extent and natural features in relation to its use in warfare.
Sward: an expanse of grass-covered soil. (I couldn’t find this in my usual dictionary and had to haul out the Big One, The New Lexicon Webster’s Encyclopedic Dictionary of the English Language, Canadian Edition, 1988.)
All meanings came from Canadian Intermediate Dictionary, 1979 unless otherwise stated.
By no means are these all the words to describe the scenery your characters might pass through, but it’s a good start. This list includes descriptions of land structures only and did not delve into watery names such as riverbed and shoreline. That’s for another time. I left out the obvious such as mountain and woods believing those would be the first names used to describe a scene.
Landscape lingo is also helpful when creating a fictitious location in a story. For example East Meadow Ridge, Haley’s Hummock and Heathville. It’s been done before: Walnut Grove and Butcher Hollow.
Do you have a favourite landscape name that’s not listed?