It’s All About Fantastic Locations

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.)

Newfoundland
The heath in Newfoundland

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.

Mead: meadow

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?

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8 thoughts on “It’s All About Fantastic Locations

  1. While I was certainly familiar with the meaning of some of these, many I didn’t know. You’re right, learning the lingo is certainly important. I don’t often describe landscape perhaps that’s the reason. Great list and thanks for posting it. It’s a good one to have handy.

    • Thanks, Laura. I can go chapters without describing the scenery, but when my characters hit the road, I was faced with describing the journey which meant I had to go looking for words other than forest. I think it adds in character development, too. One character might call it a valley while another might look at him strangely and say, “You mean a glen.” lol

  2. This is a great list I will save and use. Great to have a collection of words to describe landscape. I see you mentioned moors but what about dales? (The word dale comes from the Nordic/Germanic word for valley) I also never knew that a glen was a valley. So many words for the same thing, I love it! Thanks.

    • Dale! Yes, that is a perfect word. I’ve always loved it, but forgot it today while making this list. I will add it to my pile of words.

      The word moor sticks in my head because I’ve listened to many (and continue to listen to) Newfoundland and Scottish songs. Mary of the Wild Moor always leaves me with a chill.

      But the villagers point out the spot,
      Where the willow droops over the door,
      Saying there Mary died, once a gay village bride,
      From the winds that blew across the wild moor.

      And then there’s Brennan on the Moor which was a great foot tapepr.

      Thanks, Darlene.

  3. Interesting post, Diane. Not only does it include some great suggestions, it reminds you that you should be looking for some variety in your landscape descriptions.

    There is also thicket, coppice or copse which all mean a thick, dense growth, usually of small trees or underbrush.

    or scrub: a stunted tree or such trees, collectively.

    • Yes, Art, those are great words, too. I had forgotten about scrub and thicket. They’re great for woodlands.

      I’ve got a great book called the Flip Dictionary. It’s a thesaurus and more.

      Thanks for the additional words.

  4. This is a great post! Thanks so much for sharing all the names. I write stories that take place across vast stretches of land, and I have trouble figuring out the topography I should use so I really love that you included pictures for inspiration.

    Christi Corbett

    • I have several lists like this because I’m forgetful 🙂 and because I’m always looking for another word to describe a place. Certain words have more magic to them than others (at least to my ear), so I tend to use them in fantasy.

      I’m glad to be of help. Thanks, Christi.

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