'The Kingkiller Chronicle' Author Patrick Rothfuss Regrets a Few Word Choices

As The Kingkiller Chronicle author Patrick Rothfuss discussed worldbuilding with Forgotten Realms novelist R.A. Salvatore, the subject of word choice came up. Some fantasy readers loathe the word "okay," Rothfuss told the New York Comic Con audience. To those readers, it sounds too modern, hurting their ability to sink into the world of Temerant—the setting for The Name of the Wind, The Wise Man's Fear and the upcoming Book 3 in The Kingkiller Chronicle trilogy, The Doors of Stone.

So how do authors avoid anachronisms and create dialogue that feels natural without betraying the parameters of the fantasy?

When it comes to "okay," Rothfuss was intentionally seeking a breezy, colloquial feel. "I wanted them to sound like college kids," he said of the bard Kvothe and his friends at the University. "To do that, I used just the plainest language I could. And to some people it was an absolute dealbreaker."

Just as dangerous as anachronisms to fantasy are stuffy, unnatural ways of speaking, particularly the all-too-common Universal British accent, found everywhere, from ancient Rome to Star Wars Imperial conference rooms. "I didn't want them to sound to an American audience like they're in Hogwarts," Rothfuss said.

But both Rothfuss and Salvatore described far more decisions made in the opposite direction of "okay," where a word was nixed for not fitting in with their fantasy realm.

"I pick very deliberately. Like, the term spartan, I did use once in the book and I've regretted it ever since, because there's no Sparta!" Rothfuss said. "At one point I put in the name Annabelle and then I immediately removed it. Why? Because that sounds French, and there's no France in my world."

Salvatore faced similar word choice predicaments in his own work. Sometimes, figuring out whether or not a word was anachronistic led him down a maddening path, to realms where no word feels appropriate and meaning begins to fall apart.

"Whenever I'm using a word and I say, 'Oh boy, well that word looks anachronistic,' sometimes I'll keep it and sometimes I'll throw it out," Salvatore said. "But what I think about is, 'Why are they calling swords swords? Why is gold called gold?'"

"Oh man," Rothfuss said. "If you go down that rabbit hole, you die. You just die. It's the worst."

Even swearing is complicated in fantasy. "The problem is that these curse words we have are, in actuality, very old. But because they're colloquial, they feel very modern," Rothfuss said. "I have never felt comfortable putting modern English cursing in my secondary fantasy world."

But both Salvatore and Rothfuss agreed: "swive," an archaic term for sexual intercourse, is a great replacement for "fuck."

Despite all the agonizing over word choices, Rothfuss acknowledged that they'll always make a few mistakes. "You want to try and keep them as few as possible and build a world that feels loose and wide and true, because if you try and build something tight, the cracks show real easy," Rothfuss said. "Nobody looks at a Monet painting and says, 'Oh, that's wrong.'"

"It doesn't matter how true something is, if it doesn't seem true. That's why the word is verisimilitude and not just veritas," Rothfuss said. "You want something that is true seeming."