Worldbuilding – Language

Someday, after I meet my life goal of becoming tri-lingual (haha), I’m going to create a full language for a fantasy world of my own creation.

That day is not today.

But I’m writing a novel about a woman who walks through a portal (oops) into a fantasy world where the people don’t conveniently speak English, and while I usually only reference the fantasy language speech without writing it as dialogue, sometimes I need a word or a phrase here and there. The story is told in first person, so naturally, my main character would start to pick up on a word or two, or at least hear and be able to make out the sounds, and I want my readers to experience that with her.

Which means I have to make up fantasy language vocabulary, at the least, and maybe a few phrases. I’m about five chapters in, and so far, I’ve only created words for “tree” and “mountain”; “sorry” is still in brackets. I have to find the right apologetic sounds (although “apologize” is one of the least apologetic-sounding words in English!). And I’ll definitely need “hello,” “goodbye,” “yes” and “no.”

The funny thing is, I actually did this once, in my purple-people-who-live-in-trees story, which I love, but isn’t quite working for me right now. I’d like to return to it in ten or twenty years, look it over and realize, “I know exactly how to do this now!” That means I shouldn’t accidentally self-plagiarize and use any of the same words.

The good news is that the MC will learn to communicate with the people there – assisted by magic, but also through study of the language. And, she’s an ESL teacher (hey, they said “write what you know,” so I’m writing what I know), so you know she’s gotta geek out about this new language and thus narrate all about it. I can see it now – I’m gonna have to hold her back (you know how those verbose characters can be – they wanna talk about what they wanna talk about, and you just have to reel ‘em in sometimes and tell them that that is not where the story’s going, so can it).

There are, of course, different ways of including fantasy languages in writing, some of which are detailed here. Even if I don’t go the full-language route (probably won’t), this language-creation kit looks like a handy way to brush up on my morphology and syntax (all that stuff I knew way back in college, lol).

Ultimately, my main will speak their language more-or-less fluently (thank you, magic), so I can write most interactions in English with the understanding that they’re actually speaking this other language (whatever I call it – Turadrynian? Well, that’s a mouthful, isn’t it?). But as long as she’s learning, I’ll need words and phrases that don’t sound completely stupid. Or, maybe they can – some words do sound funny! Like “cow.” Usually, when you say “cow,” you just say it, and think of a large black-and-white or brown quadruped and/or hamburgers But when you say it over and over, you brain kinda disassociates the sound and the meaning. Go on. Say it: cow cow cow cow cow cow cow cow cow cow cow cow cow…

Weird, right? You’re suddenly so aware of the movement of the muscles involved in making all these sounds. [This is why learning to pronounce a new language can be hard - you have to train your mouth and lip muscles to move in ways they're not accustomed to. It's like learning to dance, or doing Tai Chi.]

Speaking of sounds, I need to make some decisions about the sounds and sound combinations in this language (I’ve only made one so far, which makes it difficult for the fantasy people to pronounce the MC’s name – June. It’s one syllable – it shouldn’t be that hard! But in their language, the consonant + oo sound + n sound never ends a word – there’s always another syllable, even just a vowel (kind of the opposite of Japanese in that way). So, it’s not that they can’t pronounce her name, it’s just feels and sounds weird to them. They have to retrain their mouths and not second-guess themselves, like their brains are telling them to do (Are you sure that’s right? That can’t be right). People do this ALL THE TIME, which is why you hear “Chipol-tay” instead of “Chipot-lay”. Sound it out, folks. It’s on the commercial.

Anyway, she gets renamed (don’t do this to people if you can avoid it, which means don’t do this to people), which I think is relevant to the story, anyway. Whatever, it happens, and she likes the name, and it becomes (to her) her warrior name. See, it coincidentally happens after a fight in which she’s able to save herself from bandits (thanks to luck and pepper-spray), so it coincides with the start of her transformation into a total bad-ass.

And I’m the writer, so I can do what I want. But don’t rename people. Just embrace the awkwardness and keep trying to make those sounds and put them in the right order. You can do it! Believe in yourself!

Okay, now that that’s been said, I have to go do the things that pay for my stuff. Maybe by next time, I’ll have a few more words figured out – maybe even a phrase if I’m a good little writer-bee!

Writers vs. Editors?

Why?

Writing has been a hobby since I could write; editing followed soon after. Honestly, I love editing both my and other’s work. It isn’t as if I like finding errors, it’s that I usually* can’t help it. The part I love is the fixing, the pruning and sprucing. I’ve read that many writers hate the editing process, which I feel is a shame, but not too much of one because…

*I don’t trust anyone to edit his/her work fully, including myself. I can make my work much better, especially if I set it aside for a day or a week or a year, and look at it with fresh eyes, applying new knowledge and more developed writing skills. That doesn’t meant I don’t want someone else to edit my work. Not just anyone, of course, but certainly someone who isn’t me. Why?

1) It is nearly impossible for a writer to catch all of his/her mistakes in a lengthy document (say, a 200-page novel); and

2) Writing for people other than oneself necessitates feedback from other perspectives.

Don’t believe me about number one? Okay. Let’s talk about brains.

Brains do funny things. Every time you could have sworn you put the waffles in the shopping cart, or explained in extreme detail how to get from point A to point B but couldn’t remember the name of a street in your own neighborhood, or couldn’t get “Carry on My Wayward Son”** out of your head, that was your brain being weird. Or maybe it was just being itself and who am I to judge? Whatever – brains are weird.

Case in point: Let’s travel back in time to 1992. It was Crazy Sock Day, and my teacher had just asked me to tell her what was wrong with a sentence in a paragraph I had written. I told her I didn’t think there was anything wrong with it.

“Okay, read that sentence out loud,” she said, pointing to the middle of the paragraph. I read it out loud and shrugged; there wasn’t anything wrong with it.

She smiled, and said,

“Don’t read what you THINK it says – read what it says.” I gave her a “you incomprehensibly weird adult” look but read it again. Nothing wrong.

“Read it more slowly,” she said. Fine. I read it very slowly, and,

“Oh.” I had accidentally left out a word. I could have sworn it was there, each time I’d read it!

What had happened, she explained, was that I was “reading” what I thought I had written, not what I had actually written.

This has happened more than a few times over the years, although I’ve noticed that it’s less likely to occur the more time has passed between writing and reviewing. Of course, there isn’t always time to wait and forget what you [think that you] wrote. You can get around this by being really really careful, which can work, or by bringing in some wonderfully nit-picky person who doesn’t have what you intended to write in her head.

Number two deals more with content and style than the absolutes of grammar and punctuation. If I had a million dollars, part of it would go to pay an excellent editor to tell me things like, “Your audience knows that already. Trust me, 87% of this hypothetical group of future readers have figured it out by now. The others aren’t in fifth grade yet.” I would pay more to have the editor tell me these things in Old San Juan. In Spanish, which, as a rich person, I would have learned because I took classes and practiced with Rosetta Stone and a private tutor (because we second-language teachers need to stick together!).

My dream editor would also be on call to help me write conclusions to blog posts.

**At least it’s not “Call Me Maybe.” Aww, dangit.

Writing Multiple Novels at Once

Sometimes it’s hard not to. You get hit upside the head with a great idea, but you know, if you ignore it, it’ll drift away. You’ll look back in a week or a month and it’ll be gone. So you think, I’m just going to jot down some ideas so I don’t forget this amazing idea. Then I’ll get back to my main novel. And then notes turn into paragraphs, and you throw in some dialogue, some description, and before you know it, you’re writing five novels simultaneously. (At least five.)

The problem with this isn’t just how far it pushes back already-fuzzy completion dates. The biggest problem, I find, is that it makes it hard to really live in your worlds, get to know your characters, and write them authentically.

But can it be done? Good Lord, I hope so.

In fact, according to author Stephanie Morrill, doing so is a must. She says she was shocked how often her publisher asked her to work on multiple stories at once:

“As I was finishing up my first draft of Out with the In Crowd (Skylar Hoyt book number two), my editor sent me my edits for Me, Just Different (Skylar Hoyt book number one) so even thought I was really in the writing groove, I had to pause to do my edits. And when I was working on So Over It (Skylar Hoyt book number three), I had to pause to read through proofs of Me, Just Different, content edits for Out with the In Crowd, plus put together a proposal for a new book that my agent wanted to see before she sent it on to my editor.”

So I suppose by not sticking with one novel through completion, I’m developing a useful skill. And yet, Ms. Morrill also believes that it is worth focusing on just one book, if your goal is getting published:

“in my book-flitting days, I wrote based on my whims. Even though I now must work on multiple projects at a time, my whims don’t come into play. There was value in learning how to write something other than what I felt like writing.”

Hmm. Maybe I can narrow it down to three.

Summer session!

The spring semester ended two weeks ago and, even with Senior Week choir gigs, a trip out of state, and all those errands I should have done during finals, I think I’ve written more in those two weeks than I wrote all semester.

I hope this isn’t a trend, particularly because summer classes start tomorrow. Two are online, one is in an actual class.

Wish me some luck-type-thing!