Mar 25, 2011

qo' vIvan

Fantastic Friday Writers - Language

The above is Klingon for 'hello world'.

How language is used is important no matter what you write. It comes more into play for sci-fi and fantasy writers.

We build worlds and cultures, with that comes language and words and expressions. Readers of the genre expect unique words and concepts. It helps immerse them in our world. Incorporating unique language without bogging the beginning of a novel or story down and maintaining clarity is quite a trick. A real juggling act.

So how does a writer handle it?

Use a word or object in context is one way. 'She pulled the jaju from her holster.' From the action and context, the reader can make an accurate guess as to what a jaju is.

Some objects and concepts are going to need more explanation. In chapter one, these need to be kept as brief as possible. And the depth should be fit in later chapters without an information dump. Study the masters - the most recent Hugo and Nebula winners and nominees is a great place for study.

And keep a list / glossary of your unique terms and concepts, so you can keep them straight. I'll usually list them in multiple places -- by the name I use and by what it is. Ie, weapons, ships, places, etc ... In alphabetical order. I love doing this as part of my world building. The key is to be very organized in mantaining the list so you can find those words in chapter 26 you haven't used since chapter 3 and be consistant.

When writing in a foreign or alien language, the meaning should be so obvious it hits you over the head. Otherwise you need to provide a translation of some kind. I used some alien language in one of my stories. The characters are establishing contact with the aliens, so they are guessing what is said through context and action. Just like the reader. Or just provide a straight-up translation. The foreign words are to be followed by the English equivalent. The accpeted format is: She pulled the jaju, gun, from her holster.

A lexicon reflects the culture and world built into the fiction. I consider it a fun part of world building -- what is centrally important to these people - what do their thoughts and language center around.

Look at our own planet and how different cultures use language. It colors each people and culture, which I think is fascinating.

In your own household, folks have different lexicons. Husband has one different than mine. We grew up in different regions of the country and have different professions. It colors our thoughts and things we say. So, too, in a fictional world -- whether sci-fi or ordinary. Your character's language colors his/her perspective, actions and thoughts.

An exercise I learned at a workshop last fall was to create a lexicon for each major character. A lumberjack has a different lexicon than a ballerina. Their views on the world will be different.

The only thing different in sci-fi and fantasy is that we may create professions and perspectives very foreign to the reader. We need to ground it and pick and choose what we decide to flavor.

Yeah, it's tricky deciding how much flavor. That's where crit partners and beta readers come in handy. Yet remember who your audience is and write for them. Readers of some genres are willing to work harder [and find it fun] than others. For more information, visit the blogs below. And here's an article I found on the topic: ARTICLE

Have you used foreign or alien language in your books/stories? How?

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