24 January 2018

Well. I made a language.

Klingon Success! (c) KEB.
Vintage woman by Freepik
Qapla by Carlos Francisco Cruz Fierro.
I've continued to break rules as I write, and this includes some of the self-imposed limits I made years ago when it came to worldbuilding. I wasn't really into some of the traditional epic fantasy tenets, where authors included introductions or glossaries containing pronunciation and language guides,  vocabulary, maps, histories, family trees and lines of succession, full appendices, and so on and so forth. 

As fun as it is for writers to invent these things when you plan out your speculative fiction series, I never felt like any of it should actually be included in the book (see "A Personal Treatise on Maps and Fantasy" 1 & 2). A huge chunk of this was because I felt like if readers needed all of this extra help to understand and become immersed the story, then the story just isn't strong enough to stand on its own as it should. (I still mostly believe this, but am finding exceptions to the rule, and I'm slowly becoming more sympathetic to why writers and readers dig these tropes.)

The other issue: the long, dark shadow of Mordor stretching across the realms of the fantasy genre...the behemoth known as J. R. R. Tolkien. Middle Earth was and is the framework for modern epic fantasy worldbuilding.

Maps? Check. Detailed histories? Check. Constructed languages? Check.

Brief confession - I like and appreciate LOTR a lot. The movies are what introduced me to the books. And I liked the books enough that I wrote a critical analysis of it my senior year of undergrad after my professor kept insisting there was no academic merit in covering Tolkien's masterwork. As soon as I produced an essay by W. H. Auden as one of the sources, that shut him up. 

Here's the thing, though. I will probably NEVER read the books again. They were difficult to get through in the first place, partially because you have to wade through so much worldbuilding that doesn't contribute to the immediate plot or scenes. There are certainly lovely things in the books, but there were many times when I glossed over songs, sentences with other languages in them, most of the scenes with Tom Bombadil, etc. Maybe if I reread the books I'll find something new and richer in the pages therein, but it'll take quite a bit of effort on my part.
OMG Namarie! (c)  KEB
Vintage Woman by Freepik;
Quenya Example by TigerTj√§der.
Because Tolkien really set the tone for modern epic fantasy, I also burned out on Tolkien-esque books by other authors. And the largest indicators to me that a fantasy would strive to be like Tolkien were books that included maps and original languages, so I avoided them. For decades. 

I tried to avoid them in my writing, too. 

But as I've been writing for a while, and especially through the inspiration blitzkrieg of this past year, I realize I've been a bit of a writing snob and my perspective is too narrow.

Anyway, just as I did a 180 with my worldbuilding philosophy and made a World Book, I sat down over the weekend and threw together the foundations of a constructed language.

I was in the middle of writing The Step and the Walk and realized I needed to put a simple sentence in the text, but it could not be English. It was a strong pull in my gut telling me I had to figure this out before continuing on. 

Part of this is because for a long time in the series, especially with The Name and the Key, I was writing a culture based off of the Roma. What I didn't want readers to think was that I based the culture off of gypsies. My plan was to build up description of the characters and drop cultural hints here and there without being on the nose about it. Then I had a couple tough epiphanies.
  • It is incredibly difficult to describe things without ultimately giving it a name, whether it is a language or an entire people.
  • Excellent discussions with authors about points from this article taught me that "if you truly want to discuss issues of race, tell the stories of an oppressed people, or just want to write a multicultural story, it’s best to create your own world" (Naz).
  • Another quote that is true: "DO NOT write ethnically vague characters [...] Everyone will assume your character is white, so don’t pretend otherwise" (Naz). Look no further than my "Lily and Andresh" project--all artists were given the exact same descriptions of the characters, but you can see that when it comes to Andresh's skin color, there are a wide range of interpretations. 
Now that I had a better understanding as to why I needed to make changes in my approach, I went ahead and invented my own culture: the Koradza. Over the weekend, I constructed their language.

I wanted to go about language construction from a more academic standpoint, and use the book The Art of Language Invention by David J. Peterson as a resource. I own the book, but left it in America. D'oh. Too lazy to reorder the book from Amazon Japan, I straight up Wiki How'd language creation. It was pretty helpful, actually! On top of that, I tried to use what I knew about languages from the experience I have teaching EFL in Japan.  

Queen Koradza (c) KEB.
Vintage Lady and Background by Freepik
Koradza text (c) KEB.
First I wanted to figure out a sort of history and cultural basis for the Koradza language.  Since the Koradza is Roma-inspired, their language is, too. The Roma's true origin is India, not Egypt (and many point to Rajasthan). There are linguistic traces of Sanskrit and Hindi in Romani languages, which helped place India as the origin. Most of the sounds and spellings in Koradza are inspired by Hindi and Romanian; Hindi due to the Roma's origin, and Romanian due to the Roma's long, tumultuous history with that country.  I've also consulted Romani dictionaries for stylistic influences, too.

Rounding out the language are influences from Welsh and Japanese. I lived in Wales for a term abroad and studied the language, and now I am in Japan. It was hard for these not to pop up in Koradza somehow. 

After choosing some stylistic influences, I hammered out a mini guidebook to the language in these steps:
  1. Create the alphabet and pronunciation guide 
  2. Create the sentence structure - I started off with a simple subject + verb sentence and then complicated the grammar from thereon. I also chose not to use articles in this language.
  3. Create an honorifics system and names for titles
  4. Create conjunctions and prepositions
  5. Create directional phrases
  6. Create numbers and quantities
  7. Create verb tense forms
  8. Create subject forms
  9. Create singular and plural conjugations
  10. Add a small glossary of words that are culturally important to the Koradza
These are the bare bones of the language, and I'll probably add to this as I go, but it was important to lay down ground rules so that way if I need to make something else up in the future, I have this as a guide. 

Now the next part--how much of this language will appear in the books? 

Probably next to nothing. I want to follow my goal of including only 15% of my worldbuilding directly in my writing. The rest is just for my reference.

And if I remember my personal preferences as a reader (as well as my experiences with Tolkien), I know I'll skim or skip the parts I can't understand anyway, so who's to say the same thing won't happen to my readers if I plunk Koradza sentences in the middle of a scene? I definitely don't want to be the type of fantasy writer who goes, This isn't immediately relevant, but woohoo! Look at what I can do! I made a thing! A thing called LANGUAGE! And then the scene derails and the reader stops reading. 

I'll file language creation under really cool things that should be used sparingly. It was a ton of fun to create Koradza and I'm weirdly proud of myself (because it was hard), but I'll do my best not to beat my readers over the head with it. ☺


How do you feel about constructed languages? Have you ever tried to build a language? Feel free to share in the comments below!

20 January 2018

2018 Writing Goals

Photo by Steven VanDesande Jr 
on Unsplash
Something wonderful has happened since changing jobs (adjunct professor to assistant language teacher). I had hoped I would have a better work-life balance here in Japan, and that I would have time to write. I do!

I teach at four different schools, and I plan and institute lessons myself. I've graded papers, helped with college interviews, administered speaking tests, judged area-wide speech contests, and worked at English camps.  Despite doing so many things, I still have time to write.

The change of environment and pace has been very healthy for me and I'm so happy to say that with a clearer mind, some awesome ideas have been percolating and have made so much progress in writing.

I'm well over 100 pages and am writing two novels concurrently, which is something that has never happened before in my life. I have also embraced more detailed plotting. Most of my life I've been maybe 90% pantser and 10% plotter, but this time around I've transitioned to 60% pantser and 40% plotter. I've written more bare-bones plot treatments for the books using the wiki method I've written about before, which has been quite fun and really helpful, and then there's the World Book, which has also been a great side project. 

For the first time in a long time, I've felt really optimistic about where my writing is headed, and I hope to ride that optimism through 2018.

2018 Writing Goals

  1. Don't fight my process. Graduate school was the catalyst for this, and it's continued to be something I struggle with. I have issues with writing advice and trying to follow it. I get stuck on the "this is what I have to do to succeed" and "this is what ________ author does to succeed," and then I try to do it.  This doesn't work for me because I am incapable of being someone else.  

    So, here are the things I'm "supposed to be doing" but won't:

        • Writing every day. I have finally accepted that this is impossible for me.

        • Writing on a set or recurring time of day. I've read that you can train your brain to perform a task on command if you are consistent about it. It's not just writing everyday, but writing at the same time everyday--like writing only in the mornings, or afternoons, or evenings. This is another thing I'm not able to do, so I won't try to.

        • Participating in Nanowrimo. I've decided I will never do this again. I've never won anyway, but that's not what matters. I've accepted I can't work under this kind of pressure, nor can I follow a regular writing schedule needed to complete this. And most importantly, focusing on producing word counts takes the fun out of writing, and regularly failing to meet goals sucks, too. 

        • Submitting work regularly just to get published. What I've been doing up until now is running off of a panic-filled "publish-or-perish" mindset. Because I am pretty much a nobody in the writing world, I've tried to build a catalog of published works. I've written stuff on autopilot and sent it out to build a bibliography. I was never quite proud of what I wrote until after the fact--after it got published. This seems a little off to me.  I should be proud of what I've written *before* sharing it with the world.

  2. Stop giving away my time and skills, especially to people who do not value it. I like helping people and mentoring them. This is one of the reasons why I became a teacher. Over the years when I've worked on building my author identity and cultivating a platform, I've forged relationships where I've helped people with their writing.

    In doing so, I let them take advantage of me and my time. I gave too much of myself and therefore people got used to expecting too much from me. Even when I drew the line firmly in the sand and said, "I cannot help you anymore" it wasn't enough, and I've had to ghost and block people because they wouldn't listen to what I was telling them. And I spent too much time helping other people without helping myself, and working on my own projects (shame on me!). It was a tough lesson to learn, but I've learned it. Basically:

        • Do not mentor other writers without financial compensation or reciprocation.
        • Do not edit or proofread for other writers without financial compensation reciprocation.

  3. Embrace the weird and unconventional. I've been doing a lot more reading in my genre lately and I've noticed that the successful writers really go all-out with the weirdness. It's their uniqueness and bold moves that make them memorable, and keep readers coming back for more. 

    This is an example of a celebrated author
    embracing the weird and going for it.
    (Phone screenshot of Jeff Vandermeer's FB).
    There have been many ideas I've come up with that seem a bit too fantastical, off-kilter, dark, or extreme. I've played it safe and self-censored because I've been too worried about what other people would think: those who know me personally, including the people at my job (especially employers), potential agents and publishers, future readers, etc. This definitely weakens my stories and certainly makes me take longer to write, let alone finish, major projects.

    My operating mantra for this year is go big or go home.
While many writers probably have more concrete goals for the year (write 100,000 words; get an agent; publish a short story) I've decided that these three components are what I need to work on in order to complete the ultimate task for 2018, which is to complete a book. Maybe even two.

Fighting myself, not allowing time for myself, and censoring myself are how I sabotage my writing and chances for success. I'm going to work on changing things for 2018 and in doing so, I have confidence I will finish my work, and that my work will be good. 


What are your writing goals for 2018? Please share in the comments!