Of late, we Quills have had fun creating our own spine poetry and flash fiction stories. This time around, we turn our attention to more serious (???) things, namely, a discussion about whether we make up our own languages for our books, and if so, why—and if not, why not?
This time, I'm inviting Robin Lythgoe, author of As the Crow Flies, to be the first to share her thoughts. Here goes . . .
I have a kind of lazy love for language. My copy of the 17th edition of the Chicago Manual of Style makes me crazy, but… I’m one of those readers that will highlight passages in novels that sing to me. Sometimes I copy them into a file to come back to later so I can oo and ah over them. And I did take the equivalent of seven years of foreign language in high school. (I think I learned more about English there than I did in English classes!) Then there was Tolkien. Was my experience a recipe for conlang or what?
Thank you, Robin! Now, let's hear from P.S. Broaddus, author of A Hero's Curse. Take it away, Parker!
Klingon. Orcish. Elvish. Dwarvish. Or even Lapine from Watership Down. They are made up languages, which raises interesting questions about the constructs of language itself. It also raises interesting questions of the creator - do you have to have an artistic bent, or a mind for engineering and constructing? And finally, how does a new language help tell a story?
My sincerest thanks to my fellow Quills. So now it's my turn!
D’Abunzid Bayshofenskidoe stooped for the griggen. Past the field of hoff, ripe for picking—notwithstanding that creckenmat had only just begun, he waited for a response from Doblay Spitzen’blar.
WHAT’S that you say???? What’s wrong? Don’t you read Mezphlatish? No problem, just check the glossary at the back . . .
I love language and the nuances communicated through highly similar but different words. I think it is fair to say that the work I do in both of my lives (as attorney and as author) depends on a keen sense of words and of the manipulation of them. For these reasons among others, I truly admire anyone able and willing to make up a language for a story and then to stick with the system religiously—which is necessary if the language is to work. If even a single instance occurs where it is not used but perhaps should have been—or perhaps could have been—then that failure could make a mockery of the entire system. But concerns over this issue present only one small reason for why I have created terms for people, places and things in my stories, but have not created new full-blown language(s).
My works include fantasy creatures that have their own peculiar features and names. For my ongoing fantasy series, The Oathtaker Series, I also created a world-order, and governmental, religious, and magic, systems. In many cases, words needed to be coined for those things because they do no exist in our world. But I’ve not gone further. I haven’t even made up names or words for the times of the day or for the days of the week or for the seasons of the year. Why?
I think it’s safe to say that no one knows my works as well as I know them. Yet I know that if I created an all-out new language for my stories, I’d have to refer back to the rules of that language every time I intended to put it to use. I’d have to keep track of all the words I created along the way, and I’d have to be certain that my every use of any of those new words was correct and consistent so as to maintain continuity (and thereby, credibility). But if I—the author—would have check back to the rules and terms already created whenever I put the language I created, to use, then what of my readers?
There are features typical of what I call the "quintessential traditional fantasy." Such features are one reason that some people love fantasy—and they are also the reasons why others avoid it completely. One feature of these stories is that in many cases, the characters’ names are . . . odd. There have been times, however, when I’ve refused to read a work (no matter how fantastic others have said that work is) upon discovering that I couldn't even read the characters’ names. Because I feel that way, I’ve chosen not to do that to my readers. Thus, the names I use are mostly common names, although occasionally, I’ve made one up. But even when I might pronounce a name that I’ve used differently than another person might pronounce that name, those names that I’ve chosen to use are easy to “sound out.” Thus, readers won’t stumble on them every time they come upon them. For a similar reason, I’ve not created full-blown new languages for my stories.
For me, there is probably nothing worse while reading, that forgetting what something is. In those cases, I have to page backward to find when the thing was first introduced so as to refresh myself on the details about that thing or, if there is one, I must check the glossary. At least with a glossary, there’s an easy place to find the answers I require. However, stopping to check a glossary interrupts my flow as a reader. Thus, I’ve often chosen to skip stories that follow this pattern. Moreover, I’ve chosen not to create so many things in my stories that my readers must resort to the use of a glossary. In my experience, some fantasy stories require one because the primary focus of those stories is the world that the author has created. By contrast, my stories are first and foremost about the people who inhabit the world of my tales.
In short, I read to enjoy—not to make more work for myself. I expect my readers do the same. Thus, I choose not to go too far, thereby scaring away potential readers who might pass on my work because they do not speak Mezphlatish (or whatever other language I might have chosen to write my tale in).
What do you think?