Wednesday, 30 June 2010

How to Build a World (otherwise known as Research) Part 4

(secrets blogfest post below)

Welcome back to 

Tessa’s Worldbuilding Emporium! 

It’s time for the fourth installment (ok a bit early but hey), which is...

D. Where You Learn to Speak Your Own Language
Language is important to writers. 
No, that’s not right. Language is important for everyone. It’s VITAL for writers, never mind what it is you write about. Without language, we wouldn’t exist. Without language, what would be the point, anyway? 
Language comes in many shapes and sizes, all of them important. Here’s a few you might need as a writer, just off the top of my head: 
  • Your Voice

As a writer, you need to find your own voice. Think of what you’re writing as a campfire story. You’re the one telling it, speaking the words, trying to gain everyone’s attention (someone’s unpacked a deck of cards, damn them) (no you can’t be excused because you hate public speaking, this is in your HEAD for goodness sake). Everyone has a different rhythm to their speaking, a different way of pronouncing words, of emphasizing emotions.  
It works the same way when you’re writing. Others can be your inspiration, your guide, your role model, but your writing, that’s all on you. Just you. 
Your voice, the way you write, that’s what will attract a reader (ok your story idea does, too, but even a stupid story can be fun to read if the writer’s voice is good enough). That’s why you need to find your voice, find the tone you want to set. 

So how do you do that? Sorry, I don’t have a solution for that, except to write, write, write. And write some more once you’re done, because a writer’s voice can change over time. 

  • Your Character's Voice
Yep, your character has a voice, too. And not just your MC. 

Every single one of your characters has a voice, some more pronounced, some less so. How much attention you need to pay to it depends on how important the character is, or how important to the storyline it is for the reader to associate certain things with him or her. 
If you have a character who keeps saying y’all, your reader is going to make certain assumptions about his origin. That’s what happens if you let your character speak dialect of some sort or another. A word of caution, though - don’t overdo it. Assume your reader is of reasonable intelligence - you don’t need to have a whole sentence in dialect, some key words are usually enough. Too much and you’ll put off your audience. There are exceptions, of course - some writers can pull it off but you’re making your life harder than it needs to be. 

For a good example of dialect, read Karen Miller’s The Innocent Mage. The main character, Asher, starts off speaking in an almost incomprehensible voice, but as the story progresses, his speech clears up. It’s a wonderful indicator of his development. 
You don’t have to let your character speak any sort of regional dialect, of course, but everyone has words they like and phrases they use over and over again, usually without realizing it. Make sure your character has some, or if he doesn’t, let the reader know why not. 
  • Definitions and Names
Think of this as an outpost of my previous installments on world building. One facet of learning to speak your language is figuring out what it is you’re writing about. You’ve made up your history, your rules, let your story idea develop. While you were doing that, you might have had occasion to use the odd word or two in a very specific sense. I’m talking about the kind of thing I’ve told you to note down once or twice before. 

If something has a signature meaning in your story, stick with it. Once you’ve made up your mind about part of your language, you need to justify every change to the reader or risk annoying them. An annoyed reader might not pick up another book with your name on it, so try to avoid that, will you?

Names are an extension of that. If you’re Shakespeare, sure, call a rose whatever you want, people will love you anyway. Nothing personal, but you ain’t Shakespeare (me neither) (although really who was Shakespeare, anyway?). If you call it a rose, then that’s what it has to be unless you explain otherwise. Things have names in the real world, and readers live in the real world. Readers are not characters in your book, after all (although wouldn’t that be fun?). 
The same goes for anything you make up. If you name it, stick with that name unless you have a good reason not to. Then explain why this is a good reason. Should it be something you’ve come up with, you can do one of three things: 
  • everyone in the story knows what it is so you can’t explain (if everyone knows what it is, DON’T explain, it will seem artificial and that’s not good). Instead, you drop hints, or put the term in context, until the reader (you should assume a certain level of intelligence on their behalf - they picked up your book, didn’t they?) gets it. Don’t over explain, either. This is something you’ll have to try out on your Beta readers or some other unsuspecting victim, because believe me, you won’t be able to tell by yourself. 
  • you have a character new to the thing - GREAT. You can explain it to him. 
  • it’s a new thing - nobody knows what it is, so you can explain it to everyone
Please keep in mind that even when you’re explaining something, showing mostly goes before telling. A demonstration (think Star Wars and the Death Star) may work wonders, although this will depend on what exactly we’re talking about, here.
So you see, language is a very important thing to consider in your writing. A lot of it might happen on an intuitive (ie subconscious) level, but once you’re in the editing phase, you definitely need to pay attention. 

There, that's it for today. I hope you liked this fourth installment of the series, pop in on Saturday for the last section of this series. Find the previous posts here: 
Part 1, in which I will discuss How to get a Clue
Part 2, where you learn to Rule Your World
Part 3, in which you'll decide What Happened Before
Part 4, where you learn to Speak Your Own Language
Part 5, where it All Comes Together
Saturday, 3rd July  - here


    M. Bail said...

    Hi Tessa! This has been a great series of posts. Looking forward to Saturday's!

    Unknown said...

    Thanks, Margaret!

    Unknown said...

    Thanks, Margaret!

    Monica Marier said...

    Great post there. That is a sticky point for me, I have a tendancy to make me characters voices very similar. I then have to go back during editing and pull out the parts that are too similar. Speech tics, repeated words, favorite phrases, I have to personalize them more in the second go.

    Clara said...

    What a great post! I wish I had the inteligence to create a language, but writting in english is enough for me lol

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