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“Hello”, “goodbye”, “cheers”, “I love you”, “the deities bless you” and “I’ll rip your heart out”

January 30, 2012

During my writing adventure in November (NaNoWriMo), I encountered peoples of a world that was set so far into the future from our point of view that language ought to have evolved. But how to incorporate that into a novel – if at all?

Some of my dictionaries for non-fictional languages.

Like me, you have probably come across books with peoples with languages other than the one spoken by the main characters or different from the one in which the book is written  (at least if you ever read fantasy, sci fi or anything like it). I’m not talking about real languages here. I mean Klingon, Quenya and so on. Fictional languages. There are quite a few made up languages in literature, films and computer games.
Now, some of them are so complex that you can learn them like other non-fictional constructed languages such as Esperanto. I find it impressive and extremely interesting from a linguistic point of view that writers (Tolkien probably being the most well-known example) have had the commitment to devise whole languages in order to incorporate them into their literary works.
But it is far from every writer who has the ability or drive to make up a whole language. – And far from every writer who would find it necessary to create a whole one one just to have a couple of characters say hello each other in chapter five.

I think a common solution is to make up a few phrases and greetings, whatever fits into the context of the story and leave it at that. The title of this post, of course, is a tongue-in-cheek reference to those. Some may argue that including anything in a fictional language really just shifts the focus from the story to an annoyance with not immediately understanding what people in it are saying. In my opinion, it can be done very well, but is a delicate balance. It can come across as too postulatory if the writer is not careful.

In my latest NaNoWriMo, I had a few characters from our time and space (let’s call it A to make this a little easier) undertaking a journey in a world set very far into the future (world B) along with someone from a completely different world (world C) and a local guide from world B. Technically, there is no reason for the person from world C to be able to speak English, but I had a semi-legitimate reason for him doing it. And technically, one would think that English in world B would have evolved quite a lot from how it looks and sounds today. – But I was not going to invent a whole language, and I was afraid of having the character slip into a “native-speak” stereotype with a number of set phrases.
My solution was to pretend that language had not evolved too much. I did give the character from world B a few distinguishing expressions and idioms, but none that were used in every second chapter. More importantly, I picked a little at the grammar in the speech pattern of him (such as simplifying things or eradicating the progressive form) and decided to spell a few words differently, indicating that his pronunciation varied from that of the others (mostly with words that would have lost their original meaning). I hope that it works in a subtle and natural way.

Have you ever had to decide whether to invent a language or a few phrases of one? Do you like fictional languages in books, or do you find them annoying? (Or are you just wondering what on Earth “retskrivnings- & betydningsordbog” means?)

Webly Wednesday: What to read?

December 14, 2011

With the holiday season lurking around the corner, you may be wondering what to put on your wishlist in the bookish department. I’ve found a few links that may be able to point you somewhere interesting.

Ever wondered if there is something out there similar to your favourite author? Of what kind of books would be nice to read when you like a certain novel? Here are a some links for places that try to help you with finding something new to read:

  • Literature Map
    Type the name of your favourite author and a mind mappish chart spreads out from it with writers that people who like the author in question also like. The site also hosts Gnod’s suggestions that will give you suggestions if you put in the names of three writers that you like.
  • NPR’s Top 100 Sci Fi and Fantasy Books
    Aflowchart of science fiction and fantasy books. You answer questions such as “Looking for an old-fashioned trilogy?” and “Interested in Dystopian fiction?” and are led to the cover of a book based on your answers.
  • Which Horror Novel is Right for You?
    The same idea as above, but with horror novels.

Now, I don’t think that any of these are necessarily spot on. But from what I can tell, they can provide some inspiration for what books or authors to take a look at if you don’t know them at all … As if our “to read”-lists aren’t long enough.

Did you find something useful with either of these sites, or do you think it is rubbish? Do you know other similar sites? And is your “to read”-list chronically very long too?

The other side

December 2, 2011

November is over and with it NaNoWriMo. Here’s a short summary of how mine went.

I hope that those of you who participated had a great time whether it means getting the novel started that you’ve been wanting to work on for years, completing a first draft, experiencing the rush of making the 50K on the last day of November, writing a book of 100K in one month, getting some writing done despite all the unforeseen disasters that rained down on you this fall, or having fun at a number of write-ins.

According to the NaNoWriMo site, my month looked like this:

It is not entirely accurate. Notice that point where the wordcount falls (day 11)? I didn’t actually delete anything from my script that day. For a few days after that, the wordcount on the graph differed from the one on top of the page, but then that was fixed. And of course, my word processor’s count claims that I have a few more words (but it’s only a difference of 1,360 words this year).

What is true are the facts that I reached the 50K on day 23, and that I have 65,421 words of a story written in November 2011.

- And what no fancy graph can tell you is that I had a great month. I didn’t get to the end of the storyline that I had vaguely imagined, but I don’t mind since it was mostly due to the fact that a lot of unforeseen things  happened on the way and that my characters turned out to be more interesting and have a better chemistry than I had hoped.
My wordcount was a little higher last year and I didn’t have days when I wrote more than 3,000 or 4,000 words this time, but I didn’t take time off from work (and had to make sure that typing didn’t upset my wrist – which it didn’t, so I’m happy with that). I also think that I learnt to stop the “right” places (for me) in the story every day. By that I mean no squeezing the proverbial lemon to get a few more words in and not really enjoying it (or writing filler scenes) as well as calling it a day when I knew what was going to happen next so that I could easily pick up the following day.
I  tried something new and wrote in a different genre, with only a very vague plot or plan, and using a narrative style that I hadn’t done for years. And it turned out that instead of having problems with these things, I quite enjoyed the ride.

Now it’s December. I plan to start writing the second part of the story right away so that I have a complete first draft (or two complete first drafts depending on your point of view). I just need to type up my part of my writing group’s annual Christmas story first. And go to the NaNoWriMo wrap up party (TGIO) tomorrow.

How did your NaNoWriMo go (if you participated)? Are you taking a break from your story or editing right away? And do you have “right” places to stop when you write?

In the zone and a blogiversary

November 11, 2011

Last year, in the middle of NaNoWriMo, I thought, “Hey, I’ll make a blog. That’s a good idea. I’ll write about NaNoWriMo, about writing, maybe a bit about reading, and if I begin submitting stories to various places, I can write about that too. ” Today, on the peculiar date 11.11.11, that is exactly one year ago.

I’m doing my third NaNoWriMo this month. And so far I’m pleased with how it’s going. Wordcount-wise, I expect to reach 25K tonight. But more importantly to me, I am on a creative high. At this point, I am not writing to hit or surpass the 50K. I am writing because I can’t wait to see what happens next.
I’m writing in a way that I haven’t for years and it feels good. Really good. I’ve been sticking very much to one point of view (or narrator) for each long story for a while, I haven’t written anything science fiction/postapocalyptic/otherworldly, and I haven’t been as unplanned as I am now, either. I don’t expect to produce the One First Draft to Rule Them All here, but that’s fine with me. I’m having a great time.
Part of it I owe to my little band of protagonists. Remember how I was going to import two guys from earlier stories? I did that. And they have chemistry. They have two other people with them on the journey, and this concerned me a bit at first because I wasn’t certain that I would be able to really get into these other two. It turned out not to be a problem after all. In fact, they have become an essential part of the whole thing, and I absolutely adore having them and their points of view around.

I haven’t been very regular in my blogging, but I am more or less doing what I set out to do. I find that I enjoy blogging and am thrilled and excited to hear from people who visit my little space. – And I have gotten to know a lot of interesting blogs and had the opportunity to talk to a number of really nice and talented people over the last year!

If you’re doing NaNoWriMo, I hope you’re doing well! And regardless of whether or not you are; thank you for visiting my blog and reading this! I would offer you bisquits and tea, but unfortunately it will have to be of the imaginary kind.

Plot, character, chicken, egg …

October 30, 2011

Every story has people in it. It has settings, a series of events, and a name. A lot of factors have to come together for a piece of prose to be complete. While the question of the order in which we tackle them isn’t exactly like the chicken and the egg, it is often hard to tell in which order they come.

Let’s have a look at the following things:

  • Characters
    The people in a story – protagonists, antagonists and minor characters.
  • Narrative style
    Present or past tense? 1st or 3rd person point of view? Omniscient narrator or one character’s view?
  • Plot
    The major events and where they lead.
  • Genre
    Science fiction? Literary fiction? Young adult? Satire? Historical novel? Etc.
  • Settings
    Where the story is taking place.
  • Theme
    The essence of the story. It can be a message, a philosophy or examination of a certain thing.
  • Title
    The name of the story.

Planning this year's NaNoWriMo.

Defined loosely, I can’t think of any piece of fiction (perhaps except Twitter fiction that doesn’t have all of these to a certain degree. Even “Untitled” is a title, and even in non-plotdriven stories or stories that take place inside a protagonist’s head, there is a series of events going on.

Normally, for me, protagonists shows up. They wander into my head. Usually they are more or less fully formed – they have  personality, name, existence and surroundings. It takes a while to figure out exactly what to do with them. They tend to have a story with them, but very often it’s a personal history and not one that can be written down and become a novel or a short story right away. Sometimes they get a few scenes or short stories or become characters in the stories of others and nothing more, but once in a while they will turn out to be the base for my next long story.
Often the narrative style will emerge on its own for every story. The theme is something I am generally able to see after I have written the story (at least unless we count something as general as “the human condition”). I don’t write to deliver a certain message. Genre is something I don’t worry about. I tend to land between genres, and it doesn’t usually bother me. As for titles … Well, I tend to struggle with them and come up with ten horrible ones before I manage something acceptable.

Did I miss anything? What comes first for you? Do you have a certain genre in mind and then work out a story from there? Or do characters and plot go hand in hand?

NaNoWriMo Webly Wednesday and a checklist

October 19, 2011

Official NaNoWriMo badge

With less than two weeks to go before NaNoWriMo starts, here are some useful links and a checklist of things I’d like to have done in advance.

“What is NaNoWriMo?” you ask. No, you probably don’t. I have a feeling that at least half of my readers either participate in, have participated in or have heard of it. – So I’ll keep the what and the how of it short: NationalNovelWritingMonth (though international by now) is an event taking place in November every year. Thousands of people sign up to attempt to write the first draft of a novel of 50,000 words (or more) in 30 days. I wrote a more detailed post about it last year. And there are plenty of other blogs where you can read more about NaNoWriMo and get some great pieces of advice:

Now, for the checklist:

  • Get together with the main characters.
    Not physically, unfortunately. But I want to get to know them a bit better. What makes them tick, what are they doing when they aren’t in my novel, and so on.
  • Have a rough idea of the plot and the settings.
    This year I’ll have the starting point and a “mission”, but I have no idea what will happen on the way or how things will end, and that’s just fine. I’ll let the players loose and see what happens.
  • Stock up on easily cooked food, coffee and healthy snacks.
    I just know that there will be days in November when cooking doesn’t seem as important as finishing a chapter. So I will have things in the cupboard that can be cooked quickly, some healthy snacks like nuts and fruit, and coffee.
  • Compile a soundtrack.
    The right music helps me get into the right mood for what I am writing, so each year I make a list on my iPod for NaNoWriMo with appropriate music.
  • Make a designated NaNoWriMo 2011 notebook.
    I bought a Moleskine for this purpose and put a NaNoWriMo sticker on it. It is now split up into sections such as “Characters” and “Maps” and “Technology” so that I can put notes in for later use now as well as through November.
  • Find a “magical” NaNoWriMo object.
    Last year I had a hat that I wore when I needed to concentrate on my writing in November (no, I didn’t wear it every time I sat down to write). A magical item helps signal “I’m writing” to other people, and it’s also a little trick to make you feel more focused. This year I think I’m going for a pendant since I found one appropriately shaped as a pencil.

Have  you come across some great articles or blog posts about NaNoWriMo? What is on your list of things to do before November starts? Or are you fed up with reading about NaNoWriMo all the time?

In-jokes and why everything is so much more interesting when you’re a writer

October 15, 2011

Organised crime, the Dutch language, the Roman empire, Paris, the occult ... A selection of topics relevant to my stories.

Recently I went to a used book sale. The books were just around $4 and most of them were non-fiction books. It was research heaven. And it’s in such a place that I realise just how much my interests are influenced by my stories and the people in them.

I overheard one of the people who worked there asking a customer what they were looking for. The answer was quite simple. A certain historical period, a geographic region, a type of psychology – that sort of answer. One single thing. “Wow,” I thought, “that must be cheap and easy.” And also not nearly as interesting as I find having a diversity of interests.
I do enjoy the feeling of leafing through a book for information and inspiration, but I’m not the kind of writer who reads a newspaper article or the like and get an idea for a novel. I’m the sort who has an idea and then I get excited when I find a newspaper article that relates to it.
Since I work on a number of stories at the same time and have a quite a few characters who have starred in short fiction and are waiting for me to write their novels (or at least give them a prominent role in someone else’s story), there is a lot to research to be done. Writing historical fiction and having people in some of the stories who have been around for literally a couple of thousand years obviously doesn’t make it more simple.
I still need to find good resources on daily life in the Persian Empire around 500 BC, if anyone out there just so happens to know any books on the subject.

So that was the useful research part. Are you wondering about the in-jokes? Well, the thing is, I don’t just stop at research and books. I find myself relating all sorts of things that I encounter to my writing. A cafe having the name of one of my main characters? That is funny. Having the sort of beverage that another protagonist likes while I’m writing their story? That is nice and cosy. Seeing someone in the street who looks remarkably like one of my guys? I’ve yet to ask someone if I can take their picture because they look like this person that I’m writing a novel about, but I have been close.

A camera from around 1950 that may be part of a collection belonging to one of my protagonists.

I have come onto possession of a few things that have something to do with my stories. One of my protagonists wears a trilby and he made me appreciate the look so much that I got one very much like it. Silly? Maybe, but in addition to being a funny in-joke and a really nice hat, if I need to get into the spirit of his story, then wearing it will work wonders.
Last year, right after the last NaNoWriMo, a friend gave me the camera on the left because my main character collected old and antique cameras. Another friend knitted a bat for me with pinstriped wings. Why? Well, one of my guys (a vampire) jokingly introduced himself as “a fruitbat” in the first story he ever appeared in. And he likes to wear a pinstriped suit.
It’s not just that my friends indulge me. These people happen to be writers as well and have the same sense of humour that I have when it comes to these things.
I find all these in-jokes entertaining, but often they’re more than that. Like the hat, they can help fuel creativity. I bond with the people in my stories through these things and can get some interesting little insights into them.

Do you find that being a writer gives you a wider range of interests? Are you on constant lookout for research material? Do you have in-jokes with yourself or other writers? Do you own something that (and because) your main character does?


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