A blog about game design, roleplaying games, and the day-to-day adventures of a Melbourne Game Designer.
Monday, 21 March 2011
Conlanging for Fiction – Part 2 – In Creative Writing
Making constructed languages for your fictional settings is a great way to add depth to the world. Today I am going to talk about their use in Creative Writing.
A novel (or piece of creative writing), unlike a Roleplaying game, is completely controlled in context by the author, but still needs to be received. This is the major problem with Conlangs in creative writing. Often those who read your books will be unfamiliar with the concept of Conlangs, or will be viewing your story from their native languages standpoint. This crossing of wires can cause problems.
Firstly, there is the problem of comprehension. Many people will simply not understand what is happening, and you will find that confusion will bloom in your readers. This could be because you are too liberal with words from your Conlangs, or you do not introduce them in an approachable manner. My advice on this point would be that you should have the main characters’ speech only ever written in English (or equivalent) but this is merely translation from what is really being spoken. The only time you should pepper your text with words from your Conlang is in nouns and phrases that don’t exist in your language (e.g. ‘gaitru’ – meaning ‘forest watchtower’ from my novel/creative writing/story/thing, Vengr). These additions add enough fluff as to inspire your readers, but do not bog them down in lines of foreign text. (It is also advisable to add a short lexicon or glossary of the words you use from your Conlangs at the back of your book.)
(Please note that if you have several cultures in your world, it can be interesting to put a few phrases in from a non-central language – especially if the main characters do not know this language. But do this sparingly).
The next problem faced is one of misinformation. Native languages will always corrupt our thoughts when approaching a new language. Consider J.R.R. Tolkein’s Quenya, with its hard <c> (forming /k/). Who hasn’t heard someone say “Seleborn” when “Keleborn” is correct? You must make sure you use simplistic orthography. No outlandish symbols or outlandish rules… As a general rule, you should keep non-plumonics out of your main Conlang/s, but they can feature in the more alien ones (see note above). Just make sure you represent them well!
The last problem is one of effort. Let’s face it, not everyone who sits down to read a fantasy novel wants a lecture on language – especially not a fictional language. I advise adding in the aforementioned glossary, but making sure that it is unnecessary to read the book. Everything should be explained in enough detail during the story to make sense, without readers having to flip back and forth. It is advisable to have someone read over your work and then see if they come across concepts they didn’t understand. If they did, explain it better in the text.