One of the great things about building a platform is the wonderful people you get to meet. One such person is Charles E. Yallowitz, author of the epic fantasy series Legends of Windemere. The latest book is Sleeper of the Wildwood Fugue. He also just released a 27-page short story for 99 cents called Ichabod Brooks & the City of Beasts, if you want to get a quick, cheap taste of him… whatever.
He has shared with us a great post on fantasy languages, with 10 tips on things to do and don’t do when using one. Take it, Charles!
10 Do’s and No-no’s of Fantasy Languages
It isn’t easy writing fiction and delving into the concept of languages. Many of us grew up with the humor of ‘Pig Latin’, which was so ‘cool’ as a child. Now it’s barely uttered and probably on its way to a dead language like Sanskrit and Neanderthal. Though I hear that last one is making a comeback in bars during certain days of the week. Anyway, you can always attempt to make your own language and attempt to be recognized alongside Tolkien and Roddenberry. Here’s some advice from someone who hasn’t tried this:
1. DO put some form of translation in your story
Whether a guide or a bilingual character, you need people to understand your language to make it work beyond a minor plot event. Sure, the ‘language barrier’ obstacle can be fun to play out, but if you’re going for greatness then you need more.
2. DO NOT jam tons of Y, Q, K, and Z letters into a language
That’s been done and many people find it ridiculous. Once you go for 3 Y’s in a row, you’re probably on your way to an intervention.
3. DO take punctuation into account
That can make the difference in your language being understood. Commas, question marks, capitalization, and apostrophes can help clear up the use of a word by putting it in context. It can also help distinguish fantasy words from fantasy names.
4. DO NOT slip random Earth words into your story
Especially if said story occurs on a foreign planet or different dimension. Of course, this doesn’t count for the language you’re publishing in. For example, it would make no sense for an elf of Windemere to speak a few words in Russian among their true language. There is no Russia, so such words wouldn’t exist. An added problem is that doing this can throw off whatever language pattern and system you were creating.
5. DO study other languages to some extent
Learn about pluralization and gender-specific words within other language systems. If you want a solitary inspiration then pick one language and study it to copy the nuances. Only go for the nuances and not the whole language unless that’s your plan.
6. DO NOT refuse to learn your own fictional language
Even if your fans deciphered your language and improved it, you might want to learn a few phrases. You are the progenitor of this new tongue and people will be disappointed if you can’t even say hello or ask to use the bathroom in it.
7. DO remember that you still have to use an Earth keyboard
You can’t go entirely off a fictional alphabet. Somebody is going to have to type your story into a computer or note things in a review. Unless you know how to program language software, you’re going to need to work off the ABC’s.
8. DO NOT have every character understand every language in the world
Just as in reality, not everyone is fluent in every language. Have somebody be confused on what’s being said so that the reader doesn’t feel like they’re nothing more than an outsider sitting in the corner of a big party.
9. DO take some time to create names that incorporate your new language
Even if they’re nothing more than titles, it brings more cultural credence to the overall language.
10. DO NOT use your fictional language as an excuse to mess up the spelling of real words
If a character has a typo in his dialogue, it better be clear that he or she was trying to speak another language. If that isn’t clear then you need to fess up to the oops.
Who is Charles, you say?
When he isn’t working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day.
‘Legends of Windemere’ is his first series, but it certainly won’t be his last.