Monday, June 4, 2012

Why write a fantasy language?

(Creating a fantasy language: (Lesson 1, Rationale, Lesson 2Lesson 3Lesson 4Choosing wordsCreating an Alphabet)

A few weeks back, I did a post on how to begin writing a fantasy language. I'll post lesson #2 eventually. But first, why fantasy languages matter:

You might never include the language in your book. Your characters might never speak it; you might never mention it; your "dictionary" might languish on a shelf in the back of your old bedroom three apartments ago, forgotten.

But words matter. They change how we think. If you have a world different from this one, fundamentally different, your characters will commonly use words that are uncommon in basic English. And you, as an author, will be able to determine some of their values by how you prioritize creating these words, and the grammar that goes with them.

Let's take a look at the vocabulary for magic: Are there different types of magic? Is it classified? Is it separated by gender?

Let's make the word syl: to cast (magic). In this world, all magic comes from the same source, the sylpana. (pana=lake). There is only one type of magic, so everyone who uses it, can do the same things with it.

A woman casting magic might say: iko syli. (I cast.)

A man casting magic might say: ako syli. (I cast.)

What did we just establish? That men and women do not hold the same place in this society, or historically did not hold equivalent roles when the language was first being constructed (I is a fundamental concept!). They differentiate their genders, meaning that "male self" is different from "female self."

This may or may not mean that they were unequal, or that there was oppression at any point. They may have been a tribal society that differentiated the tasks of men and women, but gave equal leadership and value to both genders.

But your characters, male and female, are aware of their role in society as male and female. There will be gender expectations and differentiation, or there will memories of such differentiation. Your protagonist's mother is a smith. She may refer to this ("What do you think this is, the 1100s? I can open a smithy if I want to!") She would therefore be going against a minor social norm - meaning she was a strong influence on your character, and would have been a strong character of her own right, even if she doesn't play a big role in the story.

What's another thing we just learned? Men and women conjugate the verb to cast the same. That means that there is no gender differentiation between verbs (or at least between magic-related verbs). This could mean that historically, both men and women have been mages, and performed the same tasks as mages without gender-specific tasks. Mages never dealt with gender bias.

Maybe, in this world, 1000 years ago there was a strict gender-separation of most tasks. In fairly recent history, an equality movement has eliminated many of the barriers.

Why this matter?

You will have had to create a backstory for not just your characters, but their very world. This will give you a deeper understanding of who they are, and how they react to the environment around them. It may also give rise culture-specific terms, to the sort of insults that are used, and to the kinds of people they will encounter along the way.

Writing prompt of the day: You are writing a female mage in the world we've just described. Tell me one way this background affects her characterization, her story, her actions, or one of her scenes.

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