The Power and Authenticity of Fictional Languages

File_000 (4)

Research! (Book cover courtesy of author Robert Hendrickson and illustrator/cover designer Cathy Rincon)

Creating a new dialect ain’t easy.

During my worldbuilding endeavors for my serial novel, Stormriders, I discovered that some of the people who lived in the World I Built spoke an interesting hodge-podge creole of Appalachian English and Pirate English vernacular. Interesting, but tricky. I’d never created a dialect before. Luckily, I have been able to research to my heart’s content because The Interwebs. And what I’m finding is fascinating!

I’ve learned that there are dictionaries, encyclopedias, and other reference materials out there for just about every language that exists or has ever existed on the planet. And many of those are free!

I’ve learned that Appalachian English remains the closest still-spoken dialect on earth to the language of Shakespeare (Hendrickson, 1997).

I’ve learned that Pirate English is a dialect that is actually spoken by more real-life people today that I could have imagined.

I’ve learned that creating a language, even a creole dialect of English language variations, is HARD. But as words fly out of my main character’s mouth and onto the pages of my story, it’s apparent how worthwhile the effort is.

Language brings authenticity to the world you’ve created.

World-building is one of the most enjoyable writing exercises for me. And why wouldn’t it be? Science fiction and fantasy authors the world over have created some of the most vibrant, beautiful worlds I’ve ever pictured inside my head via the words on their pages. And all of those worlds came replete with rich geographical, climatological, political, and cultural details.

I’m no J.R.R. Tolkien. Inventing a brand new language from scratch (as Tolkien did multiple times for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings) is daunting in a way I can’t fully voice. Perhaps Tolkien felt similarly as he began wandering through the World He Built. Perhaps not… he was a philologist, after all.

Thankfully, for the purposes of my story and the world I’ve built for Stormriders (which takes place in a post-apocalyptic former North America), I did not have to invent a new language from scratch. But for one group, the Shoalfolk of the Carolina Shoals (a string of low-lying islands and cays that formerly comprised the Appalachian highlands, before catastrophic flooding devastated the low-lying continental United States over millennia), it felt inappropriate to neglect to honor that rich culture that, to this current day, reflects the linguistic cadences and phrasing of Elizabethan English.

In order for readers to believe in your characters, you have to be able to answer questions about every aspect of the world in which your characters were born, grew up, and have embarked upon their journeys. Language is one of those critical aspects (and I would argue, perhaps one of the most important), which can shape a culture and bring authenticity to your characters themselves, as they move through the world you’ve tirelessly imagined.

And it’s a big, big world out there, indeed.

BLOG HOME

In Which I Finally Publish a Book, and Other News…

File_000 (1)Blogging about being a writer is much, much easier than actually doing the WRITING part of being a writer.

At least, it has been in my experience. As a digital marketing specialist for my day job, I have this social media thing down pretty well. Facebook, Twitter, blog, rinse, repeat. I’m a decent socializer (I know that’s an awkward word, but I tried to correct it, and almost typed the word “socialist” and proceeded to have a good laugh for a few seconds, and then went with socializer. I loathe the phrase “social butterfly.” I massively digress.)…

So I’m a decent socializer. I’ve made some great connections on Twitter. I participate in online writers’ forums. I’ve had a grand old time creating concept cover art for various projects I’m working on. I’ve gotten my website looking pretty much the way I’d envisioned it.

What I haven’t done is finish writing a damn book.

Jen Book Cover2I’m happy to report that, by the end of April, the above statement should no longer be accurate. I’m almost done with a rewrite of my lonnnnnnng-overdue memoir of Tanzania, which has morphed into a commentary on a few topics I think are truly important, above all the inspirational social change happening in Tanzania, fostered by Tanzanians. Below is an excerpt of the book description on my Kickstarter page:

In July 2010, I spent 28 days in the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania. I arrived in the country thinking (somewhat naively) that I was there to facilitate positive social change and help to change a community for the better. Little did I know that I would be the one whose worldview was fundamentally changed. More specifically, what changed over the course of those 28 days were my preconceived views on international volunteering, culture sharing, and what the concepts of “home” and “community” mean to people the world over. And more than anything, what I came away with was a fierce respect for the people of Tanzania – and was left with a deep desire, when I came back to the States, to share what I had learned from Tanzanians themselves, those on the front lines who had been working for decades to grow and foster social change within their own communities.

To view more, you can visit the Kickstarter page, where all donations are going toward the physical printing and distribution costs associated with publishing this book. Or you can check out the book description page on my website by clicking here. This project is a labor of love and has been in progress for six years. I am thrilled that the day is finally here.


In other news:

I continue work on my NaNoWriMo 2015 novel project, The Bearers. I’m about 1/3 done with a first draft since November, but as I’ve mentioned before, when you fall in love with a story you’ll find a way to finish it. As of right now, I’m not sure if it’s going to end up an adult or YA novel… I’m trying to listen to the voices of my characters and see where the plot goes. It started very YA, but has since taken on some darker themes (although a lot of the YA dystopian fiction I’ve read can get pretty dark). It may come down to too many F-bombs… my heroine doesn’t mince her words. I hope the actual genre-selection process is not that trivial. I know a lot of writers advise finding and deciding on the genre before you get into the nitty-gritty writing of the book, but I’m decidedly having trouble with that, with this story. Check out the description page by following the link above and take a look at the synopsis and excerpt… I would welcome any feedback.

Since I can’t ever seem to finish a project before I dream up ideas for the next one, I have two new stories in the works. One is a retelling of a classic opera, reset in another planet’s post-apocalyptic dystopia. The other is set in a post-apocalyptic future-Earth, and has pirates. I don’t know… I think perhaps I am defining a genre niche for myself. I don’t have much online yet, but I will post synopses soon. Please feel free to visit my In the Works page for updates, if you’re interested.

BLOG HOME