Worldbuilding 101: Societies

Sorry for the delay on this one. I’ve actually been trying to get this written for weeks. I’ve been incredibly busy, and that unfortunately won’t change. More details later.

So, societies. For a little background, I’ve been trying to revive an idea I had some time ago. A story, that I believe I’ve referred to here, where I wrote a book, but can’t use it. I loved the world, but the plot was unusable for the idea I had. I wanted to write a series of mysteries in a world where the human world and the magic world had collided a few years ago. My main detectives are a shadow fairy and a river dragon, who have set up shop in Philadelphia.

Currently, I’m trying to use that world to write another story, and I’m doing a lot of background notes to try to figure out where everyone is coming from. One of the first thing I decided about the fairies, is that they are a matriarchal society. Because I honestly couldn’t picture them being anything else. So what does that mean?

I didn’t want a simple reversal where women did everything that men traditionally did in most societies in our history. Nor was I trying to portray this as some utopia we should strive for.  Many pre-industrial societies had some firm demarcations on what was men’s work and what was women’s work. Though some of those were less set in stone than others. Take knitting. One of my knitting books tells how in one society (I think it was like Netherlands or Scandinavia), women knit the practical things, like sweaters and socks; men knit decorative pieces of art.

While I’m still developing things, and will probably continue, I’ve decided (for now anyway) that while male fairies are generally bigger and stronger than female fairies, the females are usually stronger at magic. The guard force is about sixty-forty male to female ratio. The main leader is almost always, if not exclusively, the fairy Queen, perhaps with her consort. Inheritance and genetics are primarily reckoned through the female. If a light fairy and a dark fairy have a child together (major taboo there), the child will primarily take after the mother with a few hints of the father’s background.

In addition, I had trouble with the idea of fairies marrying like we do. So, they don’t. Most fairies are actually from contracted meetings. Two fairies make a contract to attempt to have a child, payment and other considerations are decided upon (will the male have visitation, get credit for being the father officially, etc.) and so forth. Sometimes fairies will ‘join’ which is similar to what we consider a marriage except that it isn’t permanent. Usually for a few centuries, but then both parties are free to seek another or re-join. Re-joining again and again with no others in between is unusual, but not taboo. Joining may or may not affect contracting status.

Part of it was that fairies live so very long, and they are so tied to nature and plant life in my mind. I just couldn’t see them being interested doing the same thing forever.

Dragons, on the other hand, were different. In this series, dragons have similar lifespans to fairies, but have very different outlooks. Dragons have a more egalitarian society, and can be led by a Dragon Lord, a Dragon Lady, or both. Swift is male who inherited a river from his mother and became it’s guardian. This was neither traditional nor progressive, and no one really cared.

Dragons also bond for life, and when one dies, or as they put it, ‘returns to the mists and magic’, there’s a thirty percent chance the other will follow within a year. Slightly less chance when there’s young children around.

There’s other races that I’m going to have to come up with backgrounds for. More areas I’ll have to fill in. Just getting the various non-humans to accept human currency led to some interesting thoughts. But why should my non-humans value the same things we do? Maybe even we’re stranger than we think. I read this long but fascinating article that posited that the things we’re taught in psychology may be wrong because we’re using too small a sample, and Americans and Western Europeans are stranger than we think.

Try to stop and think about the implications that your society would include. Most of what I came up with, I hadn’t planned at all with my first tour to this world. I was more interested in how the human world adapted to having non-humans suddenly sharing their space. Something I’m still going to play with more.

So, while I was late posting it, and I’m sorry about that, I do have a Full Moon Festivity for May. On my website I have posted various links to Lunar Lore, with hopefully more to come. For June’s Full Moon Festivity, I have something special planned. Book Three of the Hyde Chronicles will be released June 28th. A few quotes will be up on Pinterest soon. More updates on Facebook. And, starting June 28th, for five days, the first book of the Hyde Chronicles, The Pawn’s Play, will be available free in Kindle format! Please check it out.

What do you consider when you build a society?


Worldbuilding 101: Holidays Part Two

You guys are awesome. I don’t know if last week’s blog resonated with a lot of readers or you were taking pity on an insecure writer (I’m hoping for the first, but I’ll take the second.) but I got more likes faster than any previous post.

You may also be behind the upswing on my Pinterest account. Still didn’t sell any books on kindle, but I remain hopeful.

So, holidays, part two. The problem with putting this off two weeks is I can no longer remember what it was I wanted to say. Hopefully I can remember and put in some good points anyway.

When is your holiday? Is it by the solar calendar, the lunar calendar, always the same day of the week? Christmas is by the solar calendar. It is always December twenty-fifth. Easter is reckoned by the lunar calendar, because Passover is by the lunar calendar. It is also always on the same day of the week (Sunday), like American Thanksgiving is always on the fourth Thursday in November. In Canada, it’s on the second Monday in October.

I can see the Weres using the lunar calendar more commonly, and perhaps the vampires wish to avoid the solar calendar as well. Do races that interact with each other more start using other calendars?

Perhaps your races use another calendar entirely? In Knightfall, there is brief mention of a Yeti holiday, First Winter’s Night which begins the Festival of Ice. Winter is declared to begin when the ice is thick enough to support the full weight of an adult yeti. But no one knows when that will be ahead of time. Also in Knightfall, Violet wishes a goblin RA a happy Mid-year’s day on New Year’s Eve, because the goblin New Year is sometime in June, based on goblin constellations. So, a stellar calendar. Maybe your holiday revolves around a blooming of a plant or the return of a migratory bird or animal.

How is time measured? Without a moon, we may not have months as we know them and it would be harder to differentiate the beginning and end of the year.

Holidays can be heavily linked to the values of the culture. Why do we celebrate Thanksgiving? Mother’s Day and Father’s Day? Because as a society we are supposed to be grateful and honor our parents and ancestors. Some holidays are made up for commercial reasons. Does anyone really think there is a good reason behind National Ice Cream month other than to sell more ice cream? (I originally used National Pancake day and National doughnut day, but apparently there are reasons behind them.)

Most religions have a day they consider more sacred than others. Most Christians (other than Seventh Day Adventists) have Sunday as a day of rest. Most Jews (and the Seventh Day Adventists) consider Saturday the Sabbath. The Muslims consider Friday a holy day. This is essentially a minor holiday each week. If you are inventing a religion for your race, a weekly holy day is not a bad consideration.

When does the holiday begin? Is it at midnight? At dawn? At sundown the night before? How old is your holiday? You may not think that matters, but it does. What a holiday is meant to be is not always closely related to what it becomes after some decades of time. Memorial Day is supposed to be a time to remember those who have fallen in battle. It was originally observed by decorating the graves of soldiers (and by some partisan speeches and bickering). But it has been turned into a three day weekend which is often celebrated by cookouts. I don’t believe I did anything last Memorial Day. I’m not passing judgement, but I think we can all admit the holiday changed over the years. The further a holiday is from the original founding, the more likely that the meaning and way of celebrating has changed.

Have fun making up your own holidays and celebrating the upcoming ones!

A little note, I’ve made Hyde University pins. You can see them and read about the development of the Hyde University crest on Facebook.

Worldbuilding 101: Holidays

Since tomorrow is Halloween, this seems like an appropriate time to mention holidays. Holidays are intrical to our culture, and always have been. I see no reason for that to change, or for it not to be the case for non-human sentients. While you can ignore them completely, they can also add a fascinating layer to your stories.

Holidays are, at their heart, community affairs. Even private holidays, like birthdays and anniversaries, are usually celebrated with a group, at very least family. Some holidays are major holidays. Whether you celebrate it or not, you know that Christmas is December 25. That happens to be the only day of the year my current job isn’t open. But on the other hand, without looking it up, I can’t tell you even what month ‘National Secretary’s Day‘ is. Apparently that’s in April in this country (and is a little more complex than I realized). Is your holiday one that affects the entire community, or one that is mostly ignored?

That can change depending on location. No one cares here whether or not I wear green (or orange, since I’m Protestant and green is supposed to represent Catholics) for St. Patrick’s Day. It seemed like a bigger deal when I lived up in Pennsylvania and Delaware. And I’m told (though it’s probably exaggerated) that wearing the wrong color in the wrong neighborhood on that day in Ireland can be a good way to get hurt. When I lived in Russia, December 25th wasn’t a holiday at all. Under communism, Christmas was banned, and the holiday moved to New Year‘s. People have new year’s trees, Grandfather Frost gives out new year’s presents, etc. They do have a Christmas, which is January 7th, and that is purely a religious holiday, and generally a quiet one. Meanwhile, International Women’s day (March 8th) is a big deal over there, and it is customary to give flowers to women of your acquaintance. In the States, most people probably don’t know when that is.

Is your holiday historical, religious, or tradition? Do people get off work and school? Or is it mostly just another day? How is your holiday celebrated? Food is an important part of most holidays, either the partaking of or abstaining from. In the United States, we celebrate the Fourth of July with fireworks, but not other holidays for the most part. In Russia, almost every holiday was celebrated with fireworks. We would stand on our balcony and see over a dozen different displays.

How do you come up with holidays? Pretty easily. Look at what’s celebrated around the world. Most cultures have a day for remembering the dead (often, but not always, in the fall), a day for renewal and rebirth in the spring, a day for the founding of their nation or people group, a day for their leader or leaders (President’s day here, other places may celebrate the birthday of the current ruler), and at least one community gift giving festival. Your story involves a colony of humans on Mars? What about colony founding day? Or the birthday of the first leader? Your main characters are a community of Elves? Probably a few nature based holidays.

Different people celebrate holidays differently. The way my family celebrates Christmas is different from anyone else I’ve heard. Your family traditions are not the same as another’s. Different groups (racial, ethnic, or religious) will probably celebrate different holidays. Can minorities celebrate their holidays openly?

Okay, but what if you want to write a darker story? No feel good holidays here. Well, holidays have their darker side too, don’t they? Any holiday that involves drinking runs the risk of drunkenness and the assorted chaos that goes with it. Stress goes up during the holidays, as does domestic violence. Those who have lost loved ones find holidays particularly hard. And what if your holiday has a darker side built in? Who says that the vampires don’t have a few humans kept in stock for Bloodletting Day?

Holidays are what you make them. Enjoy.

Book note. Nightmare’s Revenge, the sequel to Secrets of the Moon Fox comes out tomorrow. Check it out. Warning, this is one case where you really do have to read the first book first. More information to come. Check out my Facebook and Pinterest accounts. I’ve got excerpts up and random quotes from my books. It’s fun.

Worldbuilding 101: Food and Drink

On first appearance, this might seem like too narrow a topic for a blog post. After all, does it really matter? Can’t you write a whole book without ever bothering to mention what your characters ate or drank? Yes, you can. And it might even be a good book. Will your book be any better for mentioning food and/or drink? Maybe. Maybe not.

Consider this. Eating has deep emotive roots for humans. Who we eat with, what we eat, when we eat it; it all matters. A dinner for two by candlelight, a giant cake shared by friends, chips and pretzels at a sports party, cold pizza eaten alone at breakfast. They all bring up different emotional responses. Why not spend an extra few minutes considering what your characters do or don’t eat?

Who does one typically eat with?

Are most meals communal? Do families separate? Do men eat one place, women another, children a third? Is eating an intensely private thing? What happens when characters from communities that have different practices collide?

What is eaten when?

Are certain foods reserved for or forbidden at special times? Fruitcake is generally a Christmas treat. Most Jews avoid yeast at Passover. You don’t eat oysters in a month that doesn’t have an ‘R’ in it. Is the reason for this practical (the oysters), traditional (fruitcake), or religious (yeast)? Or a combination of the above?

What is taboo?

I don’t recommend necessarily using your own diet as a guide here. We are fortunate enough to live in a time and place where we as a society can afford to be picky. Not everyone does. Americans, by and large, balk at the idea of eating insects while much of the rest of the world doesn’t blink an eye at that. Like the above, is your reason for the taboo practical, tradition, or religious? Is a sacred animal not eaten? Eaten only at certain times and in certain ways?

Salt has an interesting enough history to write a novel solely about it. There were times salt was worth more than it’s weight in gold. In some cultures, sharing salt with someone was the same as a binding peace treaty. Wars have been fought over salt and the access to it. In Russia, when a young couple marry, upon their return from their honeymoon, they are supposed to be presented with bread and salt.

If you have non-humans, things can get even more interesting. There is no reason in the world that your non-humans should have the same exact diet range as a human. In the Moonlight Memories series, Liska’s food allergies have been used as minor plot points. In the Hyde Chronicles, Violet makes a point not to pay too much attention to what others eat, because some of it is really disturbing from a human point of use. Can these differences be plot relevant? No reason why not. Maybe something healthy to one is poisonous to another. Tell me you can’t make a plot point out of that.

Even if you are using humans, if they are in a different world, they will eat different things. One of my works in progress is a fantasy world where they don’t have horses (though unicorns do exist, but they are aggressive and you don’t want to get near them), but there are giant lizards that are used as pack animals. It occurred to me that such a society would probably use as much of the lizard as possible. Lizard leather, lizard meat, etc. Much like the ancient Mongols used horses for everything, and some still do. Horse meat, mare’s milk, horse hair, etc. Can’t use lizard milk because lizards aren’t mammals, but close enough.

Consider the society you are using. Nomads should have a different diet than farmers who have a different diet than fishermen. Those who spend most of the hours of the day working aren’t likely to spend much time and effort into making the food look better, unless that is their work. What’s the level of technology? If there isn’t much in the way of refrigeration, foods have to be preserved or eaten quickly. Try some research into other time periods and see some of the things they did with food. Even in the middle ages, for banquets, the food was supposed to be decorative as well as tasty. Can’t say I would necessarily want to eat a lot of it, but they took pride in their work just as we do today.

No, I haven’t forgotten drink. It’s easy to overlook the possibilities for beverages. Water is a given, no matter how dry a climate may be. If there is no water, there is no life. Fermented beverages usually came next. Mostly from grapes and similar, but mead comes from honey, and a popular drink in Russia called kvass, is made from bread mold. That comes in both alcoholic and non-alcoholic varieties. In places where the water quality is bad, it might actually be safer to drink alcohol.  Milk is common though not always from cows. Milk can come from any lactating mammal. Goat’s milk is relatively common even in this society, and I’ve heard of people drinking mare’s milk. Other possible sources are sheep, camel, reindeer, buffalo, donkey, yak, and moose. Why not consider some of the options in your world? Don’t forget teas of various sorts whether they include actual tea leaves or not. These can be used for refreshment, for medicine, for magic or religious ceremonies. Most fruits and some vegetables can be made into juice. Perhaps they all can but some are less appealing than others.

Some books talk a lot about food, some do not. Neither is inherently wrong. It’s just another layer you can use. Definitely something worth considering. You can always add recipes as an added bonus for your readers. Bon Appetit!

Worldbuilding 101: Governments

Worldbuilding 101: Governments

Okay, every society, large or small, has some form of hierarchy. Even animals who live in groups tend to have an Alpha. Human governments come in four basic flavors with almost infinite variations. Basic divisions are: Rule by the many (or all), Rule by the few, Rule by the one, and Rule by none. In human societies, neither the first or last work well long term on a large scale. There are a couple cities that still practice direct democracy, where every citizen votes on every issue. I imagine they are very small cities. Rule by none, also known as anarchy, is basically chaos, and frankly, a frightening concept. Someone has to provide the framework. You may have some groups, say a group of friends who hang out, where no one is ‘in charge’ but even then, there is some form of leadership. Perhaps a temporary leadership that trades out, but leadership none the less. Someone makes a suggestion, others agree, and it happens. I imagine that in most groups, a leader forms anyway. “Let’s ask __, he/she will know what to do.”

A quote I read once that has always stuck with me, even if I don’t remember the source goes something like this, “When two people ride a horse, someone has to sit in front.” Someone will take charge in every situation. Not always the same person, but without someone making a decision, nothing gets done.

Now what’s really interesting is the way that Rule of the few and Rule of the one seem to intertwine. In every committee, every congress, every council; there is one person who is above the rest, making sure everyone follows the rules, choosing who speaks, and just generally trying to form order out of chaos. And when you have one person in charge, usually there is a small group of people who put him there. So really, who does have the power?

Leaving philosophy aside for a while, let’s talk variations. Is the Law, whatever that Law may be, sacrosanct or can whoever is in charge adapt it? That is a vital question, the difference between an absolute king and a constitutional monarch. Interestingly enough, the idea of even the leader(s) being under the law is not a new concept. You may have heard of the law of the Medes and the Persians. Once the law was in place, even the King himself could not repeal it. Remember Daniel and the lions’ den? Even if you doubt that story actually happened, it is an account from an ancient source of a ruler who was actually bound by law.

How did the leader or leaders end up in charge? Is this a hereditary position? Were they elected by the people, or chosen by a small group? Were they chosen by a magic artefact, ala the sword in the stone? Was it a computer algorithm chose them? Chosen by lot? Does gender matter? Is your society patriarchal, matriarchical, or egalitarian? Are they chosen, supposedly or actually, by the gods? Did they win the position because no one dared challenge them, or they won the challenge against the previous leader?

It is also worth remembering that every human has an agenda. No, agendas are not necessarily bad in and of themselves, but it does affect the way people see the world and the priorities they have. If some stranger popped up and gave you a five dollar bill to give to your favorite charity, where would you give it? Assuming you are honest and do indeed give the money to charity, there are almost endless possibilities. Health groups, religious groups, educational groups, sports groups, rehabilitation groups, ecological groups, etc. Where I would chose to give the money may not be where you would chose, but that doesn’t mean either of us are wrong. It simply means we have different hot buttons.

Let’s pretend for a moment that we have a list of five organizations. One is a children’s hospital, one is an animal sanctuary, one helps veterans, one is a literacy group, and the last provides clean water in third world countries. I think I can say without controversy that those are all good causes. Now, let’s pretend we are on a committee to determine funding for those organizations, and we only room on the budget for three. Which two get cut? That would get controversial very quickly, because we all have different agendas, different worldviews, and different priorities. Honestly, I am very glad I am not having to make a decision like that.

Another thing to remember with humans is that Lord Acton’s Dictum is a little too close to the truth. Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Everyone has seen it happen. People who let a taste of power go to their head. Yes, there are people who manage to resist. I applaud them. And maybe you don’t have humans at all, but some other race that is totally immune to the temptation of power. Have fun.

Government is not always on the large scale. Sure every country has a leader of some sort, but so does every city, town, moon base, etc. Often there is an official leader. A mayor, governor, foreman, elder, etc. Sometimes there is an unofficial leader. A priest, a soothsayer, a wisewoman, the villager that’s lived forever and knows everything. Sometimes there’s both and they aren’t the same person. Isn’t that fun?

So, how do you develop a government? Research! And research some more. The place and role of government in various civilizations is fascinating. Rome went through several forms of government in a few short centuries. The ‘Time of Troubles’ in Russia, the period between the death of Ivan the Terrible and the start of the Romanov dynasty could be a novel in its’ own right, having imposters, a tsar elected by the nobles, and people claiming to come back from the dead. Recognize that it essentially has all been done before and there is only so far you can go to make it original. But since we are writing speculative fiction, there are ways to add flavor that aren’t available in a more ‘realistic’ book. I’ve mentioned a few possibilities and would love to hear your ideas.

My contest, mentioned in my last blog post, is still open, and will remain open until someone wins.  As previously mentioned, Secrets of the Moon Fox is available both in print and kindle format. If you want to help, but can’t afford to buy the book, than please help spread the word.


Worldbuilding 101: Languages Part Two


Hello again! We did manage to move out of the old place, and today was the inspection of the house we have been hoping to buy. Unfortunately, it looks like it’s going to need more work than we anticipated, and we already knew it was a fixer-upper. So, wish us luck and wisdom as we continue.

But, I’m betting very few people are here to listen to my house woes. You are here to learn more about languages and worldbuilding. Specifically, making up words or even a whole language for your works.

There is nothing wrong with making up words or phrases from a fictional language, and it can even add a lot to a story. But when you make up a word or phrase, there are a few things to keep in mind. How is the word pronounced? Can the reader tell? In English, many letters can make two or more sounds. Easy ways to solve this are to have a pronunciation guide in front or to mention in the narration that so and so pronounced it like… But they have issues too.  Readers may skip a guide, I know I had read the Pendragon Cycle (Stephen Lawhead) three or five times before I bothered to read the pronunciation guide, and had been mis-pronouncing several main characters names the whole time. You also don’t want to be constantly commenting on how a character speaks, it gets annoying.

Okay, so the reader is mispronouncing names or words, who cares? Maybe you do, maybe you don’t. Maybe it matters and maybe not. But at least consider, is there a way the word could be pronounced that you really don’t want? Possibly like a swear word, a potential sexual term, or something insulting to a certain segment of the population? Or maybe you do that want that. That’s your business, but at least make sure if it does, that’s because you meant it, not by accident.

It is also important to do your best to check that whatever word or phrase you make up doesn’t already have a meaning you aren’t aware of. That’s hard to check, but important. Probably most people will forgive you if your word for bread turns out to also be an obscure Polish swear word, but it can be embarrassing. And with the internet as large as it is, people will find out. You never know what somebody’s an expert in until you make a mistake in front of them.

One other consideration is when to make up a new word for something. No matter how clever it is, not everything in your world needs a clever new name. No calling rabbits, smeerps. * If a perfectly good word exists for what you wish to describe, especially a word your readers will understand, why not use it? Remember, communication and clarity.

Also, do consider that it is not uncommon for readers to start tuning out when things get hard to understand. I tend to let my eyes wander when I run into too many unfamiliar words in a small area.

About making up a language wholesale, my advice would generally be don’t bother. There is a lot of work that goes into developing a language, and it seldom comes out well. Not to mention, most of your readers will not be interested enough to learn a new language to read a story. There are exceptions, languages that took off, such as Elvish and Klingon, but Tolkien was a linguistics professor and Klingon was developed by a group of people, not one lone person.

So, you’ve decided to ignore me, and want to develop a language anyway. Fine, fine. You’ll learn. But I do have some advice about that too.

Start with grammar. I know, I know, the vocab is more interesting. Of course it is. I was an English Major and I still have trouble with parts of grammar. But it is vital. Grammar is your framework. It is the cord that makes up your string of pearls, with the vocabulary as the pearls themselves. Without that cord, you have a mess of loose beads. Your grammar can (and should be) simple. Ways of expressing what happened (or will happen) to who and when. Or didn’t happen and won’t. You don’t need twenty-four different ways to say ‘my’(Russian) or rules that have a million exceptions. For guidance, I would look into other conlangs (constructed languages) like Elvish, Klingon, and Esperanto.

Figure out the base of your language. What kinds of sounds predominate? English is a bad example here because we’ve stolen from pretty much every language we’ve ever encountered to form this great mishmash we speak. But if you listen to someone speak Spanish or French and then speak Russian or German, you will notice some dramatic differences. Is your language mostly full of hard consonants and percussive sounds (‘D’ ‘T’ hard ‘K’), or is your language more likely to have soft, flowing sounds with a preponderance of vowels, ‘L’s and ‘S’s? Are words commonly long or short? There is no wrong answer here, and if your country is close enough to be influenced by another country or countries, maybe their language is a great mishmash too.

Again, if you throw too much that is unfamiliar, odds are good that the reader will get bored and start tuning it out. I know I always did when the classics threw in French text without translation, because I didn’t (and still don’t) know even enough French to order a hamburger. Not to mention, the more you make up, the longer it takes to make sure that the words you just made up aren’t already real words.

In all fairness, it can be done, and done well. Watership Down. Lord of the Rings. Klingon. Maybe you’ll be next.

I am currently attempting to arrange an interview with a group that is constructing a language in the web game Flight Rising. Any questions you want me to ask? Leave a comment or email me at

* I have linked to TV Tropes in the past, and undoubtedly will again in the future, but I feel I should note that it is not always entirely work safe. Mostly because of language. Use your own discretion.

Worldbuilding 101: Language, Part One

I apologize for being so late for this blog. April was crazy and May has been worse. April I was busy with work and felt under the weather, and then May came along to remind me what ‘busy’ really means. We have to move by the end of the month, something we didn’t know at the beginning of the month. The good news is that we have almost finished buying a house that if all goes well, we can hopefully start to move into as early as June fifteenth. The bad news is we have to be out of here by the end of the month. Yeah, lots of fun. There’s five people in my family, and we’re all packrats to some extent or others. I personally own more books than I suspect my high school library owned when I attended. Yeah, we’re busy. I haven’t had time to write anything since April. If anyone is curious, I did manage to complete my word count for Camp NaNoWriMo, even if the story is far from over, and I kind of cheated. Yes, I know. But it was a crazy time. Since it might be a while until things calm again, I am currently putting my blog on a ‘every two weeks’ schedule for a bit. Hopefully it will be easier to keep up that way.

I had about three quarters of this blog post written, and managed to lose that when my computer shut down without warning. Sorry.

So, about languages. I’m going to split up my original plan. Next time we’ll talk about inventing languages and words. This week, we’ll talk about a different part of using language to worldbuild.

Language is a form of communication. The goal is to express an idea from one person to another. If the reader cannot understand what you are trying to tell them, you have failed. Clarity is vital.

But language also evolves. Slang, in jokes, and idioms arise in groups, whether that group is as small as a family or group of friends, or as large as an industry. Then you have jargon, technical terms, regionalisms, etc. The way you talk is not the way I talk. The way you talk at home may be different from the way you talk to friends or the way you talk at work.

Okay, so what does that have to do with writing, especially worldbuilding? Everything! New concepts may require new words to describe them. Or at least new ways to use those words. Not to mention that language adds a layer of realism.

If your characters are from Medieval England or Thirtieth century Alpha Centauri, they shouldn’t sound the same as Twenty-first century Americans. Or each other. Neither do the characters from Medieval England need to sound like Shakespeare or the Thirtieth century characters need to sound like Flash Gordon. Slang is not a modern invention, and I do not doubt it will last as long as languages do.

Do your Mars astronauts refer to their ‘Standard Issued Terrain Footwear’, or do they refer to their boots? Or even their Sitfs? Actually, that’s a character study in and of itself. Or for your fantasy world, do your wizards have slang terms for the spells they can cast? Explosive spells could be referred to as ‘boomers’, plant spells could be ‘greenies’, summoning the Sly Ferret spirit could be ‘furmegeddon.’

What about oaths? Mild or even major swearing may not have any connection to swear words we use today. One of my stories, I had all crude language revolve around uncleanliness; dirt, mud, filth, etc.  One of the characters in that world is so prim that she refuses to use those words even in their proper context, referring instead to uncleanliness or becoming moist (sweat). Another doesn’t hesitate to use those terms frequently. Other characters are in between.

In other stories, I’ve made up mild expletives for different races. I’ve had vampires swear using, ‘Rotten Fangs’, while my Shadow fairy generally uses terms referring to light, heat, or day, such as, ‘Blazing day.’ My river dragons talked about being ‘dry of brain’ when someone seemed stupid.

Admittedly, part of the reason I’ve made these up is because I personally don’t swear, but there were times I needed my characters to do so. But also, I believe it adds to your story.

Attending Ravencon, one of the speakers talked about how a character and the story was enriched by his studying a book of Chinese insults. Another interesting way to explore a culture. What is considered a compliment? What is an insult? What is a compliment coming from one person, but an insult coming from another?

What have you done to add flavor? Next time, Languages part Two.