World-Building – Language

There are three basic questions when considering language in world-building:

  • Does language play any role in your world?
  • Does everyone speak the same language, or is there a variety?
  • Do you need to invent any slang or terminology as part of the world-building process?

Here I paraphrase Aristotle’s Poetics, “Avoid neologisms unless introducing some new term/word/phrase is crucial to the plot; use jargon only to move the story along.”

Do you need to invent any slang or terminology as part if the world-building process?
The Augmented Man uses lots of military, biologic, and psychologic jargon, little of which is invented. One first reader asked me “Am I suppose to understand this stuff?” to which I answered, “If that stuff was replaced with something like ‘Oh, and we did lots of biologic and psychologic stuff to them’ would you have accepted Trailer could do what he could do?”
“No. Probably not.”
“More to the point, did you believe Donaldson (the character using most of the jargon) was an authority on what he talked about?”
“Definitely.”

Long story short, I could have reduced the jargon and it would have weakened the story and that brings us back to Aristotle’s Poetics; The jargon is crucial to the plot because it adds credibility to the story.

All cards on the table moment: Some reviewers comment they had to look up some terms. Lots of readers comment on the jargon. So far all of them kept reading despite the jargon. This poses and interesting problem to me:

  1. I could explain the jargon in greater detail so readers don’t have to look things up.
  2. I could use less jargon.
  3. I could include a glossary.

I have issues with each solution (and am open to suggestions).


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Relatability

To me, the key to keeping readers focused on your story is relatability (yes, I know. If you’re reading my world-building posts, you’re shocked). A story is relatable when the reader can imagine themselves in the story, meaning the reader accepts what happens in the story as something that could happen to them, meaning it’s familiar, and that brings us back to grounding the unfamiliar in the familiar.

At this point, we revert to basic psychology; How do people relate to things? Turns out there are four basic ways:

  1. they’re familiar with a place (Setting)
  2. they’re familiar with what’s happening (Plot)
  3. they’re familiar with the people involved (Character)
  4. they’re familiar with what’s being said (Language)

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World-Building – Revealing Settings Through Relatable Characters

Every time you have an opportunity to show something most people aren’t familiar with, do so to add color to the story provided you can do it in a way the reader understands and can relate to.

Ground the unfamiliar with the familiar

 
You have to ground the unfamiliar with the familiar so that readers can relate to it. Example: A reviewer wrote of The Augmented Man‘s protagonist, Nick Trailer, “His struggles were easy to relate with and, honestly, I found myself hoping to see his happy ending by the end of the novel.” The “reader wanting the hero to succeed” is key to world-building as it demonstrates the reader is emotionally involved with the character individually and the story in general.

A familiar example of grounding the unfamiliar with the familiar comes from the original Alien movie. The opening scenes are of the crew waking from suspended animation. Quite unfamiliar to most people. But the next scene is the crew in the mess complaining about being woken up, how crappy the coffee is, are they going to get extra pay for this extra work, et cetera.

The unfamiliar grounded in the familiar. The crew may have just woken from suspended animation on a deep space ship but they’re just like your friends in the corner bar grumbling about work, they’re your co-workers in the company cafeteria complaining about crappy food, they’re your workmates wondering if the company’s going to pay them for any overtime coming from making an unscheduled stop on their delivery route.

In short, most people accepted the unfamiliar in Alien because whatever happened, it was happening to people they could relate to and understand; the unfamiliar was grounded in the familiar.

The heart of any story is believable characters either succeeding or failing to achieve their goals. There is a general rule about people; what people do rarely changes. How they do things changes. Example: people gossip. One hundred years ago people gossiped by gathering in the general store, the local pub, in the park. Now they gossip on their mobiles, Facebook, Twitter, et cetera. People have gossiped since we climbed down from the trees and stood on our hind legs. How they’ve gossiped has changed over time.


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World-Building – Getting Readers Interested in Your World

[Much of this series is excerpted from a post on Phoebe Darqueling’s blog]

World-building is an interesting and amusing phrase to me. I don’t think it existed as such when I started writing professionally (1970s). Perhaps people understood it without naming it as such. Consider authoring concepts such as atmosphere, character, description, dialogue, narration, pace, plot, POV, scenes, setting, structure, style, tone, viewpoint, … are we whirling them all into the single term, world-building? Okay, so long as we recognize the whole is the sum of its parts and a weakness in any one of them is a weakness in all of them.

World-building is the art of getting readers more interested in your story than they are in their own story.

 
World-building is in all writing, fiction and non-fiction, because (to me) “world-building” is the art of getting your readers to accept the story’s mythos as more real than their daily mythos (meaning the story’s reality is more engaging and actualizing than their daily reality). I’ve read biographies and histories and been caught up in them, lost track of time, forgotten to eat, read until my eyes closed and then dreamt about what I read. Likewise I’ve read fiction that I’ve put down and forgotten to pick up again because I couldn’t care less about what was happening in the story.

I’m told I do lots of world-building in my work and ask, “Can you show me where?” Most can’t because I work to share a story’s reality through the development of the story itself, not in expository lumps (an “expository lump” occurs when the author tells the reader something rather than providing the reader with sufficient information to experience it. World-building case in point, the first paragraph of one of my works-in-progress, Gable Smiled, is:

Valen patted Gable’s muscular neck as they trotted into Lensterville. They’d been ten days out, mostly soldiering Sipio’s vast Northern Plain, and this time of year that meant heat with a capital “H”. Valen could feel his own sweat trickling through the hairs on his chest and back, and every time his Ranger-issue travel cords relaxed around him, his scent rose like steam washing his face.

Consider how much the reader learns in Gable Smiled‘s opening paragraph:


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Why this Were here, now?

[This post oriignally appeared on Timothy Bateson’s blog, mid Oct 2019]

Let’s say someone wants to write about werewolves but nothing they’re coming up with fits “werewolf.” Probably they’re putting the hearse before the horse. Their interest is on the were, not the were’s purpose in the story.

Let the “were” serve the story’s purpose. Don’t make it the story’s purpose.

 
Werecreatures are nothing new. Cave drawings frequently depict humanimals. Study any culture’s mythology and one wonders who wasn’t a werecreature. The concept of versipellics as evil is relatively new compared to human recorded history (about 800 years v 35,000 years).

A significant aspect of versipellic history is that skin-changing was a spiritual exercise, not a magical exercise. This spiritual aspect remains today in the concept of shapeshifting as evil. The Malleus Maleficarum provided details about all such “magickal” practices but the reason to hunt down practitioners was political; practitioners threatened the power and authority of Mother Church. What do you do when you’re a religious authority and you want to get rid of the opposition? You label it evil, demonic, satanic. You’ll find much the same propagandic reasoning in today’s political speeches. The US was The Great Satan to Ruhollah (Ayatollah) Khomeini. Reagan called Soviet Russia “The Evil Empire,” and Trump’s rhetoric…well, let’s not go there.

Culture makes a difference. Judeo-Christian teaching is that versipellics are evil; God and the Angels never change shape. Satan and the Fallen Angels do (they don’t want you to know who they are). Read religious dogma from other cultures and versipellism is good or evil depending on why it’s being done. It’s the individual’s reason for shapeshifting, not the fact that they can shapeshift, that determines the morality of the transmutation.

Modern scifi/fantasy may have versipellism caused by any number of reasons. Hank McCoy (Marvel’s Beast, genetic) owes much of existence to versipellism, as does Bruce Banner (The Hulk, radiation). Superheroes as a group owe a nod to versipellism; they have two identities, two personalities, one wears the skin of everyday clothing, the other the skin of their superhero costume, and like any good werewolf, the needs of each identity are at odds with the other. Only recently have superheroes walked among non-supers openly (The Incredibles, The Incredibles 2, Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark procliaming from the podium “I am IronMan,” Amazon’s “The Boys”).
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