Author’s Toolbag: Creating Science Fiction and Fantasy Languages

One of the things that impressed me about reading Tolkien for the first time (and even more so, years later) is how he crafted entire unique languages for all of the nations and peoples in Middle Earth. The same has been done (with varying levels of success) by many authors. Some have created languages that are memorable, others crafted ones that add some flavor but not much more than that, and still others create a mess that serves as a hindrance to the reader.

When someone goes about crafting a language, Tolkien is often held up as the example. Of course, he was a linguist, so he had some advantages. He knew and understood languages on a level which most authors don’t really have time to do. Don’t forget, that he spent years developing his languages.

So, other than spending years working on developing a language, how can an author produce something that adds value to their work? There are a number of techniques that I’ve seen and used myself. The first one is to “borrow” from other languages. Tolkien borrowed heavily from Welsh, Finnish, and Gaelic. This of course requires finding or knowing languages that sound or look right for the culture you’re dealing with, as well as some vague familiarity with the language.

Another great technique is using a few words to add a bit of flavor to your text. A greeting here, a curse word there, can give the reader a feel of a distant land and new people. A great example of this is the Firefly series, where they used Chinese greetings, exclamations, and curses. Never enough that a listener was confused, just enough to add some spice.

Crafting languages with other alphabets or runic symbols is another method to add a bit of variety. Where this becomes an issue is formatting, especially with ebooks. If you fancy yourself an artist, you can spend hours, weeks, or even years crafting a unique alphabet (or borrowing from existing ones), which may then only appear in cover art or pictures within the novel.

Pitfalls of writing with your own fantasy and science fiction languages are things most well-read readers have encountered.

By and large, most readers tend to avoid big blocks of text they can’t read or understand. Now, if your intention is to confuse the reader, having long sentences in your own created language can work, but otherwise, I’d advise against it. Unless you think you’re as good as Tolkien (and even then) you probably won’t have people spending hours or days figuring out how to read your invented language.

The above mentioned runic language is another pitfall. Even if you consider yourself a professional artist, take the time to make sure what you are putting into a novel is what you really want there. Even in traditionally published novels I’ve seen crudely drawn bits of runes that I’ve mistaken for doodling in the margins.

By and large, the most important aspect is when you edit your novel. You may have spent years developing your languages, but if your story flows better without those, then you’ll need to cut it. By all means, throw some things in there to make it a bit more exciting or exotic, but not enough to eject the reader from your story.


Kal’s December 2015 Forecast

Wow, December 2015 is here and I’m not really sure where the year went, on the one hand, and I’m absolutely stunned by everything that I’ve managed to do over this past year. I’ll do a full roll-up later this month, but it’s been a very busy year, not just for writing, but for everything.

Here in December I’ve begun work on Renegades: Out of the Cold, which is mostly some scene development while I finish The Fate of the Tyrant. The Fate of the Tyrant is going well, though I’m a little behind schedule due to the long commute, my Army Reserve Annual Training, and having to move to Denver for my new job.

Still, the plan is that I’ll finish that and begin work full time on Renegades: Out of the Cold. My next project after that is to finish off another book set in the Shadow Space Universe, this one is on the origins of Kandergain and Shaden, two of the most powerful human psychics alive at the time of Lucius Giovanni.

In addition to all that, I’m adopting a posting pattern to maintain regular updates here. Right now the plan is for me to post book reviews on Mondays, general posts and updates on Wednesday, and Author’s Toolbag posts on Fridays.

Lastly, I’ll have maps, appendixes and other notes available over the next few weeks for several sections of the website. I’ll be certain to post when they are added to the site.

That’s all for now, thanks for reading and check in back here soon for more updates!

Book Review: Frank Chadwick’s How Dark the World Becomes

How Dark the World Becomes by Frank Chadwick
How Dark the World Becomes by Frank Chadwick

Frank Chadwick’s How Dark the World Becomes is a space opera, adventure science fiction novel from Baen Books. I’ll admit that I was somewhat dubious about a “new” author, but I quickly became fully absorbed in the story of Sasha Naradnyo.

At first glance he is an utterly reprehensible character: he’s a mid-level crime boss who makes money from running gambling rackets and drugs. Yet this is a universe where humans survive on the margins of society, where they are welcome only in areas of brute labor, violence, and crime. Sasha is only a criminal because it is the only way for him to rise… but he also gives back in the form of funding a local hospital and protecting those he can from the harsh universe.

We don’t see much of Sasha as a criminal, instead, we come to him as he transitions, forced out of his previous life and into a wider world as he shows his true colors by protecting two children and their keeper. The writing is fast-paced and the universe is gritty and everything about it feels like one of the noir crime detective novels.

It is a fantastic read from a great author. I went from hating the main character to giving him a grudging respect that surprised me. Frank Chadwick doesn’t pull any punches, he delves into the darkness of his universe, taking his characters and putting them through the wringer and making it very clear from the beginning that no one – not even the main character – is safe.

I’ll note, this isn’t a book I would read when I’m in a dark mood. It’s gritty and in your face, not a cheerful or inspirational story, but one with a world-weary main character who has almost everything stripped from him.

The exciting debut of a nonstop noir SF from legendary game creator Frank Chadwick.  With one single act of kindness, a tough-as-nails hood with a heart of gold saves two alien children from assassination—and resets the balance of galactic power in the process.

Sasha Naradnyo is a gangster.  He’s a gangster with heart, sure, but Sasha sticks his neck out for no man.  That’s how you stay alive in Crack City, a colony stuffed deep into the crust of the otherwise unlivable planet Peezgtaan.  Alive only—because if you’re human, you don’t prosper, at least not for long.  Sasha is a second generation City native. His parents came to this rock figuring to make it big, only to find that they’d been recruited as an indentured labor force for alien overlords known as the Varoki.

Now a pair of rich young Varoki under the care of a beautiful human nanny are fleeing Peezgtaan, and Sasha is recruited to help.  All things considered, he’d rather leave the little alien lordlings to their fate, but certain considerations—such as Sasha’s own imminent demise if he remains—make it beneficial for him to take on the job.

But Sasha discovers his simple choice has thrust him into the midst of a political battle that could remake the galactic balance of power and save humanity from slow death by servitude.  Now all he has to do is survive and keep his charges alive on a hostile planet undergoing its own revolution.

But it’s the galaxy that had better watch out.  For now the toughest thug in Crack City has gotten his first taste of real freedom. He likes it, and wants more.

The stunning debut of a nonstop science fiction noir thriller from legendary game creator Frank Chadwick.

You can find it here on Amazon