All The Building Bricks

I’m aware someone else on the site is doing a world-building series.

I’m considering honestly doing an entire series just on language. Language-building as part of your world building, if you prefer.

Almost anything you write is going to require language. No, I don’t mean to write the book, because duh. Though I’d love to see one or more of you writing a novel through interpretive dance. If you manage it, you’ll probably have made your name.

But anyway, almost anything you write needs some thought given to language, beyond the language you use to tell the story: language embedded in the world and in the characters.

Look, before we plunge in, let’s just touch on “the words you tell the story with.”

If you’re not the type of person who is madly in love with words and different ways to express things in words — if you are, you’ll know. Because you’ll find yourself repeating certain words and turns of phrase for the cheer joy of their mouth-feel — do not overthink it. You’re allowed to be the sort of writer who is in it to tell the story, and that’s all. A lot of famous authors have been primarily story tellers, not wordsmiths. (Edgar Rice Burroughs comes to mind, for instance. Also Agatha Christie.)

If you are one of those, we advise getting out of your own way. Don’t be overly restrictive like the minimalists, or count the number of times you used adverbs or wring your hands over over-use of “that.” Just tell the story the best you know how, and count on it to shine.

OTOH if you ARE one of those writers who love words — brother, do I feel you! — you have work to do keeping the words from getting in the way of the story. Because they will. Left to your own devices, you’ll let the words carry you on their own tidal wave, and completely forget they’re there to work for you. When you’re done, you might have a work of modern poetry, but your readers will have a heck of a time following the story. My first book Ill Met By Moonlight underwent three revisions and is now understandable, if not an easy-read. (I got better. Perhaps the strict discipline was over-tight. I’m now learning to indulge here and there. But it’s like…. even one drink is too much. Well, even one uneeded, over wrought sentence can send me careening into pure self-indulgence and forgetting the story again.)

Now aside from that there is other language in the story.


Well, we presume your people and place have names (though the total absence of them would also create a picture, mind) and that even in the most contemporary and unobtrusive of novel-worlds, your characters word choice, mode of expression and tone are part of a picture.

For instance, if your sewer-rat character speaks like a doctoral dissertation, or your barely-uplifted cat knows Shakespeare, you might have to explain how this came about. If you don’t, you leave the reader wondering what the heck.

Or take historical works… I’m not one of those people who peruses lists of when a word came to be to figure out if it fits with the time. Your reader won’t either. I don’t care if ponytail didn’t exist as a word in the seventeenth century, if you use queue you best be writing a book set in China, because words have flavors.

I also don’t do what an acquaintance used to do and carefully restrict language to either Anglo-saxon derived or Latin derived words. That’s now how people speak, and frankly, most people couldn’t care less where a word came from. In fact humans — not just English speaking humans — have an either distressing or invigorating tendency to grab words that are handy and run with them. I once spent an alcoholic evening with a friend tagging all the borrow words between Japanese and Portuguese, for instance.

However there are limits. I’m still giving the side eye retrospectively to the copy editor who tried to get me to say (in the Musketeer Mysteries) that Porthos knew something subconsciously.

While people were always aware of thoughts and emotions not precisely verbalized and out in the open, “subconscious” is very much an idea of psychology and the late nineteenth century and it has no business in the world of the musketeers unless I explain about the time mahine.

In the same way, I’m getting a wee bit tired of reading regencies where Lady Cheryl or Lady Tiffany are important characters. Look, yeah, creative naming always occurred, but fiction unlike reality needs to be plausible, and when your characters are lifted in toto from the 1990s you shouldn’t underline it with those names.

While at it, if your male character asks your female character for “affirmative consent” before kissing her in the Regency, I’m going to assume you’re writing this while drunk, or are completely and thoroughly ignorant.

In the same way if you’re writing about a foreign country, please know what language they speak there. Early on, in a writer’s group, I had a run in with a woman writing a novel set in Brazil, in which the characters often exclaimed “Mio Dios!” I tried to tell her it was “Meu Deus” and she informed me, stiffly, she’d been there. She’d heard it.

She might very well have, but the ear is not a perfect instrument. (More on that later.) I found out a couple of years after, when a friend visited Portugal that Americans don’t ear certain syllables right. There is a Portuguese river Mondego — pronounced like the french for “mon” e — pronounced like the e in hemp — go No matter how slowly or clearly I pronounced it, she heard Mon-Diego. I think partly from psychological expectation from the Spanish, and partly because that syllable might be difficult for the American ear. At any rate, the fact that she insisted on having Brazilians speaking Spanish was not a confidence builder.

Beyond that, I’ll note that if you’re writing something set in a foreign country you’re not familiar with, you should find someone who is, and run whole expressions by them. Puns are not terribly common as a form of humor in Portugal, for instance, and what you think is an obvious pun might not be for a native speaker (because the words are pronounced just slightly differently or because they’re used together so often no one thinks of the funny sounds.)

For these purposes, remember the past is a foreign country. There are things we say that are attached to our technology (why “Hang up” might not make sense to your kids) and will sound completely weird if set in the past. Enough to stop someone cold. Say you have Shakespeare saying something about “I did not wish to push your buttons.” Que?

Then there are alien languages.

See what I said above about the ear being an imperfect instrument. After some age (anywhere from 3 to 18 you stop being able to ear — without great effort — sounds not often used in your native language.

This is why some people, like me for instance, might have spoken English as their primary language for 2/3 of their lives, but retain an accent. People who view accents as a mark of lack of intelligence (yes, I’ve had that leveled against me, as have other people in public life) only reveal their own provincial nature. We simply don’t hear what we’re doing wrong. Yes, it can be retrained by techniques similar to speech therapy. I’d kind of like to do it, but it’s expensive, takes a lot of time, and husband wouldn’t like it. (The last being decisive.)

What I mean is, decide what syllables your characters in your alien or future society use and hear. The best way to do this is to pick a language that you base your made up one on, so that you know which phonemes are licit.

Because it’s a terrible idea to have Elol and Malol suddenly speak in clicks or only with rs and xs.

In the same sense, if your parallel history never had Jude-Christianity go global, find out what culture most influenced the modern world in that stream, and use names from that. Such a culture would be highly unlikely to have a lot of kids named Elijah or Moses. To put it mildly. Unless you go to the trouble of explaining that there have been excavations in the Middle East that have everyone agog from this peculiar tribe’s habits, kind of like the Egyptian everything of late eighteenth and early 19th century England. But without explanation people are going to go “the…. wait what?”

I was tripped recently while reading a regency (look, it’s popcorn books, when I’m tired. And the great coughening of 2022 — as a side effect of BP meds– left me BEAT) by having the two ladies go on the front porch to seat and talk.

Porch is the wrong word for a regency mansion. Entrance? Portico? Something. Not PORCH. But on top of that, the idea of their sitting there — I immediately saw them on rockers — amicably chatting was just…. wrong.

Anyway, please don’t become paralyzed by this. I realize I am in many ways more uptight about language than normal human beings. But–

Don’t think about it while you’re writing. Think about it afterwards, when you do your revision-read. That’s the time to go “Oh, dear. Am I too trippingly drunk on words.” Or “I have two alien characters named Vilvar, Oclor and… Henry? Maybe I should rethink that or come up with a funny explanation.”

And don’t sweat the small stuff. I forgave Lady Cheryl and Lady Tiffany for their ridiculous names, because the story is fun. Which, ultimately, is all that matters.


Speaking of, I have re-released A Few Good Men, and yes, I would call it something different if I wrote it today. Also, I am aware that this is probably the absolutely worst blurb (or anything) I’ve ever written. Two weeks of not sleeping due to the great coughening must be blamed. I’ll try to rewrite it when I can catch eight hours of sleep.

The book, however, remains one of my own favorites of my work. Which might not mean anything. A parent’s preference doesn’t mean the child is perfect. But it does count for soemthing.

A Few Good Men

(And why #1 New Release in LGBTQ? Well…. Amazon. People who buy it for that might be a little…. shocked. :-P)

77 thoughts on “All The Building Bricks

  1. A useful dictation exercise I went through earlier in the month was to setup my dictation gear, pull up on my phone, filter to one of several west European languages (I think I ultimately did French, German, and Norwegian) and then read off all the names that came up on Behind The Name.

    I skipped the obviously Biblical/Koranic ones, and some really blatantly Christian ones (like Christian/Christina), but I read everything else into my dictation headset, then went and looked at the word document where they ended up, and deleted all the ones that came out “wrong” (meaning, the software didn’t recognize what I was saying).

    The result was a shortish list of 20-30 names that should (maybe) work for dictation for the Hapsburg Empire analogue in a secondary world fantasy idea I’m noodling about with.

    There’s allegedly a subset of Regency romance written by American authors who think they can simply apply antebellum norms of the American South to the English Regency period. I wonder if the porch ladies came from one of those books.

  2. Apparently, Tiffany is a legit Regency name that fell out of fashion until people started giving birth to pop stars.

    Or so Tumblr says.

    1. I don’t believe it was Regency. I think it’s much older than that. I believe the name was popular in Medieval times, especially for girls born on January 6 (it comes from the same root as Epiphany). It then fell so completely out of fashion by the Renaissance that it basically didn’t exist until the movie “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” came along and revived it.

      I’ll admit that it’s on my bucket list to find a way to write a book about a Medieval heroine named Tiffany and make it work for the audience.

      1. Oh yes, it’s the English form of Theophania, and it’s been found in the “Tiffany” spelling in the 15th century.

  3. This. Very much. Also, the reason I don’t write alt-history. Even though I love history, and language, and all the little bits and bobs we get from things. Like Yggdrasil literally meaning Odin’s horse, which in turn meant gallows in old Norse, which is where (I assume) the tree came from. History and language together? Deep rabbit hole. Bring shovels. To get yourself out again.

    The using the current thing to be omnipresent really, really annoys me though. In ten years there will be little left of the original wokeism. Those stories will NOT stand the test of time. Future generations, if they even glance at them, will do so in wonder- not in awe, but wondering what the actual fork were those crazy humans doing in the early 21st? Current issue things should *never* be plot points in the story.

    I’m even leery of using them as window dressing, to be honest. I just had a discussion about the Ur tropes of storytelling elsewhere (discussion on mil-sf), and how certain storylines seem to be built in to our psyches. There are tropes present in the Bible, the Epic of Gilgamesh, and the Mahabharata that still move people today because they say something about the human condition that is universal. Wokism and current issue politics are the opposite of that. Artificial, and soon to be forgotten.

      1. Same. Even early eighties can be suspect. The earlier stuff, the classic SF? Ace doubles, the books you could get in the mail, the ones with little yellow spines? Those were my bread and butter, back when I was a wee one just cutting my teeth on Heinlein, Cherryh, Niven, and Pournelle.

        Speaking of such things, I need to get off my rear and finish my current WIP. Not because I think things are going to miraculously get so much better than selling fiction will become less attractive. More that I’ve already got three more plots that need words.

        At least three. So far. Today.

          1. We’re all mad here. I still want to beat someone with a bundle of sticks, fasces, whatever, over Omelas. Until their faces go squish instead of thud.

            LHoD was… Okay, I stayed awake enough in the cultural bits of anthropology that it still annoys me. Nearly forty years later I’m still mad at Ursula K Le Guin for Omelas, though. Pet peeves, hobby horses, I gots them.

            Writers in general are probably on some spectrum of crazy, though. *twitches*

            1. LHoD doesn’t work biologically. DROVE ME NUTS. I’ve been meaning to write “No, just no” as a book for 46 years. And then it became a series halfway through the first book.
              Oh, and I’m writing this in the middle of trans everything madness.
              May G-d have mercy on my soul

              1. Writing it in the middle of the trans everything madness might be a good thing. I’m serious. There are a lot of young people that are being hurt by it. Maybe your book will shine a light on things for at least the few that are into sci fi and come across your book.

                But yeah. Prayers, Miss Sarah. That’s going to be a trial.

            2. I really do need to start that story about “Those Who Return to Omelas.” Short version – they’re not coming with flowers and a love song.

              1. “The Ones Who Return to Omelas with A Lockpick, A Bowl of Hot Soup, and An Unobtrusive Draft Cart with Smuggler’s Panels”. Let ’em bring it down on their own heads…

            3. I’ve never gotten the hate for Omelas. As a metaphor for the ignorant about where hermites/monks/aescetics come from, it’s flawed. As a rebuke to the author’s social activist acquaintances, saying either: “The ends does not justify the means,” or “Stop rending your garments, you’re not brave enough to free yourself from the society you’re condemning,” it kind of works. Complaining that the title characters are cowards is like complaining that Winston Smith is a coward; it’s true, and in both cases it makes the story less than enjoyable to my tastes, but in both cases, it’s also part of the intended artistic effect: rubbing our noses in the horror of the allegorical situation, as a wakeup call.

              Or maybe there’s something I’m not getting; it’s been years since I read it, and I probably skimmed it.

              1. It’s used so often as a heavy-handed indictment of (short list) free-market economies, Christianity, not being an Environmentalist, not supporting civil rights, and so on that it got old quick. And the very idea is repugnant – people prefer to be comfortable, even knowing that a child is given over to be tortured for their comfort. Not self sacrifice, but torture of an innocent. And even those who oppose the situation just walk away. They don’t try to change anything.

                So I snarled, “What if someone left, but did so in order to learn what he needed and so he could return with an avenging army and save the child?” And thus was a story seed planted.

                1. And the very idea is repugnant – people prefer to be comfortable, even knowing that a child is given over to be tortured for their comfort. Not self sacrifice, but torture of an innocent.

                  Of course it’s repugnant, but I regret to say that I see nothing in modern society to make it seem psychologically implausible. “If only people knew how horrible X was, they would repent forthwith!” sometimes happens and sometimes does not. Depends on how selfish they are.

                  I would probably be as annoyed by Omelas as you if I was constantly seeing it used to round up the Usual Suspects, so I sympathize there. I read it in a vacuum.

                  So I snarled, β€œWhat if someone left, but did so in order to learn what he needed and so he could return with an avenging army and save the child?” And thus was a story seed planted.

                  Has he considered joining the local Secret Order of Ninjas to gain the particular set of skills he would need to exfiltrate the child and slaughter the leadership along the way? (evil grin) Might be faster than recruiting an avenging army from scratch.

          2. Had never heard of it. I read the plot synopsis, and I still don’t understand what the book was supposed to be about.

            Which explains why I’ve never heard of it, though.

        1. This reminds me of some sadly unpublished stories written by a friend set in a space opera sort-of future, with a member of this one alien race who has a fascination with 20th century human film, mostly of the ‘Golden Age of Hollywood’. He keeps wondering where this ‘Vietnam War’ was fought, because the films act like it was some sort of world-rending conflict that scarred the planet. But when he checked a map of old Terra for this ‘Vietnam Empire’ all he could find was this tiny little peninsula, and how could they be the cause of so much trouble?

          He freely admitted that was the result of getting sick of stories about how Vietnam was ‘the most important war in forever’. Along with wanna-be hippies who kept insisting to him that Woodstock was the most important moment in all of human history.

          1. Ayn Rand (gave a speech? wrote an article? I don’t remember) about the differences between Woodstock and the Apollo flights which were happening pretty much simultaneously. I never much cared for Woodstock since rock music before Led Zeppelin doesn’t speak to me, but to think that anyone considers it culturally more relevant or important than the moon landings seems repugnant to me now that I’ve read her piece on the matter. I have it saved and I read it every now and again when the wannabe hippies I work with get too overbearing.

    1. I’ve tried reading the “hip” stories from the ’60s and ’70s, but the mindset is so alien to me that it’s almost impossible to enjoy them. The “mass market” stuff is easier to get into, but once again…cultural shifts.

      The bracket before and after (1950’s, 1980’s-2010’s) work out relatively well. As long as you avoid things that are “experimental” or “groundbreaking.” Outside of a few things published by Baen or indie authors, manga, and webcomics…2016 seems to be a hard break point for me again.

      1. For better time travel experiences, I recommend the “gonzo journalist” class of material from the 60s-70s, where irreverence combined with drug enthusiasm is still amusing at a distance.

        1. Reading Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas helped me to really understand the character of Spider Jerusalem in Transmetroplitican and that was a spectacular thing.

          (That, and Hunter S. Thompson modeled his life on Earnest Hemmingway but more is obvious from the start.)

          1. Yeah. Transmetropolitan, for all its politics weirdness, was kind of fun. Hadn’t made the connection to Fear and Loathing, but now that you mention it, it fits.

    2. From what I am hearing, the genesis of the modern thing may be the post WWII generation seeing the universe as starting over with them. Basically the pure start from zero folks taking over after the world wars and untethering themselves from all of human history.

      Which may be why I’m struggling with the current WIP. The core problem for the main character seems to be a very modern problem of how do you know whether what you believe in is right or not, but I’ve been mining the US Civil War culture for the setting and society, and I’m not sure that that would even be a thing for someone heavily exposed to that era’s mindsets.

      1. Depends. Certain cultures, that would be most definitely a thing. Consider how well read (for the time, amazingly well read) the Founders were. There were folks that studied that sort of thing, independently by and large. Have you read the letters of Robert E Lee? Or any of the other big figures? They weren’t mere anomalies. They were products of a particular culture at that particular time.

        Your character needs a reason to go down that particular rabbit hole, sure. Some inflection point where they start to go down that path. That probably needs to be a plot point, something that drives the narrative on that theme forward. Moral character was *very* much a thing for, say, the landed Southern class, or the educated regardless of state. If the character had an even in their past where they made a grave error based on what they believed to be true, and later discovered their fault, that might be something to drive them.

        People can get ideas from all sorts of places though. Was it a religious sermon that drove him? A spurned lover? A tract read by candlelight, a question put to him by his tutor, something his father said, or perhaps he was simply a curious child with all sorts of inappropriate questions? You can get away with a lot so long as you back it up with plausible reasons.

        1. The real question is, if he is surrounded by people like Lee, how has he not done that already?

          Probably because it wasn’t allowed? And information flow was controlled?

          I suspect that is part of the contemporary issue: information has been filtered for a lot of people, but there also seems to have become a tone that even listening to contradictory information is heresy.

          I don’t know how one breaks out of that. It seems like it would be simple, but I keep seeing people react to things that don’t fit their pattern by jamming their fingers in their ears and telling “go away” at the top of their lungs. And I can’t tell if those are legit reactions, or not.

          1. It may be a matter of personal character. Some bend with the pressure of their peers and mentors. Others rebel, strongly, against that pressure, and use it as a whetstone to hone their will to diamond sharpness. Is the character more like to be the former? Or the latter?

            Whence that rebellious streak comes from, and under what circumstances it emerges, that’s a backstory unto itself. Perhaps.

            Perhaps he is not, indeed, surrounded by people like Lee, but partisans of a much cruder sort. Could his drive come from a single event, or short series of events?

            Consider a modern parallel in the woke culture of today. There are and do exist individuals that have broken out of that shell. Sure, there are vast differences in technology, culture, and so on, but the pressure? That, I would posit is a thing shared. To step apart from the mob is to become its immediate target. It takes a certain kind of stubbornness to face up to that behemoth of humanity and say “No. YOU move.”

            But you’re on the right track in wondering how one breaks out of that, I think. It must take something significant. Something that, deep inside, you cannot deny. For a more recent example, take the revelations of what was being taught in schools- thousands of parents received a shock. And not a small one. A shock that fundamentally altered their perception of reality, in some cases, and in many more, set them apart from their immediate social groups (the childless ones, the utterly indoctrinated too).

            There has to be a reason to rebel against something so pervasive that it’s hardly a question. That reason needs to be a good one, something that touches on a fundamentally undeniable truth.

      2. Some of the post-Civil War feminists had elements of that: post-Christian, neo-pagan or occult-adjacent types. Check out L. Frank Baum’s mother-in-law and her circle for a starting point.

  4. From what I understand, infants can hear all the sounds, but as they age and learn language, the ones the aren’t using tend to get depreciated.

    Part of the reason English is so hard for non-native speakers is we have something like twenty or so different vowels. We sort of collect them like Pokemon or decorative plates.

    But for someone who comes out of a language which has five, and only five vowels, they get all these words that basically sound the same.

    This also means if you want to do a generic Spanish accent in English, the simplest way is to pick a sound for each of the five vowels, and use only those. It’s harder than it sounds.

    Curious thing is, I think different Spanish speaking regions have settled on different versions of the core vowels, which also means the accent I’m acquiring in Spanish is truly disorienting for most native Spanish speakers…

    1. I taught English in Japan for a long time and I heard the vowel limitations all the time in my classes. Trying to get my students to do the short “a” or the short “i” sound was basically impossible in the time allotted for the classes, whether it was adults or children. Actually, the only ones I met who could do it right were the ones who lived in the English-speaking world long term as children. My wife is Japanese and she did all her college studies here in the States, but while her speech is certainly fluent she still speaks with an accent as described above.

      Other interesting limitations are the other sounds that don’t exist in other languages. There’s no distinction between L and R in Japanese, no “th” sound, and “f” only exists before “u” (which is sort of hilarious now that I’m typing it out for the first time. When we were in college my wife could not differentiate between “fold” and “hold” (among others), and we lived together in Japan for so long that to me, “slow” and “throw” started to sound like the same word because of how they’re “spelled” in katakana.

  5. Well, you see, the alien’s name was Hn’n’ryy in his native Low Psamish and the translators misread it as “Henry”, so he’s stuck with that now.

  6. Yep we Yanks don’t hear certain sounds and mispronounce accordingly. True I think of all others as well, the Japanese L/R confusion for example.

    A young Japanese lady I know, studying in California during the Clinton era, gave a serious speech concerning our presidential elections. It was well received but she didn’t understand the audience’s suppressed laughter every time she spoke of Bill Clinton’s election.

    1. One of my best friends when I was an exchange student was Japanese. She told me she walked at Sea World and I kept trying to figure out why she needed to tell me that. Until I figured she was trying to say worked.

  7. One of the things that I did when I got to writing my first real novel was figuring out how characters sounded. Because that was important.

    Your language creates a whole lot of assumptions about the character and how people treat them. Accent, word choice, slang, dialect…all of these are as important as the clothes they wear, how they apply their makeup-if they wear any-and a whole lot of other details. Someone that dresses well but sounds out of place…that makes you curious and makes it easier to shun them. To make them into an outsider, no matter how they try to blend in.

    Example-Sayuri from Solist At Large. When I built up her character, she’s is extremely upper-class Japanese. The implications are that she has a Yamanote Tokyo accent, which maps very closely to Reserved Pronunciation in British English or the trinity of Mid-Atlantic/Boston Brahman/”Prim and Proper” Prep school accent for American speakers. This is the language of the elites, with the “in group” implications to match.

    Then, there’s the word choice. Everyone is title and last name to Sayuri. Everyone is kept at a distance, and for good reasons (to her). We mark the passage of the relationship between Sayuri and Adelaide with what Sayuri calls Adelaide. We start out with Taylor-dono, then Taylor-san, then a very tentative Taylor-sama, finally ending up in private as Adelaide.

    (I also read far too much about Victorian England’s obsessions with appearances and “looking good is good.” My Fair Lady now makes so much more sense after that.)

    During my writing, I try to avoid getting too deep in the woods on this subject, but the next writing pass definitely gets more details added. Viola develops her ginger Highands wolf personality. Ian is the old Sandhurst campaigner. Depending on what identity Adelaide is wearing, she has to be a teenage girl of very upper-middle-class British/American parents, upper class Glaswegian lady where she’ll glass you with a Harrods glass, or classic American male nerd one each. Charles is every single David Tennant character with ginger frosting and freckles (this should scare you if you know David’s resume). Quu is energy personified, Kiokyo is double and triple and quadruple innuendo behind prim and proper propriety…

    And they all sound different in my head, which makes writing for them interesting.

  8. I’m still salty over the editor who wanted to change a vaguely medieval fantasy phrase from “A promise, then,” to “it’s a deal.” From nobility, no less.

    The worst part is that somehow a pre-final edition, with typos everywhere, got printed for a month or two. And those typos weren’t even mineβ€”they were the result of that same editor’s first pass. So… yeah, that felt like amateur hour. (I do not blame the small press; I blame the POD software.)

  9. For my 2nd fantasy world series (and I offer my faux-linguistics background as an excuse) I used various “foreign” languages in my worldbuilding as sprinkled in (local color) words. That meant I needed several dozen words in 2 cultures, somewhat fewer in 2 more, and linguistic distinctions between proper naming conventions for a couple more, along with the culturally important objects/ways-of-being/gods, etc., to go along with them. And 50-80 names, appropriately.

    I went over the top on this, but it became lots of fun. I enlisted a conlanger (constructed language), like the fellow who built Dothraki (contact me if you want details on how to do that), and I would send him lists of words and a definitional flavor of the language to give him ideas. His rigor ensured that my created languages conveyed the flavor of a faux-real language (give a culture a language that sounds vaguely Arabic, and your readers won’t be surprised if they are herders of sheep). It also ensured that the phonemes were consistent within a language, as though this were a cut-rate illusion of a Tolkien appendix.

    The big takeaway was threefold. First, just having linguistically contextualized names for characters in various countries provided a subliminal “where’s he from?” clue for readers in a very natural way.

    Secondly, the ability to sprinkle dialogue with curses, distinctly named cultural artifacts, slurs, jokes, etc., while making their meaning clear in passing, really grounded the four different world cultures that were the focus of the books.

    Thirdly, and perhaps most important creatively, was that it made my brain engage with the challenge of identifying cultural items that could benefit from unique conlang names. As an example, my faux Central Asian yurt-dwelling herders got to count their sheep in couples (as huntsmen count foxhounds in Welsh), and then metaphorically use that methodology to total the lists of the dead they find as they chase a disaster. I would never have thought of the 2nd usage if I hadn’t entertained the 1st one as an opportunity to count “in the old rhyming tongue” in a conlang.

    1. I have been gifted a wholesale language for one of the worlds. Unfortunately through no fault of yours, your comment and my ADD combined to make me go and write vocabulary and grammar rules and…. SHOOT ME

          1. It’s an infection. I haven’t even finished the plot and now I have etymology and declension cluttering the ancient language. *glares about accusingly whilst scribbling*

            1. Fair warning, it’s an infection that spreads. I’ve got… lots… waiting on me across several worlds. Honestly the WIP I’m trying to get the world building straightened out on (mostly titles and such), is going to have several. And part of the ‘extracting the world building’ is making sure I pull all the language bits and pieces so I can keep them consistent.

              Like stories: Once the first one wiggles its way in, there WILL be more to follow!

    2. I have a conlanger friend, as well. She has done several, and even been contracted for movies. So, I can put people in touch with her, too. (She is also an author).

  10. I find that different series need different language. The Merchant books require a slower, more formal and somewhat old-fashioned sounding language, while the Familiar books flow faster and are more current usage. Unless it is from the PoV of someone from the Hunter clans, where formality is still required (and for good reason. It keeps people from killing each other.)

    I also had to keep catching myself with the Merchant books and others set “before now,” because as Sarah says, you can’t use words and concepts that didn’t appear until after 1900 (or 2000). Unless you use a lot of handwavium, and I’ve already hit my allotment of that.

  11. Before starting on Ben Bhova’s planet building book, the actual title escapes me at the moment. I finished The Art of language creation: from horselords to dark elves, the words behind world building. As someone that loves language construction, and being the cause of many writing course instructiors having fits — you are not Tolkien — is something that if I got a nickle for each time I heard it, five dollars would I have now. Still, I’m interested in what you’ve had to say on the subject.

  12. I’m delighted that A Few Good Men is number one in LBGTQXYZ because that’s the ultimate in subversion. And your language advice is spot on which should surprise no one.

    1. I’m SO highly amused. Slightly afraid my readers will think it’s a grab this grab that book, but what the heck, if they don’t know me by now, they never will.

  13. One of my stories has an…interesting language issue in the first few chapters. One of the main characters has no memories. None. Doesn’t know a single word, in any language.

    She does have a neurally-linked computer of sufficiently advanced technology to be indistinguishable from magic, running a Universal Translator program, for Reasons To Be Explained Later.

    So, I had to keep track of every word she heard in order to determine which words she could use. The gradual improvement in her English over the course of her first day on our world was a lot of fun to write, and hopefully to read as well.
    He chuckled. β€œI’m sure it seemed like a good idea at the time.”

    She grimaced. β€œNo idea, no think, just do. Good, not.”

    1. Yes, there was a Tiffany. But I don’t know that I consider that a fashionable name from Heyer’s own period (i.e., a mistake of projection). I think it more likely (w/o evidence) that the practice of giving women ancestral last names is at work on that one. Or just Romanticism (as in a Theophania revival).

    2. Possibly. And you know, the regency actually had a lot of “weird names” But when all the names are the fashionable ones from my kids generation, it kicks me out like nobody’s business.

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