Monday, November 17, 2014

The Language of Fantasy

It's All In the Context

One of the fun elements of writing fantasy for authors is the ability to create a world. The writer becomes a "god" of sorts, inventing how the world operates--with magic, for example--, how the world looks, what kind of creatures inhabit the world, how society operates, and the language of that world.

To writers, language is all important. As I noted in my last post, what I write has to sound right to the "ear" in my head with many elements of poetry applied. And yet, when I enter my fantasy world, in this case, Turan, I am also aware that is it a foreign land. Of course, I must write the story in English--my native language so both I and my audience can understand what's happening, but I also need to convey this concept of "foreigness" as well. After all, "We're not in Kansas any more, Toto."

So, I invent all kinds of strange names for things characters encounter along the way. But to be fair to my readers, I also need to put those strange names and terms into some kind of context so they can figure out what the heck I'm talking about.

Take, for example, the mountain tark that often appears in the novels. I might say it "prowled the ridge, its long tail swishing as it searched stalked its prey."  Now, context suggests a predator something like a mountain lion. Perfect. (oops, one of those sentence fragments again.)  Now, if I add that "It noticed the duskit hopping alongside the trail below, but its eyes searched further. There drinking at the pond to the east was a dorrsett, much larger prey, better suited to fill the great cat's belly."

Aha! What now? Two more creatures are introduced and although I don't give a lot of description of either, a sharp reader can make a pretty educated guest. The "hopping duskit" is something little--perhaps like a rabbit--and the "dorrsett"is larger. Some sort of deer?  Furthermore, the tark's being like a mountain lion is confirmed in the last part of the description.

Context--where words are and what's around them--is an important part of both good reading and good writing. We cannot just toss words and phrases around for the fun of it. (Well, not too often as I do call butterflies "flutterbyes." ) And, of course, once a word is introduced, the author has to be careful to use it correctly again throughout the book.

I am not well versed in languages other than English myself. I do not know how much linguistic versatility they allow.  English is fluid, alive, and welcoming to invented words and phrases. Shakespeare himself invented hundreds of new words to the language when he wrote. Every day people are creating new vocabulary to suit the technical explosion of our age. We fantasy writers never expect the words we invent to become part of the general vocabulary, but we take the same approach.  "Suit the action to the word, the word to the action," (Hamlet III, 2) and let all suit the world you've created.

1 comment:

  1. i was thinking, jean, whatever you write in this blog, please don't put any plot spoilers!