Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Elen Sila Lumenn Omentielvo

That apparently means "A star shines on the hour of our meeting," in Tolkien elvish, according to Elijah Wood from an article back around 2001. Nice, huh? I found when going through old newspapers looking for interesting stuff. (note: I don't really feel like hunting for a way to include the proper double-dot thing over the u in Lumenn, or the ~ on the second n in Lumenn, you'll just have to trust me.)

Anyway, that got me to thinking about languages in fantasy, and world-building in general.

When I was in college, all those months ago! I had to research some stuff for my honors thesis. I was an English and Psychology double major, and had opted to overhaul and finish a fantasy story I began back in high school with a friend of mine. Since it was a creative piece it needed an introduction/afterword that analyzed the novel. It also required a bibliography. So I went to my campus library, and fell in love, because it had five floors and rows upon rows of books.

In my searches, I found a book about Tolkien's elvish. My momeory of this book is that it was not just a dictionary, but included stuff about grammar, that it was very thorough in analyzing this language J.R.R. Tolkien had created for Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. Seeing the article yesterday also reminded me of interviews with other cast members about learning the elvish.

And all of that culminated in my thinking about the time and energy that must have gone into creating a language, as well as a culture and a world. Tolkien didn't just make up words, he developed a language with grammar and all that good stuff.

That make me think of an interview/Q-and-A with Kate Elliott, whose last installment of the Crown of Stars series just came out in paperback. In that Q-and-A she talked about forming the world (although the Q-and-A may have been about her Jaran series).

Examples like theses always leave an impression on me. Particularly in these genres where the writer creates a world or significantly alters the world we live in, part of helping the reader suspend their disbelief can come throuhg creating a realistic world. Sure dragons may abound and you can walk into a tavern to be confronted by elves, orcs or trolls, but if the world and the culture is well-formed in the writer's own mind, these strange situations will seem commonplace to the reader. It will seem as if these situations ciould easily occur in that world.

And all the details floating around in the writer's head, or hastily scribbled on post-its or in journals, may not make it into a finished novel, but it seems to me that as long as the writer knows it, that sense of wholeness will come through in the writing.

Think about the time of year the story takes place, how long it take to travel by foot or by horse from one destination to another, what's the weather like, what about seasons, how does the terrain affect planting, or is it only good for planting, what's the best set-up for a castle to provide the best defense where it's situated, etc.?

I think for me, that's what I want most when starting something new. I don't need to know the four major scenes of the book, or what chapter the protagonist has their call to action, or when and where the climactic scene occurs. I just want to know a general sense of the overarcing plot, and then what this world looks like and what these people want. Because motivation is another aspect of making the world realistic: knowing your characters as well as you know the set-up of the world. I took some notes this morning about my second book. Since the first in that series is done (at least, the first draft is done, it still needs major revising), the second doesn't require so much in the way of world-builidng, although I fully intend to include tasty morsels of other interesting places unseen in the first book that will add to the flavor of this world. But I need to look at every character and see what drives them. The notes I took were a first step to working out the "villain's" POV. I'm thinking that's a good way to look at a story.

I found with the honors thesis story, that it was two-thirds of the way through the first draft that I could explain fully why the villains were acting the way they acted. Their motivation for who and why they attacked. Even if some of the details didn't make it into the text (yes, that needs revision too), I had a sense of it and I hope the completeness of it came through.

With book B, the first story in this series, I got questions of 'why do they need so and so, what does person X want, what is his motivation for helping?' And although I knew the motivation was there, being able to utter it sensibly helped. It made the people and the world more real.

So, world-building: you gotta love it.

That said, here are some fun results from a quiz. The first is what came up and the second was what I was if I wasn't the first. I think I fit in both to some extent.

I am heroic couplets; most precise
And fond of order. Planned and structured. Nice.
I know, of course, just what I want; I know,
As well, what I will do to make it so.
This doesn't mean that I attempt to shun
Excitement, entertainment, pleasure, fun;
But they must keep their place, like all the rest;
They might be good, but ordered life is best.
What Poetry Form Are You?

If they told you I'm mad, then they lied.
I'm odd, but it isn't compulsive.
I'm the triolet, bursting with pride;
If they told you I'm mad, then they lied.
No, it isn't obsessive. Now hide
All the spoons or I might get convulsive.
If they told you I'm mad then they lied.
I'm odd, but it isn't compulsive.
What Poetry Form Are You?

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