Friday, April 27, 2012

The Language Enigma

Sometimes in writing we have to deal with foreign languages--either existing or created by us. When we do, we need to make SURE we are doing our research. I can't stress it enough, so let me say it again: WE MUST RESEARCH. One more time, say it with me: I MUST RESEARCH.

Even when creating your own language, you can't just spew letters out and go, "Look, Ma, look what I made!" Well, you can, but let me tell you right now people will catch you, and they will be displeased. Every language has rules and cadences and a specific ring that lets you know it is a language. Think about it, if someone walks by you speaking another language, even if you don't know it, you recognize it, right? I hear people speak Spanish all the time. No idea what they're saying, but I know it's Spanish, or Italian, or Korean, or whatever because it has a certain sound.

I made this mistake in the first fantasy manuscript I wrote with my own language. I thought I could just throw out whatever and it would work because it was a made up language. Guess what? The feedback I got was something like this:

"These words look NOTHING alike. None of them."

"I like the story, but their language is really unbelievable."

"You've never studied languages, have you?"

And they were completely spot on. When your language looks like: "Xuop uenns to nkto yu kam lau'la eknataliantbrlmdpkndiflasa?" there is something wrong. (Don't worry, my language didn't look THAT bad, haha, this is just an exaggerated example.)

My favorite example of an author who has this nailed is Richard Adams--the genius behind Watership Down. The book is about a group of rabbits who must find a new home when they realize their current one is about to be destroyed by humans. Richard Adams created a vocabulary for the rabbits based on how he thought they would genuinely speak if they could.

Look at some of the words from their language: hrududu, pfeffa, thlayli, zorn, hraka, homba, elil, fu inle.
Compare--look at some of the words from Spanish: muy, cabeza, boca, morena, nina, buenas, llamo.
Japanese: kokoro, tsuki, oshiete, wa, namae, iie, gambate, itadakimasu.
Mandarin: zhongwen, ni, qiu, ma, laoshi, dui, chun, yue, zai, xiang

Oh my goodness I could keep going! (You know by now I'm long-winded, yes? Good! Continue to forgive me.) Back to Richard Adams. His language LOOKS like a language. More than that, it FITS the characters who are speaking it--if you can't picture a rabbit with its little wiggling nose saying, "Hrududu, hrududu," then you've never stared at a rabbit long enough.

Now, I'm not saying you need to be J.R.R.Tolkien or James Cameron or whoever created Klingon. If you want to make a complete working language, FANTASTIC, if not (like lazy old me), you still need to put in the time and imagination to make the words you do use believable. It makes a tremendous difference, believe me.

(This is self-explanatory for real languages, right? I hope we all understand we must spare ourselves from the embarassment of putting Arabic in our books when we know nothing about it and having someone who does know the language corner us and demand to know why this character called his girlfriend a lovely cow.)

~ Lizzy
Current word count today: Considering we just rolled midnight into a new day: 0. I better get cracking!
Current song: Lune by Bruno Peltier [Gringoire, Notre Dame de Paris]
Current quote: "De gustibus non disputandem est." ~ Cicero

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Killing Violently and with Much Blood

HaVe I frEaKEd yoU oUt? 0_o GooooooOooOOood.
No, just kidding. Don't be freaked. What I am referring to here is your inner editor. When you first sit down to write, your inner editor perches on your shoulder like a little demon from the depths of that-place-of-which-we-do-not-speak, ready to shred your beloved, fragile little heart into ribbons the moment it ventures out onto the written page. If you try to shoo him away, he will stab you with his pitchfork. If you tell him to be gone, he will laugh in your face. If you force him out, he will force back in. The solution is to kill him. Violently, and with Much Blood.

DON'T PANIC! Before you begin screaming about the repercussions of such a rash act, let me remind you--the inner editor is a demon. Death is not permanent for him--it's just the action that takes him the longest to recover from. He will come grumbling and trudging back into your mind, dragging his pitchfork behind him, in due time, but in that lapse, you will have the time you need to get your feelings cemented into the page and your heart back safely within your chest. Then you can smile at him and gesture at the page, at which point his eyes will gain that demonic gleam and he will set to work happily tearing into the words. Now, your words are still lovely to you, and it will still hurt, but not in the crippling manner it would have if you had let him run wild to begin with. Besides, he doesn't hold grudges, believe me. After the chance to edit to his heart's content, he will forget all about the Much Blood, which will make him totally unsuspecting the next time you need to repeat the process. Do not jeapardize the importance of your first draft on his scathing input--his job is indeed helpful and important, but only when used later on, and it only hurts you both to act otherwise.

~ Lizzy
Current word count today: Today is a day of editing (funny, considering the topic)
Current song: Off My Mind by Henry Lau
Current quote: "'Smooth and Handsome' puts you in control and lets you have the hair you've always dreamed of!" ~ The really annoying commercial on YouTube that needs to die violently and with Much Blood.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Holding a Pineapple

There exists a short story. I wish I could expound on that a bit, but at the present moment, I can't quite recall the story's title.

No matter, the story itself is unimportant. The important thing is that at one point in the story, the main character knocks on a door. The door opens to reveal a man named Elroy Berdahl; Elroy Berdahl with silver-blue eyes like razor blades who is dressed in work pants and holds in his worn hands a green apple and a paring knife. When Mr. Berdahl first made my acquaintance, it was a lesson in characterization given by my creative writing teacher. After reading Mr. Berdahl's introduction, my teacher asked why the author had given this character a green apple to hold. When someone opens the door holding a green apple rather than anything else in the world they could hold, what does it say about them? Then he gave an off-hand and yet deeply wonderful thought. Allow me to share:

"There are some characters who could open the door holding a pineapple. Elroy Berdahl is not one of them."

Details are such a wonderful part of characterization. When someone with razor eyes opens the door holding a green apple and a paring knife, the readers instantly know this is someone completely different from a character wearing an argyle sweater who opens the door holding a pineapple. (That, by the way, would be my creative writing teacher. Yes, he is that fantastic.) The character didn't even have to speak, and the narrator didn't have to say a word about their past--we know them.

Look around you--what items and images paint a very specific mood or personality trait? Would that person open the door holding a green apple? How about a pineapple?

~ Lizzy
Current word count today: 448
Current song: Faithfully by Journey
Current quote: "I remember what you wore on the first day / You came into my life and I thought, / Hey, you know, this could be something." ~ Boys Like Girls ft. Taylor Swift [Two is Better than One]

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Facing Our Dragons

There exists a board game called Talisman. (I know, right??) Don't tell me you've never heard of it, because I just told you. Yeah, I'm awesome, you're welcome.

Writers need to play Talisman. Yes, need. Most specifically, writers need to play Talisman with the Dragon expansion pack. If you have access to this fantastic game with this fantastic expansion, play it now, and I need say no more because you will instantly understand my mysteries. (As well as the mysteries of the universe, the fabric of space-time, the intricacies of quantum mechanics, and a woman's mind.)

(Okay, maybe not a woman's mind.)

If you do not have access to such a resource, I shall explain so that you will be compelled to go acquire it. Talisman (with Dragon expansion) is a game of conquering small battles and building up your skills enough to tackle the final battle of the Dragon King. You choose a character to begin with and as they move around the board, battles with dragons will clog their path. Sometimes, these dragons are too strong, and the character dies.

Yep. Dead.

Well, crap. "Me mage's dead--whaddoido now??" The trick is that the dragon stays on the board until it's defeated. Sometimes in writing, we hit challenges that we can't for the life of us beat. The challenges won't just go away (if they do, that's not a good thing. We need challenges to make us and our writing stronger), so what do we do?

We do the opposite of what we do not do. We do not heave a sigh, say, "That's a shame" and put the board away. We do not delete the whole manuscript and curl up with a bowl of ben-and-jerry's-specialty-frozen-self-pity. Uh-uh, no way! The game ain't over yet!

In Talisman, you start a new character and approach the board all over again. In writing, we tweak, we redisign, we brainstorm, and we hit it from a new angle. The dragon won't change--it is the challenger who needs to.

~ Lizzy
Current word count today: 0 (Yeah, I'm fixing that now)
Current song: Severely by FT Island
Current quote: "Watson, don't be stupid. Bad people do bad things because they can." ~ Sherlock Holmes [Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows]

Friday, March 2, 2012


For anyone who joins me as a fellow Numb3rs fan, you'll understand the comparison I want to make today. Anyone who isn't a Numb3rs fan, I understand it's because you've never seen the show, and I forgive your unintentional ignorance. Netflix. Now. (Or, you know, buy it--that works too.)

In this wonderful show, the character Charlie is a mathemetician who uses his skills to help guide the FBI in investigations--finding suspect locations, future target points, mathematical patterns, etc. In the second episode of the very first season, while working on an equation to predict a team of bank robbers' future movements, circumstances change and Charlie gets overwhelmed. His brother comes home to find him working on a completely different equation, and when he confronts Charlie, Charlie utters this profound thought:

"Sometimes I can't choose what I work on. I can't follow through on a line of thinking just because I want to or--or because it's needed. I have to work on what's in my head."

Sometimes in writing, we hit blocks. We face problems that are just too overwhelming for the moment, and our brains stray to something else because we just can't deal with the problem at hand. That's okay. Push the problem to a little corner in the back of your mind and let it mellow. Work on whatever else is in your head. The beautiful thing about our minds is that even when you're not conscious of it (sometimes especially because you're not) it will still be working on that problem. And it will find an answer.

~ Lizzy
Current word count today: 327
Current song: Make Up Your Mind/Catch Me I'm Falling from Next to Normal
Current quote: "Work is the miracle by which talent is brought to the surface and dreams become reality." ~ Gordon B. Hinckley [Standing for Something]

Monday, February 27, 2012

That Which Makes You Feel

There are many things in the world that evoke emotion. Sometimes we expect them, and sometimes we don't.

I find the most interesting cases to be when something makes you feel, but you're not sure exactly what it makes you feel. These, I feel (no pun intended), are the fertile soil in which living writing is sown. Living, breathing writing. The kind that sometimes isn't even meant for other people at all, but just for yourself. When we feel something we can't explain, these are crucial moments to write. Your very writerly soul might depend upon it.

When someone tells a joke that makes me laugh, I feel happy. And I'll write that feeling when my characters hear jokes, and it's fine. But laughter is static on the page--we know it, we understand it, and it is a flicker in our minds that is registered and then escapes like vapor through the white spaces in the next sentence.

When I walk onto a stone deck at three in the morning in bare feet to study a sleeping city, I don't know what I feel. Cold, naturally, but that's a shallow diagnosis for the complex symptoms. There is a magic in the soft yellow glow of streetlights on deserted sidewalks, and there is a chill in the surrounding shadows. The stars hold a whispered promise and the frosted ground echoes back silence. Nothing stirs and yet everything seems to simmer above an unseen energy. A stone deck at three AM is no fading vapor--it hovers as a constant fog for the mind to sift through again and again. That is where the best inspiration is drawn. Written words are the fingers that allow poking and prodding and a search for truth that sometimes insubstantial thoughts cannot accomplish alone.

What makes you write? What makes you feel?

~ Lizzy
Current word count today: 1,355

Current song: Broken by Robert Downey Jr.
Current quote: "I don't reckon I know why [I write.] I just know I have to." ~ John-boy Walton [Richard Thomas, The Waltons]