In Anticipation of Upcoming New Releases…

Believe it or not, I should be releasing two new novels, soon.  After so long, it’s a shocker, I know.

I haven’t talked much, recently, about my upcoming Science Fiction novel, “The Merrimack Event.”  This book was supposed to be out a full year ago, but it still isn’t ready yet.

The real hang-up for that book has been editing.  It’s been done for a long time now (years, actually).  It was in my trashbin, more or less, gathering dust.  I completed it at almost exactly the same time I finished “In Treachery Forged,”  but unlike that novel I didn’t think it was worth considering, initially, once I made the decision to self-publish.

But after “In Treachery Forged’s” success, I gave it a second look.  And while it was in very rough shape and some sections needed to be completely rewritten, I discovered I actually liked it.

There was no way I could release it in the state it was in, but I didn’t think it would take too long to get it ready.  I figured I could do a quick run-through of it in a couple weeks, send it out to an editor, and get it ready to go in two or three months time, maximum.

That turned out to be more than just overly optimistic.  It was almost six months before it was ready to send off to the editor — longer than I seem to remember it took to write it in the first place.

Then I contacted an editor who I’d previously vetted, explained what I wanted, and made the basics of a deal.  All I was waiting for was a cost estimate.

I initially put off starting my next book while waiting to hear back from him.  He’d claimed he would have his edits done in two to three weeks time, starting from when he recieved the manuscript.  I figured I would barely have time to get started before he got back to me, and I had other things I needed to do (in that period, among other things, I started setting up this blog, though it would be months before I actually used it).

But after a few weeks time, I still hadn’t heard back about the estimate, and he’d not taken the manuscript to get started.  I sent him a follow-up e-mail and got no response.  I went checking his accounts on twitter and Facebook, and found no activity for some time.  He hadn’t been on the internet, as far as I could tell.

I hoped he was just having computer problems.  I was pretty sure he wasn’t pulling this disappearing act as a scam or anything — he’d recieved no money and no manuscript, and usually scam artists only flee after you’ve paid them — but I wasn’t sure what was going on.

I was really looking forward to working with this guy — I believed, from his track record, that he was a very good editor, and held out hope that he would eventually get back to me.  But I no longer was waiting for him — I had started my next manuscript.

It’s been almost ten months, now.  I’ve sent the guy a few follow-up e-mails, but haven’t heard any reply.  I eventually gave up on him, but by then I was too embroiled in my next novel to try vetting another editor, and I didn’t want to tie up the other editors I’d worked with when I was hoping to use them all again, soon, too.

So “The Merrimack Event” has been languishing, waiting for me to finish that manuscript so I could start hunting down a new editor (and cover artist, but that should be easier to find).

That manuscript was “In Forgery Divided,” the sequel to “In Treachery Forged.”  I initially planned to release this book back in January, but that turned out to be when I started writing the darned thing — run-over from “The Merrimack Event” had delayed me that long.

While it initially moved along at a fast pace, writing “In Forgery Divided” slowed down to where I was managing my lowest ever net-words-per-day average (I say “net,” because there were times I ended the day almost twenty thousand words further back than I started, having to rewrite an entire section before moving forward).  This book has been fighting me every step of the way.

But there are lights at the end of the tunnel for both of these books, finally.  “In Forgery Divided” is now with the editor (he’s slow but he’s free… well, I help babysit his son in exchange, so not quite free.  Given the going rates of professional babysitters, I’m not sure I’m getting a real bargain, here).  Cover art has been commissioned (though I do wonder if my cover artist has become distracted — he just announced his engagement on Facebook a few weeks ago).  Right now (cross fingers, knock on wood, and whatever other counter-jinxes you can think of) I might have things ready to go by the end of October.  Well, November, more realistically, considering my editor’s estimate for completion, but it’s “soon.”

And then there’s “The Merrimack Event.”  I’ve identified a few cover artists I’m going to approach for this one (I employ a different cover artist for each series), and I’ve finally got the time to start looking for another possible editor.  Hopefully this time my editor won’t disappear on me.

In the coming weeks (assuming things go according to plan), don’t be surprised if my weekly blog consists of things related to my pre-publication preparations.  If you’ve been coming to this blog for its “educational” benefits, think of this as an example of the sort of work that would be a good idea (I almost said “needs,” here, but some of these things I didn’t do for my first book, and that turned out okay) to get done prior to getting your book out.  When the books are out (or at least the blogs relating to these book releases are mostly out of the way), I’ll be resuming the research series… and maybe getting that software series off the ground, finally.

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Weird Things I’ve Had to Research (Part 5/?): Youtube Wanderings

Before we begin, I would like to notify people that I made a very brief update of my blog entry on ISBNs regarding their use in eBook formats.  You don’t have to go back to that entry if you’ve already read it, however — I’ll just cover it here.  Basically , this article has led me to revise my opinion on best practice.  I now think, for the sake of future-proofing your identifiers, that it might be wise to use a seperate ISBN to distinguish .pdf format eBooks from other types… though I still think you do not need to distinguish between the ePub and .mobi formats.

Also, this just happens to be my Birthday!  I’d take honest reviews of my books as a present.  ^_^

As a reminder, this is the fifth part for my Weird Things I’ve Had To Research series.  You can find my series introduction, which will include a (growing) table of contents, here.

INTRODUCTION

Not all of the research I’ve done has been reading. At times, I need to research something for which no written source will do.  Sometimes, I need to go somewhere else — like to attend an event in person, or to see something done on Youtube.

Often, when I do this sort of research, I find more than I’m looking for.  Sometimes a lot more.  This is more about finding material for future books and stories while attempting to do research on something else.

Of course, it’s also about how you can use resources like Youtube in your normal research… but sometimes it’s fun (and useful) to dig a little further than you need to.

HAIR-RAISING DISCOVERIES

For my first example, I was once trying to decide on what hairstyle a certain character in The Kitsune Stratagem should be wearing.  Note:  If you go looking for hairstyles in the book, you won’t find any.  I never found the right one.  So, in this case, I failed to find the thing I was researching for, and wound up writing around it.

I went to Youtube.  I knew that there were a number of hairstylists (both professional and amateur) who liked to show off their home styles on Youtube.  I needed to see how the hairstyles were achieved, with an eye towards how the same or a similar hairstyle could be managed with the technology present in my book.  (The hairstyle had certain other requirements which I was never able to satisfy, but that’s immaterial for this post).

You’d be surprised the kinds of things you find Youtube recommends alongside something like hairstyling.  At the time I was doing this research, I was also expecting to attend a convention a few weeks later.  I saw a video recommended which included two very interesting words — “Packing tips.”  I wasn’t sure what, if anything, it had to teach me, but I always struggle with making sure I had everything I needed.

Well, the video didn’t give me much information on packing that mattered to me — the woman giving the presentation was a fashion model, and most of her tips were focused on keeping stylish — but she did mention a few things that I had never heard of, before.  Namely, I had never heard of powdered toothpaste — at least, not in the modern sense.  I knew about baking soda toothpastes, but I was under the impression that even the homemade toothpastes using baking soda were still a paste, not a powder.

Now, you won’t find anything in any of my current books using powdered toothpaste… yet.  But, after this video inspired me to look more into powdered toothpaste, I’ve come to the conclusion that tooth powders could be a good thing to include both in fantasy novels and in science fiction novels, if I ever need to discuss “daily life” issues with the characters.  After all, tooth powders can be made with just about any level of technology I’m likely to use in my books; they are effective; and they are good for travel, as a jar of tooth powder will last a lot longer than a similar-sized container of toothpaste.

It might also be easier to disguise a poison as toothpowder than as toothpaste.  Or to hide your valuables in the jar of toothpowder so that they are never seen.  Or to contaminate it so that using it becomes unpleasant or impossible, if I want to make an issue of my characters “running low on supplies.”  (First world problem?  Maybe.  But if your characters are stranded and can’t replace their dental care products, that can forshadow health problems that they’ll need to deal with later on).

I know — this is just a very small detail, and in the normal course of things probably wouldn’t even be worth mentioning.  Some of you may think “Tooth powder?  That’s not a big deal — I thought everyone knew about that!”  But it was new to me; something I found while looking for something else.  I may never use it, but now I can add this little drop of information into the bucket that is my worldbuilding resources.

IT’S THE LITTLE THINGS

There are all kinds of things you can learn directly from Youtube.  You want to learn karate?  Well, someone (actually, more than one someone, but I couldn’t find the original video I viewed on this when I went looking again) has an entire online course in a single hour and a half long video.  You want to learn how to cook Japanese food?  I know of two very good cooking channels on Youtube.  Want to know how to tie a specific kind of knot?  There are videos for that.  But you can also learn things which are just embarrasing to ask about, because they’re so obvious to people who know it.

Now, I’m a fan of Lindsey Stirling.  Fun, bubbly, and she makes good music, too.  I like watching the behind-the-scenes stuff just as much as the music videos, sometimes.  So, I encountered this video that I’d probably normally never watch, but I was sort of hoping for a bit of an interview during it:

Well, they never really got into the interview I was hoping for (they kind of hinted at it, but then got distracted by the actual work they were doing).

But I have no clue how to put on makeup.  Well, okay, when I was in a theater class one time, I learned a bit about using latex body paint to simulate a wound and things like that, but I mean the typical everyday makeup — eye shadow, blush, foundation, and all that.  I could guess at some of it (foundation is what you put on underneath other makeup, right?  I mean, that just makes sense), but there are a few things that — if I were to ever write about — I wouldn’t have a clue how to portray.

For example, how the heck do you use an eyelash curler?  I mean, for someone who doesn’t know what it does, it looks like some kind of medieval torture device designed to pluck a person’s eye out, not something to curl eyelashes.

Well… now, after watching that video, I know.  And it’s such a silly little thing — but it’d be so embarrassing (for any number of reasons) to ask anyone I know.  But there, in that video, is a simple demonstration that shows me exactly how it works… and some advice to let me know why the quality of an eyelash curler matters.  Who knew?

A FEW CAUTIONS

Just as a warning, when doing research on Youtube, the material you are looking at can disappear in a moment.  I was looking for a video a couple weeks ago for this blog that I first saw a month ago — a video describing the formula for calculating orbits — and the video was gone.  I’m not sure why — it might have been a copyright violation claim (there are a lot of copyright violators on Youtube; there are also far more false claims of copyright violations, made by crawler bots, and most of the time these are never overturned), but there are quite a few other reasons why a youtube video may be removed.  Likewise, a video I’d found on homemade musical instruments (which originally appeared in my suggestions list near the Lindsey Sterling videos I was watching) is gone, as was one (following a trail of links a little more outwards) on various historical forms of dance.

You need to find some way to preserve that information — take notes or whatnot.  Do not rely on this youtube video existing a year from now, a week from now, or tomorrow.  It might not be there.

Also, keep in mind that Youtube videos are not reliable.  Some people like doing special effect tricks with Youtube, so just as with “don’t believe everything you see on TV,” you shouldn’t believe everything you find on Youtube.  Also, people can upload instructional videos as if they were experts even if they aren’t experts in the field (which doesn’t mean you can’t learn from them — especially in the cooking videos sections and the like — just that they shouldn’t be granted automatic authority status just because they’re on Youtube and have a lot of followers).  I generally feel as if these sorts of cautions shouldn’t be needed, but you never know.

CONCLUSION

Youtube videos are a great way to learn certain kinds of things.  Especially if you have time to let your attention wander and go looking through the “suggested” videos — you never know what you’ll find.

And it’s proof that a research tool can be good both for targetted research (if you really want to know how to tie a square knot, you can use the onboard search engine specifically for videos on tying square knots) and for less specific, general, or inspirational research (okay, maybe I’m looking for information on hairstyles, but ooh — packing advice!  And you know, I may need to know how an eyelash curler works some day.  And oh, look, while watching that musician whose videos I like, I see a link to making homemade musical instruments, which surely could be handy!  And… well, you get the idea.

I realize some people are reading these articles and thinking “Wait, where’s the research on all this?  This stuff is mostly common knowledge, or all he’s doing is a quick trip to wikipedia and youtube.  This isn’t research!”  Surprise — yes it is.  The whole point of this series is that this is that you would be surprised at just what you need to research, or what qualifies AS research.

If you ever want to try and create a spreadsheet comparing your actual writing time to your research time (especially for those accountants out there who think you need to do that kind of thing for proof that your writing is a “career” and not a “hobby”), you need to know that yes, looking up a how-to-do-makeup video on youtube can qualify as actual research, however basic the knowledge might be.  So can an afternoon going through wikipedia tracking down women’s (historical forms of) underwear, or trying to figure out the mating habits of the wild haggis.  You don’t have to be sorting through scholarly journals on quantum wheels or whatnot in order for it to count as research.  (I’ve done that, too, though)

That said, I’m probably going to be taking a break from this series for a little bit (waiting for more inspiration, perhaps).  I’m not sure what I’ll be posting next weekend, but I promise I’ll have something.

Self-Publishing Roundtable Addendum I

INTRODUCTION

I have been very busy working on In Forgery Divided this week (the sequel to In Treachery Forged). Because of that, I haven’t had as much time as I usually do to work on my blog. The blog I was planning for this week (Weird Research Part 5) is half-finished, but it doesn’t look as if I’ll get it done in time for my usual Sunday post.  Not because it is especially long, but because it requires I replicate some of my old research in order to complete it, and I just haven’t had time for that.

But I will not go content-less this week. I thought I might lay out some “quick-hits” addendums to my Self-Publishing Roundtable series.

#1: KINDLE PREVIEWER

I look through a lot of blogs on writing and self-publishing. Some I give more attention than others, but even some of the less-relevant to my needs blogs have useful information from time to time.

Such is the case with Aaron Shepard’s Publishing Blog.  By the time I discovered his blog, he no longer felt as if he was an “authority” on self-publishing.  With the words “The Party’s Over,” he effectively went into semi-retirement as a self-publishing guru, and a lot of his articles have been left aging and out-of-date.

He does still publish the occasional blog post, however (mostly on things like the paper quality of Createspace vs. Ingram POD books, if you’re interested), and every now and then he has new news to share.

Last week, he pointed out something I was unaware of:  That the “virtual proof” you can get for your Kindle eBooks from Amazon’s Kindle Previewer no longer resemble the final version of the ebook your readers buy.  This is apparently because of Kindle’s still-in-progress attempts to improve typographic features for their .kf8 proprietary ebook file standard.  (keep in mind that, as far as 99.999% of writers are concerned, it doesn’t matter what the file standard it.  It just matters what the book looks like in the end.  Some book designers might have issues with it, however, and sometimes as a self-publisher you need to handle both jobs).

What this means is that — at least for the moment — you should probably buy at least one copy of your own eBook after release, just to double-check and make sure things look the way you intended them do.  I suspect it won’t make a noticable change for most of you, but there’s always the chance of something going wonky.

#2:  TRENDS IN SELF-PUBLISHING BLOGGING: FONTS

There are a few issues in self-publishing which rise up on occasion.  Some of these are bred by controversy, and I tend to avoid saying much on those topics (I usually have an opinion, but I rarely feel strongly enough — or well-informed enough — to get into an argument over these topics), but there are other topics which very well might be “trend by coincidence.”

For example, I saw, over the course of two weeks, five or six articles on font selection.  I doubt this was a co-ordinated effort by this blogs, but by happenstance a trend was developing among self-publishing blogs.  So, I guess I’ll follow suit.

Keep in mind — it generally isn’t advisable to use a specific font in eBooks; you might (as I do) use something a touch fancy as a title font (the font used on your title page, chapter headers, etc.; this can be, and frequently is, identical to the font used on your front cover), but otherwise leave fonts alone for your eBooks.

If you are designing your own print books, however, you’re going to need to pay attention to your font choice.  In print, for the interior of your book, you probably want a serif font rather than a san-serif because it’s easier on the eyes (this is reversed on an electronic screen, though probably not an eInk eReader).  And you don’t want the font choice to distract your reader by being too fancy, too stylistic, or too, well…

Book designers, in particular, have issue with certain fonts such as Times New Roman because they are “boring” (or rather, because they make the interior of your book look like it was printed on your home computer on default settings).  They think these styles are so boring that they can throw the reader out of the story.  I’m not sure how much stock I put into these pronouncements, but I do agree there are fonts that look more stylized than TNR without breeching that “too fancy” line.

When picking a font for the inside of your book, you should ensure you’ve picked something that displays all of your punctuation correctly.  It can be a particular issue if you’re using a more obscure font; some fonts were designed for “Display” or for particular specific uses, and any unneeded punctuation (like, say, an apostrophe) simply was never designed for it.  And some fonts have a complete set of punctuation marks that look quite nice… until you see, for example, an em-dash placed next to a curvy letter like b, p, u, g, etc.  (I know that specific one because it is a known issue with the print edition of “In Treachery Forged.”  For some reason, the kerning — the space between letters — looks far too wide with the font I chose)

You also want to make sure you have the right to use these fonts you choose commercially.  Don’t trust that, just because you can pick it in the font selector of your computer, you can just use any old font.  Most fonts are copywritten, and some have very peculiar restrictions for their use.  I like using nice, free fonts without commercial restrictions, such as Alegreya, which can be found on Fontsquirrel.  There are some fonts that come with software, however, and you are still permitted to use some of them… but you had better check before you do.  There are some fonts that come with Microsoft Word, for example, that you are not allowed to use on commercial projects.

Beyond that, I don’t really have much advice.  Just use stuff that you think looks professional — don’t do something “fun” and use Comic Sans or a similar font in your interior because “it makes the book look handwritten.”  Maybe it does make your book look handwritten… but it also makes it hard to read, and that discourages your customers from wanting to finish your book.

Try and get it right the first time, though.  Changing a font after the proof has come out can be very daunting — if you change the font you change the font size; changing the font size means you’ll have to re-do all of those corrections you made for justification, widows and orphans, etc.; re-doing all of those corrections will change the page count; changing the page count changes the thickness of your book spine.  Basically, after a certain point, if you change the font you have to completely re-design your book.

#3: BOOKS OFFERED ON EBAY, BUT NO-ONE BOUGHT IT!

I see people in this scenario a lot:

They do a search for their own book.   Surprise, surprise, they find a copy of their print book for sale on eBay… but they have yet to sell a single print copy, so how can it possible be offered on eBay?

Well, the thing to remember is that your book is Print-on-Demand, and that many legitimate small-business book dealers use eBay as their storefront.

If your book is made available on expanded distribution, any dealer can buy the book for resale.  Some dealers will list books they don’t yet have on eBay, knowing that they can buy those books on-demand, if someone orders it from them.  It is only after someone buys the book from them that your book would be sold to them.

So, if you see your book listed on eBay even though it hasn’t been sold, no, it doesn’t mean that the seller is “ripping you off” and should be reported to eBay for fraud.  Most likely, they’re trying to sell your book for you, and you should be thanking them.

#4: FUTURE SELF-PUBLISHING ROUNDTABLE PLANS

I’m very busy with In Forgery Divided, but I have a plan to continue the Self-Publishing Roundtable once that’s out the door.

On Facebook (and in a few other spots) I’ve talked about an anthology (or rather, in this case, a compilation; the difference is the number of authors involved) entitled “This Book Cannot Make Any Money.”  It would consist of various things (poetry, experimental fiction, an inside joke, story fragments, etc.) that were too small to sell on their own, too wierd to sell on their own, too incomplete (and never-to-be-completed) to sell on their own, or some combination of the above.  In other words, it’s a compilation of a bunch of things that will never make any money (as the title says).

What I was thinking I might do (extreme emphasis on the ‘might’) is compile that book, and make a set of blogs dovetailing off of both this Self-Publishing Roundtable Series and my still-to-be-debuted Writing Software Review Series.  I would blog the entire process of going from “I’m done writing; time to find an editor” to “Ebook and Print Book Both Published, Copywritten, and the First Month of ‘Marketing’ Complete” completing this project with zero budget and in my “off hours.”

The idea would be I’d walk people through the process.  I would also try building the same book multiple times (using different software; I’d build the eBook once with Scriveners, once with Sigil, maybe even once with Jutoh or similar paid-for software (again, if you want me to buy Jutoh to review it, I need AT LEAST ONE COMMENT asking about it).  Then I’ll build the print book in Adobe InDesign (CS6), Microsoft Publisher (2007), and Scribus (1.4.5).  Then I’d walk through the process of setting prices, assigning ISBNs, and publishing through Amazon, Nook, Smashwords, Kobo, Draft2Digital, Apple, various niche stores, etc.

Again, this is a very tentative plan.  It will go very, very slowly, because I’ll be trying to manage it around the writing, publishing, and marketing work I’m doing that I hope can make some money.

CONCLUSION

Well, this is the first “unplanned” update for the Self-Publishing Review.  There’ll probably be others in addition to item #4, above… but not for a while.  Expect another Weird Research post next week.

 

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Weird Things I’ve Had to Research (Part 4/?): Thoughts On Constructed Languages

As a reminder, this is the fourth part for my Weird Things I’ve Had To Research series.  You can find my series introduction, which will include a (growing) table of contents, here.

INTRODUCTION

If you’re a fan of science fiction and fantasy, you’re probably aware that J.R.R. Tolkien was a linguist, and he invented multiple languages over the course of writing the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings saga.  A lot of fantasy and science fiction requires the writer to create an entirely new language for their characters to speak; after all, it’s highly unlikely aliens or foriegn elves or whatnot would be speaking English (or Common, or whatever you call the your viewpoint characters’ default language).  The technical term is “constructed language.”

J.R.R. Tolkien may be best known for it (he created not just individual languages, but whole families of languages with dialect trees and the like), but he was hardly the only person to ever create a new language for a book.  Edgar Rice Burroughs actually came up with one for his “A Princess of Mars” before Tolkien’s first sample of Elven appeared in the literary world.  There have been multiple languages created for the likes of Star Trek, Star Wars, Dune, Game of Thrones, Babylon 5, Avatar, Atlantis: The Lost Empire, and many, many more.  Heck, a very basic form of constructed language was a central plot point of the video game Skyrim.

Well, when I was first writing In Treachery Forged, I gave serious thought to construction one or more such languages for the novel.  I got the rudiments down for one of them, and came up with a thing or two for another… and then I quit.  I didn’t really need to have a complete constructed language for these characters — a few words here or there for flavor, sure, but nowhere in my plans were any of my characters conversing in one of these constructed languages.

And… well, I am not Tolkien.  I did enjoy some parts of constructing a language, but other parts of it became a grind… and it was those grinding elements that had me stop.

Of course, I did save a lot of my notes, and I’m having my characters largely follow those bits of grammar and so forth I’d developed whenever one of these unfinished languages come up, so I might complete things some day.  Who knows?  But I think, from what I did manage, that it’s quite possible to construct a language for your books (or video games, or movies, or whatever other reason you might want your own language) even if you aren’t a trained linguist like Tolkien.

Constructing a language requires a number of elements:  You must create some rules of grammar, add in a set of vocabulary, and then figure out how best to include your language’s use in your story.  Tolkien managed to do it a lot of times… but most of us aren’t Tolkien.

NEEDING NEW LANGUAGES

J.R.R. Tolkien created not just one or two languages, but whole language trees.  Several types of Elvish, Dwarvish, Numenorean, and probably others I’m not thinking of.  Tolkien’s passion, however, was languages; mine was not.

But while writing In Treachery Forged, I was thinking about the possibility of developing multiple languages.  I couldn’t use Tolkien’s languages without permission (not that I really wanted to), and didn’t really know them anyway, so I had to construct some new languages, myself.  (Note:  Calling this an article on research is perhaps a bit strong; think of it more as applying pre-existing knowledge to your writing career)

My Human culture was a formerly single civilization in diaspora, so some of the language issues (namely, the difference between Porosian, Sviedan, maybe even Oregalian) could simply be dialect choices; Sviedan is portrayed as English; I have yet to have to portray native Porosian or any of those other foriegn dialects (well, in what’s published), so I haven’t had to do much in that regard, but In Treachery Forged did encounter Elven, Dwarven, and Tel’Curlan as seperate languages.

Tel’Curlan, I’d determined, would have been a cross between Porosian, Dwarven, and Elven languages (reflecting the country’s origins).  I also felt the Nekoji and Merfolk would have their own languages, but they would be languages that were beyond Human speech.

But I needed seperate Elven and Dwarven languages.  And because of the first in-novel encounters with these two languages, one I started with my focus on grammar and the other started with a focus on vocabulary.

GRAMMAR RULES

I had no prior experience or education in creating a language.  I’m not sure many do, and I’m not sure if there is an established method for creating one.  I couldn’t find any “Complete Idiot’s Guide to Constructing Your Own Language” type books, if there are.  So I had to come up with my own method of creating a language.  I reverse engineered the foriegn language courses I’d taken and came up with two.

I am a native American-English speaker, and for the most part the grammar in my head is American-English style.  I have a passing familiarity with the differences between that and British or Australian English, but I really have to think about it.

I’ve also studied (never to fluency, I’m afraid) two foriegn languages in my life.  One of these was Japanese.  It was a difficult language for me.  Even if I resumed practicing my studies on a regular basis, at best I’ll be functionally illiterate in the language:  At one point I knew all the ‘letters’ (syllables?) in both hiragana and katakana, but never managed to learn to read them when put together as words; I have what is usually a mild case of dyslexia, but when I look at Japanese writing — and knowing that it might be written in any of three directions based on context — I can never figure out what order to read those Japanese characters should be read in.  For me, it’s the equivalent of trying to learn to read, and every word looks like this:

I had a lot of reasons for wanting to learn Japanese, however (yes, I am a fan of Japanese anime and generally prefer those shows with their original Japanese voice actors, but my interest came from other places as well), so conceding to the idea of being a functional illiterate in another language I concentrated on learning verbal Japanese.

Curiously, I never learned much vocabulary in these lessons.  A bare minimum, I would say, that would be necessary for the primary thing they were teaching:  Japanese grammar.

So, when I got started on the Elven language, I started with the structure of the grammar.

I began by looking into sentence structure.  English is generally subject-verb-object.  In Japanese, it can sometimes be subject-object-verb.  I didn’t want my Elven language to just be wordswapped English, because that felt… cheap.  I also didn’t want it to just be wordswapped Japanese for the same reasons.

Then I came up with a wonderfully original — and, in the end, awful — idea:  Bifurcated verbs, one part to indicate the actual action and the second to indicate the tense of the verb.  It would go subject-verb (action)-object-verb (tense).  I liked the idea of it, and in the samples I constructed it gave the language a truly foriegn feel while still allowing a strong sense of “yes, there are real grammar rules I need to follow.”  That one rule, by itself, gave the language its own character.

It might have worked for the language I was building, but it made things very difficult for the novel.  This rule gave my Elves a unique verbal tick, but it became horribly confusing when rendered into English.  All too frequently I found myself losing track of what I was doing.  The phrasing, which initially seemed quite lyrical, became horribly awkward half the time.  My editor didn’t understand it and corrected it wrong, and I’d make an even more wrong mistake trying to correct him.

In the end, at least when they were speaking in English, all that survived of this plan was that the Elves would frequently repeat their verbs (usually with one of those two being a contraction and the other the full word, but not always) at the end of most sentences.

I had other “rules of Elvish grammar” I was employing, but this was the most central of them… and it proved too complicated to make it viable.  Oh, words of the language I’d been working on have and will surface from time to time, but I doubt I’ll have any of the characters conversing in Elvish, very often.

VOCABULARY LISTS

Remember me saying I studied two foriegn languages (outside of various official forms of English)?  Well, while my study of Japanese began with grammar (and only just enough Japanese vocabulary to learn this grammar), when I was in Junior High, High School, and even College, my classes all tried to teach me Spanish by focusing almost entirely on vocabulary.

I never enjoyed those classes… but when I started on the Dwarven language I found myself starting here by working out some vocabulary lists.  I figured these lists could also, eventually, be used to fill out the Elvish language, as well.

But how to create these lists?  I couldn’t just grab a dictionary and go through it (too many words would be too irrelevant, as I found from the very first page when I tried it), and it would be unethical to just steal another language guide’s vocabulary lists.  So how should I build them?

Well, I started by trying to think of book-relevant verbs.  Dwarf or Elf, the characters would want to be able to call out that they were surrendering (verb: To Surrender).  I make Dwarven archers a serious component of the armies, so I needed something “to shoot.”  And that reminded me of other martial commands — to attack, to march, to hone, to punch, to kick, to burn, to follow, to train, to provoke, etc.  And then these are Dwarves, and I kept some of the stereotypical Dwarven characteristics (such as business accumen being critical to your social standing).  That would require words like to trade, to buy, to count, to add, to subtract, to bribe, to want, to serve, to appraise, to offer, etc., etc.  Then I went into figuring out verbs specific to various jobs that I figured characters in a fantasy might need.  And so on, and so forth.

So I started with these verb lists.  I had somewhere between three hundred and four hundred verbs that, I figured, had a good chance of coming up in my books.  But a bunch of job-specific verbs do not a language make; even if I duplicated English grammar, I still needed more vocabulary to make things work.  Nouns, adjectives, adverbs, pronouns, prepositions, expletives, etc.  I couldn’t build even one sentence with all of the vocabulary lists I’d created.

Well, statistics say that half of everything written in English is made up of the one hundred most common words… and it also just so happens that there’s a lot of disagreement about what those hundred most common words are.  You’ve got opinions by Prentice Hall and Brown University Press, the Oxford English Dictionary, and more.

I combined all of these “100 most common English Words” list and came up with a few more than one hundred words:

the, of, and, a, to, in, is, you, that, it, he, was, for, on, are, as, with, his, they, I, at, be, this, have, from, or, one, had, by, word, but, not, what, all, were, we, when, your, can, said, there, use, an, each, which, she, do, how, their, if, will, up, their, about, out, many, then, them, these, so, some, her, would, make, like, him, into, time, has, look, two, more, write, go, see, number, no, way, could, people, my, than, first, water, been, call. who, oil, its, now, find, long, down, day, did, get, come, made, may, part, only, other, time, new, any, over, such, our, man, me, even, most, after, also, off, before, must, well, back, years, much, and where.

Put those together with the 300+ words I’d already come up with, and you’re starting to get enough words to make complete sentences.  Your Elves, Dwarves, and whatnot can start talking to each other in their own languages, and you can add more words as needed.

WHAT YOU CAN DO WHEN IT’S TOO MUCH WORK

Well, “too much work” is probably the wrong way to put it.  “Too much of a distraction from my writing” might be, however, as I found myself putting all my time into developing these languages and not in writing.  Again, I’m not Tolkien, I don’t have a special interest in linguistics, and I really don’t want to have to put that much time into a constructed language when I’d rather be writing.  I still have pages of notes full of vocabulary lists, sketched out grammar rules, and more for both of these languages I was working on, but development has been halted on them for more than ten years, now.  Writing the actual book was far, far more important.

Building a language was getting tedious.  I’d overloaded myself, and was losing interest.  Rather than giving up on the book, I gave up on the new languages.  I have done my best, since then, to keep the books compatible with my old notes, but I haven’t really made any advancements.

Well, I take that back.  There were a few times I added a word or two of vocabulary when needed (a specialized Elven weapon would be referred to in Elvish, for example).  Or when I wanted to apply the “rule of fun” for a 4th-wall joke, like when I gave a Dwarven Inn a Japanese style bath and called it a “fu’ro bathing system” (basically, the Japanese word for that kind of bath with the fantasy cliché apostrophe in the middle).

Creating a language as I was writing the book was too much work… but keeping to the rudiments, and adding the odd additional word or two on occasion, will allow me to finish these languages some day.  If I ever need them.

CONCLUSION

Creating a language is a lot of work.  You may find, like I did, that it’s too much effort for what you’re trying to do, or for where you are at this point in your writing or your story.

But if you really want to, nothing is stopping you from making up your own words, developing your own system of grammar, and constructing your own language.

(Incidentally, if you haven’t already heard, I have updated the Convention Calender this week.  I added two new conventions, and put in 2016 dates for several more.  I’m always looking for new suggestions for appropriate conventions)