Worldbuilding 101— How to create a universe in a snap!
Worldbuilding is creating a town, an alternate Earth universe, even a new planet as a setting for your stories. You can even worldbuild a race.
How do you know if your worldbuilding is effective? When the reader doesn’t even know it’s there.
Does it take a lot of time to worldbuild? Nope. But it does take some planning and it takes you knowing your story and the role your city, alternate universe, world play within that story.
Some people say that worldbuilding is hard to do. Others say it’s easy but time consuming. I don’t have a lot of time but I want to create a world that isn’t crap. How do I do that? There are basics that all worlds have in common. You first need to figure out the depth needed and the type of world you need.
Are you building a town, an alternate universe, or a new world? Do you know which is most effective for your story?
Let’s take some questions and see what the answers are and how they help us to determine what’s needed.
·Are you creating a city or town that doesn’t exist on Earth?
·Are you changing any basic laws of physics?
·Does the setting you need in your story need to be special or manageable because you don’t have the time to research a real city?
·Is this a world in which the laws of nature, physics, magic, and races are not like earth?
·Is the world part of the story or is it just a backdrop?
·Will you have various created languages or cultures?
·Does your world have magic and races not known on earth? Or are they done differently than people think of them? Are they earth based in the past or currently?
·Are the characters linked to the world in such a way that taking them out of the world would cause trouble?
The answers to these questions will help us to know if what you need is just a created city, an alternate to Earth, or a brand new world.
So— what are your answers to the above questions for your stories?
Things to think about when creating a new city or town for a story.
1) Do I need to know how the city is planned out? (Streets, shops, etc.)
2) Is it near a real city so I can draw on it if need be as “going to the big city”?
3) If I’m building a country– what area of the world is it in?
4) Country– what is the culture? What are its major imports and exports? And is it part of the UN?
5) What is the main purpose for having a created city or country?
Now, one thing you might want to do is make a city grid that lays out your streets and allows you to make placement of the major shops and houses in your town. Why? So you always have the character make a left on Grosgrove to get to the heroine’s house and not suddenly half way through have them taking a right.
City grids do not need to be complicated nor do they have to be in-depth. I hate unnecessary complications and having lived near Chicago, Boston, Orlando and Tampa….I can tell you…..they’re complicated, even though Chicago is really easy to negotiate once you learn which roads tell you that you’re north-south and which roads mean you’re going east-west.
Now, I cheat at city maps. I HATE making more work for myself. I’m a lazy writer and my goal is to create, not to spend time on stuff that takes away from writing.
Mapquest is your friend. So is Expedia. We’ll get into other map things as well. I love to RPG (role play games) and for me, I love automatic dungeon and map makers.
How do you use Expedia and Mapquest to make city grids? Easy. First think of a city in real life close to what you’re basing your city on. Most of us when we create a city have another city we want it to be similar to– usually one we’ve driven through or even lived. Then find it online. Then zoom it in, cut the area you want for your map, copy, paste… voila. Then you can go in and rename it, or leave it as many names do find themselves from town to town.
Combining pieces of what you loved of various places definitely gives a “real” touch to a city or country you create. The hardest part is keeping it all straight.
One of the things that gets to most readers is inconsistency. I’m a stickler for it. People have despised me when I crit a WIP or a book and go…”Um, you got some mapping issues.” Maps are important for knowing the basics of your town and world.
I should point out that when you create a city, country, alternate universe, or world– you will always know more than what you use. That’s the nature of the evil Worldbuilding beast. But that’s okay. You want to know more and just layer in the information to make things real to the reader. They won’t know everything and you don’t want them to. But you’re cultivating a bond between the reader and the place you’ve dropped them into. How many of us have never been to New York City, London, or Los Angeles, but because of great authors— we feel we kinda know the cities because of descriptions, use of the location, and the consistency of moving around the cities.
Where to find maps for cities and countries:
http://historic-cities.huji.ac.il/historic_cities.html (This is one of my favourites! Nothing like old cities to create one of your own!)
http://grid.let.rug.nl/~welling/maps/blaeu.html Dutch City Maps from 1652
You’ll end up with more links than you’ll know what to do with– but I promise you– in the end, at any given moment, you’ll be able to pull up information, put it together and by the end of one day– have a cool city, country, or world that is ready for your stories.
Creating a Country
Let’s talk about creating a country. It’s a bit more in-depth than a city, but really not that bad. I have a “What do I need to know” list for my country. It goes well for fantasy settings as well as contemporary.
There are some places in the world that easily support new countries in this time– Eastern Europe, the old Soviet Republic, the Middle East, Africa, and parts of Central America. Why these? Upheaval and people wanting various types of freedom. Think on the changes since 1989 with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Island nations are easier, definitely. But you also lose a bit with them in back history unless you kinda “acquire” real islands and make them points of contention between two countries, then have them declare their independence.
Name of Country:
Member of UN:
Problems that can be used in storyline:
Resources that can be used:
Historic or archaeological sites:
Location on world map:
These points help me out. They help me to know the country I’ve created and give me easy reference points in creating my story. They also help me to know what I can and can’t do in this story. If I know my country has a desert setting– sheiks and the like— I know some of how the cultural aspects can be presented. If it’s a jungle setting– I know we’re going to more equatorial and that I might be more in South America.
Some ideas about creating atmosphere for towns, cities, and countries.
Creating atmosphere is FUN! I enjoy making my cities and places with quirks. There are some easy ways to add atmosphere.
Create a secondary character that’s everybody’s aunt and is just a bit near crazy. Make sure their home is near the center of the action. Even if you just bypass their home. “That’s Auntie Bess’s house. She’s a bit…..well…..short of a deck. But none of us would be here without her.”
Create a town statue, monument, park within the square. Make it something filled with history or in which is THE meeting spot in town for kids, adults, etc. This gives you a solid place to not only toss the characters together, but see the town interacting with them as well.
I think my all time favourite thing to get the atmosphere going has been bringing the yearly Ren Fest to the town. It’s the one thing that gets everyone moving and grooving. Prepping for it means that the gossip mill is much closer together than normal. People instead of having to meet at the local coffee shop or at the benches near the monument can now talk freely at the town hall where the preparations are going on. *grins*
Atmosphere plays a large part in how we perceive our characters and our story. One thing I always remember from a couple of fantasy greats about worldbuilding and about atmosphere is “If you were to take this story and dump it into a big city like every other city— does it work? If it does, then you’re creating the city for nothing. Make it special– it has its own voice that will make your story memorable.”
See, so far, creating a new city or country for a contemporary setting or even a historical setting isn’t a problem anymore. It’s a matter of setting out where everything is, what are the main attributes that play into the story and making sure you follow our normal rules of physics, society, and laws.
But Cyn…..what about….alternate universes. You know, like Buffy or Forever Knight and such? How do you go about creating realistic alternate universes that aren’t just like everyone else’s? How do you keep it all straight?
Well, that will be our next thing to tackle. It’s one of my favourite settings to use when I’m not creating brand new worlds. In fact, I’ll share the settings I used for my Marauders books (The Mark of the Blood and Call of the Wylde) along with my soon to be released book, Djinn Delight in how I used alternate universe settings that seem utterly realistic and unique to me.
How much information to give the reader about the town, country, AU, world—
Now— the question you brought up is something that has to be dealt with regardless if your story is contemporary, alternate universe or even otherworldly. How much information do you give, how do you give it, and how much can you hold back from the reader and the characters?
First rule— I hate info dumps. Seriously bad. Most readers and editor hate info dumps.
Breaking the First Rule— there are ways to info dump without pissing off anyone.
How does one break this rule without pissing off the public, Cyn?
There are a variety of ways. The first is a good prologue. Set up the basics of the world in it. Start it with what leads up to the opening of chapter one. Put the gods at war, make the vampires threaten to go rogue against the rules of their kind, make a realtor come in to buy the most precious piece of land to the community. By presetting the stage in 8 pages or less– you’ve set the scene, you’ve given glimpses of the world/AU that you’ve created and you’ve made the people curious on what the results are of that.
Second viable method of info dumping— Conversation peppered with actions.
Serena slid her blade home into the merc before her. “You know we’re going to be labeled outlaws for this.”
Thomas growled as he shoved his opponent to ground and slit his throat. “If the Queen hires brigands and mercs to defend her rule against her own people who work the land, then too bad– we’re outlaws.”
They turned so their backs touched, ever mindful that a mage may come and change the odds of their sneak attack. The trees here were bare– sure sign that magic had devastated the area in the last ten months. Yet, it was perfect for a raid since magic would founder here unless the mage was stronger than the null magic that radiated from this point.
“You know, if we don’t get back to the hideout, they’ll think we’re dead,” Thomas gritted out as he moved past a slicing blade.
“You mean we’re not? After living through that damn blast by Techro? Well who knew,” Serena replied, shoving her dagger into the chin of her opponent.
Within minutes they stood among the dead mercs. No mage had come to support them. Perhaps the mages knew the truth– Queen Neela had plans of ridding this land of its magic and the people who nutured it. Or perhaps they were waiting for the two Captains of the Royal Guard to be declared outlaws before going after them. Either way– there would be war.
See, info dumping at its finest…and you’ve done it in such a way that it was natural. Between actions, answers, and conversation, you can give out great information on the world, its people, and other issues.
Now– hiding information. How many of us know exactly how our local or federal governments work? We have an idea, but very few of us know everything.
Your characters shouldn’t know everything. Just remember– if this is information based upon a rule you’re breaking– like all magic-users have to give up some energy to cast spells, but in this one case, he must cut himself and give drops of blood. Perhaps he finds magic hard to use, until the end when he stumbles onto this, perhaps cutting himself with his dagger at that moment of casting a spell and everything goes easier. It’s a broken law, but one that isn’t discovered til that moment.
Now…you need to lay this foundation to break the law. Even if the characters are unaware of this information (as is the reader), just remember, you need to hint at this. You need to give 3 hints throughout the story. Things remembered, things hinted at, perhaps words from an insane man who touches the character in question. Something that doesn’t just pop up and people go….”HUH?”
When do you give out information regarding the world, its people and more? Do you have to give it all out in chapter one?
And your readers will love you if you space out the information as it becomes necessary to give it out.
Over and over, I tell paranormal writers— make the paranormal normal. What this means is that you create a believability in which the reader will accept the new, different information and think, “well yeah, that’s how it is” and won’t be overwhelmed.
Same way when you give info out on the world/AU/place you’ve created. What is the most important aspect of your world that you MUST get across in chapter one? What 2 other elements support that main aspect? Those are the things to bring to the reader and you must be SNEAKY to do it.
What is an alternate reality/universe?
An alternate reality is set on earth, but the history has been changed by different choices made. An example of this is Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series. Within it, she made history where vampires, shape shifters, and more are part of society, not just myths and legends.
How alternate are alternate realities/universes?
Not as much as you think. Remember when you were young and you played “What if?” AU is the same thing. “What if— fairies were real?” “What if Hitler won World War II?” “What if the legends on vampires were true?” It’s taking that one point and making it a reality— thus setting the stages of change in the world we know today while not losing anything that we know.
Let’s start with something easy– “What if there were vampires?”
When was it discovered vampires were real? Were laws introduced? What is different about your vampires versus the myths?
Something to note for Alternate Realities/Universes and Worlds—
I don’t mind alien landscapes. In fact, I’ve got a story that will flip people, but I’m trying to make it so it’s still believable AND alien. The best way are reference points.
If you were on this alien planet– what would seem familiar? Always give at least one to two familiar reference points to one unfamiliar point!
What’s different? Why is it different? But please– for the love of gods, sacred objects and keeping readers from killing you– if it LOOKS like a duck, SOUNDS like a duck, and ACTS like a duck— call it a DUCK not a jomanja or some such. Changing names of regular objects to give it an alien or otherworldly feel will not win you points.
In Robin D. Owens’ book, Guardian of Honor, her world has where aural (sounds) are very important. In fact, it’s a specific feel that’s unusual to our normal standard that makes it special. Her way of making sure in each scene there’s something that deals with hearing a sound. Whereas a visual society takes its cues from colours, etc… in this world it’s the music, the sounds that are created. How she presents this otherworldly thinking and aspects are fantastic!
What makes your world alien and unique? Make sure it’s truly something unusual– like an aural based society. In my current story, Games Empaths Play, it’s a world that’s technologically advanced, but has some old notions in regards to empaths and how to treat them. They’re some of the best and brightest, but they’re isolated in many ways in order for the world to “protect” them. There are also group marriages, contract marriages for a year, and permanent marriages. One of the unique things I’ve created to make the world truly alien but real is that there is a double moon and that sound carries, thus making the fact that there are empaths unusual. Alien, but relatable.
Ahh yes……the write what you know thing. Many times when I write, I don’t know, but I do research. Writing what you know makes it easier only when it’s something you want to write. Otherwise, give yourself permission to research and write what you want to know about!
Now back to the question— how much to include of races that don’t play much of a role….hmmmmmm
I play by the rule of three– 3 descriptors, 3 sentences to give information, 3 aspects to be shown. What are the 3 most important things these races give to the story? What are the 3 pieces of information that set the stage for the race and their interaction with the main character/s? What 3 aspects are common to the race as a whole that can be used to describe or generalize the race with common attributes? “As childish as a Kender.”
When you’ve got races that don’t play a major role in the story– ask yourself– do I really need new races or can I make do with what I’ve got? If their place in the world you’re creating is necessary—ask, “Why are they necessary? Where in the story do they fit? What information do they impart about the world, the main characters, and the resolution of the story? Can my story live without them?” If the answer to the last one is Yes– toss them.
See, the key to worldbuilding is this— What is the least you need to know to make the book work? Once you know the least, then you can plan accordingly. And never ever do too much worldbuilding to where the worldbuilding defines your book. I’ve seen it, I’ve read it and it’s disappointing when you get all about this cool world and nothing about the real story.
Basic things to remember when creating an alternate universe/reality
1. Designate the differences from our world now with the world you’re creating.
2. Define what normal laws are broken along with how and why they are. (If you have mutants, how did they happen and why aren’t they sterile, etc.)
3. What are the limitations on this law being broken? (How far does this ability go before it gets out of control or hits god power?)
4. You’re in a world that’s just like the one we live in; make it feel normal, even with the differences. Think on how Buffy and Angel universe still seemed normal in the midst of the paranormal!
5. Introduce the differences a bit at a time and do so in a normal fashion. Make the reader feel through the characters that “Yes, this is unusual, but it’s acceptable because it’s presented as being the norm.”
6. Follow the new rules you institute in this AU. Do not break them. If you do, you have to have a sound, logical reason and you have to show it’s a once in a million shot– not the norm! There are authors out there who forget this rule and it disappoints many readers because they know the laws inherently through your writing and breaking these rules is sure to lose you fans.
7. If you know the science behind what your AU uses, then make sure you note it down on your paper. Why? Because in case you need something, you can find the theory and science online or in books to help you out of a crisis. There isn’t anything like having a moment with String Theory and writing a scientist in the field and having him write you back with a possible answer to your puzzle.
So you want to create your own world– are you nuts?
This is what I often get asked. Seriously and I giggle tons over it because I really honestly find worldbuilding to be easy for me. Now if we were talking POV (Point of View) — I’d be the first to whinge on needing work on it!
But worldbuilding is really simple when you break it down to the most basic format. The other thing is this— basically no matter what you do– your world will be created with some kind of knowledge of our world. Most people have a tendency to think about various cultures, myths, etc. It’s a great way to create worlds, especially when we’re new into worldbuilding.
How about some of the really basic steps I take when I worldbuild? These are things I sit back on and think as I answer them. One thing I highly recommend is finding two great books; they’re small, portable, and they’re filled with information. World Mythology by Parragon Publishing and Great Civilizations by the same company. I think I paid about $7 per book at most and they can be found at Barnes and Noble. But these 2 books will give you many ideas in adapting cultures and the past into new and unique worlds and cultures.
You’re going to notice that in one of the questions and things, I ask you to draw a map. Why? A map gives your world life. It does NOT have to be the best of the best. It just needs to give your world life and allow you to see where things are in relation to others.
Now you’ve got your world list, you’ve got the name; you’ve got the details. How do you take what you’ve got and make it come alive? First, close your eyes and imagine the world as if you were waking up to it for the very first time. What hits your senses first? Is it the flora? Is it the sun streaming in? Is it power of magic? What would be the first thing that hits your character in that world they’ve been born to? Write a scene where the character takes in the world. Feel it, smell it, live it, and more. Allow it to fill your character and go beyond it.
Some links for ideas on how to worldbuild:
Adventure Gamer’s Worldbuilding: http://www.adventuregamer.net/html/worldbuilding.html
Worldbuilding Ideas: http://www.plausiblydeniable.com/worlds/worlds.html
Organic Worldbuilding: http://www.lazette.net/Vision/Issue14/wborganicworldbuild.htm
Patricia C. Wrede’s Worldbuilding Questions: http://www.io.com/~eighner/world_builder/world_builder_index.html#alpha
Language Building Kit: http://www.zompist.com/kit.html
Reference Organization: About Worldbuilding: http://www.ardeon.org/ref/wbldg.html
Holly Lisle’s Worldbuilding Article: http://hollylisle.com/fm/Articles/faqs8.html
Pegasus- City of Veils Worldbuilding Article: http://pegasus.cityofveils.com/worldbuilding.phtml
Solar System Calculators: http://janus.astro.umd.edu/calculators.html
Okay…..let’s get into some depth on those questions.
Name your world. Do you want it to have a Nordic name, Celt, Egyptian, etc? What is the influence of your world? Pick a name that reflects the world or the idea upon which it’s founded.
I know, I know you’re thinking, “But what if I have no clue of the idea on what it’s based?” The thing is, you do know. If you didn’t have some kind of concept for the world, your story would’ve been based on earth.
So, let’s think this thing through. Names are important. They help set the tone for your world as well as let the reader have some kind of idea on what your world is like.
Your name defines who you are. Character names define who they are and gives them something to call them by. When you think of the world of Pern by Anne McCaffrey, what comes to mind? Dragons, mountain holds, even the newly discovered dolphins. The name reflects the knowledge that is within the world. It’s something that people will relate to when they hear that name again.
That’s your goal. Create a name that’s easy to remember, that will make people think of YOUR world when they hear it, and that it reflects an aspect of that world.
Most people play with names and have some great ones. Rule of thumb is making it unique, easy to pronounce, and let it flow. For me, I add another twist– I enjoy it when people give it multiple pronunciations.
Decide what your world emulates. Is it a world of sword and sorcery? Is it a world of machines? Is it a world that blends the two? Once you know that, you need to list what is part of everyday life.
This is one of the most important decisions in your worldbuilding that you’ll do. This tells you just what genre you are more geared toward (and yes if you’re a nut like me, you’ll blend for 2 genres to be difficult!) and it lets you know what rules to decide upon next.
1. Do you need science or can you create rules for magic?
2. Is your planet a lost colony of Earth?
3. What is the role of your planet and the cultures in your story?
4. Do you need many cultures or just a few?
5. Do you have a favourite Earth culture or mythology you’d like to use for the basis of your planet?
6. Do you know a time period in Earth history that you want to base your cultures on?
Let’s continue with the questions and get some more ideas on how to get this world built.
If there are new races, jot them down. Give characteristics, abilities, what they’re similar too, if it makes it easier, and make sure you put what part of the world they’re from.
New characters of unusual races….Mmmm…. who can resist not going nuts on these new characters? Orcs, dwarves, elves…..wait. Those are established races, nothing new—- aren’t they? Maybe, maybe not. It depends on you. What makes your race unique? Are the normal size? Are they smarter? Are they descended from humans?
Creating races can be easy. Mythology books can actually provide a great basis for making a new race. If you’re looking for online links:
Characteristics to remember when creating races
1. Height: (Include range for males and females)
2. Hair Colour: Are there particular colours associated with them?
3. Eye Colour: Do they even have eyes? Or more than 2?
4. Are they humanoid in shape or another? (Think Alien, Satyrs, etc for various humanoid and nonhumanoid forms.)
5. Weight: Give the upper and lower ranges so you can describe them well.
6. Special abilities that only they have
7. Weaknesses to the race as a whole.
Now let’s get back to the checklist for this world. Ah—an important aspect to consider as it helps define the genre you’re writing in.
Magic- is there or isn’t there? If there is, is it confined to a select few, or is it everywhere? What is the cost that comes with using the magic? Do you need components to use magic or can it be verbal spells?
If your world has magic, you must define the limits of it. What does it take to invoke it, what does it take to dismiss it? Are there rituals, ceremonies, and what races use magic? What kind of magic is available? Fire? Earth? Make sure you don’t put in more magic than what you need and it shouldn’t be without a price. Magic costs and by keeping to the cost it’ll make your world more believable. What kind of price must a magic-user pay in the use of this special skill? Is it physical or emotional?
Science—the same thing applies here as for magic. You want to establish the level of technology in use on the world as well as who can use it and when. If you’re taking a current theory and making it fact in your book, make sure you note how it’s used and what changes you’ve done to fit it in your world. Make sure you set what can be broken in regards to this new fact and what can’t. When referring to new equipment resulting from higher technology, use terminology that gives a hint to what it does. A list of new gadgets and their uses are often handy when you’re showing the new physics/technology at work.
Psychic/Psionic Talent—when dealing with this aspect of abilities, there are many issues to consider. Does everyone possess the same skill or are they different? Are there levels of ability based on innate talent or can it be trained higher? What defense can be used against these skills? What costs are there to using this skill? Can this talent be lost by burning it out or over-extending it? Are there physical traits that show who has this skill?
Points to remember when worldbuilding
Physics- Do NOT panic! This is more to ask, are there any exceptions to the known rules that most planets live under? Is there gravity? Is there cause and effect? If it goes up, does it come down?
If you’re in a contemporary or future setting– do you know the physics behind why you can do certain things and not others? Do you know your speeds for your ships and the fastest limit? What about weapons? Do you know how they work, just in case you make it misfire for your character?
Knowing the basic physics of your world helps you to know why you broke the natural law or set up something unusual. In one book I’m working on (I work on multiple projects at a time), I use String Theory. I set it up that the world my hero is taking my heroine to is only a String away, but on a totally different vibration level– thus the reason for many things and the cause of much amusement on my end.
List the major rules of your world that are different from Earth. Make sure if you break them, that you list how and why they were broken. Then on top of that, make sure that if there comes a place to explain simply “our culture knows about Simeon’s Fourth Law of Tectonics” and slip it in— IF it’s necessary. Then you’re giving people a realistic feel to your world.
There’s a Razor out there with your name on it. Find it, use it, and then make your characters believe in the world you’re putting them in.
Society– Do they use money, plastic, or barter? Is there a caste amid society? Are there any main rules that your characters break by being who they are? If so, list them. Make sure if there’s something different, to jot it down for reference. Are there gods? Do they influence the world?
1. What money system is used? Barter? Coins? Crystals?
2. What’s the hierarchy of people’s roles?
3. What are the forms of governments used for each culture?
4. What religious beliefs are there?
5. What are the main types of imports, exports, and agricultures?
6. How are peasants treated?
7. How are the royalty treated?
8. Is there a merchant class?
9. Are there rules of etiquette?
10. How does anyone talk to anyone in charge if you’re a stranger?
11. Are there shops where people don’t ask questions?
12. What about a black market?
Creating Languages for Your World
Aseta etu falez?
*everyone blinks at Cyn* Umm, Cyn….what’s that mean?
Welcome to Language building 101. A mini course of creating languages for your world. This is one of my favourite things to do in the Worldbuilding process and it’s something you can do.
No, seriously, Cyn, what does that mean?
It means “Are you happy?” and it’s a language I created, based upon Spanish.
No, you don’t need to be Tolkien to create languages. I’m not a formally trained linguist, though I do have linguist friends who’ve taught me a few things about various languages. So, I’m going to share tips and techniques with you.
Giving races their unique language helps to give a realness of a race and a world. But too much language with no translation is tough. Worse– creating a language can be tough.
First-– you never have to create a language from scratch unless you want to. And trust me; you don’t want to most times. It’s not worth it.
Second— Making up languages with known languages eases your burden tenfold.
Third—if you insist on creating your own languages, be prepared to work long and hard at it. It’s not simple when you realize just how much goes into it—from nouns, pronouns, verbs, adverbs, adjectives, to dealing with sentence structure and pronunciations.
Let’s show how to create your own Language. Let’s put together some simple rules (which are somewhat flexible and you can adjust accordingly.)
Language Manipulation 201
If you know a foreign language (like German, Dutch, French, Spanish, English, etc.) it’s easier. If you don’t, that’s okay; it’s still possible to use a language you’re interested in as a basis for a new language. There are many translators that will do sentences. Those are the best.
Check out http://www.dictionary.com and go to Translators. They do sentence and paragraph translations in various languages. Find the language you want to base your language on. You can use this to get an idea on the basics of certain languages as long as you don’t use complicated words.
Now, choose a phrase you might use in your story. Type it into the box asking for the text to be translated. Mine is “Are you having a good day?” Choose the language you want to use and have it translate. Once you get the answer, keep reading.
Once you have the answer in your foreign tongue, we begin with the basics of twisting a known language into something different.
1. Make all the “a” into “I”, the “e” in “a”, etc (Once you determined which vowels replace which, jot it down on the language portion of the worksheet. This will keep the notes handy as you create a dictionary of words and phrases.)
2. If your word starts with a vowel, you need to decide if you want it to stay that way or add a diacrit (those cool looking symbols like the umlaut, accent symbol, etc.) Or you might decide that only if a word starts with a vowel, you must add a “silent” vowel to those words at the beginning.
3. If you have double letters, you can choose whether or not to separate them with an apostrophe or another symbol if you think it’s necessary. You might even decide that it can only be for anytime there are two vowels together. Ex. Neighbor, apple, feet.
4. Wherever you have the letter “f”, change it to “ph” and make sure you reverse it as well. Decide if you’re going to do this substitution for “x” and “cks” and other endings that might need some twisting. You can even do a completely different letter changing like all words ending in “-ing” will be changed to “-ex” to designate a gerund, etc.
5. If you are using a language that has gender designations (Spanish has feminine and masculine nouns. Feminine nouns end in “a” and male in “o”.
6. Decide how you’re going to designate plurals. Will you use “s” or “-es” at the end, or perhaps a different consonant, like in Dutch that uses “-n”.
7. Decide if your language has articles and if they have gender. (Articles are: the, a, an.) If you choose to have them, then take a minute to create them (I usually create my own article words or adapt the ones from the foreign language I’m using). Make sure you designate the articles for plural nouns as well, if necessary.
These are various safe and easy ways you can create your own language. *grins* By using the basics of another language, you can create a language that has a lovely rhythm, sounds exotic, yet at the same time, have hints of familiarity—which helps readers to accept the language as they read it.
Creating your own Language from Scratch —or—- I’m feeling ambitious have plenty of time
Creating a language from scratch isn’t easy. I personally don’t like to, though there are times when I want a totally created word for a special phrase or designation. Then, I’m all for creating a special term, phrase for specific use within context. In one of my fantasy stories, the word for “Chosen One” is El’ahaken. Grab some paper, pencils, and a dictionary and prepare for some long work ahead.
Where do you start-– pronouns. You need to make designations for the following words:
I, she, he, it, they, we, you
Once you’ve set these in stone, then you need to figure out verbs being conjugated with those pronouns. You must not only figure out the root verb, but also how you will conjugate the verb to fit with the above pronouns. The most common verbs needed to translate:
to be, to do, to have, to know, to say, to come, to see, to love
So what does conjugation mean? When you use certain verbs, known as regular or irregular verbs, you have a specific way that you use them. You don’t say “We be here.” The correct use of the verb is “We are here.” Regular verbs still need to be noted with the main use and the plural version. Here is an example of how you conjugate in English with the verb, be:
I (to be) I am we (to be) we are
you (to be) you are you plural (to be) you are, you (all) are
he/she/it (to be) he is, she is, it is they (to be) they are
Now let’s do a regular verb, so you can see what’s necessary for it. Let’s use the verb- watch.
I watch we watch
You watch you all watch
He watches, she watches, it watches they watch
You need to do this for all your verbs you plan on using. Further, this is only the first part of creating verbs. You also have to designate tense: present, past, future. Will you add “-ed” to the end of the verb for past? Or “-ing” for future? Make note of what you decide for each verb.
You mean I’ve got to create all those for just a few measly words I want to create for this one book?
Yes, that’s what I’m saying. Why? One book turns into more than one, plus if you don’t get this language and its rules down as you write, then the readers will catch irregularities in your story. Plus, if you don’t use the correct language rules consistently, then you won’t be able to recognize certain words when you go back to read over your story.
Beginning to see why I recommend cheating by using a known Earth language then changing things around to create your own language? Tolkien was no fool– all his languages are based on known languages such as Finnish, in which he, as a trained linguist, then shifted to another path it could’ve taken depending on outside influences in ancient times.
Language rules—important things to have established so that your created tongue is reliable, easy to learn phrases, and seem somewhat familiar to your readers. If you’re wondering what language rules are, let’s look at some basic things I normally contemplate as I create a new tongue.
1. What happens when you create questions? What is the sentence structure–subject-verb-object? Verb-subject-preposition-object? Whenever you create a question, does it have to follow this specific sentence structure and not vary?
2. Do you have to use a pronoun subject with a verb every time? Or can you imply the subject depending on the type of sentence? (Declarative, query, narrative) ex.—“Go to your room!” (“You” is implied, though not stated. In Dutch, you have to say the pronoun every time.)
3. Are there any glottal stops or any other modified vowel combinations that are designated with symbols over the vowels, apostrophes, etc? á â ã ä å æ ç è é ~ ` ^ (Use these consistently by creating a dictionary and pronunciation guide for you and the readers.) What do they sound like when spoken?
4. Do you have any irregular verbs used often?
5. Do you have pet phrases and designations? Make sure you do them and keep a running tab.
6. Do you have your adjectives come before or after the noun? What about adverb placement?
Now that you’ve begun creating your new language on your own or manipulating a language on Earth, there are some things to be aware of when using it in your story.
Less is more. You want to pepper it in, not drop it in massive amounts that overwhelm the reader.
Use a phrase here and there. Don’t always put the meaning immediately afterward—it’s okay to occasionally show its meaning through another character’s reactions. But if it’s a term you’ll be using regularly throughout the book, you do want to establish its meaning right away to set it in the reader’s mind. Ex.–“Are you going to bag yourself a cailín, lovely girl?”
When you use phrases and sentences—remember to sprinkle in definitions within the sentence and by reactions of other characters. Try not to overuse foreign phrases heavily as it overwhelms the reader by trying to get the foreign tongue’s rhythm and also to understand the translation in context to the moment.
Keep it simple. Don’t do anything so complicated you lose the readers as they struggle to understand the sentence, etc. Basic sentence structure is best.
Provide a dictionary/phrasebook at the end of your book.
The simpler the phrases and words you use throughout the book, the better the otherworldly feel you give without going overboard.
Now…let’s think alternative universe one more time!
We want something contemporary, has minimal implications and changes into our current universe that we live in. Usually the unusual elements are “scientized” in some way by providing logical reasons for how and why the changes exist. Let’s create something to see how you develop an alternate universe while maintaining the basics of our here and now. Let’s use the idea of meta-humans—humans with enhanced senses and psychic abilities. Many compare superheroes with special powers to the concept of meta-human.
When in the timeline of our world could meta-humans have been created either by nature or man with small genetic changes that didn’t render them sterile? Considering what you know can cause mutations in humans, you’d have to find a time and event where that kind of exposure might’ve happened. Develop a history based from that change. Don’t spend tons of time– remember…give it a name, even if it’s for the secret time the governments might use, etc— Einstein’s Reality, Radiation Day, etc. Find the timeframe and add in small increments what other noteworthy parts of history helped build the meta-humans into being part of society at large. Make sure you note events that you might refer to in the book as well as any special phrases or names used in conjugation with this “race” and their deeds.
1945– Bomb dropped in Japan.
1949– Testing continues— first survivors give birth to meta-humans.
1959–Testing on meta-humans continues with world governments sharing info.
1969– Free Love and the freedom to meta-humans as they try to learn to blend into society. In fact, some of the people we consider pro-free love were meta-humans trying to blend in.
1979–The first Metas begin having babies who also have talents.
1985– Metas come out, forcing governments and mortals (as Metas call all who have no abilities) to accept them as useful members of society.
That’s a sample and how easy it can be. I picked easy years and basic points for reference. Nothing deep or too hard to remember. Then I pinpointed where in this AU the change becomes public. So now the sentiment is either pro or con for Metas for this story, since I want to use this emotional period in history as a backdrop to why things happen.
Now– what are the limitations of Metas? What are the talents they’ve blest with? Do they want to be Metas? Using the basic character sheet for crafting other races—fill in the blanks. The more you know about the unique group of people, including their past, the unsteady future, limitations, how they reproduce, the problems, the joys, etc—you will find it easy to refer to those sheets while writing.
What are the possible problems with this AU scenario? Where might you, as an author, get carried away? See, that’s something you have to worry on. Sometimes an author can put themselves into a corner then have to break all the rules created in order save them from starting over. Readers hate that and are likely to be unforgiving to the point of not buying another book in the series because you’ve broken the rules you created for this AU. Too many times authors up the ante physically in their created world because it’s easier than creating emotional obstacles for the main characters to face. Being aware of where you might be tempted to take the easy way out will help you to respect the rules you’ve created. The use of layers of issues—both for the character internally, externally, and placed upon her because of what she is will create enough to deal with. On average, I try to make sure that for every two personal conflicts my character faces, I make one deal with something that’s generalized—like being different in a world that fear Meta-humans, not having equal rights of voting, having to wear an item that tells everyone you’re a Meta—something that brings another layer to the main plot of the story. If it’s something that can’t be simply dealt with and conquered, the happier I am as that point can be arced through many stories dealing with this character and AU.
Now you know how to manipulate and create your own worlds. Below is the worksheet I use for my basic information and more. Feel free to share it, just make sure that you give credit where credit is due! The sheet is kept to the most basic format as I always type it up then print it out, making more notes on back as needed.
Best of luck in your world building!