aithne: (can't talk dorking)
I'm coming up with a constructed language (aka conlang) for something Storm and I are working on.  The context is that we have a group of folks who are living in an environment a lot like the Pacific Northwest--temperate rainforest near a relatively cold ocean, cut off from the rest of the continent by a mountain range.  I don't need a lot out of this conlang--names and a few words for things, mostly.  I started out with one word that was from this language--vashal, which translates as "protector".  The reason we have that word is that about 20k years after this book is originally set, the word surfaces in our Egypt-equivalent as an antique religious term.

So.  Where do you start with something like this?

Well, I know a couple of things from the one word I have.  One is that the language contains the phonemes /v/, /sh/, /l/, and /ah/.  (I'm not going to be using IPA, since typing in IPA is really annoying.)  I know that /v/ can be used in the beginning of a word, /sh/ in the middle, and /l/ at the end.  I'll go ahead and add all four of those sounds to my phoneme list, separated out into consonants and vowels for my convenience.

At this point, I need to make some more decisions and some distinctions.  I want to keep the phoneme list pretty small, and I want the words in this language to look exotic but relatively pronounceable.  And, just as important, I want the language to be distinct from any of the other languages of this world.   Because I'm only creating words, I am not going to create any syntax rules right now.  (And orthography is going to closely follow pronunciation, because these folks don't do much writing as a general rule.)

So.  I need some distinct phonetic features.  I ponder, think about clicks, and decide that one of the features of this language is going to be that they make use of the breathy voice as a distinction with some of their consonants.  So, for instance, they have /j/ and /jh/, /l/ and /lh/, /p/ and /ph/.  This isn't a distinction we draw in English, but it's a feature of some other languages.

We've got /l/, easy enough to add /r/.  I'll add in a few alveolar consonants: /d/, /t/, /th/ (unvoiced).  I should probably add a glottal stop, but that way lies apostrophes and many fantasy cliches, so I don't.  

I muddle around a little bit and decide on vowels: /a/, /o/, /iu/, /i/, /e/, /au/, /ai/.  /iu/ is a dipthong; in practice /iu/ sounds like "woo" with only the faintest hint of a w at the beginning.  /ai/ is pronoiunced like the English word "I".  This is a super-limited list, and I'm going to consider it only partial for the moment.  I could easily double the list by adding breathy versions of the vowels, but English orthography doesn't really lend itself to that.  I currently have a schwa on my list, but I'm pondering removing it.

So, i have the following phonemes:

/jh/, /vh/, /v/, /k/, /kh/, /th/, /t/, /ph/, /h/, /sh/, /d/, /l/, /lh/, /ph/, /r/

/a/, /o/, /iu/, /i/, /e/, /au/, /ai/, /(schwa)/,

Lots of afficates and fricatives on that list.  Only two bilabials: /p/ and /ph/.  I ponder and decide that's probably fine--they may simply not make a distinction between most of the sounds you can make with both lips.  No nasals, and that's deliberate for worldbuilding-related reasons.

And then, I need some rules!  I make some words with the phoneme list, play around a bit, and come up with the following extremely barebones set of restrictions:

Vowels not allowed to begin words.
/th/, /sh/, /l/, /r/ never begin a word.
T is /t/ at the beginning of a word and /th/ in the middle/end.
/v/, /k/, /jh/, /vh/ never end words.
Vowels are always pronounced.
Only consonant allowed to be in the same syllable with another consonant is /l/.

This isn't much, but it's enough for me to go on for the moment, along with a sense of what's going to be at least somewhat comprehensible and distinct to an English-reading eye.  I come up with a list of words, such as:

Vashal (of course)

I look the list over and decide that I like it.  Jhale will be the name of my protagonist.  Vhori are dragonish creatures.  A tavh is a singer/shaman/bard.  Daikhath are people--specifically, the name of this particular human-ish species for itself, and is related to the word tavh obliquely.  Most of the rest of the words will end up being names.

I'll come up with a longer list of words at some point, and as I go along I'll add in some more restrictions as well as some language features. (I'll need some honorifics, some words for various kinds of music, and I'll need to decide what sort of compounding scheme the language uses.)  And eventually, i'll know a lot more about the culture and will be able to add language features in to reflect what I learn.  

So there you have it--one method of coming up with a conlang when you only need a few words for untranslatable terms.
aithne: (lantern)
 So for the past, oh, three years or so, Storm and I have been working in a setting that doesn't have a formal name, but that we call the Big World.  Those of you who have read the Imryne quadrology (and for those of you who haven't and enjoy high fantasy with a generous dash of politics, you should!) have seen a chunk of the Big World, but not nearly all of it that we have (which is not nearly all of it by a long shot!).  Call it Storm and I's reaction to things we've seen over and over and want to strip down to the bones and remake.  

We've done the drow, we've done druids (the Whiteoak standalone book, which is on the docket for next year), and we're currently doing elves.  The real fun here is being able to grab bits of the previous stories and weave them into this one--things that we dropped onto the proverbial mantelpiece in the Imryne and Whiteoak series get picked up again and become bits of worldbuilding or plot.  (And as we tend to write things, worldbuilding and plot are so tightly intertwined that they can't ever be pried apart.  Which is probably something I could write a whole essay on doing.)

Which leads to something we've been doing yesterday and today.  Yesterday, we set down the bones of a direct sequel to Imryne, using a plot concept we'd put together when we finished originally writing that series and an idea I had over the weekend.  One of my eternal fascinations is religions of various kinds, and one of the religions of this particular setting has always bugged me, because I honestly don't think that anyone would actually worship a god they thought was evil, and there were some inconsistencies in our backstory that needed addressing.   Take that, add in the fact that we've done books around two of three major elven gods, and boom, you have a planned Lloth duology that takes a couple of secondary characters from Imryne and recasts them as protagonists.

And today, as part of the setup for that duology, Storm managed to blindside me by pulling out a Chekhov's Gun from the druid book and firing that sucker right into the plot of this one.  And it makes sense.  A scary amount of sense.  For us, the most dangerous question of worldbuilding is always Why?.  Why is there a split in the druids between ones who can use generative power and ones who can use destructive power?  Why did Lloth go nuts--and what was she like before she went nuts?  Why did the curse on Corellian specifically target the children of drow and elves?  And why are the surface elves divided into three races, anyway?  We answered a big why today.  Probably big enough that the protagonists won't realize just how huge it is until later.  In fact, unless a more informed character comes along, the protagonists of this one may never actually realize the magnitude of that why.  It may, in fact, be left to the clueful reader to stumble across it and start thinking about it.

The nice part of having a setting as big as this one is that people in different places and different cultures know different things.  There are, last I counted, at least six different versions of a certain world-changing event floating around, and whole cultures have grown around their version of that event.  And they're all right, and they're all wrong.  Heck, even the version that the gods themselves tell is both correct and incorrect.  (Corellian is seriously invested in being the wronged party.  He's biased.)

I have a slight suspicion that most, if not all, of the books Storm and I have written together are part of this setting.  Spiritwalkers?  Possible.  Black Angel Crossroads?  Unlikely, but possible.  Every Sacred Thing?  Probably.  The Taltos series?  Almost certainly.  Shades of the Silent?  Um, yes, very nearly explicitly.  The only one I know is definitely not part of the Big World is Last Fire of Sunset, and the rules of the universe in the Azrael series pretty much preclude it from being part as well. 

And this is only *one* of the universes I have in my head....
aithne: (flashback)
I was musing about this today, after seeing several writers posting on the subject on my friends list. So I ponder, how do you tell a character is written by me?

Here's what I came up with.

1. The protagonist has something they feel duty-bound to/responsible for. This probably says quite a bit about me, because it's one of the things that is pretty much invariable. I should try to write an irresponsible character one of these days.

2. Everyone has a profession. Usually, they're pretty good at their jobs. Exception here is Imryne, who was supposed to be a house mage but has pretty much failed at being good enough to be one. Until she becomes a representative, she mostly contents herself with watching house politics and raising her children with Tarithra and Ilfryn.

3. They might not be good people. Often, they could be antagonists if the story was written from another viewpoint. Livia from Every Sacred Thing, for instance, was not a nice lady. Ayame from Shadows and Silk was an assassin and pretty much the definition of not a good person, at least to start with. Palil from Tiamat's Kittens was good at what she did, but in contrast with her bondmate she was not a naturally good person. And, well, there's Martin from Sleepless Streets. Martin is probably the least good person I've ever written. Pater Riverbend wants to be good so desperately, spends so much time atoning for what he considers his mistakes, but even in the end he's a guy living with the fact that when the chips are down, he is always going to make the wrong decision, and the selfish decision. That's just who he is.

4. They have tempers, but they usually keep them buttoned up. And they're usually very polite. Exceptions include Odile from Black Angel Crossroads and Sabina from Hunter's Shadow (which is what Storm and I are working on now). Sabina is fun precisely because her temper burns hot and fast, and she is totally unafraid of letting it show and going after the person who's pissed her off, whether with fists or with words. She likes fighting. A lot. (A lot as in "it gets her hormones all a-race".) Otherwise, my characters tend to be polite to a fault. Some of them wield politeness as a weapon.

5. They're generally broken in some fashion. Some more than others. Reiko from Nine Tails and Illume is pretty certifiable. Imryne has episodes of depression that look a lot like psychotic breaks. Sondirra's an alcoholic and tends to risk her neck a lot, Palil's repressed and kind of prudish. Jade from Flower of War has intimacy issues. But it's along the breaks that they're the most interesting, for me--not where they're broken, but what that says about them as a person and how they fit into their world.

6. They're religious. There are notable exceptions here, namely Ayame and Sabina (who has absorbed a lot of the background religious stuff in her culture but doesn't think about it much). But a lot of them, even if they're not priests, are at least fervent believers in their chosen gods. Again, reflection of the writer here.

7. Either they're accomplished liars, or they're unreliable narrators. Sometimes both. However, most of them lie largely to themselves. Exception to this is Sabina, who never met a truth she didn't want to shout from the rooftops, and the fact that her life's sunk into this mire of lies is driving her crazy.

8. They're intelligent, or they're wise. Sometimes both. I dislike stupid people, and I have to spend a lot of time with my protagonists, so they all tend to be bright.

9. They make mistakes. Big ones. And they fail. Lack of information, headstrong pride, having to make decisions in the heat of the moment--sometimes you're going to jump the wrong way. And sometimes those mistakes leave scars and holes in their lives.

10. They're strong. There's all kinds of strength, though. Even what I would consider my least strong character, crazy, broken little Reiko, even she's got a core of steel and the ability to pull it together, ward off her ghosts, and do what she has to do to survive.

11. They like sex. Unfortunately, if they're male, they always seem to have guilt issues around sex for whatever reason. I have got to write a male protagonist who's as unconflicted about sex as most of my female protagonists one of these days.
aithne: (writing)
It's good to have at least two things to work on at once, especially when the two things require dramatically different moods.

Shadows and Silk started out dark and is getting darker, and as I get farther into it and get to know Ayame better, I'm starting to get drawn into the metaphors she has for her life, and the things she does. She's coming from a place where happiness and sadness are completely irrelevant; it's all part of the same thing, all blood on the shamisen strings. She does not feel sorry for herself, she doesn't really have a complex about what she's been forced to become. She's never had any choice except to become the very best at what she does, or die. Those were always her only two options.

The good spots are going to be brilliant points of light in the darkness of the story. We'll see where it goes. (I could go on, except there would be spoilers, and there are some very interesting surprises in the next couple of stories.)

That's a nice contrast with Sleepless Streets, which is still light and (hopefully) even a little bit funny. Take any situation and toss some absurdity into it; take these characters who could be very dark and don't give them a chance to brood. Don't make them save the world: make them save each other. It's good to be writing two things that are so different from each other. They crossbreed.

By the way, I saw Music and Lyrics with Laura and Bryan, and the girl they have playing Cora is a dead ringer for Iola. Iola looks a smidgen older, and she's a bit taller and somewhat bustier and hippier (read: not nearly so fashionably thin), but the face is right on. (And the dancing and the lack of clothing, which progresses as the movie goes on, is also dead on.) It's kind of funny when I see people who look and act very much like charcters I have in my head. David Carradine as Bill in Kill Bill is Aru, mostly in the scene where the wedding's about to happen and he shows up playing his flute on the porch of the church.

Anyway, flexing the writing muscles is always good. I don't do light very often, and I don't really do funny, so it's good for me to get some practice in.

Tomorrow night is Pan's Labyrinth. I expect some Very Strange Shit to come out of it for me. We'll see.
aithne: (writing)
Guardian's Road: about 23k words
Salal: about 5k words

Submissions out: 4 (one poetry, three stories)

Rejections/acceptances: none (too early yet)

I am having the beginning-of-book grumpies on Salal. I will love it when I get farther into it, as soon as I get to the place where I can write those magic words: "The first body was found in the wood nearest the house on Michaelmas morning." Because at that point, the plot really starts cooking.

Maybe I'll skip there and either go back and fill in as necessary or just fill the reader in on details as I go along. Hm.
aithne: (writing)
I'm in the middle of a story, and I just now realized that it's a not-exactly-thinly-veiled criticism of the American medical establishment. Like, all over. This story just isn't big enough to support all of that. (It's a little character piece, featuring a priest switching allegience from one Temple to another.)

Gah. Must go back, rethink plot. Must make the original Temple more exciting, mysterious, sexy. Because it is, damnit. I love these people, they're all geeks, and all of them are fanatically devoted to their goddess and their craft. They just happen to be mostly devoid of compassion for the poor, and there's just plain old not enough of them to be able to spare many people to go actually apply their knowledge to the world.

They choose to use their limited resources on research, on acquiring new knowledge. They can do miracles, but miracles are always expensive. The other Temple, on the other hand, is doing the same thing it's been doing for hundreds of years--healing animals and people alike, benefiting from the research of the first Temple but not doing very much of their own. That Temple has means of income that the first Temple doesn't have, so they can take care of people who can't pay and will never be able to pay.

I think that's the key for this character, here. It's not that she changes over because she suddenly has a fit of compassion. It's because working with the other Temple gives her a chance to go hands-on with her craft. She's a fine researcher and an intelligent woman, but she really wants to be out where the action is, not locked behind walls.

So it's not a realization that the other Temple is bad, it's a realization that she wants to spend her life doing things more like the other Temple does them.

(pardon. Thinking out loud here. I do hate it when stories catch ideas in their nets that are way too big for them, however.)
aithne: (metaphor)
Mouse: *starts telling me a story*

Me: *writes it down*

Mouse: *stops*

Me: What? What happens next?

Mouse: *mumble*

Me: Yes?

Mouse: *mumble mumble mumble ice cream*

Me: Ice cream?

Mouse: *wanders away*

Me: ARGH. Mouse, darling, I love you, but you're a tease.

Mouse: *turns around, grins, runs away towards the nearest ice cream shop*

you know...

May. 3rd, 2006 09:59 am
aithne: (writing)
I love writing endings and epilogues.

Love, love, love.

That is all.
aithne: (writing)
Last night, after replaying a bit in Jade Empire that I didn't get to come out right my first time through, I was working on the next Flower of War entry, and I got to a bit where a description of nightmares was called for.

It's probably good that I don't actually work for Morpheus, because I know what my job would be--scripting nightmares for people. It's something I really like doing, because it's where a character's subconcious fears run amok, the place where I get to ask them, "What terrifies you?" and have them answer, and then use that knowledge to scare the living daylights out of them.

And it's not just about fear, it's about guilt, and sorrow. For the character I'm writing for, a dream where she is torn to pieces by a crowd of the people she's killed is sigificantly less terrible than a dream where someone she loved and killed because she was ordered to just stands there and looks at her. A nightmare like that is that sorrow and guilt saying, I am here, and I am not going away just because you're ignoring me.

I stayed up late because I was having so much fun with the nightmares, and wanted to see where they ended. And, yes, I slept well. My characters' nightmares aren't my own--if fact, I very rarely have nightmares, because i'm a lucid dreamer, and it's only a nightmare if you can't change it. I have dreams that other people might consider nightmares, but if I'm in control of them, they're really interesting rather than scary.

So, this brings up a question for my writer friends. What bits do you really like writing? Which parts of a story or poem or book or whatever really get you jazzed up for them? Me, i love nightmares, and a fuzzy category of things that i call "transformative moments", places where characters turn corners of various sorts.
aithne: (writing)
In the process of rewriting The Blood Lily, I've come up against the need to remove drow from the books once and for all. I took a look at what I'd written about them, and discovered that over the course of two books, I've actually managed to come up with something new. A little bit of cosmetics, and I think i'm good to go.

Behind the cut is the description of this new race, the yshuae. My question is--can you read this and not think "oh, that's just drow with a new haircut"? The only thing I've really left in is their elf-like nature (and that's for good reason--elves, in this world, are the product of an interbreeding between yshuae and a refugee group of people from another world), and their violently matriarchal culture, which I'm leaving in because it makes a very good contrast with the elven culture.

(And their language is a bastardization of ancient Aramaic, for reasons of my own--that's why the spelling of their words is so funky.)

about the yshuae )
aithne: (confused)
You know you're in trouble when a character walks up to you, points at your iPod, and says, "My song is Not A Pretty Girl by Ani DiFranco. Got that? Good. See you in a few weeks."

Ooooooookay, then.
aithne: (writing)
I never thought of myself as the sort of person who liked deadlines. I hated them in school, actively rebelled against them by turning some work in way early and other work very, very late.

It turns out, as an adult, that what I hate is deadlines imposed by other people.

I use deadlines all the time. I keep a running list of writing tasks and a date I need to have them done by. For instance, I have two stories I need to finish writing and editing by next Tuesday. I have a chapter to edit, which is overdue (I was supposed to have it done last weekend, but ended up playing Dungeon Siege instead of writing), but I've adjusted the deadline in my mind to accommodate unexpected video game obsession. A little farther out, I have the next chapter and a rewrite of The Fox-mask to do--the latter die by the beginning of next month, the former by the middle of the month.

When I'm doing gaming writing, my deadline is to have a recap posted no later than the Tuesday following a game, and preferably by Monday evening. I am always running on deadline; I seem to need time pressure to get anything done in a timely fashion.

The nice thing about deadlines imposed by myself is that they're flexible when they need be. Things like the aforementioned video game obsession come up. Sometimes, what I'm doing isn't working, or something needs far more editing than i usually do on finished work. (Also the case on the chapter; I ended up digressing for a good chunk of it, and went back and took out about 1k words and then rewrote around the holes. The process is almost finished and I'm probably going to be finished before the deadline.) Other people's deadlines are often not so much with the flexibility.

As long as the motivation comes from within me, I’m good. All I have to do is remember that, and make sure I don't start relaying on other people to provide my motivation for me.
aithne: (writing)
Watching everyone post their NanoWriMo wordcounts, I got curious about my output for this month.

Not counting journal entries and other assorted randomness, I wrote 78,314 words between the beginning of the month and today. I'll probably write another 3k easily in the next day or two.

Now, of course, i demur a little bit and note that not all of that wordcount was mine, since Storm writes his half of the Constantinople dialogues. Still, that's a pretty respectable amount, and it does include a good chunk of book chapter as well.

It's like this pretty much all the time around here, i fear...

Edit: I will have another 3k words done if certian CATS (I'm looking at you, Selena and Esme) would kindly become convinced that I, with the opposable thumbs and the ability to speak and write English, am in fact a better writer than their butts, and stay OFF of my keyboard.

Because "nhj vfjn v vnvhbfckjn v lk knbklfcnvklfc nkvl"? Not a really good sentence. Far too few vowels, to start.

Edit 2: And OTHER cats (GREEBO!) will stop attempting to eat my art supplies, including my glue brush and my rulers. That's distracting. Especially when you go "mrr mrr mrr rrrRRRrrr mrrt *grunt*" while doing so.


That's it. Going to bed now.
aithne: (writing)
1. stare at the screen in frustration.
2. Work on something else for a few minutes. Be confronted by inability to think about anything but stuck place on other thing. Give up.
3. Go upstairs. pull everything out of bathroom cabinets, purge things no longer needed, and reorganize.
4. Realize hunger is impending. Remember that sweeties are working out and won't be home. Make squash.
5. Clean the kitchen.
6. Realize that the dining room is causing nuttiness. Pile all papers in the room into one pile and sort.
7. Try to recycle something and realize that the recycling bin is full. Take out recycling.
8. Eat squash.
9. Watch a TV show about organization.
10. Return to book. Write a paragraph. Then another. Realize that stuck place is past and you now know where you're going. Rejoice.


Sep. 26th, 2005 08:58 pm
aithne: (writing)
My characters just grabbed the plot of my book and ran away with it. Laughing.

On reflection, this arrangement of things suits me fine, and doesn't have a huge impact on the story as a whole, but it's still disconcerting to get to the end of a section and realize that something you were planning to happen a chapter later in fact just happened right in front of you. It actually works better this way, because it makes something that has to happen later in this chapter make a lot of sense. I'd been working on a way to give a certian character motivation for finally deciding a certian thorn in her side was more trouble alive than dead, and this was the perfect thing.

And on that note...a poll!
Fictional dilemma poll, with long-winded explanation, below the cut. )
aithne: (writing)
(quote from today's Order of the Stick)

There are a few things that really drive me when i'm writing, especially huge long projects like the one i'm currently working on. One of those things is the yearning towards that supremely satisfying moment when you drop an event into the book and the characters just react--and do so in ways that are both utterly true to who that are and completely unexpected.

For instance, I just wrote out something that's been planned almost since the beginning of this book--one of the principal characters is dying and has been keeping this a secret because the moment he shows any physical weakness, the vying for the position of head of his Clan begins, and things will get violent and bloody. It's pretty obvious at this point that something wrong, though only two other characters know how serious it is and only one knows that he's dying--this character's daughter.

I'm not sure what I was expecting Neus to do. She's been the de facto leader of the Clan for a few centuries while her father was off being a priest, but taking over officially will mean that her father's dead, and she's not entirely certian she can deal with the grief and defend her position against everyone else at the same time. I actually hadn't spent much thought wondering how she was going to react.

And the other night, as I was writing, it all came clear, all at once. She has a head start on everyone else, and she's going to start assembling a power base now, before rumors of her father's decline get any louder. She'll call in her younger brother and call on her ties within the order of knights she belongs to. She'll cement the loyalties of those she knows favor her as a leader. And one of my principal characters becomes more or less a pawn, a weapon in her hands. She'll quickly and quietly build a coalition and hope that, when the time comes, she won't have to fight because she and those who stand behind her will simply be too strong to challenge.

This dropped into my head almost completely intact. These are the moments that I write for, when suddenly everything becomes so incredibly clear and now all I have to do is write it down in a way that I'd like to read later on. That, of course, is the hard part.


Speaking of, I wrote a scene yesterday that I don't know if I'll include in the book, mostly because it makes me uncomfortable. It didn't make the people who were participating in it particularly uncomfortable (yes, it was a sex scene; yes, it was entirely consensual on both parts; yes, my discomfort is mostly coming from a cultural bias), so I may just suck it up and include it.

I have a fairly high tolerance for edgy stuff, so something that makes me squirm is certianly worth taking a long, hard look at. We'll see.


Polycamp this weekend. I'm currently in a state of overwhelm, but I should be better by tonight.
aithne: (writing)
I think this mix is done, finally. I was waiting for one more thing to fall into place, and now that it has, I can call it good. I was making the CD cover tonight, and I thought I'd write down what I was thinking as I put it together. Because this CD is a writing mix, it's got a bunch of things on it that evoke different characters and situations for me.

If you really want a copy, just ask. (I think i owe people some CDs, actually. I should figure out who those people are and send mixes to them.)

This is also known as the Fire and Ice mix, for reasons that are likely to become obvious when you see what the tracks are.

lots of lyrics and book blathering under here, motly for my own reference )

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