Does Anyone Here Speak Artani?
How tough is it to come up with an otherworldly language? For me, it definitely had its challenges when I wrote my book “Star Catcher.” Authors of sci-fi, or high fantasy that takes place on an alternate Earth, are obligated to dose their writing with a fair amount of made-up language. A book with a non-Earth setting would understandably contain a number of foreign words. Some words may label objects or creatures that are indigenous to the alien world, while others may be the translations of familiar Earth terms.
Let’s begin with creating the basis for an entire language. Do you need a dictionary filled with alien words before you start writing? No, but consistency is the key. Keep a cheat-sheet of your alien words so you don’t end up changing the spelling of your memory-erasing medicine Tristayl partway through your manuscript. Spell check won’t help you there. You also have to be careful about different tenses if you happen to use alien verbs. I had the darnedest time hammering out that my alien planet was called Artanos, its people were called Artanians, and their language was Artani. I had to check over my finished piece multiple times to make sure I hadn’t flubbed it anywhere.
I recently saw a question posed by a sci-fi author on a group I’m in. She was looking for a good way to come up with alien names after her editor asked her to make some changes. It seemed her aliens sounded…well, too alien.
Too alien? Well, not in the sense that they couldn’t be pronounced—another potential problem—but too cliché-sounding. Think of Beldar and Prymatt from The Coneheads, and you get my drift. This author was asking how others come up with their alternate language.
When I began writing “Star Catcher,” I stumbled upon this website (http://www.ralph.nuoj.com/alien.php), which uses a system of vowel and consonant patterns to develop alien names. I read through, noting the construction of each pattern, saying them out loud, and generally getting a feel for each “type” of name. It’s almost like each word bank is a key to its own language. I noticed which ones “felt” right, what common letters and sounds were used, and which were easier to pronounce, and then I started playing around with them.
After you make your decisions, you need to run them by some test readers. About two-thirds of the words I originally came up with remained after my beta readers looked over my book. No matter how you formulate your language, if a word causes the reader to stumble, pause, read, and reread each time they see it, it’s no good. You don’t want to take the reader out of your world and punch them in the face, you just want a gentle reminder that they are in another world or time—preferably an easy-to-read reminder that flows off the tongue.
I consulted a number of real Earth languages while forming my “system.” Did my aliens have a soft, pleasant Romance-based language? Were they a warring species with a guttural and explosive tongue? Tweaking other languages, like Spanish or German, is another possibility, especially if the author is already familiar with these. Why not make your life easier? And why not make your reader’s life easier? Odds are they will recognize the meaning of your words if they are similar to something known, even if they are taken out of context.
That brings up my final point about language building: if the word calls to mind, in some way, what it is tagging, that can help the reader carry a mental picture while continuing through the book. As an example, my wild-boar-slash-wolf-beasts (animals with three eyes and tusks curling up from their bottom jaws) were originally called xoovs. My betas didn’t know how to say it in their heads each time it came up (and they do come up a fair amount). Someone suggested subtly making their name sound more like earth animals they resemble. I changed their name to wrovs, hoping for a slight wolf connotation and an easier pronunciation.
What do you think? Any sci-fi authors out there have a strict system for language-building? Any readers have a preference when it comes to alien language? Do you feel it adds authentic alien flavor, or do unfamiliar words distract you from your reading?
Lust flares hot and bright when Stella Aims’ world collides with the gorgeous and mysterious Noth Zobor. The tall dark stranger doesn’t speak a word of English, but Stella is happy to teach him everything she knows, including a crash course in the universal language of love. Their passion burns down to sweet and smoldering before Stella’s reality is completely spun around.
People aren’t always what they seem—but what if they aren’t even human?
Concerned that Noth’s been lying to her, Stella searches for him and walks into a trap straight out of a nightmare. When she wakes, she finds the real deception was far worse than she ever suspected, and her lover is not at all what he seems. Forgiving him might be the easiest thing Stella has to do, because getting out alive and saving her fellow humans from captivity and experimentation will be the toughest challenge of her life.
Can lovers from two different planets overcome forces that push them galaxies apart? When the fate of two species hangs in the balance, love may be the only thing strong enough to save them all and give hope for a new future.
Star Catcher releases on June 3rd, 2013 from Liquid Silver Books, and will be available at all major e-book retailers.
Kimber Vale writes erotic romance of all stripes. Come for the sex. Stay for the story. Find her M/M work published under K. Vale. Stalk her on Facebook and Twitter @KimberVale, and check her site for updates and new releases at www.kimbervale.com.