August 29th, 2009

Creative Joyous Cat

Creative Process: Never Concede

I think this is a corollary of "never say never", at least when you're worldbuilding.

Let me explain. A little background first, as to what I thought I had conceded and why. I’m not exactly good at learning languages. The structure—that’s fascinating. So much of linguistics is. But over and over I’d get an A on the first test (all grammar and logical structures), a B when they started to make me add vocabulary, and then have to fight hard for a C from there on out. And the fight was harder and harder the more vocabulary was I was supposed to already have stuck in my brain.

I don’t get it. I mean, I know all this English vocabulary that hardly anyone else ever uses. And I have no trouble adding to my English vocabulary, including long foreign-sounding stuff like medical terminology. But Spanish or Italian or Latin or Egyptian Hieroglyphics—-in every single one I fought to keep enough vocabulary for the tests. Too soon, afterward, most of it vanished, like someone trained a Star Trek phaser on it. Poof!

It’s frustrating, but what can I do? I remain fascinated by linguistics, by how words shape our thoughts, our emotions, our actions; about things like the difference between mass nouns and number nouns and the difference between how the brain processes poetry/songs and prose.

The idea of created languages is just so cool! But, I conceded, it's probably not something I should wrack my brain trying to create or keep track of.

So, instead, I came up with this cool idea: a world where people have different forms, where humans have been adapted to different ecosystems. Windborns who can fly; lakeborns and seaborns who can breathe water; sandborns adapted to the desert; rockborns adapted to deep caves, woodborns for the forests, and so on.

And I start writing. It's obvious that windborns will want to fly together. Can’t fly too close, if it’s windy or you don’t know them well. You practice to fly in formation, after all. And even with jet engines, in some weather conditions you reschedule the cool stuff. And then there's the issue of noise. And yelling wastes air; you don't want to be out of breath hundreds of feet up.

But my people are still basically human. Humans want to talk to each other. In the gestalt of writing, the answer was obvious, they whistle. It won't replace talking, words are wonderfully expressive and complex, but there it is.

So, here I am collecting vocabulary in the windborns' whistle language.

And then I go to take a bath, soap up my hair, and duck my ears into the water to rinse off. From that point of view, it's stupidly obvious that sound carries differently through water. I guess the underwater people will have to have their own song-language, too.

Hmm...It might not be as limited as the whistle-language...how many different vowel sounds and consonant sounds are distinguishable under water? I guess I have to do some experiments during upcoming baths, and maybe find a partner to experiment in a swimming pool at the next con...now I'm glad I don't (yet) have a lakeborn viewpoint character.

What did I get myself into?