Saturday, July 9, 2011

Using Language to Deepen SFF

This is a topic I've been thinking about a lot lately. With A Sign in Blood out there roaming, my brain has turned to other projects and one of those is Born of This Soil. I've got the first draft done and now it's time to think about the nuance, and one of the things I really feel will be important is the language.

Both the language of the prose and, especially, the dialogue. There are two very distinct cultures living in close proximity, but with a very complex relationship between the two. And the characters come from both cultures. I want to show that interplay in the language they use, both when they speak to one another and when they're speaking to others of their own culture.

I've been trying to wrap my mind around how to do that. I don't want to use accents--at least not to any large degree--because these can get really challenging to read. Slang is good, and I'm definitely going to be thinking about what slang to use and how to fit it in with the characters. But when you write slang, the words have to be distinguishable by context. If they're not, you lose the reader, and that's the last thing we want.

Also, with slang, I think the amount of it a given character uses would change, depending on factors like their social status, age, education, subcultures, background, etc. And all of that will also vary the slang that's used. What a fifty-year-old woman calls one thing, a twenty-year-old might call another, even if there are no other big differences. That brings in the idea of introducing overlapping slang and I just... My brain stops there. I don't think it would be a good idea to introduce too many words for the same thing and I want to keep the focus on the contrast between the two cultures. It would be confusing for the reader to have the name for something in two different cultures, and then an extra word for it, too, even though it would give the world depth. I think that's just a step to far, at least, I don't think I could make it work.

In addition to slang, though, I want to consider the way the characters speak. Their word choices even when slang isn't involved, and how those change depending on who they're talking to. But it's not just word choice, I think it's important to also consider tone, formality and length of sentences, plus the traits and tendencies of the individual characters.

It's a lot to think about, and I think this why I keep having trouble wrapping my mind around it. I don't really think about it when I'm working with a character's body language. I know the character, I know how they're feeling, so I know what body language they'll show. But language is harder for me, and I can't seem to get a firm hold of it. (Strange, for a writer, yes?)

I think I also need to spend some time thinking about the cultures themselves, about where they come from as far as language goes. What are their linguist roots and what events had the most impact on them from that standpoint. The cultures' feelings about one another will also play a large role, with politeness also being a factor, and the tension between them being another.

Cultural linguistics is hard, y'all! :-D I love character interaction, so it's important to me to get this right, but obviously it's going to take more thought. And probably some time to actually sit down and work on the story. Maybe having it in front of me will make it easier.


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