- Worldbuilding frenzy
- July 29th, 2012
As I've mentioned on my blog, when I wrote "Keeping Time" for WHEN THE HERO COMES HOME, I didn't do any alien worldbuilding because the story took place on the return from the alien world, so it didn't really matter. Suddenly, now that I'm writing a novel in the universe, it matters a lot.
This is the first time I've written a novel, ever, despite having worked on many of them and having written many short stories. Short stories and novels are completely different beasts, and I've honestly been a little nervous about trying to tame something this big.
Getting past the "eeee, this is going to be scary" moment has been hard. I've been paralyzed by choice: I know WHAT I need to figure out, but I don't know what to decide for it.
I started today with a language question: would an egalitarian, humanist (ethical culture), non-theistic culture have a gendered language? And how common/uncommon are gendered languages, anyway? English isn't really one (except where it is), but I've always heard that it's in the minority that way. Among European languages, it certainly is.
I went to my pal Google and looked up "gendered language common?" One of the results was -- jackpot! -- a paper about how gender markers in language form and evolve. You take a bunch of nouns that you frequently modify with gender tags, and eventually those gender tags become part of the words themselves. No one sits down as a committee and figures out that table is female and desk is male, but it evolves that way from frequent usage until it's standard.
There are other markers than gender markers, though, and that's where the real gold lay. There was a mention of an Australian language that has a marker for "edible food animal" -- a prefix before the animal's name. So, if I said the name of that clucking thing over there was "Yummy chicken," you'd know chicken was an edible animal, but if I pointed to the thing on the fence and said "sparrow" without the "yummy," you'd know not to bother. It's a great way to pass on information about the environment, and a perfect fit for a culture that is very tight knit and full of people focused on supporting each other.
I have markers figured out for:
* Proper names, so you can tell a person's name from another word, in context. We do this by capitalization, but that can be ambiguous if it's at the beginning of a sentence or if the common word would be capitalized anyway (like a city, a day of the week, or a month).
* Edible animals
* Edible non-animals (plants, minerals)
* Precious/dear/emotionally significant to me; also potentially signifying ownership/property, which could get delightfully sticky.
* Not important to me (not "hated", but "It isn't mine/I'm not attached to it in any way")
* A combination of "precious to me" AND "not-mine" that has evolved to mean "I want you to have it BECAUSE it is dear to me"
And there may be others that arise as I figure out more about the culture.
I think I've also got my aliens' non-theistic origin story figured out.
Figuring out the noun markers, and combining those with the ideas I'd already had for reproductive behavior, a lightbulb suddenly went on about the whole family/social structure of the community.
I feel like I've got enough of a base to start really writing them now, and the rest will fill in as I go.
This is the first time in this project where I've felt like it will actually possible to pull it off.