by Chelsea Lane

Question: What if you decide to add a new language that you've created and already finished perfecting it but don't know how to incorporate it into the book? Should I have one of the characters teach the way of the language like on Avatar or only show it when its necessary??

Answer: There is a guideline that the more work you make your readers do to follow the story, the more readers you will lose. Of course, how much work is too much depends on the genre. But even sophisticated readers will sometimes balk at Ulysses or The Faerie Queene.

If a reader feels like they have to learn a new language to understand the story, they may give up on it. The alternative for them is to keep flipping to the glossary or to earlier chapters to remind themselves what the words mean, which is very frustrating.

It's far safer for the writer to use just a few words of the language in contexts where they are translated or where the meaning is obvious.

Consider, that J.R.R. Tolkein created a number of new languages and dialects. Yet you can read The Lord of the Rings quite easily without feeling the need to master Sindarin, Quenya, Khuzdal, Entish, or the Black Speech. That's because Tolkein gives the reader only little tastes of these languages -- enough to create the feeling that there is a rich history and culture behind the story, but not so much as to detract from it.

If language or communication were integral to the story goal or theme, then you might consider constructing the story so that the reader must master the language. In Avatar language matters because the main character is assimilating into an alien culture.

Another example is the episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation called "Darmok." In that story, the main character (Picard) must master a metaphorical style of alien speech in order to establish diplomatic relations. As Picard learns little pieces of the language, so does the viewer. The result is that, in the final scene, when Picard speaks briefly to the aliens in their language, the viewer understands exactly what he is saying. However, it is only a few lines, a very simple message.

If the language is simply part of the cultural landscape of your story, I'd be inclined to emulate Tolkein rather than Avatar. A few words and phrases may be enough, or perhaps a short verse, if it is part of a mystery and gets translated at some point.

It's about keeping to a minimum the amount of work a reader must do for the sake of the story.

Click here to post comments

Join in and submit your own question/topic! It's easy to do. How? Simply click here to return to Questions About Novel Writing.

search this site the web
search engine by freefind

Celebrating our 2nd year as one of the...

 Step-by-Step Novel Planning Workbook

NEW! Make Money Writing Nonfiction Articles

"I've read more than fifty books on writing, writing novels, etc., but your website has the most useful and practical guidance. Now that I understand how a novel is structured, I will rewrite mine, confident that it will be a more interesting novel." - Lloyd Edwards

"Thanks to your "Create a Plot Outline in 8 Easy Steps," I was able to take a story that I simply just fooled around with and went willy nilly all over, into a clearly defined, intriguing battle where two characters fight to keep their relationship intact, and try to find a balance in control of themselves and their lives. Thanks to you, I'm not ashamed of the poor organization of my writing." - Nommanic Ragus

"I am so glad I found your site. It has helped me in so many ways, and has given me more confidence about myself and my work. Thank you for making this valuable resource, for me and my fellow writers. Perhaps you'll hear about me someday...I'll owe it to you." - Ruth, Milton, U.S.A.

"I never knew what to do with all the characters in my head, but since discovering Dramatica I am writing again in my spare time. Thank you for making this available. Yes, it is a bit complex, and it does take time, but I love it because it works." - Colin Shoeman

"I came across your website by chance. It is a plethora of knowledge, written in a simplistic way to help aspiring writers. I truly appreciate all of the information you have provided to help me successfully (relative term) write my novel. Thank you very much!" - Leo T. Rollins

"I can honestly say that this is the first website that is really helpful. You manage to answer complex questions in relatively short articles and with really intelligent answers. Thank you for taking the time to write these articles and sharing them so generously." - Chrystelle Nash

"...had no idea that a simple click would give me such a wealth of valuable information. The site not only offered extremely clear and helpful instructions but was a very enjoyable read as well. The education from your wonderful site has made me a better writer and your words have inspired me to get back to work on my novel. I wish to give you a heartfelt thanks for How to Write a Book Now, sir." -- Mike Chiero