06 June 2014

Pyramids and alt-worldbuilding and language

Still making my way slowly through the first draft of Pyramids.  The characters have settled and become more real to me and - as usual with my first drafts - I'm alternating between taking days over a handful of paragraphs, and then trotting merrily through the next couple of pages, and then hitting a go-slow again.  I'm not someone who can "just put words on the page" and then go back and fix it.  If the foundation of the preceding events doesn't ring true for me, then I won't be able to build on it.

So far, it's quite a 'busy' novel in that there's a lot of different threads all running through each other - my poor characters just want to investigate a murder, and all this other stuff keeps happening to them, and some of it is relevant and some of it isn't but is kind of overwhelmingly important to the rest of their lives (and the rest of the series).

Without a doubt the most worldbuilding heavy story I'm ever going to write - perhaps inevitable given the starting point of our world.  Also by far the highest in terms of magical creatures - both Touchstone and Stained Glass Monsters technically had scads of different creatures, but you really only 'met' a couple.  I'm coming up on writing the primary triskelion scene and I'm really looking forward to it - without doubt one of my most favourite (and odd!) creatures.  Although I'm very fond of the folies and the amasen as well.

Amasen is a neologism for a creature depicted in Celtic art that has no known name (as opposed to triskelion, which is a co-opted word, and folies, which is simply a development of 'foliate') and neologisms are one of the big balancing acts that writing such a very alt world requires.

Technically all the characters are speaking Prytennian, which is what I'm pretending you'd get if you took the language of southern Britain around the time of the Roman withdrawal, and kept it as a distinct and defended language group (ending up with not-quite-Welsh) but then incorporated a bunch of Egyptian while expanding northward through existing Latin territories, and then territories strongly influenced by Norse, and also the various multiple waves of invasion that Britain went through - so you do still get your Anglo and your Saxon and your French in there, but all the balances are different.  And all the while all the other languages are developing and evolving on their own account.  Norse becomes a Swedish which is not quite current Swedish.  Latin is a living language that has grown and changed.

And then I, fool author, write it all out in English anyway, and have to make a million little decisions like: what is the money called?  Do I keep pound and sovereign and shilling because that's less work for the reader, even though it makes no sense etymologically?  What about all the place names?  Londonium has become London, but the Tamesis did not shift to Thames.  Anything with 'kirk' and other Christian-rooted names don't exist because Rome had strong reasons to stick with Jupiter, and that of course makes enormous differences.

My current choice is the standard form of polite address.  Mr and Miss and Mrs and all that - would Prytennian still use that?  French doesn't have nearly the same ties, and Prytennians would not use an honorific to distinguish between married and unmarried women (because their rulers, the Suleviae, don't marry and so marriage has become less of a focal point of female identity).  I've gone through many options to find a word I like!  I ended up wishing we used the Japanese honorific system, which doesn't even distinguish between polite address for men or women (-san) or tag gender to most titles.  Currently I'm caught between using "dama" for women and "daman" for men - or to just use "damin" for both men and women.  Both options have advantages.

Anyway - I am always slow at first drafts, but now I have added excuses!  Plus at the beginning of August I leave for three months in the UK, and it's hard to guess how that will impact my output since I do most of my writing on the train to work each morning.  I am speeding up a little, because I know my characters and world quite well at this point, but I can still make no real estimates about release dates.

I am, however, really looking forward to sharing this world and these people with you all.


  1. I'm looking forward to this new one. I have to admit, I am officially addicted to our Touchstone series. I keep re-reading them. I love the way you weave together a story.

  2. Great little peek into your writing process. I am currently reading your Touchstone trilogy (just started Caszandra last night) and, like the above poster, am absolutely addicted! I just self-published my own first novel in May. I am working on the sequel right now, but I have to confess - sometimes, instead of sitting down to write more, I decide to curl up and read more of the Touchstone story instead...oops! I suppose there could be worse problems :)

  3. I'm glad you're enjoying them, Tammy and Jessica. :)

    Congrats on getting your own book out Jessica. I'm fairly sure reading is a big part of writing more - I find it refreshes my mind and unknots jams.


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