Language and Literature in Your World

My favorite thing in the whole world is stories. All kinds of stories. Movies, books, tv shows with great plot and character growth. Urban legends, ghost stories, limericks. Any kind of story, I live for it.

I also love language. It saddens me to my core that I don’t speak more than one language, but I’m trying to fix that (I want to learn German and American Sign). But at least I speak it well. Here’s a link to Weird Al’s Word Crimes. You know you’re a word geek if you love that song.

Now, I am almost surely talking to a whole lot of people who feel the same way I do about stories and language. We are writers, after all. Words are our legos, but even better because they can’t be left on the floor to torture us on the way to the bathroom at three in the morning. They’re like play dough, but better because they don’t dry out if you leave the lid off of the container (my children!)

Language and literature are our favorite things in this world, with the possible exception of sushi. So, don’t forget to include them when you’re world building!

Including things like different languages in your world can be a huge pain, if you let it. Honestly, the pros greatly outweigh the cons with this. This is just one more great world building tool, and like any good tool, it’s got more than one use.
* It will differentiate and add texture to your different countries.
* It’s a fun challenge your character can face if she doesn’t speak the language of the country she suddenly finds herself in. Or if he doesn’t know the language of the pretty girl he wants to flirt with. Or, as I used in Broken Patterns, if he needs to learn the language of the country that he’s just found out he’s going to be king of someday. (Is it still a spoiler if the book isn’t even published?) Huge well of funny/awkward moments with that one.
* Language is also a subtle way to show us about your character. For instance, someone who is not comfortable with English will speak it very properly, and is not likely to use words like can’t or don’t, because they’re not sure of the right way to use it. Or, someone who’s been sort of speaking English all their lives might say things like “You ain’t s’possed to be doin’ none of that!” (I did not make that up. A woman said that to her son after being told that he’d misbehaved at school, right in front of me while I was picking up my kids from school one day. I thought the teachers head was going to explode.)
* How many languages are common in your country? Is there a different language used in formal settings, by one class of people? This can set the scene for you so well.

I have such a good time playing with languages while working on Woven.

Literature is a feature of world building that I think is overlooked. To fully incorporate it into your book, just ask yourself these questions.
* What do people read for pleasure?
* Is reading common among all walks of people?
* What about different styles of writing from different countries? Think about the difference between a German fairy tail, (Grimm Brothers!) and a Japanese fairy tale (The Branch of the Jewel Tree.)
* Is poetry common?
* What sort of people write? Is writing considered an honored profession, or just a step above trained seals and a step below rodeo clowns? (Points if you know what author I just referenced!)

How do you use language and literature in your writing? Do you like using meta jokes when you do? Or is it too much like looking into a mirror with another mirror behind you?

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