Invented language vs. familiar words in fiction?
November 21, 2012 8:33 AM Subscribe
As a reader, how do you feel about invented language versus familiar words in imaginary worlds?
posted by batmonkey to Writing & Language (67 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
I've been working on a novel for a very long time. But I've realised over the past several months that one of three huge blocks keeping me from committing words to paper is a central debate within myself as both writer and reader about how to describe things in an imaginary world without being twee, annoying, or boring. Now I've thought about it too much, and need help untangling it.
I do like when authors invent language worth remembering to describe things that live only in their heads. I'm not positive I'm capable of doing as well, but trying would be both interesting and challenging. I like that, but not sure how readers will feel about it. How do you, as a reader, feel about invented language in speculative fiction?
Some authors go to great lengths to describe something that is obviously familiar to readers in their daily lives and then give it a made-up name to fit the world and emphasise the separation of their creation from "reality". Sometimes this is very clever, but I think it comes off as overly precious most of the time. Is this worth trying - inserting some familiar things and giving them invented names - or is it better to go with the name they are likely known to the reader by? Or should I avoid using familiar items at all?
Lastly, and this is somewhat of a bonus point, I'm very sensitive to words based on very specific Earth-culture experiences being used in totally removed invented worlds. Somewhat ridiculous example: "rhinestone", as it depends on the existence of the Rhine for its etymology. Not to pick on Deutschland, but "barbaric" has a similar issue and is more likely to come up. As a reader, does this ever bother you? If it does, how do you prefer to see it handled?
Super bonus: I sometimes get discomfited when a character uses modern slang, thinking, "they wouldn't say that! they don't have that reference point!" But sometimes it grounds the characters as identifiable and relatable. What about informal, or slang, words in an invented world - is there a line that shouldn't be crossed with characters in a non-Earth, non-modern/post-modern setting as far as casual language we're used to in our current time?
Thank you so much for any help in getting out of my head and putting words to "paper"!