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Archive for 'talking dogs'

Laughing Hyena

Camera Critters

This week’s critter is a hyena and pup. This photo was taken in Kenya, and we stopped to watch the mother and three pups. Her burrow was right near the road. They’re not the prettiest creatures, but they are interesting to watch.

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Hyenas aren’t exactly common in romantic fiction. As it happens I’ve recently read Ilona Andrews’ novella Magic Mourns (part of the Must Love Hellhounds anthology) and the hero and heroine in her story are hyena shifters.

I’ve also used hyenas as part of the plot of Romantic Interlude, the third story in my Talking Dogs series. If you’d like an armchair journey to both New Zealand and Africa then this is the story for you.

This is the link to visit other Camera Critters.

Gobbledygook

One of the people I correspond with is an aspiring writer and she asked me about language in sci-fi romances. She was having problems with words to describe things in her sci-fi work that didn’t sound plain stupid. She wanted to know how I attack this aspect of world building to give my work a sci-fi flavor and particularly mentioned my Talking Dog series, which is one of her favorites. I thought this was a great question and decided it would make an excellent topic for a blog post.

From childhood, I’ve watched sci-fi movies and television. I’ve seen how the writers have handled the language aspect and absorbed that. While I’ve never been a huge sci-fi/fantasy reader, I’ve read enough to see how other writers work this aspect of world building. I think the most important thing is to make sure the reader isn’t jerked out of your story because they’re so busy laughing about your made-up language or are totally confused because they don’t understand what is happening in the story. On the other hand, the writer shouldn’t copy everything they’ve seen or read in other sci-fi books or movies. Originality is good.

With my Talking Dogs series, I went light on the “foreign” language aspect. My stories are about aliens crash landing in New Zealand. Just as an aside, a lot of the time my editor and readers think I’m writing a foreign language anyway!

Hinekiri, the aunt, is a seasoned traveler/explorer. She’s good with languages and doesn’t stand out as a tourist. Janaya, the niece who stowed away to save her aunt, had a crash course with some Earth-speak tapes and she sometimes mixes up things when it comes to language. Here’s an example.

“Back on the ship,” she snapped to her aunt as she pulled her weapon free. “Now.”

To her right, the leaves of a fern shuddered. Janaya scented the air. Sweat. Torgon sweat.

“Come on out with your fingers poked inside your ears,” she ordered, aiming her neutralizing weapon at the dark green bushes that had moved.

“That would be, hands in the air,” her aunt said.

With my Talking Dogs, I focused more on the language difficulties, the same ones that people learning English have. With my stories this made sense because my aliens want to blend rather than stand out.

I gave the race of bad aliens (who are a pretty lilac color) the name of Torgons, the planet where Hinekiri and Janaya come from is called Dalcon, and I had a few other things with made up names. As I said, with this book I erred on the light side because it is set in New Zealand and I wanted my aliens to blend.

Foreign languages and scientific names for plants or animals can be a good source of language for sci-fi works. Authors can also use part of these words because some of them are really long while a few of the syllables work out perfectly as a made up language.

With my free story, Interplanetary Love, I used a completely different technique. I took normal English words and spelled them backward, making a new language all of my own. With Fallen Idol, I made up words, plucking them from the depths of my brain and that worked out okay.

With all my writing, I tend to err on the light side when it comes to a “foreign” language. I’ve read books where I’ve had to read the same paragraph several times to work out what the author or the characters were trying to say. I think this part of world building is a delicate balance because if you have too many strange words you frustrate your readers and if you don’t have enough you might as well write a contemporary. If anything, I’m probably on the too light side, but I can live with that. I write what I prefer to read.

Writers, what do you think? How do you tackle this part of world building when you’re writing a paranormal, sci-fi or fantasy story?

Readers, what do you think? Do writers get it right or do we confuse you? Is there a writer who you think does a really good job?