Friday, May 22, 2015

The Tree Language - Some Problems

I know I said that we'd get to numbers today, plus perhaps if I hadn't run out of steam some other interesting classes of words such as colours. However, it's getting to the point where in explaining this, my first conlang to you, I can see some of the problems with it.

Cultural Appropriation

The first problem being of course, cultural appropriation. Perhaps it's because I began work on the Tree Language about five years ago, and our younger selves never know as much as our present selves; or maybe it's due to the fact that fantasy, as a literary, is rampant with exoticism and cultural appropriation. Either way, I worried about using Ogham as a model writing system since I didn't want to seem like I was ripping off the grandfather of fantasy, Tolkien, but I had no problem ripping off an entire culture by appropriating a Hopi symbol and modifying it to suit my own needs.

There's also something really hypocritical about whining about how I shouldn't use the Deep Forest symbol, since that musical group also appropriated the art of other people, but then I turn around and essentially do the same myself.

I could say something along the lines of how this is 'homage'; that because Trees, in Omorbia, are the oldest and wisest beings, it's actually a compliment to use a Hopi symbol in constructing their language. But isn't this just another lame excuse? I'm the first person to jump up and say that George R.R. Martin and the Star Trek universe are guilty of stereotyping POC as 'barbarians' through the Dothraki and Klingons respectively, but just because the stereotyping is of a supposed 'good' trait (i.e. wisdom, mysticism, etc) doesn't make it any less harmful. Every human is capable of experiencing the full range of human emotion and human experience. And so we shouldn't limit certain groups to only a set of characteristics, whether good or bad.

It's the problem and the challenge with speculative genres. I want to create a world from the ground up, with its own cultures, creatures, legends and traditions. But my work will always be coloured by my experience here on Earth. However dumb or ignorant those influences are, I cannot avoid them or repress them. All I can do is notice them and try to do better in the future.

So what would you do in my situations? Toss out the Tree writing system? Toss out those letters that were modified from the Hopi symbol? I haven't had time to sit down and think about what I should do next. I've used Japanese, Mandarin, and East Cree as some of the models that I've worked with in terms of syllable structure, tonal structure, and verbal structure respectively. But does the writing system go beyond using models into something more nefarious? What is the ethical thing to do? What do you think?

In Translation

Another problem that crops up has to do with the sounds of Tree Language. So far, I've explained that the Tree Language has 22 different sounds, many of which are vowels. It marks differences between vowels that a speaker (and reader) of English never would. And then there's the problem of tones. So far, in this explanation of the language, I've used a certain symbology to denote the five tones. For instance:

Extra Low: ˩fy
Low: ˨yɔ
Mid: ˧ʝa
High: ˦ʃɑ
Extra High: ˥θo

But that's a bit too linguist for the everyday reader. Then I found it, the alternate way to denote the tones, above the vowel of the syllable in question (font enlarged so you can see the differences):

Extra Low: fy̏
Low: yɔ̀
Mid: ʝā
High: ʃɑ́
Extra High: θő

So far, so good. Much more elegant, and it'll make my text more readable. But then there's the problem of the numerous similar vowels. Here they are:


There's also θ and ð, which both sound to native English speakers like "th". But that's easy. The Tree Language doesn't have a 'd' sound, nor an 'h' sound, and so θ can be denoted in my story, a primarily English text, as 'th', and ð can be denoted as 'dh'.

'f' and 'v' are both easy, as their sounds and English letters both correspond to the IPA notation. ʃ is and will be continued to be denoted in the Mage's Apprentice as 'sh' corresponding to its sound. 'ʒ' sounds like English 'g' as in 'age', and since there are no 'g' letters in Tree, that's what 'ʒ' will be in the stories.

'ʝ' is a 'y' sound, and so we come to another set of problems. It sounds very similar to 'j' as well as 'ʎ'. But these are (c/v) sounds, and so will never end a syllable and so never have a tonal marker on them. So they are free for other marks..

To make it easy for English readers, I'll mark them all as 'y' instead of the sound confusion that would come along with 'j'. 'ʝ' will be 'y', 'j' will be 'ÿ' and 'ʎ' will be 'y᷉ '. This won't interfere with the vowels since those marked 'y' and 'Y' are actually closer to an 'e' or 'i' sound.

'w' is straightforward and will not change. Same goes for 'l'. Small mercies. 'ɹ' will be 'r'.


Now we come to the difficult bit. Here are the groups of sounds that are similar (in IPA with corresponding English vowel sound):





'u' is easy. It'll be 'u'. But each of the other three have three similar sounds each. In this case, I'll use the same method to differentiate as I did with the consonant/vowel 'y'. So this is how it will look:

y = e
Y = ë
ɞ = e᷉

æ = ä
a = a
ɑ = a᷉

ʊ = ö
o = o
ɔ = o᷉

There. That solves it. And it will keep me from constantly changing my symbols to capture the differentiated vowel sounds.

Now all I have to do is change all of the Tree Language in the Mage's Apprentice to better capture this system!

The Tree Language So Far:

Writing System
Word Building
Grammar 1
Grammar 2

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Tree Language: Grammar 2 - Pronouns, Nouns, etc.

Grammatical Decisions

As you can see from yesterday, the Tree Language contains quite a lot of syllable markers to indicate things such as verb tense. And so it is what Mark Rosenfelder refers to as an agglutinative language, with all the inflections being suffixes.

Yesterday, I mentioned pronouns, and then I listed them:


I-female: ˧fY˧ʒʊ
I-male: ˧fY˧ɹʊ
I-male-female: ˧fY˧yʊ
I-female-male: ˧fY˧lʊ
We (family, set, grove): ˧fY˧væ
We (All, forest): ˧fY˧ʃæ
That-one-female: ˧ʃY˧ʒʊ
That-one-male: ˧ʃY˧ɹʊ
That-one-female-male: ˧ʃY˧lʊ
That-one-male-female: ˧ʃY˧yʊ
You-female: ˧vY˧ʒʊ
You-male: ˧vY˧ɹʊ
You-female-male: ˧vY˧lʊ
You-male-female: ˧vY˧yʊ
Those-ones-female: ˧ʃY˧ʃæ˧yʊ
Those-ones-male: ˧ʃY˧ʃæ˧ɹʊ
Those-ones-female-male: ˧ʃY˧ʃæ˧lʊ
Those-ones-male-female: ˧ʃY˧ʃæ˧yʊ

What I didn't mention was that unlike other verb-related syllable markers, these are words on their own. This is due to their length, and the fact that they produce multiple syllables (i.e. whole words) on their own.

But there are other markers in Tree that have to do with nouns. I listed some other yesterday:

Subject Marker: ˧ʝæ
Direct Object Marker: ˧ʝʊ
Indirect Object Marker: ˧ʝɞ 

And here's some others which can be added as suffixes to modify nouns:

Pluralization: ˧wæ
Repetition: ˧wɞ

And here are the conjuctions, which like English, are standalone words:

Additive (and): ˦ʃo
Exclusive (or): ˧vo
Inclusive (and/or): ˨ʃo

And here are the translations of those 'functional' words I mentioned before, the ones that make up 80% of every sentence, but have very little meaning:

of: ˧fo
at: ˧ðo
under: ˧ðɑ
over/above: ˩ðɑ 
it: ˧ðy
on: ˨ðʊ
beside: ˧ðyʊ
toward: ˧ðyɑ
from: ˧ðyɞ
to: ˦θo
away: ˦θɑ
near: ˦θy
far: ˦θʊ
between: ˨ðɑ
up: ˨jɑ
down: ˨jy
in: ˧vɑ
out: ˧vo
into: ˨va 
like: ˧læ
with: ˧vy


the: ˧lo
a: ˧lɑ

Other Pronouns: (you can see below that classes of pronouns related to "things" are absent. This is due to the fact that Trees in Omorbia are sentient plants, and to them, everything is alive, so everything is a 'one' rather than a 'thing': someone for something, etc.)

who: ˧ʒʊ
how: ˧ɹʊ
why: ˧lʊ
where: ˧yʊ
when: ˧vʊ
here: ˧fY
now: ˧ʝyɞ
there: ˧vY
then: ˥fʊ
thus: ˥vY
somewhere: ˧ʃY
sometime: ˥ʒæ
somehow: ˨fɑ
someone: ˥ʃʊ
nowhere: ˧fæ
no one: ˩vu
never: ˦ʝY
everyone: ˩ʝʊ
everywhere: ˧væ
always: ˧ʃæ
tomorrow (that is unknowable): ˩ʎyʊ
tomorrow+ (that is knowable): ˥ʎyɑ
yesterday (that cannot change): ˨jyʊ
yesterday+ (that can change): ˦jyɑ
today: ˧ʝyʊ

Sentence Order:

In the Tree Language, the order of sentences is SOV. This contrasts to English, in which the order is SVO. So instead of saying "the bird flew over the house", in Tree it would be "the bird the house flew over." A bit more poetic, a bit more like Yoda-speak. Perhaps I made this decision so that the Tree Language would avoid the pitfall that most first conlangs fall into: that is, as Mark points out, becoming a 'cipher for English'. Is it avoidable?

Of course, there is one other important set of concepts that must be dealt with before I more onto the lexicon. And that is numbers, something I have yet to figure out since I was super impatient to start translating texts and then writing my Omorbian stories. So tomorrow, let's figure them out together!

The Tree Language So Far

Writing System
Word Building
Grammar 1 - Verbs

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Tree Language: Grammar Part 1 - Verbs

So far, I've described the Tree Language in terms of sounds and writing. I've told you that the Tree Language comprises a set of 22 sounds, each of which have a written counterpart, and many of which are vowels that sound extremely similar to native English speakers. I've also described the way that syllables are put together: there are only four ways and much like Japanese, these are mainly of the form (consonant)(vowel), and a couple variations thereof.

But now we come to describing the grammar of the Tree Language, and the first thing that I thought of when I starting mapping out the grammar: a tricky thing called Verbs.

How does a Tree produce an action?

When creating conlangs, most of the time verbs are fairly straightforward. You have to figure out how to grammatically represent actions and states of being in a human sense, and then you have to figure out how to represent how those actions are taken: by you or me, by a group, in the past or the future, etc. And different natural languages represent these things in different ways, and you can consult for models and examples.

However, the problem for me came when I realized that the Tree Language was just that: a Language communicated by Trees. And Trees don't walk. They don't locomote in the same way that humans do. In fact, if I were a sentient Tree I wouldn't do or experience anything in the same way that a human does. Human 'actions', for me, would be altogether alien.

So I made up some new verb classes. Instead of Verbs of Experience and Verbs of Action (as humans would have), I have four classes of verb:
  1. Verbs of Body-Intention (Replacing those 'whole body' human actions such as 'walk')
  2. Verbs of Experience (A plant rooted to the ground would experience things)
  3. Verbs of Action (These verbs are limited to parts of the Tree, rather than the whole plant)
  4. Verbs of Mind-Intention (Something only an Omorbian Tree can do)
So far, so good. But having in mind the characteristics of a tree on Earth and a Tree on Omorbia, there were other verbal problems I had to deal with.

How does a Tree have a gender?

Trees, both on Earth and on Omorbia, have many 'genders'. After doing some research, I decided on four genders for Trees. Male, Female, (dioecious) Male-Female (monoecious with male and female on the same flower), and Female-Male (monoecious with male and female parts on different branches). However, rather than using pronouns like we do in English (i.e. he, she, ze); gender is marked by a syllable on the subject markers (in Tree grammar, information is mainly conveyed through the use of syllable markers, as you'll see).

How does a Tree have a number?

Verbal number is a lot easier. This does not have a syllable marker, and is deduced from context and from the pronouns. Of which, because of number and gender, there are many, many.

How does a Tree experience time?

Here's another quirk of the language. Because Trees on Omorbia are all-knowing and infinitely wise, they experience time differently than humans. So instead of verb cases including the present, the conditional, the past perfected, etc., there are five special cases:
  1. The Present
  2. The Future (the unknowable future)
  3. The Future+ (the knowable future)
  4. The Past (that cannot be changed)
  5. The Past+ (that can be changed)
Beyond those, there are other cases that are more mundane such as imperfect, progressive, and all of these are marked with specific syllables. So if something was a habitual action that happened in the past that cannot be changed (for example, that farmer harvested his crops before he lost the farm, and we can't change that fact), there would be two different syllable markers on harvest. The sentence would be shorter than the English equivalent, but the word would be longer.

Let me map out what I mean by syllable markers:


Imperfect: ˧ʎæ
Progressive: ˧ʎɞ
Single Action: ˦ja
Repeated Action: ˧jæ
Habitual Action: ˧jɞ
Indicative: ˧fʊ
Subjunctive: ˧ʃʊ
Negative: ˨vʊ

Present: ˧ʝɑ
Future: ˧ʎy
Future+: ˧ʎY
Past: ˩jy
Past+: ˩jY


I-female: ˧fY˧ʒʊ
I-male: ˧fY˧ɹʊ
I-male-female: ˧fY˧yʊ
I-female-male: ˧fY˧lʊ
We (family, set, grove): ˧fY˧væ
We (All, forest): ˧fY˧ʃæ
That-one-female: ˧ʃY˧ʒʊ
That-one-male: ˧ʃY˧ɹʊ
That-one-female-male: ˧ʃY˧lʊ
That-one-male-female: ˧ʃY˧yʊ
You-female: ˧vY˧ʒʊ
You-male: ˧vY˧ɹʊ
You-female-male: ˧vY˧lʊ
You-male-female: ˧vY˧yʊ
Those-ones-female: ˧ʃY˧ʃæ˧yʊ
Those-ones-male: ˧ʃY˧ʃæ˧ɹʊ
Those-ones-female-male: ˧ʃY˧ʃæ˧lʊ
Those-ones-male-female: ˧ʃY˧ʃæ˧yʊ

Some other syllable markers related to verbs:

Subject Marker: ˧ʝæ
Direct Object Marker: ˧ʝʊ
Indirect Object Marker: ˧ʝɞ 

Subject did something expected: ˨ʝæ
Subject did something unexpected: ˦ʝæ
Perfected action or intention within time frame: ˧ʝa
Change from untrue to true: ˨ʝa
Still untrue: ˦ʝa

Mind-Intention (i.e. Stop-Intention): ˧wʊ
Body-Intention (i.e. Stop-Intention): ˧wY
Experience (i.e. experience-sun-nourishment rather than feed): ˧wy
Action (i.e. derive-minerals-from-soil; feed): ˧wɞ

Before: ˧ja
After: ˧ʎa
During: ˩ʝa
At the same time as: ˥ʝa
Formerly: ˨ja

Personal Experience: ˧fɑ
Hearsay: ˧vɑ
Probable: ˧ʃɑ
Reflexive: ˧fwæ
Static: ˩ʝæ
Dynamic: ˩ʎʊ

A few more noun-related grammar markers to show you and explain tomorrow, and then I can show you how this works in practice.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Tree Language: Word Building

The Language Construction Kit goes into great detail when it comes to word building. Now that you have a working knowledge of the sounds and written letters or symbols of your made up language, the temptation is to go ahead and make up a bunch of words.

Unfortunately, doing so will result in at best a messy artificial language that does not resemble any natural language (which is a worry if you, like me, are making up a language not just for your own amusement but for use in a fictional world) or at worst, an incomprehensible 'language'.

The problem, as Mark Rosenfelder points out, is that most of the words in a sentence are 'function' or grammatical words that have very little meaning, with content words making up only 20% of every utterance.

What this means for me is that before I can go about the perhaps fun activity of making up words and writing them down in my Tree Dictionary, I have to worry about grammar.

And so today's post will be short. Because grammar is a massive undertaking, and one that needs to be introduced on its own. Until tomorrow, then!

The Tree Language So Far

Writing System

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Tree Language: Writing System


Creating a writing system for the Tree Language was probably my favourite part about working on this language, but it was also riddled with challenges. And in order to explain my challenges and opportunities, I'll have to get into some of the myth, legend and apocrypha of my fantasy world of Omorbia.

The first thing that you have to know is that Omorbia is a world with an ancient past, and a defined creation story that I've yet to tell, that is simple -- akin to a fable. Due to the nature of Omorbia's creation, the first intelligent beings to populate the world were Trees.

I conceived my Trees as keepers of all Omorbia's wisdom. They are philosophers. They are quiet, but will give the secrets of Omorbia wisdom, including Omorbian magic, to those with the patience to listen.

Theirs is an oral rather than a written language, for obvious reasons. However, when the language was first written down (by Dragons, not Humans. But that's another story for another day), it was difficult to break their ideas down into symbols. The language is complex and confusing, a set of sounds that are combined to convey complex ideas rather than words.

We use ideograms throughout our modern world. You see them every time you pick up a contain of hazardous materials. They are everywhere when you drive. And if you're texting or tweeting and you use emojis, those are also ideograms. Any symbol that conveys a complex idea or emotion rather than a single word is an ideogram.

However, the occurrence of ideographic writing systems in natural human language is very rare. That's because it's nearly impossible to convey all the ideas that you can using also ideograms. But some natural languages that use this method of writing also have phonetic elements. And so we come to another sloppy workaround.

The Tree 'Alphabet'

Each symbol in the Tree language corresponds to an idea or set of ideas, as well as to a sound present in the language. This would never happen with a natural language, unless it has a similar history to the Tree Language; that is, that an outside group hears an oral-only language and imposes a written form onto it (i.e. this happened throughout the history of many North and South American languages). So that accounts for the clumsiness. Yes, it's that the Dragons did the best they could writing down the language of another species rather than a wannabe linguist made up her first conlang without a modicum of grace. :P

Here is the set of ideograms that make up the Tree language writing system:

Working it out in the early days

Now, I didn't just pull the above out of my ass. As you can see from that top note, I was looking for models of writing systems that were either ideographic or had anything to do with Trees specifically or the natural world more generally. I first studied Ogham, an old Irish writing system that is said to have each of its letters named after different trees. But after using it a little while, I realized that the writing system looked very much like Tolkien's dwarvish runes. And ripping off a master of my genre is not how I want to be remembered.

The final product is more a mix of some symbols I made up myself based on important Omorbian places or concepts (the gate, chaos, the tree families), and a reworking of the Hopi world symbol. I also threw in the Deep Forest symbol, which is in the public domain, since the name of it is appropriate and I was inspired by the works of that electronic music group. Although now that I know just how terrible they've been in stealing and appropriating other peoples' musical works, that's a questionable decision on my part.

Concepts and Sounds

The picture above represents the ideograms of the written Tree Language and the concepts that they represent. But what about the sounds? Here I'll offer my compendium, but in picture form. I have yet to find the time or fine muscle coordination to design a workable font for the Tree Language. I'm no artist, and this has been the biggest challenge of working with a conlang for me.

So how can I use this writing system to communicate in the Tree Language? Well, tomorrow we'll get into the nitty gritty of all the grammatical rules. Should be fun!

The Tree Language So Far


Friday, May 15, 2015

Happy Long Weekend!

This weekend in Canada is a long weekend. Monday is Victoria Day, commemorating a long-dead British Monarch. But in these parts it's referred to as the May long weekend, or the May 2-4, or the official beginning of summer!

And although many people have Monday off of work, I'll be here, going on about the Tree Language writing system.

Until then, have a good one!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Tree Language: Phonology

Phonological Constraints

Before I dealt with the problem of having to transcribe a language with a lot of vowel distinctions into English, which has much fewer, I first had to decide, as the Language Construction Kit informed me, on Phonological Constraints.

English has a very complex set of Phonological Constraints. You have only to look at words such as sprint to realize this fact. It's one of the reasons why for native speakers of other languages, English is one of the most difficult languages to learn. There are plenty of other reasons as well. English is the confused bastard child of Germanic and Romance languages, but that's also why it's such a productive, malleable beast: producing portmanteaux and compound words at the speed of thought.

But let me back off of the language geekery and get back to the matter at hand: The Language of Trees.

The phonological constraints that I decided on are very simple. Syllables can only be produced from very limited options. Below, (c) stands for consonant, (v) stands for vowel, and (c/v) stands for those letters that, like y in English, can be either a vowel or a consonant. Pretty simple, hm?

Possible Syllables:


Very, very simple, yes? More akin to Japanese than English. So far so good.

Except for one thing. If you're a more astute linguistic than I am, maybe you've seen the Tree phonetics and noticed that with 22 distinct sounds, and such narrow phonological constraints, I'm going to run out of possible syllables pretty damn fast. And since this language is meant to be produced by a Tree and not a human mouth, how is this all even going to work??

I have one word for you:


Languages such as Mandarin, Cantonese and Vietnamese use tones to convey meaning. It's one of the reasons why these languages are so difficult for a native English to learn: the tones in our language convey meaning, but only grammatical meaning (more inflection, but you know what I'm saying: it's like how your voice goes up at the end of a sentence to indicate asking a question). It's difficult for us to hear different tones on words as indicating that the word means something different.

But if you think about it, as I did: the sound of wind through the Trees does have tones. The tone, I observed, is largely dependent on the speed of the wind. The faster the wind, it seems, the higher the tone. And so the slower the wind, the lower the tone. Generally.

And so I decided that the Tree Language has five tones. Mid-tone, high, extra high, low, and extra low. No rising or falling. In phonetics, tones are indicated with these symbols, called suprasegmentals:

Extra high: ˥
High: ˦
Mid: ˧
Low: ˨
Extra Low: ˩

Or as an accent on the vowel, which I prefer to use, and you can see here.

With these five tones, every syllable has five different possible meanings, and so the set of possible syllables in the Tree Language makes it more like a natural language. It's a sloppy workaround, and one I have yet to work into the Mage's Apprentice itself. But it's what I went with!

So much for the sounds of the language. Tomorrow I'll get into a really interesting bit, and my favourite part! The Writing System!

The Tree Language Links


Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Tree Language: Phonetics

Early Draft of Tree, from 2010
Yesterday, I introduced The Tree Language that you may have spotted throughout The Mage's Apprentice. Today I'll delve into the sounds of the language.

While I did take a handful of linguistic courses during my undergrad to fulfill a degree requirement (at the time I was completing a degree in Cognitive Science and I guess that the designers of the degree believed the philosophers who maintained that thought is language and language; thought), I am not a linguistic.

So when I began creating the Tree Language, I didn't where else to turn to but Google. Thankfully, that most efficient of search engines quickly brought me to If you have even a passing interest in conlang you probably know what I'm referring to: The Language Construction Kit.

The page looks like it's from web 1.0, but it has so much useful info, I hope it never changes and never goes down. How would I make up artificial languages then??!!

According to Mark Rosenfelder, the creator of zompist, after you've observed enough natural language models, the first place to start is with the sounds of the language. This makes sense since humans probably communicated first using sounds, just like many animals do.

 You can read all about sounds on The Language Construction Kit website, in a sort of rough-and-ready guide to phonetics. Thankfully, I've already taken a course or two in phonetics and although it was a million years ago, I still remember enough about the International Phonetic Alphabet to get by.

But what sounds could be included in a Tree Language? That was my primary challenge. (Why Trees? That's a question to be answered in another post). So I set about listening to Trees. In the middle of silent, barren winter (probably, knowing Canada). The next best thing? YouTube recordings of Trees:

Asleep yet?

Anyways, there was a lot of that. And though it mostly sounds like whooshing, I came up with a pretty robust set of 22 distinct sounds. It took awhile for me to decide on them, but here they are in final (IPA) form:



Consonant/Vowels: (you know, in the same way that 'y' is sometimes a vowel in English)




You'll notice, if you are familiar with these symbols, that the consonant sounds are all produced neither too far forward nor too far back in the mouth. Basically they were chosen to imitate the sounds of wind-through-leaves. Obvious enough. So too for the vowels. I chose any vowel that, extended into a long sound and combined with a consonant, could sound like the wind in the trees.

But I could already see a problem. A couple of the consonants and many of the vowels don't have English equivalents. And that's because the International Phonetic Alphabet records all of the sounds that can exist in natural languages. And some of these sounds collapse into a single symbol in English, such as 'a', 'o', 'th', or 'i'. But I did figure out a way to mark that down, once I came to the Phonology of the Tree Language.

But Phonology is a subject for next time!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Tree Language, an Introduction

If you're one of my readers of The Mage's Apprentice on +Wattpad, you may have noticed that some of the names of characters and places, as well as some of the magical spells and chants in the book, are in a different language. A constructed language -- or conlang for short.

You may also have noticed that the cover of The Mage's Apprentice sports a symbol. That symbol is an ideograph in the Tree Language.


Constructed languages, unlike their counterpart natural languages, are created by an individual or group for an imaginary place. Most of the time. There are some languages, such as Esperanto, that are like the adult versions of those made up languages you may have used with siblings or best friends when you were a kid. 

The Tree Language of Omorbia is one such language. It's one of many Omorbian languages, but it's also the first that I've fully realized. Making up languages is not as easy as one would imagine. Making up languages like Dothraki, for other humans, is hard. Making up languages like Klingon, for humanoid space aliens, is also hard. Making up languages for non-humanoid space aliens is extremely difficult.

But I decided to do the most difficult thing of all: I decided to make up a language for a class of plant life.

Over the next few weeks, I'm going to explain this language to you, so that if you're so interested you can explore it. However, creating a language for beings without mouths is not an easy process, and I don't think I can explain how I did it in a single blog post. So hang on, conlang enthausists, linguists and language geeks. It's going to be a bumpy ride!

The Tree Language:

Writing System
Word Building
Grammar - Verbs
Grammar - Pronouns etc.
Some Problems

Monday, May 11, 2015

My Process: Drafting a story

Photo by mpclemens. Licensed under
CC Attribution 2.0 Generic
Welcome to this new series in which I explain my writing process. My hope is that as I explain what I do, you'll be able to cherry-pick the processes that work for your writing. This week, I'm going to talk about the first step in the process, and sometimes the most difficult: drafting a story.

The idea

The idea for a story can come from almost anywhere. A long walk, a relaxing bath, a news article read online, an interesting phrase or quote, an inspiring song or quirky character observed while people watching. It's all fodder for the idea kiln.

I get my ideas from all these places and more. The ideas for stories, for me, is never the hard part. Keeping the idea is. Some of the tools I use to record my idea include:

Idea development

Sometimes, when an idea really grabs me, I like to make up character names right away. I'll write a biography of them or draw out some sketches. If an interesting place is involved, I might work on some setting details. But before I start on the first draft itself, this is all largely just play. I do whatever I like, and I'm not very systematic. It's like a return to my youth.

The first draft

Once I have the idea down in a cogent form that I won't forget about later, I usually have to wait to work on a full draft. Whether the story is a short one or a long-form novel, writing the first draft is time consuming. Thankfully, that's where NaNoWriMo comes in. Three times a year, I am forced to sit down and get about 1,667 a day down on a single project. 

I largely don't work from a plan. I might have an idea of what the story is about, who the players are, and where the story is headed, but I leave myself plenty of room to explore. And I find that I've created some really solid first drafts that way. But whether you do it my way or whether you've planned everything out in advance, the key is to not lose momentum and to preserve at the task. Because when it's over, you'll have material to work with.

Beyond the first draft 

I say, have some material to work with because the first draft is really only the beginning. If you've done your job right, you'll have thousands and thousands of words in a first draft, much of it pure crap. But that's fine. That's what a first draft is for. It's for talking to your characters. It's for listening to them and feeling out what the story actually is. The habit that I try to drop while drafting is the habit of criticism. The first draft is not for editing.

Editing comes later. In fact, I may be writing about it next Monday! :P

Friday, May 8, 2015

Book Review: John Gardner's "The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers"

Hey, I'm finally getting back into video! I'm going to aim for one each Friday for you, and they are all going to be How-to Write book reviews! So check this one out and stay tuned for more!

Have a great weekend everyone! :)


Thursday, May 7, 2015

Patreon Update

Some time ago, actually so long ago it's a bit embarrassing, I wrote on this blog about Patreon. Patreon, which is a way to find funding for this, my other blogs, as well as my +Wattpad stories while working towards the goal of having an actual book to sell, seemed like a good idea. It still does.

The only problem is, between taking a long time to get used to being on camera and figuring out how to use video editing suites, I've only produced a handful of video and all for that other side of my online personality, Sense of Aesthetic. I've been dragging my feet.

Again, it seems that all this has gone on the back burner because of a little trick of human psychology: the moment you tell someone about a goal or a plan, it's as if it has already been accomplished. The words we say have that much magic to them: that perhaps it's the same chemical reaction in our brains as if the thing were a fait accompli.

And so I haven't produced my introduction video. Well, I have...but it was terrible. Unusable. But have I refilmed it? No. And so I haven't even launched my Patreon page. All my own fault, I will admit it.

Shall I tell you my plans for that page? None of us have to be slaves to our biology, I believe...after all, we do all have this little thing call decision making that happens every moment of every day of our lives. However, perhaps this time I'll keep it to myself, and you'll just have to be surprised! ;)

Give you another update soon!


Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Reupp Introduction and Update

Some time ago, I was approached by someone involved in a start-up website to submit my story, RoboNomics, to the site. It's called Reupp.

What is Reupp?

Originally started as a way for fans of cancelled TV shows to get their favourites back on the air, it's now a bit of a market research tool to help producers from companies such as Netflix and the Syfy Network figure out which shows to pursue and produce, based on what users are interested in.

The website is currently is relaunch mode, so I don't have much to tell you as yet. Before Reupp went down for relaunch, however, I had done a bunch of careful research and was satisfied that nothing scammy was going on -- even going so far as reading their legalese. What they basically do, if TV or movie producers are interested in the work, is that they negotiation the sale of what's called, in the writing world, "the option." Short form for the right to produce a movie or TV show based on that particular story.

I mean, I can definitely see RoboNomics becoming a weekly TV series, given that it was edited with Wattpad and serialization in mind. But of course, in true diva author style, I imagine it as being produced with the same production value and massive budget as Game of Thrones. Shiny.

The tragedy there is that once an author sells the option to make her work into a televised production or a movie, all bets are off. The show could never be made into even a pilot. The pilot could never be picked up. The show could be a load of crap, with bad acting and bad lighting and a bad script and canned music and arghhh....the thought of it all is frustrating and heart-rending, considering how much time and effort of my own has been poured into the work.

But it's still a risk that I am willing to take, I suppose. So when Reupp relaunches, I am definitely going to put RoboNomics forward. With any luck, there will be enough users of the site to make up a big enough slice of the population for producers to trust in it. And so I'm telling you about it today. I'll give you updates as I have them to give, but I thought a quick introduction would help. Oh and look at the trailer:

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Finding an Agent Update

At the beginning of the year, I declared that I was going to look into a few literary agents very casually about my novel RoboNomics. And I have. But progress on this particular project has been slow.

So far, I've only contacted two agents, with mixed results. The first I contacted after reading his name in the acknowledgements of a new book that I thought was very similar to RoboNomics in tone and genre. I never heard back. And, as is the policy with these agencies, after two weeks I moved on.

Hearing nothing from an agent can be less hurtful than a form rejection. You're just screaming into a void at that point. But what it means is that the agent has rejected your manuscript without a thought to letting you know, the worst sort of rejection you can receive. Apparently RoboNomics was not even worth trying to contact me.

No biggie. I can always self-publish, right? I have my own proof of concept, I know from experience that this book can find an audience. But I will admit that out of curiosity, I contacted another agent working in the appropriate genre. This agency's policy was that if I didn't hear anything about my manuscript in six weeks, I should move on. I wasn't holding my breath that I would hear a word.

But I did! Within two weeks, I received an email, personally addressed to me, with more than just a form rejection. The agent in question said that she was impressed with my creativity, but that she hadn't fallen in love with my story. She said that tastes of agents are subjective, and urged me to keep on plodding along with submissions. Sooner or later, the message went, I would find the right fit for me.

This is what people refer to in the publishing industry when they talk about a 'good' rejection. Possibly the best rejection that ever existed! I was happy. I was encouraged. I even emailed back to thank her for the message.

That was in March. I haven't contacted another agent since.

So why am I dragging my feet?

Maybe it's because I submitted the novel to agents as a test. Maybe I wanted to see what would happen. Maybe it's a little psychological trick of the mind: because I received such a positive rejection, I feel artistically validated and so I believe I don't have to try anymore. But now that I have made a start, I am determined to keep my momentum going. And so take this blog post as my reaffirming my promise to you, to see this agent thing through before I do anything else with RoboNomics. But the clock is ticking! The final chapter is almost up on Wattpad!

Monday, May 4, 2015

Dragons that look like Horses...

Maybe because Camp NaNoWriMo has just ended, I am already contemplating the next one, coming up this July. And because I'm anticipating it, I'm thinking a lot about my fantasy world called Omorbia.

I've thinking about Omorbia for years and years and years. Decades, in fact. The very first character that I made up for this world has been around since I was in second grade (and she'll appear in the second instalment of the series, The Princess and the Dragon. She is the titular dragon, and I've been thinking about her and sketching her for over twenty years.

However, I'm no artist and I never was. I learned a little bit about drawing from Commander Mark on the Secret City and from one of the accompanying books.

I remember looking through the book to figure out how to draw a dragon. However, there wasn't any lessons on how to draw a dragon. But there was a lesson on how to draw a horse! And from then on, all of my dragons looked like mythical lizards with horses' heads.

This first one is from a margin of my tenth grade notebook. It's a bit hard to see the long muzzle and protruding nostrils...markers are a bit of a ham-fisted tool. But you can see that apparently, I thought dragons had massive bug-eyes. And are bi-pedal. Actually, I'm not sure that I'll compromise on that point.

Or maybe I will.
A few years later, another example:

You can see more of the horse head in this sleeping, friendly dragon. And the ears in both drawings are very much what my horse ears always looked like. Why a horse? I have no idea. But apparently the idea stuck, since I drew an updated version about five years ago:
Definitely fancier, but whenever I look at this sketch all I can think is "that dragon has the head of a horse." Bizarre. But I think I'll keep it.

Perhaps these drawings have given you a glimpse into the nature of Omorbian dragons. Apparently they carry weapons and sleep happily. Or do they? You'll have to read The Princess and the Dragon when it comes out on +Wattpad. And when will that be? Well, the way Book I is going, I'm looking forward to a September release of Chapter 1. Until then, you can only speculate!

Friday, May 1, 2015

Camp NaNoWriMo Wrap-up

Not sure if you noticed, but yesterday this pretty little logo quietly appeared on my blog.

That's right! Another month of writing a draft in the bag. Although this one was a bit different for me. Rather than working on a novel draft, I decided to work on a 10,000 word novella draft. I had a specific idea in mind, and a specific goal for that idea. That is, I am going to submit this novella to a writing contest.

And I'm proud of myself for completing a draft. But now I have a month to sort out that draft, and a mess of a manuscript to deal with. Seriously, I feel like it's all exploration and no plot. A lot of my main character telling me about her life and not much happening. Paragraphs are repeated in different forms. I seriously have never had so little time to deal with such a mess before. Why couldn't this troubled and troublesome little piece of art be as easy to deal with as Asteroid 433 Eros was? That short story was so easy to write. It behaved itself, it adhered to a nice, simple plot structure. Ugh!

I'll let you know about my progress as I go. But in the meantime, I'm already thinking about my next draft. Camp NaNoWriMo July is coming up. It's a tough one! Who wants to stay inside slogging away on a novel draft when it's sunny outside! But I am motivated by this win to work on a full 50,000 word novel draft during July. What do you think I should work on? I have two ideas: the next draft in my Omorbia series (which would bring me up to draft #3), or that historical fiction idea I have knocking around the back of my head. I am leaning towards the former. What do you think I should work on?