Ahh! I’m late! Sorry guys, the busy just doesn’t ease up, I’m afraid. Today’s Worldbuilding Wednesday topic is writing because I’m thinking about it.
But not all cultures have that. There were eons of human history where writing was not a thing which existed. All knowledge had to be passed on orally if it was going to survive. This is a problem if you have anything really complicated that other people need to know so writing was developed in many places and at many times across the globe.
The look of a culture’s writing will be reflective of them or maybe they’ll form themselves into a reflection of their writing. It goes both ways, IMO. Either way, the actual form and shape of a culture’s particular form of writing will be something that esthetically looks good and makes sense to them.
Egyptian hieroglyphics, Mayan glyphs, English letters, Japanese hiragana, katakana and kanji, they all work for their particular cultures. As a writer you certainly do not have to develop a writing system for your culture. You’d waste a huge amount of time at it and who would be able to read it? Granted, if you’re a linguist like Tolkien, you can do it. It can even be something that grows over time, expanding your and your readers’ understanding and appreciation of your story.
Generally, though, you don’t want to spend a huge amount of time on creating actual languages and writing systems.
That doesn’t mean that you should avoid writing entirely in your story (unless of course you’re writing a story about a culture that is oral knowledge transmission only).
This is what I do. (And I highly recommend Holly Lisle’s Build a Language Clinic as it’s where I always start.)
Create a base set of words / concepts that your culture uses. They should be words and concepts that don’t exist in English (or the language you’re writing in) because if there is a word you can use, you should use it to make life easier for your reader.
Consider your culture, the people themselves. Are they formal? Blunt and direct? Oblique and never, ever state anything directly?
That will be reflected in their writing. A formal culture will probably have an equally formal look to their writing, maybe with special brushes or writing tools, loops and curlicues that have to be added just so. A blunt, direct culture will have very raw, straightforward writing, slashes and crosses. One that avoids saying anything directly will probably have writing that reflects that in not having a specific way to write a demand. The letters themselves may loop and twist rather than going in straight lines.
Now, when you’re writing, if you have a character who can read they will just read the writing like we would. But one that doesn’t know the language or who is just learning it is going to be acutely aware of the actual form of the letters / symbols / glyphs.
Have your character stare and puzzle over them, mentally complaining about how the words always bleed together because of all the curlicues. Maybe they stare at the sentence and read it three or four times because damn it, whoever wrote this message left out the normal punctuation so it can be read in three different ways that give you three different directions that you could go.
It’s a tool to add realism to your story. It can also be a way to add depth to your characters. In my latest novel I have a very blunt, harsh-spoken character who startles everyone by revealing that he speaks and reads three languages fluently. The reason he speaks so harshly in this one is that it’s his fourth and he’s still learning it.
Anyway! If you’re writing a story where books, paperwork and writing come into it give some thought to the writing system your characters are using. It doesn’t have to be letters like English. Do a little research and learn about the many varied ways that humanity has found to convey information in writing.
And that’s it for today! Good luck with your writing–hope you get a lot done as summer starts up!
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