This week’s been okay. I’ve made decent progress on my goals from last week, and in addition I’ve been working on a large map of the storyworld Jiharel is set in, Akhelas. (That name may look a bit familiar…) While I don’t think I’m a skilled enough artist to make visual content for publication, I do enjoy drawing maps as a way of wrapping my mind around distances and space and how events take place.
As a reader, I often spend a little time perusing the maps inevitably at the start of a fat fantasy book. They’re interesting, and I like how they give me an idea what the world’s like. In particular, I always loved the beautiful maps of regions and cities in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time novels. Especially by the later volumes, each city’s first appearance would be heralded with a gorgeous map (like this, or this) which sparked the imagination as much or more than giving information about the city. And of course there’s the wonderful maps in Tolkien’s work, included so the reader can follow the Dwarves or the Fellowship on their journeys across Middle-Earth.
So I make maps, both to help myself understand my world, and from the sheer love other fantasies have given me of them, from exploring the nooks and crannies of another writer’s world. Maybe my own will be included some day in my own published work, or they’ll be the basis of a professional map of Akhelas (I consider this more likely), but they’re fun, and they help. I’ll probably post a picture on here when I’m done with my current one.
This week, I finished my skimming read of The Language Construction Kit by Mark Rosenfelder, and I read a tiny amount from LeGuin’s Rocannon’s World, in addition to my class-assigned readings.
The LCK is really, really, dense, and I don’t feel like I properly understand the most important bits yet. The book is organized from the building blocks of language, phones (little bits of noise that combine together to make a syllable), all the way up to the problems of semantics and pragmatics (how we know what other people mean when they speak). I actually feel fairly competent in the semantic realm – I studied philosophy for my B.A., and the analytic school focuses a lot on the problems of language and meaning – but in the nitty-gritty linguistic stuff I’m still pretty lost.
The first step in making up a language is determining the basic noises and noise rules that language allows. I’m going to start by re-reading the relevant material from the LCK this week, perhaps while taking notes, and looking at some of the words I’m already using (like “Akhelas” and “Jiharel”) and seeing what sounds are in there, as a way of starting my sounds inventory.
I’d also like to spend more time reading fiction of my own choosing. While I did read a bit from Rocannon’s World last week, I read less than a chapter. I could have read more, and I think not setting a specific reading goal contributed to that. Rocannon’s World is organized into two or three general “parts.” I’m in the first part, “Starlord.” I’d like to finish at least this chunk by next week.
Finally, I’d just like to highlight one of the books I’ve been reading for class, Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer. We’re only four chapters in, but I find Prose’s thoughts charming. She’s really focused on trying to nail down what makes beautiful sentences and paragraphs, and has this idea of writing as “arcane shoptalk” which I didn’t know I needed to hear about so badly.
As a writer, I tend to focus more on secondary concerns over primary concerns – things like characters, plot, and setting hold more importance than the nuts and bolts of using language effectively. I do believe that order of priorities is correct, but Prose’s book is a timely reminder to pay more attention to my sentences, particularly since the piece I’m working on from Jiharel is experimenting with writing a specific style.
Speaking of, that seems like a convenient transition to me!
I’ve made some slow progress on my chapter of Jiharel. It’s currently standing at just over 6,000 words, which is getting pretty long for a chapter, but certainly not into the “Ridiculous!” range for fantasy. (For context, my chapters in The Rule of Iron averaged 1,500-2,000 words, and my short story “How the Thrun Earned His Wings” just broke 5,000.) While I’m not done with the chapter yet, I do believe I’m close.
I’ve actually had several moments where I could have cut the chapter off, and chosen not to. I’m intentionally letting this chapter grow, and maybe meander a little. The vision I have in mind for Jiharel is a novel with multiple viewpoints, and where each chapter conclusively moves the plot. This first chapter sets up much of the action to come for the reader, introducing the villain, the hero, the hero’s close friend, and a few side characters, as well as introducing the reader to the city of Lithratel and the surrounding land.
It’s entirely possible that I’ll use very little of this chapter, or even none of it. My goals in writing it are to explore a specific, flowery style which rambles and uses lots of imagery and metaphor and whatnot (the whole thing’s basically a great big nod to Eddison and Homer), as well as “discovery writing” my way through an opening to the story, to feel out how the characters think and act together. It’s practice.
I really want to finish the chapter this week, but I’m not sure that will happen. The writing group I attend is meeting this upcoming Sunday, and that means my #1 writing goal this week has to be revising my piece to share. It’s going to be my second chunk of this chapter I’ve shared with them. I’ve already started revising the submission, but it’s still going to take time to finish. After that, I’ll be focusing on finishing this chapter’s first draft.
Last Week: Last week, my goals were to spend some time on Rocannon’s World and some time on Jiharel while adjusting to my new class. In further hindsight, my accomplishment was lackluster. I could have done more on both.
This Week: I’m going to finish revising this chunk for the writing group, and then work on (finally!) finishing this chapter of Jiharel. I’m also going to finish reading “Starlord,” the first portion of Rocannon’s World. I’d like to also spend some more time with the LCK and the beginnings of a language or proto-language, but that’s going to sit at the bottom of my priorities.