Tag Archives: George R.R. MArtin

Wednesday Writers: Zoë Sumra

Long before I started taking my writing seriously I was a member of the Brotherhood Without Banners, the George RR Martin fan group. Our online home was a place called Westeros.org, and it was my first real taste of the joys of online community. The people I met there were some of the most generous and genuine folk you could imagine and, while I have scaled back my posting, I still keep in touch with many of them and consider them a big part of my life.

This generosity of spirit was demonstrated a few weeks ago when I was moaning on Twitter about how much I hate proofreading. It’s something I suck at, I am a big picture sort of guy, rather than being gifted with a great attention to detail (or, to put it another way – I am lazy). Zoë was kind enough to offer me some tips and I was so impressed that I rewarded her kindness by asking her if she would like to write a post on the subject, knowing it would be of great interest to the many other writers who struggle in this area.

Instead of stabbing me in the eye for presuming on our somewhat limited acquaintance in such a way, Zoë immediately agreed and produced a truly exceptional article which I am sure will be a great help to this blog’s readers. Any proofing errors below are, of course, mine!

When David first asked me to contribute to Wednesday Writers, I was pretty daunted, given the extensive writing credits of so many of the other contributors.  I have never had a novel picked up and have never submitted a short story.  I do have professional publishing experience, though, but from the other direction.

I started proofreading at an early age.  I was the annoying little oik who wrote a letter to Corgi about the typos in my edition of Dragonflight when I was nine, although, owing to the practicalities of obtaining stamps, I never posted it.  When I started writing novels a few years later, I absorbed as much as I could from as many different sources as possible about editing, and carried that on as a saleable talent as well as for the pleasure of improving my writing.

Proofreading and Editing: In The Beginning

So.  Your completed first draft is staring at you.  Well done: it takes a lot of work to get this far.  You’ve heard of editing, but don’t know where to start…

Novels require three types of editing: structural editing, which addresses issues of story structure, character development, plot progression, flow etc., line editing, which is nitpicking each individual word independent of the plot, and proofreading.  “Copy editing” may refer to either line editing or proofreading depending on which country you are in.

Holly Lisle has perfected and promoted her One-Pass Revision technique where she tackles structure, line editing and proofreading in one large revision phase.  I typically proofread while I am editing my novels, though I do structural edits and line edits separately.  Once you are confident with structural editing, line editing and proofreading, you will find yourself doing all of them at once, but they are different skills.

Structural editing is beyond the scope of this article, so from now on I will assume that the draft you proofread is structurally sound.  You should have already cut out extraneous scenes, rearranged dialogue and action to improve the book’s flow, deleted unnecessary conversations where characters discuss their plans for the next chapter, riffled two characters into one, changed three characters’ gender, and knocked the book down to its approximate final shape.

Line by Line

No matter how tight you thought your first draft prose was, it will invariably be less concise than it could be.  Now, consider your working genre carefully.  In literary fiction, prose is critical, whereas in SF, fantasy, horror, romance, crime, thriller or any of their subgenres, the author’s usual aim is to stop the prose from getting in the way of the plot.

We genre authors therefore have a great opportunity to remove 10% of a book, or anywhere up to twenty thousand words, at the line edit stage.  (This is habit-forming.  I line-edited down this article by 10%.)  Did you say something in nineteen words where you could have used twelve?  In twelve words where you could have used seven?  Knocking out extra words will knock down a wall between the story and the reader.  Adverbs are a big pitfall: most of them are unnecessary.  It’s more effective to delete the adverb and use a more precise verb.  English has rather a lot of them.

During a line edit, ask yourself whether each word is in its correct place.  Sometimes you will want to use a coruscation of purplish, perfect prose: keep these patches to a minimum.  Over-wordiness is off-putting to readers.  If you are writing a pure romance novel the mileage will be slightly different, particularly on sensual topics such as sex and food, but on the whole, you will still need to pare down the book.

Other things to spot while line editing include unintentional rhyming and rhythm repetition (intentional is great: unintentional isn’t), overuse of the definite article, overuse of the construction “the pen of my aunt” (what’s wrong with “my aunt’s pen” unless you are writing dialogue for a character whose first language has no possessive?), inappropriate variations in each character’s dialect/register, repeated use of the same word in any given four or five lines of text, starting successive paragraphs with the same word even if this word is a character’s name or “the” (in general, twice in succession is OK but three times in succession is not), repeated use of the same punctuation marks and sentence structure, unintentional double entendres, and unintentional use of phrasing that could cause confusion.

Line editing will alter your prose, but this is a necessary component of polishing your style, which will change every year you write.  As you grow as an author, focus on creating a pleasant environment for your reader.  In genre fiction, the story is important.  Pare out those words that are getting in the way of the story.

(For pointers on line editing literary fiction, please contact a specialist.)

Whither Proofing?

Proofreading is line editing’s analytic companion, complete with librarian-glasses and a disapproving expression.  Line editing is a craft with more than a little art in it.  To proofread is to correct your mistakes.

This includes mistakes in typography and in content.  If a character is called Maria 95% of the time and Mariah 5% of the time, proofreading is the process that picks up that discrepancy.

Before you start proofreading you should create relevant lists of character names and titles (especially if complicated), fictional place names, relative distances between plot locations, time taken to travel between those locations etc., so that you can check during the proofing step that they are correct.  Even if you are certain of your facts, keep appropriate reference material close at hand, just in case a fantasy country moves position on the map while you aren’t looking.

Pay particular attention to technical terminology – make sure you aren’t constructing cutlery from silicon and circuits from silicone.  In my day job I once printed a finance industry textbook that lauded the delights of pubic accounting in a chapter that should have been about public accounting.  (I didn’t proofread that one.)  More relevant to most here will be my mistake while writing an SF novel of putting a decimal point in the wrong place, overstating the speed of light by a factor of ten, and factoring that error into my spaceplanes’ speed and the distances between my space stations.  That one took a while to fix.

The Art of Proofreading

Your right brain may be rebelling at this point.  On the face of it, originating and proofreading are two diametrically opposite skills.  The one requires creativity and spontaneity: the other is an exercise in concentration.

You need to learn to take off one hat and put on the other.  Just as with synopsis creation, something else that differs from writing fiction, proofreading is a necessary part of the strong writer’s skill set.

In order to proofread you need a high standard of English spelling, punctuation and grammar, and the discretion to know when to use misspellings, variant grammar and creative punctuation.  If you know your English is faulty for any reason, including dyslexia, someone else needs to proofread your work.  This may have the side effect of correcting things you did not want to be corrected, such as appropriate misuse of language according to context and character.

How Not To Edit

Editing requires concentration.  If you corrected obvious proof mistakes while you were working through your structural edits, and if you are not combining a proofread and a line edit, you may find yourself proofreading a pretty clean copy.  It is quite difficult under these circumstances to maintain concentration.  Make sure you do so.  The moment you lose concentration, your eyes will slide past a mistake.  That said…

Editing is a marathon, not a sprint.  Studies of schoolchildren and university students show that neurotypical humans have a concentration span of around twenty to thirty minutes.  Every half an hour, stop and look at pictures of kittens (or supercars, or My Little Ponies, or mediaeval Welsh castles, etc.).  If you persist for too much longer than this your concentration level will drop and your work’s quality will suffer.

It will take you a long time to edit a book properly.  Don’t become discouraged when you realise you have been working for hours and are still only on chapter 6.  This is the step where a book becomes finalised: you can’t skimp on it.

Electronic v. Paper Editing

Modern editing professionals work on screen ninety percent of the time.  There is a specific drawback to doing this for one’s own writing – even if you handwrite your first drafts, the version you line edit and proofread will be a Word, OpenOffice, Indesign or other DTP document that you have seen several dozen times before.

The notorious difficulty of proofreading one’s own work stems from this familiarity: as authors we become too used to each sentence’s visual appearance.  I therefore suggest that before attempting to proofread, you change either the font, or the font size, or both.  One of my sentences spent nine months missing a “was” before I read it in Palatino instead of my usual draft font, Times New Roman.

As an alternative, you can print out your book and proofread it on paper.  This has three down sides: it is expensive in terms of paper and ink unless you work for a very understanding (or oblivious) manager, the results will take up space on your shelves, and you have to make each change twice – once on paper and once when typing it up.

Despite this, I normally line edit and proofread on paper after my major structural work is done.  I find it helps me to focus on just the errors in the text rather than on the story structure.

Nitpicking on Screen – Markup Functions and Not Using Them

Microsoft Word has a markup version whereby you can enter changes for later approval.  If editing someone else’s work, use this.  If working on your own, just put through everything you can at once, and create a separate document for noting serious inconsistencies.  You know when you’ve missed out a punctuation mark rather than leaving it out for dramatic effect, you don’t need to ask which of two spellings of a character’s name is correct, and if you notice a discrepancy in the current-year income of Fantasy Country W, maximum acceleration in a gravity well of SF Spaceship X, scholastic history of Fictional Character Y or lethal dose of Genuine Poison Z, make an entry on your problems list and work out later which is correct.  (You do not have permission to ignore the problems list.)

Nitpicking on Paper – Proofreading Marks

In order to line edit or proofread your work on paper, you need to use proofreading marks.  Learning the BSI Standard marks, or equivalent, will be useful for the future if you ascend the ladder far enough to sign with a publishing house.

Even if you normally single-space your drafts to read on screen, double-space or 1.5x space your final draft before printing it out to edit.  You need room to mark it up more than you need to save paper.  If you are concerned about the number of trees you are killing, reduce the font size and narrow one margin, preferably the left (you need one wide margin).

The usual method of marking a page is:

Left margin                                          In the text                                       Right margin

X (denotes there is an error)               Textual mark                                  Marginal mark

The most basic BSI proofreading mark, the insert mark, looks like the foot of a Hangman tree: image002

If you have missed out a word or punctuation mark, put this symbol in the missing item’s space.  Note the missing item in the right margin.  If you can’t fit it in, for instance if you have left out a fantasy nobleman’s full title, an SF IT technician’s whole shopping list, or most of a paragraph because you leant on the DELETE key while doing the structural edit, put a capital letter (for reference) in the right margin and write out the missing text on the reverse of your current sheet.

If the missing item is any punctuation mark other than an apostrophe, circle it for added visibility.  Don’t circle missing apostrophes, in order to distinguish them from commas.

Score through text to be deleted.  Underline text that should go in italics.  If text is in italics incorrectly, underline the affected text and score through said underline.  Double underline denotes a change to small capitals, and triple underline denotes a change to large capitals.

The BSI mark for inserting a paragraph break looks like this:  image004

Underline the last word you want to put in the shortened paragraph, put a vertical line in the break place, and add a line over the first word in the new paragraph.

If you have been overenthusiastic and marked up something that does not need correcting, “stet” means “leave this the way it was”.

These marks and others are online at http://www.lancingpress.co.uk/factsheets/images/proofmarks1.png.  There is much more to learn about proofreading marks, including the minutiae of when to use a blue pen and when to use a red pen (really), but this will get you started in on-paper editing.

Twice to Tango?

Should an author line edit just once?  Extra passes are likely to give diminishing returns, partly because you will have picked up most errors on the first pass, partly because of enervation.  I prefer to read through the book as a book once I have edited it, and to try to experience it from the reader’s perspective.  If I’ve missed any proofreading errors, or if my prose isn’t tight, I’ll notice.  Proofreading twice is an option you should certainly take if your “final” read reveals a lot of errors.

When Enough is Too Much

A famous author once observed that when a book is finished, the author should stop writing it and step away.  The same goes for editing.  You can’t keep reworking that one scene again and again, and neither can you keep on editing its every sentence into perfection and checking it for punctuation errors.

Your novel will never be perfect.  Your goal is to make it as good as you possibly can, and release it into the wild.  The search for perfection will carry on, into your next novel.

Zoë Sumra started writing fantasy novels at the age of twelve, because she lived in the countryside and there was nothing else to do.  Twenty years on, her working credits include typesetter, proofreader, print controller and stock controller, sometimes all at once, in two branches of non-fiction publishing.  None of her fantasy or SF novels have been published, though not for want of trying.  She cherishes the moment when Alastair Reynolds opined that her most recent novel’s opening was “pretty good”.  She is an associate member of the Society for Editors & Proofreaders.  Away from the written word, she is an enthusiastic amateur fencer, currently ranked inside the British top forty at women’s sabre.  Her knees hate fencing and are plotting a rebellion.  She lives in London with her husband. You can find her online at http://zoeiona.livejournal.com

zoe in wedding dress

Wednesday Writers – David Peterson

As is the case for many of us, I’m sure, my first fantasy love was the Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien. Not only did I read the story itself over and over, I was also fascinated with the appendices attached. I could not help but marvel at the work Tolkien put into the background of his world and his obsession with detail, and nowhere was this more apparent than in his love of language and the tongues he created for the inhabitants of Middle Earth.

From this starting point I have always been interested to see how other writers go about creating new languages, and over the years I have seen examples of how to do it right and of how to do it very wrong indeed. As a writer I want to make sure that I fall in the former category, despite my natural inclination to laziness! I’m always keen to find new resources to help with my world building and make sure I keep learning, and I deeply admire those with a talent in this area.

So, it was a real pleasure to meet David Peterson (the creator of, amongst others, the Dothraki language for the HBO adaptation of A Game of Thrones) at WorldCon. An incredibly nice and humble guy, you would never know that he is one of the best in the business by him telling you, so I wanted to feature him on my blog to give others a chance see just how talented and knowledgeable he is.

It’s not often that a conlanger is asked to contribute to a writing blog. For a variety of reasons, serious language creation has always remained (and continues to remain) on the periphery of the artistic realm. Even today a high school student who writes “poetry” is more likely to be considered an artist than someone who’s been creating languages for fifty years (and there are several excellent conlangers both living and dead who fit that description).

But while some of the old prejudices remain, language creation has never been hotter. Starting with the Lord of the Rings film trilogy using authentic (or as authentic as possible) Quenya and Sindarin, enormously popular franchises like Avatar and Game of Thrones have profited from extensive use of one or more invented language. Their viability in popular media (and the visibility of these flagship franchises) has led many to consider making use of invented languages in their own works.

In this post, I’d like to give writers some practical advice on incorporating invented languages into their writing. Creating a full language may be out of the question for most writers, but hopefully understanding some of the issues behind language creation will be useful to all writers.

General Advice

Before going into specifics, I’d like to emphasize that in the case of language systems, less is more. It takes a lot of work to create an authentic language, and a great deal of expertise that comes only with study and practice. It’s easy to create a single conlang sentence, which, if translated directly into English without any other details, looks authentic. For example:

Brat danar glin kalag.
“Stay away from the swamp.”

There are potentially thousands of ways that the created sentence can mean what it means in English. For example, perhaps kalag means “stay away from”, brat danar is a compound that means “swamp”, and glin is an emphatic marker used to form commands. Who knows? There are any number of plausible interpretations. As more sentences are added, though, the possibilities decline rapidly:

Vor danar!
“Go away!”

All of a sudden we see danar appearing again in a sentence where it’s likely translated as “away”, which means the other word, vor, probably has to mean “go”, and the thousands of conlinguistic possibilities drop to the hundreds.

Add another sentence:

Mas bratuk danar glin kalag.
“We stayed away from the swamp.”

And now it’s becoming more and more likely that the “conlang” is just, in fact, a fancy way of speaking English, with some minimal changes (e.g. omission of the word “the”).

If one is prepared to invest the time to create a fully fleshed-out language, then, by all means, go for it! For those who just need the illusion of a language—something that could, perhaps, be expanded upon later if there were interest—it’s best not to get painted into a corner.

Sound Systems: The Place to Start

If there’s one aspect of language creation one should focus on if one needs a stand-in language for a novel, it’s sound systems (or phonology). The thing that most immediately distinguishes a language is the way in which all its words hang together. The best way to ensure one does this with a created language is to create a phonology to ensure all words share similar sounds and similar shapes.

Using English as an example, the following are all plausible English words:

  • blork
  • clund
  • gettle
  • sprile

The thing that makes them plausible English words is they all use English sounds and the sounds they use are arranged in patterns common to English. The following words, though, do not:

  • ngsee
  • dleh
  • uzs
  • jlemga

Each of the words above is composed of sounds that occur in English (e.g. the first word is just the “ng” from the word “song” placed right in front of the word “see”), but they’re arranged in ways that are completely impossible (or at least improbable) for English. If one were trying to create a fake English-like language, words from the first list would be far preferable to those in the second.

In creating a new language palette for a work of fiction, then, one ought to come up with a set of sounds (and they can differ from English. For example, let’s say there’s a language with no voiced stops [no “b”, “d” or “g”]) and then stick to them any time a word needs to be created. In addition, come up with a set of patterns in which the letters can occur. Here’s a sample language that has no voiced stops, no “r”, consonant clusters that allow only liquids after stops and fricatives, and syllables that end only in “n” or “l”:

  • tlamen
  • ilkun
  • pyesu
  • tikwil

Further levels of detail can be added (e.g. average word length, differences between word-internal and word-final codas, etc.), but the result is to produce word shapes that look like they come from the same language—and obviously so, since there likely won’t be a whole bunch of material for a reader to see.


There are only a handful of ways that languages show inflectional morphology (e.g. pluralization, noun case, verb tense, etc.). The most common are:

  • Affixation (including prefixes, suffixes, circumfixes and infixes).
  • Word-internal change (e.g. “goose” > “geese” or “súbject” vs. “subjéct”).
  • Prolix expression (e.g. “antiquated” > “more antiquated”)
  • Suppletion (e.g. “is” vs. “were” vs. “am”).

Without creating actual grammar, one can give the illusion of grammar simply by employing one of these strategies on a key lexeme, e.g.:

Undiama tish hakhlor.                              Zvala dek sabindore lundiama.
“This peach is rotten.”                           “They devoured the peaches.”

The sentences above don’t reveal a lot about the grammar, but we see the presence of an l- prefix on what we would probably assume is the word for “peach”, and we see similarity in the suffixes for what may be the verbs of each sentence. Importantly, the translations still provide some latitude (for example, is the l- prefix a simple plural marker, or does it mark the accusative plural? Or is it perhaps simply a definite article, like “the”?), so we need say nothing definite, but the recurrence of recognizable morphology will give an otherwise fake conlang (i.e. a language that hasn’t actually been created, but is meant to appear as if it has been) a touch of realism.

The Myth of the Monolingual Planet

On Earth today we’ve got about 7,000 languages. While that number may be declining rapidly, it seems almost inconceivable (to me, at least) that there will come a point in time where every person on Earth speaks one language, with all the others having vanished. This, however, is precisely what we see in a wide variety of scifi and fantasy works: one people, one culture, one language.

Consider the case of English. English is spoken as a primary language in Canada, the US, the UK, Australia, New Zealand and parts of India. Imagine if one supposed that each of these countries was pretty much the same on account of the common language. And then move within one of those countries. Australians all speak Australian English (with no dialectal variation), so there, at least, is a region where pretty much everyone is the same, right?

Before one goes off to create 7,000 different languages for one’s fictional universe, though, it’s not that difficult to create the illusion of multilingualism. It’s rare to find a place where one and only one language is spoken. While there’s likely a dominant language, what are the minority languages spoken there? They can be referred to by name (even if they haven’t been developed), and can actually be reflected in proper and place names. Dropping these details in sparingly gives the illusion of depth, and results in a more authentic feel for one’s fictional world.

What’s In a Name?

Consider the following list of male names one might find in modern America:

  • Thadeus
  • Sam
  • Jean-Paul
  • Muhammad
  • D’Brickashaw
  • Daniel

What do they have in common? Almost nothing. As a result, one might, then, expect an equivalent list of male names in a fantasy novel to look like this:

  • Sevander
  • Vort
  • Dhannïs-Shaer
  • Zullebi
  • Drîqz’z
  • Forient

And they may look like that. But consider what the list of English names tells us. If we had to rank those names by most likely to be “American” (to the extent that’s a valid category), we’d probably start with “Sam” then go to “Daniel” then maybe “Thadeus” then probably “D’Brickashaw” (easily one of the coolest names ever invented). Why? Because the names themselves tell us something about their history. For example, we know that “Muhammad” (the world’s most common name) comes from the Arabic language, and is closely associated with Islam. We know that “Jean-Paul” is of French origin, and that a name like “D’Brickashaw” is uniquely American, but also not likely to have occurred before the year 1900.

Now let’s look back at the list of fantasy names. How realistic are they? That depends. Are these random names assigned to characters that have pretty much the same socio-cultural background? Their structure suggests not. If these are residents of the same region who share a common culture, it suggest that this is an area that’s seen a lot of immigration in its history. Does the detail given in the story back up or belie this interpretation?

As a final note, one often sees names such as the two listed below existing in the same system:

  • Ambaliessa
  • Dragonwind

That is, in this invented universe unconnected to our own, we have one name that comes from a non-English linguistic system, and another name that does. This doesn’t make a lot of sense. Certainly names are sometimes translated (consider “Sitting Bull”), but usually they all are, or they all aren’t. Consistency in this area is desirable. To those who pay attention to such things (more than one would guess), transgressions of this nature are roughly equivalent to the following:

Ambaliessa was a fair maid of the town of Parnilliat—a bit bookish, but uncommonly pretty. She would spend her days riding through the fields on her mare Semia, helping her father at the mill, and watching Gossip Girl.

You may protest, thinking Dragonwind isn’t that bad—and this may be true for some readers. For many, though, it’s a chink in the armor—a break from the alternate reality set up by the novel. For readers who like to get lost in the world of a novel, linguistic anomalies like this can be distracting.

The Phêÿqxh Language

There is a perception amongst linguistically aware readers that sci-fi and fantasy novels make liberal use of…”unique” romanization systems when rendering character and place names, often with the express intent of making the names look foreign. This practice often backfires when symbols are used in contradictory or counterintuitive ways. Consider the (admittedly cool-looking) name Xaro Xhoan Daxos. If pronounced in the most obvious way to an English speaker, the three x’s are pronounced three different ways in three different contexts (as [z] before a vowel in the first name; as [z] before a consonant in the second name; and as [ks] before a vowel in the third name).

While “it looks cool” is an adequate (albeit subjective) justification for most, one will run into problems if the fledgling system that gave birth to the name is ever expanded. One will often be forced to concede either that (a) certain characters are pronounced in contradictory fashions, (b) the romanization system is inconsistent, or (c) the character’s name isn’t actually pronounced in the way that’s most obvious to an English speaker.

Presuming that one’s readers are, for the most part, English speakers (if one is writing in English), I would propose that all names be spelled in such a way that their pronunciations should be obvious to the average speaker of English. As a result, certain practices should be avoided—namely:

  • The use of any and all diacritics, save in situations where one really intends, for example, to include an umlauted vowel as used in German (e.g. “ö” or “ü”). Diacritics like the acute accent (“á”), the grave accent (“à”), and the circumflex (“â”) aren’t used in English, save in a few borrowings, and their functions are nebulous. Including them is bound to produce inconsistent results in the minds of different English-speaking readers.
  • Inconsistent spelling systems. Unless the characters in the fictional universe of one’s story use the roman alphabet as their actual writing system (an unlikely coincidence if one’s world is unconnected to our own), there’s no reason to fabricate the inconsistencies found in natural language spelling systems that employ the roman alphabet (e.g. English, French, Vietnamese, etc.). To the extent possible, a policy of one letter = one sound should be employed.
  • Non-English digraphs. A digraph is the use of two characters to convey a single sound. Thus, “th” in “thus” is a digraph, but “th” in “hothouse” is not. Certain combinations (e.g. “vh”, “xh”, “rh”, etc.) may evoke a certain aesthetic (and, indeed, may even prove useful in romanizing certain phonologies), but are likely to be misinterpreted or disregarded by many English speakers. (Incidentally, for the “g” sound in “genre”, I recommend “zh”, as it fits the following analogy rather nicely: s : z :: sh : zh.)
  • Apostrophes. Apostrophes are used for contractions (e.g. cannot > can’t), glottal stops (like the ‘okina in Hawai‘ian), glottalized consonants (like the ejectives of Hausa) and occasionally pharyngeal consonants (like the first sound in the romanized spelling of the Arabic word for the Arabic language ‘arabiiya). Elsewise they are to be avoided at all costs.

Remember that in the fictional universe one sets up, it’s more than likely that the speakers of an imagined language will have their own unique writing system. The inconsistencies, irregularities and eccentricities one would find in a natural writing system should appear in that system, not the romanization used to convey the sounds of words and names in the language in one’s text.

Other Options

Of course, even this much may be more than a writer is willing to undertake, since the story comes first. Luckily there are literally thousands of conlangers all over the world who’ve been perfecting their craft for years—in some cases, decades. Many conlangers would love the opportunity to create a language for some sort of fictional work, whether it’s a big budget movie like Avatar, or a budding novelist’s very first book. If keeping a language or language sketch straight becomes too much of a hassle, I’d strongly encourage all writers to think about contracting out.

At present the best way to get a hold of a potential language creator is to go to the Language Creation Society’s Jobs Board. There one can post the details of a job and field responses from those who may be interested. Without exception, the best results come from those who have already put in their 10,000 hours.


It’s important to emphasize that the above is really just scratching the surface. Language is vast, and the possibilities are endless. If you’re interested in learning more about language creation, you can go to the Language Creation Society’s website, but one of the best ways to learn more about language, I’ve found, is simply to explore the grammar of a language you’ve never looked at. For this, Wikipedia is actually a great resource. Pick a language and type “[language name] grammar” into the search window, and see what comes up! Every language has something unique to teach us, and it’s never too late to start learning.

David Peterson is the creator of the Dothraki language for HBO’s Game of Thrones, and the alien language and culture consultant for SyFy’s upcoming drama series Defiance. He’s been creating language recreationally and professionally for twelve years, and currently serves as the president of the Language Creation Society.

AUSSIECON 4 (or why I am a slack blogger)

Well, the past week or so has been crazy. Surgery (again) last Tuesday, then the extraordinary madness that was AussieCon 4. I had an incredibly good time there, which I will go into further, but I am absolutely exhausted. Who knew geeks could party like that?!

I have also received a rejection notice for a short story I submitted more in hope than anything else, and a rewrite request for an anthology I desperately want to get into. It’s long odds, but there were (as far as I know) approximately 170 stories rejected in the first round, so I am happy to get a chance to submit a revised version. The challenge, of course, is balancing how much I want to get published with maintaining the integrity of the story.

AussieCon was my first major convention, and I really did have a blast. The funny thing was that I only actually made it to two of the panels for the whole event! But, I certainly don’t think I wasted my money, because it was the activities that surrounded the Con that really made it a truly memorable experience.

For a number of years I have been a member of a fan group for the author George R.R. Martin. This started when I started reading his “A Song of Ice and Fire” series and went looking for some information online. I stumbled across a fan run message board called Westeros and discovered a massive online community of fantasy and science fiction fans (15,000 plus). While it was ostensibly about GRRM and his works, there was discussion of every author imaginable, and huge debates about politics and religion. I made a lot of friends there and for a number of years was very active. I credit my exposure to so many diverse view points and some of the most intelligent people I have ever spoken to with honing my skills as an apologist, because in those debates if you didn’t know what you were talking about you would get torn to pieces. Lazy arguments were punished they way they deserved to be.

While as life moved on I cut down on my day to day posting, I still maintained the relationships I had formed, because these people meant a lot to me. Anyone who doesn’t understand that online friends can be just as important as ones you see daily probably should stop reading now! But, I had always hoped to meet some of them, and I knew there would be a fair few at AussieCon, and that GRRM would be there as well.

The fan group (the BWB – Brotherhood Without Banners) prides itself on its profile at conventions. and usually throws at least one party for the entire Con and organises a chance for the fans to meet GRRM. As someone “on the ground” I was involved in organising things in the lead up, like buying supplies and finding a venue for dinner the first night. Unfortunately, surgery meant I couldn’t be as useful as I had hoped! But, I managed to get the things done that were needed. It meant a fair bit of running around t, but I certainly didn’t mind that. The amount of pleasure I had gotten from GRRM’s writing and from my involvement on the board meant whatever help I could give was a privilege.

On the Thursday night 25 of us met with GRRM and his partner Parris for a private dinner at a pizze place in Southbank. It was incredibly exciting to get a chance to chat to one of my favourite authors, and over the course of the Con he gave  us all plenty of his time. In fact, I cannot speak highly enough of their attitude to fans and how accessible they made themselves to us, even in the last stages of the Con, when they must have been exhausted. The way they treated their fans was in stark contrast to some other authors who were there, including one very big name, who I will refrain from identifying!

Obviously, GRRM is someone I have always wanted to meet and I really did feel honoured and privileged by the amount of time I got to chat to him one on one. Not only at the dinner, I also shared a cab with them when taking them back to their hotel. I am, however, terribly embarrassed by the fact that I really did babble like the rankest fan boy each time! He was also very kind about my very modest writing achievements (which I couldn’t stop myself from telling him about) and left me inspired and encouraged to keep going with my dreams in that area.

But, as much as meeting George was the fulfilment of a long held dream, I have to say that I enjoyed just as much the chances I had to chat with Parris, and getting to hear about her fascinating life. She really is a lovely person, and she really made us fans feel important and valuable. I just can’t say enough good things about her (my wife thinks I have a bit of a crush on her because of how much I have talked about how wonderful she is, and maybe she is right haha).

On the Friday night there was a Con party, and I spent a lot of time talking to my fellow BWBers, and before I knew, it was 4:30am. After taking a few pain killers (due to the surgery after effects) I crashed and didn’t get back until late afternoon. Saturday was taken up with organising the finer details for the official BWB party we were throwing. We had to make a last minute venue change, and ended up hiring the VIP room at a Crown nightclub. I have to say it was a interesting experience going in and out and walking past the line of 50-100 people waiting to get into the actual nightclub to flash my ID and have a bouncer lift the ribbon and gesture me through with a “This way, Sir”!

The party was a huge success with hundreds of Con attendees turning up, and again we got a chance to see more of GRRM and Parris. We also raised a significant amount of money for charity. As fun as the party was, my glimpses of the nightclub itself reinforced my lack of interest in such things. No one out there looked like they were having much fun. My opinion of nightclubs is there are only three reasons to go…to drink, to dance and to pick up. As I don’t drink, I can’t dance and am very happily married it doesn’t really appeal to me at all!

Again, I got home in the wee hours of the morning only to discover I didn’t have my house keys. My wife reacted surprisingly well to being woken by my tapping on the window!

Sunday night we had more of a private party with GRRM and got to go on a traditonal BWB quest. Everyone just sat around and chilled, getting to talk to GRRM about all sorts of subjects. Monday was a sadder day as everyone began making their goodbyes, until finally there was only a few of the overseas visitors, the driving force duo from WA and myself left, sitting around reflecting on the wonderful time we had all had.

Aside from meeting one of my inspirations and spending time with people I had wanted to meet for years, I also got to make a lot of new friends (people who had started using the board after my time there had lessened). You couldn’t meet a  better bunch of people, and I will be endeavouring to catch up with them as soon as I can. And, the Con allowed to me to find out what some of the resources available to me as an aspiring Australian writer, and caused me to sit down and set some real goals for the next few years.

I will probably post more on the Con in the next few weeks, but right now I am still recovering from all the excitment!!