Thinking about thinking

The title of this post sounds awfully meta, doesn’t it? But it really is about writing and story creation. Particularly, it’s about a facet of character development that is often overlooked: thought.

Very many books (and other written-form stories, even including video games) let you get inside a character’s thoughts. They might be set off in italics, occasionally interspersed with the running narration, but it’s not that hard to find a story that gives you a direct link to someone’s thought processes. In some, it’s practically dialogue, albeit a one-sided dialogue. More of a monologue, if you will.

As with any part of writing, how much you use this particular storytelling device depends heavily upon the story you’re trying to tell. Some are far more amenable to extended thought-speech, while others do best with a more indirect approach that only vaguely refers to what is going on in a character’s mind. A few might even require something more heavy-handed; I can imagine a work (let’s call it avant-garde, or something pretentious like that) that is so based on internal monologues that they become the narration.

I don’t write stories like that, however, and you probably don’t, either. But adding a bit of thought (pun intended) can be a boon.


As I’ve stated before, my personal preference in narration is for a limited third-person perspective. With this style, we effectively see the story through the eyes of the character who is currently “in focus”, and the reader’s knowledge of others’ thoughts, feelings, etc., is mostly limited to what that character can perceive.

In this particular case, I think internal thought fits perfectly. We’re already in the character’s head, so to speak, so what would it hurt to let us hear their thoughts directly? It breaks up exposition that might otherwise be dry and boring, and it gives us a closer experience. We see through their eyes, and now we hear their thoughts. It’s almost natural.

In other styles, direct thoughts still work, but it takes more care. First-person stories can be tricky. With these, you’re already hearing straight from the character—that’s rather the point of the first person, isn’t it? It’s like the character is telling you the story, and how often do you mention direct thoughts when you’re telling a story? It’s not unheard of, but it is rare.

Beyond whether it’s a fit for your story, you also need to ask yourself if thoughtful monologues are appropriate for your characters. More introspective types will be more prone to thinking things through. The kinds who shoot first, by contrast, probably don’t have a lot of need for italicized paragraphs detailing their thought processes. (And that’s even a genre thing, too. A fast-paced thriller simply won’t have time for extended discourses that take place in a character’s head, while a thousand-page epic fantasy might easily slip too many of them into its length.)

Why not?

Is there a case to be made against using internal thoughts? Beyond the obvious (it doesn’t fit the story), I don’t think so.

Almost all of my works involve internal monologues, sometimes becoming quite extended, but with Nocturne, I made a conscious choice to avoid them. Most of the story is told from a first-person perspective, where, in my opinion, direct thoughts aren’t what is needed. (And, in fact, this perspective is supposed to be the main character telling his tale, so that’s another mark against direct thoughts, as I said above.) The third-person parts, on the other hand, should be a natural fit, but I refrained here, too, mostly because I didn’t feel they would mesh well with the rest of the book.

That’s a bit of a special case, I think. Mostly, the choice boils down to this: is the story better served by the reader having direct access to a character’s thoughts? A lot of narrative “tricks” don’t work well with that notion, including the ever-popular unreliable narrator. A mystery novel told from the detective’s point of view, on the other hand, might need the details so that the reader can follow the logical reasoning used to solve the case. And even a “solo” chapter, where only the focused character is present, could use something to break up what would otherwise be pages of exposition and description.

In the end, though, it’s up to you. Find what works best for what you are creating. Put yourself in your characters’ shoes. That’s usually a great idea, and so it is here.

Let’s make a language, part 26c: Government (Ardari)

As is ever the case, Ardari is more likely to construct terms of its own. This is certainly true in the realm of government, where a number of words are derived from the root verb tysan- “to rule”. Indeed, in the short list below we already see tysanönda “authority, right to rule”; tysanègh “government, center of rule”; and tysanyn “rule, regulation, law”. Note also that these are native terms, not borrowings, though Ardari does have a few of those, including zhudis “court” (probably from “judicial” or something similar) and polisa “police force”.

These two are examples of modernization at work. The area where Ardari is spoken hasn’t entirely transformed into a modern Western democracy. There are plenty of elements of monarchy, aristocracy, and bureaucracy still around. At present, it might be best described as a parliamentary monarchy, closer to the UK than the US. It’s certainly not decentralized, however: the word for a province, dalrit, being a transparent derivation from dal “nation” is proof enough of that.

Most other terms are native, and they often have other connotations besides those shown here. For instance, makhèla, here glossed as “army”, can also connote any gathering of forces. (Phrases can be used to disambiguate: dalin makhèla “national army”; idyaze makhèla “attack force”; illin makhèla “rebellion”.) The same goes for byara “navy”, with creations such as dable byara, literally “land navy” but actually referring to an amphibious assault.

Word List

  • army: makhèla
  • authority: tysanönda
  • border: aroned
  • capital: präzdoza (lit. “great city”)
  • court: zhudis (borrowing, cf. “judicial”)
  • crime: karha
  • free: arin
  • government: tysanègh (lit. “place of rule”)
  • judge: tölera
  • law: gla
  • official: (tysanèghin) fèlokön (shortened nafèlokön “worker”)
  • nation: dal
  • navy: byara
  • peace: sèsym
  • police: polisa
  • province/state: dalrit
  • right (a right): èkhros
  • rule: tysanyn
  • tax: èzas
  • to control: träm-
  • to elect: soslin-
  • to permit: ejoten-
  • to prohibit: èkoten-
  • to punish: laqas-
  • to rule: tysan-
  • to vote: jamull-
  • war: jova

Release: Beneath the Surface

The second half of the Linear Cycle kicks off with “Beneath the Surface”, out now. This story begins the downward slide into the culmination of the series, where darkness has settled over the Valtian lands, and all that is left is to look for the glimmers of light within.

Those are few and far between, however, as this short novella contains one of the darkest scenes I’ve ever written. I won’t spoil it for you, but it’s at the very end, and it’s one of those things where I was left thinking, “When did I write that?”

Our tale this time around focuses on Porter, a wizard who has just realized his obsolescence in this new world of magical plagues and animated dead. But he’s still fighting, still defending what little remains, and not only out of self-interest. Because, if he succeeds, there may be a chance to turn the tide.

As usual, the link above is for the page here on the site. You can also get “Beneath the Surface” by subscribing to my Patreon for a dollar a month, or buy it from the Kindle Store for 99 cents. Part 5, “The North Wind Blows”, will be released on August 14, so keep watching.

Let’s make a language, part 26b: Government (Isian)

Isian, when it comes to its government, fits into the usual “small” Western mold. It follows the typical European-style parliamentary system, with a number of parties vying for power. But it still has vestiges of a monarchy, too, a time when the land was ruled by a lakh or king. Today, even that is long gone, but remnants survive in words such as lactor “province”, literally a “king’s land”. The fact that nashil had to be borrowed should say something about Isian speakers’ centralization…or lack thereof.

The rule of law is also respected in its modern form. There are courts, judges, trials, etc., and they are (mostly) fair and just. On the national level, there is a standardized police force (borrowed term polisi), while localities generally have a holtedos—roughly speaking, a city guard or neighborhood watch. Officers of these are generally called holtem, which can also be more literally translated as “guardian”, while national policemen are instead polisimi.

In these tumultuous times, it’s also important to note that Isian speakers are protected by a defensive army (ancha) and navy (busa), though the latter is quite small and admittedly anemic. Historically, it has always been thus; Isian is a language of land forces, not sailors. But peace (histil) has reigned for a long time, and the last war involving speakers of the language is simply known as Cabrigo: The Great War.

Word List

  • army: ancha(s)
  • authority: awtorit (modified borrowing)
  • border: obres
  • capital: lireblon
  • court: caje
  • crime: cofan
  • free: mir
  • government: orisanas (from orisi “to rule”)
  • judge: teldem (from telde “to judge”)
  • law: rokh
  • official: rokhesam (from rokh + sam, lit. “law-man”)
  • nation: nashil (modified borrowing)
  • navy: busa(s)
  • peace: histil
  • police: holtedos (also holtem or borrowed polisi)
  • province/state: lactor (from lakh + tor)
  • right (a right): mas
  • rule (regulation): liyo
  • tax: ferma(s)
  • to control: camida
  • to elect: jiro
  • to permit: likha
  • to prohibit: nasco
  • to punish: agri
  • to vote: banki
  • war: cabri

Otherworld talk 2

Last month, I started talking about the Otherworld, one of my most developed and beloved story settings. Well, the second part of the series is out now on my Patreon, so I thought it’d be a good idea to write down a few more thoughts about it.

The world I know

As I said then, the Otherworld is an Earthlike planet. It’s compatible enough in climate, etc., that it could be terraformed by humans and turned into what is essentially an alternate world. The only true difference is that all that terraforming took place before America was colonized by Europeans. Before the Columbian Exchange.

Making that work required a lot of effort on my part. For the first time, I delved into such esoteric topics as anthropology, agriculture, materials science, and so on. Here, I was building a world almost from scratch, and the first thing I had to do was see what tools I had to work with. Those, as you might expect, were fewer in number than if I’d placed the setting on the other side of the Atlantic.

What I took out of all this is simple: the Americas have all the pieces needed for advanced civilization. It was only a quirk of history that prevented the New World from developing ironworking or the wheel. The Otherworld doesn’t have those quirks, and I justified that by placing the point of divergence far, far, into the past. It’s not a case of “oh, a bunch of Indians got sucked into a wormhole”. No, this setting presupposes an almost completely parallel development, one where even our most basic notions about the indigenous population of the Americas may be mistaken.

There are cultural similarities. Working through the lens of the characters I’ve chosen, these are sometimes magnified, and often compared with their Earthly cousins. Some of the natives of the Otherworld are plains nomads. Some built step pyramids like those in Mexico. Yet there are many more differences, and that is the focus of the series as a whole.

Formula one

In a way, I’ve made the individual books of the Otherworld series somewhat formulaic. For the first season, there’s a definite repeating structure: 8 chapters, 7 points of view. One of those is repeated, and it’s a different one each time, usually whichever one has the most impact on the episode’s storyline. For the final installment, Long Road’s End (coming in December), I changed things up a bit. It’s still 8 chapters, but they’re no longer restricted to a single focus. Instead, the first six switch back and forth among those same characters, each one covering a day in the life of the Otherworld. Chapter 7 (Spoiler: that’s when they can come home) has 7 scenes: one for each point of view. And the finale, Chapter 8, is a kind of epilogue to the whole season, containing one scene each for the four non-POV members of the expedition, as well as a character who grew very close to them.

At times, this structure felt a bit constraining. I had a tough time coming up with reasons to focus on some of the characters who weren’t quite front and center. (This is especially true, in my opinion, in Episode V, The Bonds Between Us. I feel that it’s the weakest story by far.) Yet it was also liberating, in a way. By forcing myself to work in this fashion, I was able to naturally build the connections between differing parts of the story; setting up “B” plots and sidetracks was almost automatic.

For the interstitial stories, I went with a slightly different approach. They’re much shorter, for one, weighing in at only about 25-30K words instead of 50-60K. They’re all 5 chapters each, and all but one (the fourth, The Dark Continent) have a matched pair of protagonists. As these were mostly “get over” stories, I thought this more limited setup worked better.

Now that I’m writing Season 2, I’m moving things around again. With the addition of new characters, and the way the story is progressing, I’ve expanded each episode to 10 chapters, each slightly shorter than before. The rotation is a bit “looser”, as well, so some characters might not get a chapter in each episode, and there won’t always be a repeat. As they’re becoming mostly teamed and paired up, this shouldn’t be a problem; there will almost always be another POV character around to pick up the slack.

Heart of the matter

The overarching storyline of the Otherworld series is the world itself. It’s there, and its existence is the single most defining aspect of the story. We see it first by accident. Then, starting with Episode II, it becomes not only integral to the setting, but it’s a source of drama, action, conflict. It’s more than a backdrop, because of the simple fact that it’s so unknown.

But that doesn’t mean that everything is about exploring. Indeed, once the wayward characters come to terms with their situation, true exploration quickly fades into the background—for the time being. With that, the series slowly transitions into a kind of character drama, though I throw in the occasional action sequence for good measure.

Sometimes, I’m not entirely sure what I was thinking with these, but I’m happy with the result. Over the course of 8 episodes, every one of the 11 main characters shows growth, development. They come into their own, and they each follow their own trajectory through the main story. There’s love and loss, there’s good times and bad. They have their arguments, and they often feel lost, homesick. Maybe it’s the length of the series, but I’ve never come out of a work with as good a feel for the characters. Not my own, anyway.

And most of those characters, I hope, come across as real. That’s what I wanted from the Otherworld: verisimilitude, that feeling that this could be a real place, that these things could happen. The characters might be fictional, but I didn’t want them to feel fake. With the Otherworld, I think I succeeded far beyond anything else I’ve ever written.

The road goes on forever

You know, I think I’ll make this a regular thing, because there’s so much I want to say on this subject. So that’s what I’m going to do: every time there’s a new story posted in the Otherworld saga, I’ll post something like this up here. Call it decompression, a postmortem, or whatever have you.

Let’s make a language, part 26a: Government (Intro)

Ah, government. One of those things you can’t really live with, and you can’t really live without. But let’s not get political today. There’s enough of that going on without us adding our two cents. Instead, let’s talk about the ways government can be filtered through the lens of language.

Rules of rule

First off, remember that there’s no real “hierarchy” of government systems. None of them are truly natural, and all have their problems. (Democracy, so the quote goes, is the worst form of government…except for all the others.) Rome had a republic 2000 years before the US, the UK and Japan both have hereditary monarchs who wield little actual power, and although the West may have backed away from theocracy centuries ago, it’s still alive and well in the Middle East.

Thus, there’s not really a point where we can say that this form of government can’t be native to a language’s culture. Maybe you won’t find technocratic socialism in a Middle Ages society, and it’s doubtful that a far-future Earth will have brutal autocrats in charge. But the concepts don’t really change much. No matter how a land is governed, some things are near universal.

Most English terms regarding this subject are derived from Classical sources, usually Latin and Greek: republic, democracy, judicial. That’s okay; political science really started to get going around the same time that the classical revival was on, so it’s no surprise that the thinkers of that era chose the old tongues. And in many cases, the concepts themselves come from those same sources.

But there’s no reason it can’t be different elsewhere. Maybe a language’s culture developed a form of representative government on its own. Growing out of some kind of tribal council, for example. Then, republic would very likely be translated by a native root. So would elect and a lot more. As an alternative, they may use a “calque”, or loan translation, translating the meaning of the borrowed word instead of taking its form directly.

Law and order

Government, however, encompasses more than just the rule of a nation-state. It can also include a lot of basic societal structure. How are cities managed? Who protects those who cannot protect themselves? What about handling war, crime, or just simple grievances?

In many cases, a language will have native roots for the most fundamental concepts. Every civilization has something like cities; that’s practically the definition of civilization. War is, alas, within our very nature. Codes of law date back millennia, whether Hammurabi or the Hebrews. At its heart, you might even call all government merely different varieties of conflict resolution, and one of those philosophical conlangs could definitely find something there.

However you do it, the “oldest” things are likely to be native, but it’s not always certain. That’s especially true if you trace a culture’s history. There might be periods of occupation or enslavement, where they were wholly subservient to another people; in this case, many words would be borrowed from the “overlord” tongue, and not always with positive connotations. On the other hand, an imperialist culture would probably have more native terms for its institutions, rarely borrowing at all from its victims. (After all, they’ve already got all the words they need to rule.)

High and low

Now, all this pertains to government as it’s seen by its citizens. Not everybody is a political scientist, so most will tend to use the words they know. On the other hand, those who work with or study government will develop a much broader vocabulary. Legal codes tend to use verbose language, as they need to be definitive. Political treatises very often need to draw very fine lines, so they’ll need complex words or phrases to subdivide the concept space. And there’s nothing stopping the government itself from creating new words to describe its actions. (We’ve got a few of those in English, such as gerrymandering.)

In all, this causes a kind of diglossia. There’s the “high” language of the learned, describing nuances that most people neither want nor need to know, using words and phrases like autonomous, technocratic, subcommittee, or continuing resolution. Then you have the “low” vernacular, which talks plainly of votes and armies and judges and the like. It’s like this in many fields, particularly the scientific, but it somehow seems “thicker” when government gets involved.

Not every language will be subject to this process. It’s more likely to occur with agglutinating languages, because they’re practically made for it. Isolating types, on the other hand, will have more complex phrases instead of words, and those phrases might retain a bit of their transparency. That’s not to say the nuances won’t be there, but they’re expressed in different ways.

Moving on

No new part next month, as I’m working on a few other writing projects that need to take precedence. But I’ll be back in September with Part 27, covering the other half of the phrase “church and state”. Yes, we’ll be looking at religion, and I won’t deny that I’m glad I’m taking a month off before I deal with that.

Release: The City and the Hill (Chronicles of the Otherworld 2)

On this Fourth of July, eleven college students have declared their independence from Planet Earth. That’s right, it’s time for the second installment of Chronicles of the Otherworld. Called The City and the Hill, this one picks up immediately after last month’s Out of the Past ended.

This was not part of the plan.

Eleven young men and women woke yesterday morning to darkness and unfamiliar surroundings. Now, they have come to the conclusion that those surroundings are far more unfamiliar than they first imagined. They aren’t in Mexico anymore. No, they are in a different land, a different world. Now must come the questions. Can they go home? When? And what will they do until then?

The natives are not alien. Indeed, they seem almost too human, and that is yet another mystery. In their time in this strange new world, then, the expedition must seek an answer to this, as well as so many other burning questions. They were meant to study ruins, and the hill of their arrival has those, but what lies beyond?

As before, Chronicles of the Otherworld is currently a Patreon exclusive. That means you can only get it over at my Patreon page for the time being. It’s only $3, though, and that gets you access to all the rest of my released stories, too, so you can’t say it’s a bad deal.

Episode 3, entitled A Matter Settled, comes out August 1, so keep watching this space.

Release: Nocturne

This is a moment I’ve been waiting for since last November. Yes, it’s a new release, and it’s quite possibly the best thing I’ve ever written. I certainly think so. It’s Nocturne, my latest full-length novel, and my first “pure” fantasy release.

He is the Nocturne, and this is his story.

In a world where children are marked for life by the hour of their birth, one man breaks the rules. In Velin, those born in the dark, moonless night are perceived as treacherous thieves, while their brethren of the day are lifted up, glorified. But Shade entered the world in a brief window of darkness within the day, a phenomenon seen once a generation.

He is neither, yet he is both. Now, he must use the combination of day and night to solve the riddle of his past, but also to save the future of a people. Hunted by church and crown alike, the road he walks is long and lonely, yet he knows there is no one else. Only Shade. Only the Nocturne.

One of those searching for him is Kellis Matene, an inspector in training. Her superiors gave her the case of a man born in the night, calling on his fellows, urging action. A rebel, a traitor. As a king dies, a pretender emerges, and Kellis must solve a mystery. All she has to go on is a single name: the Nocturne.

It’s been out for a while now on Patreon, but this marks the official public release. Now, anyone can buy it over at Amazon, either in digital or paperback versions.

I won’t deny that I’m immensely proud of this book. For something that didn’t take all that long to write, it came out far better than I hoped. There were times, as I was reading it to check for errors, that I wondered just what possessed me to put these words together. Maybe it’s not the best novel in the world, but I’ll gladly hold Nocturne up as the best in my world. I hope you feel the same way.