Novel Month 2015 – Day 2

It’s after midnight, so this counts as a new day, right?

I got bored, and I’m not sleepy, so I wrote a bit more. It’s not much, just finishing the scene I was in yesterday evening. If nothing else, it’s that much less I’d have to write later. This all but finishes the first half of Chapter 1, and it gives me time to think, so I’m calling it a win.

Whatever I write after I wake up will probably go in a continuation post tonight.

Today’s word count: 950
Total word count: 2,787

Novel Month 2015 – Day 1

Let’s get this started.

The first day could’ve gone better, but I beat the average. Most of the writing was setup work, building the bridge from the first part of the overarching story. I’d say I’m about a third of the way through Chapter 1, maybe a little less. I had planned for more, but I’ll take it.

I’m using the built-in word count in Vim, so this may not reflect the actual count, but it should be close enough. If we get to the end of the month and I’m that close, then I didn’t do a good enough job.

Today’s word count: 1,837
Total word count: 1,837

At the starting gate

When this post goes up, it’ll be Halloween, even though I’m writing it a couple of days ahead of time. Tomorrow, then, will be November 1st, and that means it’s time to write a novel. Officially, this isn’t NaNoWriMo, because I’m not following their rules to the letter. But I am going by what I feel is the original spirit of the challenge.

So here’s the goal: 50,000 words or a complete novel, whichever comes first. The deadline? Midnight on the 30th. Each day, I’ll try to post a little update about my progress. This certainly won’t be some kind of live blog, though, so don’t expect up-to-the-minute results. After all, I can only write so much. Regular posts (writing stuff on Mondays, code on Wednesdays, conlangs on Fridays) will resume December 2. Until then, I’ll be in hardcore writing mode.

I already have the basic idea for the story I’ll be writing. It’s a continuation of the one I did in 2013. To be honest, I have written parts 2 and 3, along with about half of part 4, but I’ve decided to scrap that work, because I have a better understanding of the setting now, and the old parts don’t fit into it anymore. (Technically, NaNoWriMo requires an original story, and you’re not supposed to start thinking about it until October. Yet another reason why I’m not following the letter of the rules.)

Now, my sleeping schedule is a bit…odd, and my writing schedule is even worse, so I’m not going to schedule these daily updates like I have been with everything else on the site. They’ll go up when I feel I’m “done” writing for the day. That may be at 2 PM or 2 AM. There’s not much I can do about that, short of forcing myself to stay on a schedule, and…let’s just say that circumstances tend conspire against that.

If you want to play along at home, that’s great! Whether you stick to the NaNoWriMo rules or follow my lead and take it easy, just go for it. If you can’t do it, there’s always next year.

Let’s make a language – Part 8b: Pronouns (Conlangs)

We’ve gotten away with neglecting pronouns in our budding conlangs of Isian and Ardari so far, but now the time has come to fill the gap. Now, we’ll give both of them a nice set of pronouns to use, checking off all the boxes from the last theory post.

Isian

Isian will have a fair amount of complexity in its pronominal system, and it will contain more than one irregularity. In that sense, we’re making it much like the languages common in the West.

If you’ll recall, Isian doesn’t use case on its nouns, much like English. But we will have personal pronouns that change depending on their role in a sentence. Specifically, Isian has, for most of them, a subject, object, and possessive form. Here’s the full list:

Pronouns Subject Object Possessive
1st Singular em men mi
1st Plural mit mida mich
2nd Person so tas ti
3rd M. Sing. i im ey
3rd F. Sing. sha shim shi
3rd M. Pl. is sim si
3rd F. Pl. shas sham shay

In the third person, there are separate pronouns for masculine and feminine; unlike English, the plural also changes for gender. (Masculine is the default in “formal” Isian, but we’ll see a way to change that in a moment.)

We can use the subject and object pronouns in sentences anywhere a noun would go: sha fusas men “she kissed me”; em hame tas “I love you”. The possessive pronouns, however, function more like articles, and they always go at the beginning of a noun phrase: mi doyan “my brother”; ey wa talar “their big house”.

We also have a “generic” third-person pronoun, which doesn’t change for case. In the singular, it’s ed, while the plural form is des. This can be used like the English generic “you” or “one”: ed las an yoweni “you can’t enter”. In informal speech, we can also use these as genderless personal pronouns, more like English singular “they”: ed an daliga e talar “they don’t live in the house”.

Finally, we have the reflexive or intensive pronoun lan. This covers the functions of all of English’s “-self” pronouns all by, well, itself: e sam sipes lan “the man cut himself”; e esher hishis lan “the girls washed themselves”; em ocata lan “I asked myself”.

Beyond the personal pronouns, we have a couple more classes. We’ll start with Isian’s demonstratives, which come in distinct singular and plural forms. For near things, we have the singular ne and plural nes. Far things are denoted by to and tos. These four words are close in meaning and scope to English “this”, “these”, “that”, and “those”, respectively, and they can be used in much the same way, either as independent pronouns or like adjectives: nes “these”, nes jedi “these boys”.

Next are the interrogatives, or question words. Isian has two of these. For people, we use con, while things take cal. All the other possible questions (where, when, etc.) can be made from compounds or phrases based on one of these, which we’ll see in a later post, when we look at forming questions.

More relevant to today’s subject are the indefinite pronouns, which are derived from the question words. We have four pairs of these, each of them created by means of a prefix:

  • je- “some”: jecon “someone”, jecal “something”.
  • es- “any”: escon “anyone”, escal “anything”.
  • licha- “every”: lichacon “everybody”, lichacal “everything”.
  • ano- “none”: anocon “nobody” or “no one”; anocal “nothing”.

Finally, “standard” Isian (assuming a culture that has such a thing) doesn’t normally allow pronoun omission, or pro-drop. We’ve been using it so far, but that’s because we didn’t have any pronouns up to this point. Our hypothetical speakers of Isian would find it a little informal, though.

Ardari

Ardari has quite a few more pronouns than Isian, but the idea is still the same. First, let’s take a look at the personal pronouns:

Pronouns Subject Object Possessive
1st Singular my myne mynin
1st Excl. Plural nyr nyran nyri
1st Incl. Plural sinyr sinran sinri
2nd Informal sy syne synin
2nd Form. Sing. tro trone tronin
2nd Form. Pl. trowar trone tronin
3rd Masc. Sing. a anön ani
3rd Masc. Pl. ajo ajon oj
3rd Fem. Sing. ti tise tini
3rd Fem. Pl. tir ti tisin
3rd Neuter Sing. ys yse ysin
3rd Neuter Pl. ysar ysar ysoj
Impersonal mantö manetö manintö

That looks like a lot, but it’s really not too much. It’s the different distinctions that Ardari makes that can be hard to understand. The cases are largely the same as they were in the simpler conlang. It’s the left-hand column where the complexity lies.

For the first person, the singular should be obvious. But we have two plurals, labeled “exclusive” and “inclusive”. Which one to use is determined by whether you want to include the listener in the action. If you do, you use the inclusive; otherwise, you need the exclusive.

The second person again has a distinction unfamiliar to speakers of English, but this one shows up in plenty of other languages. The informal is used, surprisingly enough, in informal situations, such as among friends, and it works for singular and plural. The formal is for people you don’t know as well, when you need to show deference, or similar situations. It does change for the plural, but only if it’s the subject.

The third person shouldn’t be that hard to figure out. Remember that Ardari has masculine, feminine, and neuter. Here, we can use the neuter for the case of the unknown or of mixed gender; it doesn’t carry the same connotations of inhumanity as English “it”.

The impersonal form can be used for generic instances and cases where you’re not sure which person is right; it’s transparently derived from man “one”, with the definite article attached.

Reflexive pronouns can be made by adding the regular suffix -das to any object pronoun: mynedas “myself”; anöndas “himself”. Attach it to a subject pronoun, and you get an intensive meaning: mydas “I myself”.

And then we have a special, irregular pronoun lataj. This one roughly means “each other”, and it’s used anywhere you’d need a “reciprocal” meaning: ysar lataj salmedi “they love each other”.

Finally, to add flavor and that hint of verisimilitude, Ardari has vocative forms of a few pronouns. These are: second-person formal troda and plural trodavar; third-person masculine anaj and aja; third-person feminine tija (singular and plural); and third-person neuter singular ys.

Of course, few of these are really needed in Ardari, because the language employs pro-drop liberally, thanks to the concord marking on verbs. If you can get away without a subject or even object pronoun, our hypothetical Ardari speakers would, except in the most formal situations.

For demonstratives, we have a threefold division. The table below shows the “determiner” form; separate pronouns can be made by adding the suffix -man. (Literally, zaman translates to “this one”, and so on for the rest.)

Near Middle Far
Masc. Sing. za pro gyon
Fem. Sing. zi pri gyen
Neut. Sing. zall prall alyör
Plural zej prej ejn

“Near” is those things near or known only by the speaker, or something specifically referred to recently in conversation, so that both speaker and hearer know it. “Middle” is used for things closer to the listener, or something that is well-known to both parties but absent. The “Far” demonstratives are used for those things that are far away from both speaker and listener, are not known to the listener at all, or are speculative in some way.

A few examples of these, since there are so many, and they don’t fit the same pattern as English:

  • ablonyje zallman “listen to this”; uses the “near” form because the speaker knows it, but the listener doesn’t.

  • sinyr prallman virdondall “we’ll sell that one”; takes the middle form, indicating something nearby and known to both parties.

  • mynin tyeri ejnman majtasa “my daughter wants some of those”; the far form connotes something that neither the speaker nor the listener has.

After all that, the interrogatives are easy. In fact, they’re all derived from a single word, qom “what”. From this, we get qomban “who”, qomren “where”, qomlajch “when”, and qoman “which (one)”. These inflect like any other neuter noun, but they can’t take an article suffix.

Indefinite pronouns can be formed from these just like in Isian. (Call it linguistic borrowing or author laziness, the effect is the same.) We have four possibilities here: ta “some”, za- “every”, du- “no”, and manö- “any”. Making whatever you need is as simple as slapping these in front of an interrogative: taqomban “someone”, zaqom “everything”, and so on.

Pausing the game

After this post, the series is going on temporary hiatus. You’ll see why tomorrow, but I’ll be back with more conlanging action on December 4. In the meantime, have fun playing with Isian, Ardari, or your own language.

When I come back, we’ll work on prepositional phrases, relative clauses, and whatever else I can think of. Then, for the start of the new year, you’ll get to see the first significant writing in both languages.

Let’s make a language – Part 8a: Pronouns (Intro)

Pronouns are, at the most basic level, words that stand in for other words. Think of “he” or “them” in English. Those words don’t really mean anything by themselves. They usually have to be said with reference to some other thing, like “a man” or “a bunch of kids”. A few of them, like “someone”, don’t, that’s true, but most pronouns do tend to refer to another noun.

Also, the definition of “pronoun” covers more ground than you might think. And the way this ground is divided up varies from one language to another. Sure, it’s obvious that the examples above are pronouns, but so are words like “these” and “who”. However, some languages don’t have an equivalent to “these”, because they don’t need a plural form of “this”. The word for “who” might be different, too, based on various factors. So let’s take a look at all the kinds of pronouns we can find in a language, all those that might fit in a conlang.

Getting personal

The most well-known class of pronouns has to be the personal ones, exemplified by words like English “he”, “she”, and “us”. Despite the name, these don’t necessarily refer to people (“it” normally doesn’t, for example), but they match up fairly well with the person distinction on verbs, where the first person is the speaker, the second is the listener, and the third is everybody else.

That’s the ideal situation, anyway. In practice, even the three-way person distinction can be a bit nebulous. Some languages have two sets of third-person pronouns, one each for those things close by (proximate) and far away (obviative); the latter is sometimes called “fourth person”. We’re off to a good start, aren’t we?

For many languages, pronouns are distinguished in most or all of the ways that nouns are, whether by number, gender, case, or whatever else. In quite a few, they actually have finer distinctions than ordinary nouns. English is one of these, as its pronouns can be marked for case (“we” versus “us”) and gender and even animacy (masculine “he”, feminine “she”, inanimate neuter “it”, and—informally—animate neuter “they”).

Personal pronouns also often show contrasts in ways that are relatively rare for common nouns. Honorific or formal pronouns are common, mostly in the second person. Spanish Usted is an example, as are the many possibilities in Japanese. Animacy is another case of this, as you can see in the English example above. And the first person can come in inclusive and exclusive forms, depending on whether “we” is supposed to include the listener.

Beyond the basic three (or four) persons, we have a few other odds and ends. Impersonal pronouns exist in many languages; the English form is “one”, which isn’t much used in modern speech. Generic pronouns, like the “you” that has largely supplanted impersonal “one”, are a close relative. You can have reflexive pronouns, like the “-self” group, which refer to…well, themselves. Emphatic pronouns, in English, take the same forms as reflexives, but they’re meant to emphasize a specific noun, rather than simply refer to it: “I will go myself.” Possessive pronouns are another important class. Languages with case might treat them as genitive forms of personal pronouns, but they could also be independent. And finally, a reciprocal pronoun (English “each other”) pops up in many places, specifically to deal with a single situation.

Demonstration

The demonstratives are another group of pronouns. This is the group that includes English “this” and “that”, used to refer to a specific, known instance of something. English has a pair of these, a bit like the proximate/obviative split mentioned earlier. “This” is for nearby things, while “that” is used to refer to something at a distance. We can add a third degree into this—as in Spanish, for example—either between “this” and “that” or beyond both of them, like “yonder”, which is non-standard in most dialects, but not mine. Four or even five contrasting degrees of distance aren’t unheard of, either, and a few languages have none at all.

Questions and others

Interrogative pronouns, like English “who” and “what”, are used to form questions. (We’ll see exactly how that’s done in a later post.) We use these when referring to a noun we don’t know, as when we ask, “What is it?” This class isn’t limited to people and things, either. Many languages have specific pronouns to ask about time (“when”), place (“where”), and reasons (“why”), among others.

It’s also common to derive a few other pronouns from the interrogatives. Relative pronouns, for those languages that have them, often come from the question words: “the man who hired me”. Relative clauses are worth a whole post by themselves, though, so we’ll hold off further discussion about them.

The indefinite pronouns, on the other hand, we’ll talk about right now. They’re a big group of words that tend to be derived in some fashion. Some languages, like English, make them out of interrogatives, as in “somewhere” or “anyhow”. Others, like English (funny how that works out), create them from generic nouns like “thing” or “one”: “someone”, “nothing”, “everyday”, “anybody”. And then a few of them have special cases, as in Spanish algo “something”, which is a morpheme to itself.

The making of

In form, pronouns can take just about any shape. They can be separate words that function as nouns in their own right, as they are in many languages. They can appear as verbal suffixes, as is the case in polysynthetic tongues. Or they could be a mix of these.

One interesting notion we can discuss here is the idea of pro-drop, omitting pronouns that would be redundant due to verbal conjugations or other factors. We don’t have it in English—pronouns are always required—but it’s one of the first grammatical aspects students learn about Spanish, and many other languages allow it. Japanese might be considered an extreme example of pro-drop, as context allows—and decorum sometimes requires—a speaker to omit subject pronouns, object pronouns, and any other extraneous bits.

As far as the specific sounds used to create a pronoun, there are a couple of trends. Quite a few languages, for example, have a first-person pronoun with a front nasal sound like /m/, and many of those then go on to have a second-person pronoun with a central consonant like /t/ or /s/. Most European languages show this pattern (Spanish me/te; English me/thee; German mich/dich), enough to make you think it’s an Indo-European thing. But then you have Finnish, a Uralic language, with minä/sinä. And then WALS gives the example of Nanai, a language of eastern Siberia: mi/si. Clearly, there’s some process at work here. That is also made clear by a contrary trend, where the first person shows /n/, the second /m/. This one is more widespread in America, with occasional occurrences elsewhere in the world, in unrelated languages.

For your information

When making a conlang, pronouns can be a hassle to get right. Their very definition lends itself very well to a mechanical approach, especially in agglutinating languages, where you can just attach the right markers to some generic base. It’s harder to make a full set like English, where just about every personal pronoun on the chart has a different history.

The personal pronouns are probably the easiest, though it’s not exactly hard to go overboard. Indefinites, relatives, and all the rest aren’t as necessary at the start, if only because the things you’d most likely say in the early stages won’t need them. But they shouldn’t be too far behind, because they’re no less useful.

Remember that pronouns often follow a paradigm, but there are plenty of irregularities. In natural languages, that’s from borrowing, sound change, and all the other natural factors of linguistic evolution. But there are languages out there with very regular pronoun systems, too.

Future reference

The next post in this series will have all the pronouns you could ever want for Isian and Ardari. Since this post covered most of the theory, there won’t be that much left to do, so we’ll get words, words, and more words. After that, we’ll move to the things that we call prepositional phrases, which aren’t always what they seem.

Writing The One

Many movies, books, and other works of fiction involve a protagonist who is destined (or fated or whatever other term you choose) to save the world. Only he (or she, but this is rarer) can do this. No one else has the power, or the will, or the knowledge necessary to accomplish this feat. But this character does, for some reason. He is The One.

Stories of The One aren’t hard to find. For example, Neo, in The Matrix, is explicitly referred to by that moniker. But the idea of a single savior of the world, someone who can do what no other person can, goes back centuries, if not more. After all, it’s the founding idea of Christianity. Perhaps that’s why it’s so embedded in the Western mind.

Writing a story about The One is fairly straightforward, but there are pitfalls. The most obvious is similarity: how do you distinguish your hero from all those who have come before? That part’s up to you, and it’s so dependent on your specific story that I’m not sure I can say much that would be relevant. However, I can offer some food for thought on the general notion of The One.

Begin at the beginning

Let’s start with the origin story, since that’s what is so popular these days. How did your One come about? More importantly, how did he gain that status? Here are a few ideas:

  • The One was born that way. This one works best when it’s fate driving the story. The One is somehow marked from birth as such. Maybe he was born in a time of omen, like an eclipse. Or he could be the child of a supernatural being. In any event, this kind of story can deal with the conflict inherent in growing up as The One. Another option is that The One’s status is fixed at birth, but his power comes later.

  • The One received the destined status at a certain time. This could be at a coming of age (18 years old or the cultural equivalent), or at the time of a particular event. Basically, this idea is just a delayed form of the one above, and most of the same caveats apply. The benefit is that you don’t have to write a story about a character growing both physically and metaphysically at the same time.

  • Something changed the course of fate. In other words, The One wasn’t always meant to be; he only came into his own after a specific event. The death of his parents, for example, or a plague ravaging his homeland. Or, perhaps, he finds a sage or a sword or whatever, setting him on the path of becoming The One. Before that, he was a kid on a farm or something like that. Clearly, in this case, some part of your story needs to tell that story, whether through a prologue, a series of flashbacks, or some other storytelling device. (Another option, if you’re making a trilogy or similar multi-part story, is to have the first “act” tell the protagonist’s origin.)

Method to the madness

Now we have another question: how does The One work? Rather, how does his status manifest itself? Jesus could work miracles. Neo had essentially godlike powers while he was in the Matrix. Luke Skywalker was simply more powerful and more adept at the Force. None of these are wrong answers, of course; the one you want largely depends on the goal of your story. Some options include:

  • All-powerful, all the time. Sometimes The One really does have the power of a deity. That can work for movies, and even for books. It’s harder for a video game, though, and it can be tricky in any medium. The hardest part is finding a way to challenge someone who has such a vast amount of power. Look to superheroes, especially overpowered ones like Superman and Thor, for ideas here. (If this kind of The One gains his powers after a life-changing event, then you have a nice, neat solution for the first part of your story.)

  • Increasing over time. This one is popular in fantasy literature and video games, mostly because it fits the progression model of RPGs. If you’ve ever played a game where you slowly “level up” as the story unfolds, then you know what’s going on here. Either The One grows in overall strength, or his powers gradually unlock. Both ways can work, but a non-game needs to be written so that it doesn’t seem too “gamey”.

  • Unlocking your full potential. Instead of a slow rise in power, it’s also possible that The One’s path follows a pattern more like a staircase. Here, pivotal events serve to mark the different “stages” to The One. In actuality, this is another way of leveling up, but it’s guided by the story. The final confrontation (or whatever would end the world, if not for The One) is then the final level, and drama dictates that this is when the protagonist would reach the apex of his ability—probably shortly after a failure or setback.

Supporting cast

The One isn’t always alone. Any proper world-saving hero is going to have a set of helpful allies and companions. By necessity, they won’t be as powerful, but they can each help in their own way. Almost any type of character works here, as long as they can fade a little bit into the background when it’s time for The One to take center stage. Here are some of the more common ones.

  • The love interest. It’s a given nowadays that a hero needs romance. In video games, the current fad is to let the player choose which character gets this role. For less interactive works, it’s obviously a fixed thing. Whoever it is, the point is to give the hero someone to love, someone who is utterly dependent on his success, in a more personal way than the rest of the world.

  • The childhood friend. This is another way to add a personal element to the catastrophe. Like the love interest (which can actually be the same person), the childhood friend “grounds” The One in reality, giving a human side to someone who is by definition, a superhuman. (Note that you can also substitute a family member here, but then you can’t really combine this role with the love interest.)

  • The strongman. Unless The One is physically strong, he’ll likely need additional muscle, possibly even in the form of a bodyguard. This works in traditional fantasy, where it’s standard for the mages to be weaklings with massive hidden power. For most other styles, it’s harder to justify, but a tough guy is welcome in any party.

  • The academic. Some stories rely on the fact that The One doesn’t know everything about his potential, his destiny, his enemies, or even himself. The academic, then, serves the role of exposition, allowing the audience to learn about these things at the same time as the hero. This kind of character shines in the early acts of a story; by the end, dramatic pacing takes precedence, and the academic is no longer needed.

  • The otherworldly. In stories with a significant supernatural element, The One might have an inhuman friend or ally. This could be anything from a guardian angel, to an elemental creature, to a bound demon, to even an alien. This otherworldly character can break the rules the story sets for “normal” humans, as well as giving the protagonist an outside perspective. It can also function as a kind of academic, as beings from other worlds or planes often have hidden knowledge.

  • The turncoat. There are two ways you can go with this character. Either he’s someone who turned on The One—in which case, the turncoat makes a good secondary villain—or he turned on The One’s enemy to join the “good guys”. This second possibility is the more interesting, story-wise, because it’s almost like adding a second origin story. Why did he turn? Is he going to try and double-cross The One? The turncoat can also be a way to provide inside information that the protagonist logically shouldn’t have access to.

Conclusion

Writing The One is easy. Writing one of them to be more than simple wish-fulfillment is much harder. Put yourself in your characters’ shoes. Not just the protagonist, but the supporting crew, too. Think about the mechanism of fate, as it exists in the world you’re creating. And think about how you show the power that The One has. Sure, explosions are eye-catching, but they aren’t everything. The One can outwit his foes just as easily as he can overpower them, and sometimes that’s exactly what he must do.

Let’s make a language – Part 7c: Adjectives (Ardari)

(Editor’s note: If you’re wondering about the odd posting time, well, there’s a simple explanation. I wrote this on September 14, but I noticed when I went to schedule it that it would appear on October 16. That’s my birthday, and 5:38 PM is what I’ve been told was my time of birth. So, when this goes up, I’ll be 32. I couldn’t resist the extra touch.)

For Ardari, adjectives look like nouns at first glance. They take all the usual inflections for case and number, with the additional wrinkle that they agree with their head nouns in gender. Because of this, the “dictionary” form of an adjective will always be the neuter form: dyet “good”, òlk “loud”, jysall “sad”, chel “young”.

We can add these adjectives into a noun phrase by placing them before the head noun: dyeta rhasa “good dog”; òlko blèdo “loud animals”; jysalla konatö “the sad man”; chelisèn nälisèntös “of the young women”. As you can see from the last two examples, adjectives modifying nouns don’t need articles.

In contrast to English (and Isian, for that matter), Ardari adjectives work just fine alone, without the need for a head noun. In this case, they inflect as if they were neuter nouns: dyetardös “the good ones”.

Predicate adjectives

We can go the other way, too, and make adjectives into verbs, although this only works with certain words. Three of our four examples work: dèblatö òlkda “the river is loud”; sèdardös jysalldiru “the children are not sad”; pwatö chelda “the boy is young”. (Note that these verbified adjectives act like inactive verbs, using patient concord markings for their subjects.)

For dyet and words like it, we use a different, more general, approach. This involves the copula verb èll-, and it’s just like making a normal sentence. The adjective agrees with the subject noun in gender, but it’s always in the nominative case: rhasatö èlla dyeta “the dog is good”.

In fact, any adjective can be used in this copula construction. It implies a more “permanent” state than directly using the adjective directly. So, instead of dèblatö òlkda, we might say dèblatö èlla òlka, which has the same meaning, but carries the connotation that this particular river is always loud.

Comparatives

Ardari doesn’t have special adjective versions for comparatives and superlatives, like English does. Instead, it has a general word am that can appear before an adjective. It does double duty, acting like both “more” and “most”, with the actual meaning depending on context.

In a simple noun phrase, it’s usually a superlative: am dyeto rhasodys “the best dogs”. The exception is when it’s being made into a comparative phrase, which we’ll meet in a future post.

When used on a bare adjective, am always means “most”: am dyetardös “the best”.

On a predicate, am implies the superlative unless it’s clear from context that it’s a comparison. As an example, we might have uswall tyèktö èlla grov “the blue house is big” followed by ajzhtö èlla am grov “the white house is bigger”. If we just said ajzhtö èlla am grov alone, the meaning would instead be “the white house is the biggest”.

Phonetic alteration

That just about does it for Ardari adjectives, except for one thing. Some of these words change slightly. In the neuter form, they have a regular, non-palatalized consonant. In the other genders, these can become palatalized.

One example of this is mil “happy”. In the neuter, it stays how it’s written: mil sèd “a happy child”. Otherwise, it changes: milya pwa “a happy boy*; milyi gli “a happy girl”.

This change can happen with many consonants in Ardari. The stops alternate with their palatalized versions (p becomes py, etc.), while l and n become ly and ny, respectively.

Ardari word list

Like with Isian, here’s a huge list of Ardari words. Verbs are always listed as stems (you can tell by the hyphen at the end), and adjectives are shown in neuter form.

There are three adjectives in the list that show the palatalizing change. These are shown with a following (y), as in mil(y) for “happy”.

Two specific words need to be pointed out. First, “not” is listed as -(r)u, which shows the two possible forms of the negative verbal suffix, -u after consonants and -ru after vowels. Second, the word for “friend” changes based on gender: neuter ast, masculine asta, feminine asti. This is shown as ast(a/i).

English Ardari
air impän
all laz
angry nyol
animal blèda
any by
arm kyem
back sur
bad gall
beautiful sli
bed mäs
big grov
bird pèdi
bitter nykh
black zar
blood chonga
blue uswall
boat druni
body apsa
bone oqa
book byzri
bottom tòn
boy pwa
bread nami
bright wich
brother emöna
car kolyi
cat avbi
chest ghall
child sèd
city präzda
closed nòp
cloth chill
cloud nawra
cold glaz
color kyos
correct rik
cup kykad
daughter tyeri
day jan
daytime tulyana
dim nyn
dog rhasa
door kopa
dress lesri
drink ach
dry khèv
ear mèka
earth dyevi
egg oghi
every ining
eye agya
face sòl
false ill
father aba
few ikön
field tevri
finger inda
fire aghli
flower afli
food fès
foot allga
forest tyëtoma
friend ast(a/i)
front chej
fruit zulyi
girl gli
glass träll
gold owènyi
good dyet
grass sèrki
green rhiz
hair zhaj
hand kyur
happy mil(y)
hard khòrd
hat sèla
head chäf
heart rocha
hill dyumi
hot fed(y)
house tyèk
ice sill
island symli
king kujda
knife yagha
lake oltya
leaf däsi
left fong
leg khära
light blis
long tur
loud òlk
man kona
many majos
meat arba
milk mechi
moon duli
mother emi
mountain antövi
mouth mim
name all
narrow will
net pèrta
new vän
nice tèch
night goz
nose khun
not -(r)u
old pòd
open owar
paper rhesta
peace ichuri
pen pyela
person ban
plant pämi
poor nydor
pot gyazi
queen kujvi
rain luza
red jor
rich agris
right leng
river dèbla
rock qada
rough dyaraz
sad jysall
scent ymin
sea oska
sharp krit
shirt tèwar
shoe saz
short (tall) nyan
short (long) nèr
silent däch
sister tamöni
skin prall
sky weli
small nèr
smooth chus
snow qäsa
soft èz
son era
sound onda
sour rukh
star pala
sun chi
sweet ojet(y)
sword èngla
table kombas
tail pija
tall vol
thick gwad
thin tip
to allow rhoten-
to ask mykhes-
to be èll-
to begin sòto-
to blow fu-
to build moll-
to burn secha-
to buy dyem-
to catch kòp-
to come ton-
to cook lòsty-
to cry ajn-
to cut okön-
to dance tatyer-
to die lo-
to do agh-
to drink kabus-
to eat tum-
to end jop-
to enter idyn-
to feel luch-
to give anyer-
to go chin-
to guard chud-
to have per-
to hear ablon-
to hit king-
to hold yfily-
to hunt kwar-
to kiss alym-
to know trod-
to laugh jejs-
to learn prèll-
to like lyeb-
to live derva-
to live in daran-
to look at tojs-
to look for tèlas-
to love salm-
to make grät-
to plant mäp-
to play rej-
to pray nyes-
to read proz-
to receive bèrill-
to run okhyn-
to say is-
to see ivit-
to sell vird-
to sing ajang-
to sit bun-
to sleep rhèch-
to smell aws-
to speak sim-
to stand minla-
to taste aty-
to teach sydon-
to think bejë-
to throw ghur-
to touch tejv-
to walk brin-
to want majtas-
to wash oznèr-
to wear ilya-
to write farn-
tongue lèta
tooth käga
top khaj
tree buri
true chäll
ugly qöbar
war idyaza
warm fynin
water obla
wet bol
white ajzh
wide wok
wind fawa
wise trodyn
woman näli
wood dräza
word non
world omari
wrong nej
year avèch
yellow mingall
young chel

How I made a book with Markdown and Pandoc

So I’m getting ready to self-publish my first book. I’ll have more detail about that as soon as it’s done; for now, I’m going to talk a little about the behind-the-scenes work. This post really straddles the line between writing and computers, and there will be some technical bits, so be warned.

The tech

I’ll admit it. I don’t like word processors that much. Microsoft Word, LibreOffice Writer, or whatever else is out there (even the old standby: WordPerfect), I don’t really care for them. They have their upsides, true, but they just don’t “fit” me. I suspect two reasons for this. First, I’m a programmer. I’m not afraid of text, and I don’t need shiny buttons and WYSIWYG styling. Second, I can be a bit obsessive. Presented with all the options of a modern word processor, like fonts and colors and borders and a table of contents, I’d spend more time fiddling with options than I would writing! So, when I want to write, I don’t bother with the fancy office apps. I just fire up a text editor (Vim is my personal choice, but I wouldn’t recommend it for you) and get to it.

“But what about formatting?” you may ask. Well, that’s an interesting story. At first, I didn’t even bother with inline formatting. I used the old-school, ad hoc styling familiar to anybody who remembers USENET, IRC, or email conversations. Sure, I could use HTML, just like a web page would, but the tags get in the way, and they’re pretty ugly. So I simply followed a few conventions, namely:

  • Chapter headers are marked by a following line of = or -.
  • A blank line means a paragraph break.
  • Emphasis (italics or text in a foreign language, for example) is indicated by surrounding _.
  • Bold text (when I need it, which is rare) uses *.
  • Scene breaks are made with a line containing multiple * and nothing else. (e.g., * * *)

Anything else—paragraph indentation, true dashes, block quotes, etc.—I’d take care of when it was time to publish. (“I’ll fix it in post.”) Simple, quick, and to the point. As a bonus, the text file is completely readable.

Mark it up

I based this system on email conventions and the style used by Project Gutenberg for their text ebooks. And it worked. I’ve written about 400,000 words this way, and it’s certainly good for getting down to business. But it takes a lot of post-processing, and that’s work. As a programmer, work is something I like to avoid.

Enter Markdown. It’s not much more than a codified set of conventions for representing HTML-like styling in plain text, and it’s little different from what I was already using. Sounds great. Even better, it has tool support! (There’s even a WordPress plugin, which means I can write these posts in Markdown, using Vim, and they come out as HTML for you.)

Markdown is great for its intended purpose, as an HTML replacement. Books need more than that, though; they aren’t just text and formatting. And that’s where the crown jewel comes in: Pandoc. It takes in Markdown text and spits out HTML or EPUB. And EPUB is what I want, because that’s the standard for ebooks (except Kindle, which uses MOBI, but that’s beside the point).

Putting the pieces together

All this together means that I have a complete set of book-making tools without ever touching a word processor, typesetting program, or anything of the sort. It’s not perfect, it’s not fancy, and it certainly isn’t anywhere near professional. But I’m not a professional, am I?

For those wondering, here are the steps:

  1. Write book text in Pandoc-flavored Markdown. (Pandoc has its own Markdown extensions which are absolutely vital, like header identifiers and smart punctuation.)

  2. Write all the other text—copyright, dedication, “About the Author”, and whatever else you need. (“Front matter” and “back matter” are the technical terms.) I put these in separate Markdown files.

  3. Create EPUB metadata file. This contains the author, title, date, and other attributes that ebook readers can use. (Pandoc uses a format called YAML for this, but it also takes XML.)

  4. Make a cover. This one’s the hard part for me, since I have approximately zero artistic talent.

  5. Create stylesheet and add styling. EPUB uses the same CSS styling as HTML web pages, and Pandoc helps you a lot with this. Also, this is where I fix things like chapter headings, drop caps/raised initials, and so on.

  6. Run Pandoc to generate the EPUB. (The command would probably look something like this: pandoc --smart --normalize --toc-depth=1 --epub-stylesheet=<stylesheet file> --epub-cover-image=<cover image> -o <output file> <front matter .md file> <main book text file(s)> <back matter .md file> <metadata .yml or .xml file>)

  7. Open the output file in an ebook reader (Calibre, for me) and take a look.

  8. Repeat steps 5 and 6 until the formatting looks right.

  9. Run KindleGen to make a MOBI file. You only need this if you intend to publish on Amazon’s store. (I do, so I had to do this step.)

  10. Bask in the glory of creating a book! Oh, and upload your book to wherever. That’s probably a good idea, too.

Yeah, there are easier methods. A lot of people seem allergic to the command line; if you’re one of them, this isn’t the way for you. But I’m comfortable in the terminal. As I said, I’m a programmer, so I have to be. The hardest part for me (except the cover) was figuring out the options I needed to make something that looked like a proper ebook.

Even if you don’t use my cobbled-together method of creating an ebook, you still owe it to yourself to check out Pandoc. It’s so much easier, in my opinion, than a word processor or ebook editor. There are even graphical front-ends out there, if that’s what you prefer. But I like working with plain text. It’s easy, it’s readable, and it just works.

Let’s make a language – Part 7b: Adjectives (Isian)

Adjectives in Isian, like in English, aren’t that much of a problem. They don’t have a specific form that marks them out as what they truly are. They don’t change for number like nouns do. They’re really just…there. A few examples of Isian adjectives include wa “big”, hul “cold”, yali “happy”, and almerat “wise”.

As we saw in the last Isian post, the normal word order puts adjectives before nouns, and articles before adjectives. So we can make fuller noun phrases like ta wa talar “a big house” or e yali eshe “the happy girl”. In each case, the order is mostly the same as in English: article, then adjective, then noun.

We can even string adjectives together: es almerat afed sami “the wise old men”. (If you prefer adding commas between adjectives, that’s fine, too. It’s okay to write es almerat, afed sami, but it’s not required.)

Like in English, we can’t use an adjective like this without a noun. It’s not grammatical in Isian to say es almerat. Instead, we have to add an extra word, a: es almerat at “the wise ones”. (At least it has a regular plural form.) After a vowel, it becomes na: ta wa na “a big one”.

We can also use an adjective as a predicate. Here, it follows the copula (tet or one of its conjugations). An example might be en yali “I am happy”.

Isian adjectives also have equivalents to the English comparative and superlative (“-er” and “-est”) forms. As with many suffixes in the language, these vary based on the stem’s ending. For consonant-stems, the comparative is -in and the superlative is -ay. Vowel-stems simply insert a d at the beginning of the suffix to make -din and -dai, respectively. So yali “happy” becomes yalidin “happier* and yaliday “happiest”, while hul “cold” turns into hulin “colder” and hulai “coldest”.

There are a couple of differences, though. First, these suffixes can be used on any adjective; Isian has no counterparts to those English adjectives that require “more” and “most” instead of “-er” and “-est”. (On the plus side, we don’t have to worry about three forms for bil “good”. It’s fully regular: bil, bilin “better”, bilai “best”.)

Second, adjectives that are derived from nouns, like “manly” from “man”, usually can’t take the superlative. We haven’t yet seen any of those (or even how to make them). For these, the comparative serves both purposes.

That’s pretty much all there is to adjectives in Isian, as far as the basics are concerned. Now we can make quite a few more complex phrases and even some nice sentences. There’s still a lot more to come, though.

Isian word list

Not every word that we’ve seen is in this list, but it covers almost all of the “content” words in their base forms, along with a whole bunch of new ones you can try out. Also, words with irregular plurals have their plural suffixes shown in parenthesis, e.g., the plural of tay is tays.

English Isian
air rey
all sota
angry hayka
animal embin
any ese
arm ton
back bes
bad num
beautiful ichi
bed dom
big wa
bird firin
bitter guron
black ocom
blood miroc
blue sush
boat sholas
body har
bone colos
book peran
bottom dolis
boy jed
bread pinda(r)
bright lukha
brother doyan
car choran
cat her
chest sinal
child tay(s)
city eblon
closed noche
cloth waf
cloud albon
cold hul
color echil
correct ochedan
cup deta(s)
daughter sali(r)
day ja
daytime jamet
dim rum
dog hu
door opar
dress lash
drink adwar
dry khen
ear po(s)
earth tirat
egg gi(r)
every alich
eye bis
face fayan
false nanay
father pado(s)
few uni
field bander
finger ilca(s)
fire cay
flower atul
food tema
foot pusca
forest tawetar
friend chaley
front hamat
fruit chil
girl eshe(r)
glass arcol
gold shayad
good bil
grass tisen
green tich
hair pardel
hand fesh
happy yali
hard dosem
hat hop
head gol
heart sir
hill modas
hot hes
house talar
ice yet
island omis
king lakh
knife hasha
lake fow
leaf eta
left kintes
leg dul
light say
long lum
loud otar
man sam
many mime
meat shek
milk mel
moon nosul
mother mati(r)
mountain abrad
mouth ula
name ni
narrow ilcot
net rec
new ekho
nice nim
night chok
nose nun
not an
old afed
open bered
paper palil
peace histil
pen etes
person has
plant dires
poor umar
pot fan
queen lasha(r)
rain cabil
red ray
rich irdes
right estes
river ficha(s)
rock tag
rough okhor
sad nulsa
scent inos
sea jadal
sharp checor
shirt jeda(s)
shoe taf
short (tall) wis
short (long) wis
silent anchen
sister malin
skin kirot
sky halac
small ish
smooth fu
snow saf
soft ashel
son sor
sound polon
sour garit
star key
sun sida
sweet lishe
sword seca
table mico
tail hame
tall wad
thick gus
thin tin
to allow likha
to ask oca
to be tet
to begin nawe
to blow furu
to build oste
to burn becre
to buy tochi
to catch sokhe
to come cosa
to cook piri
to cry acho
to cut sipe
to dance danteri
to die nayda
to do te
to drink jesa
to eat hama
to end tarki
to enter yoweni
to feel ilsi
to give jimba
to go wasa
to guard holte
to have fana
to hear mawa
to hit icra
to hold otasi
to hunt ostani
to kiss fusa
to know altema
to laugh eya
to learn nate
to like mire
to live liga
to live in dalega
to look at dachere
to look for ediche
to love hame
to make tinte
to plant destera
to play bela
to pray barda
to read lenira
to receive rano
to run hota
to say ki
to see chere
to sell dule
to sing seri
to sit uba
to sleep inama
to smell nore
to speak go
to stand ayba
to taste cheche
to teach reshone
to think tico
to throw bosa
to touch shira
to walk coto
to want doche
to wash hishi
to wear disine
to write roco
tongue dogan
tooth ten
top poy
tree taw
true ferin
ugly agosh
war acros
warm him
water shos
wet shured
white bid
wide pusan
wind naf
wise almerat
woman shes
wood totac
word ur
world sata(r)
wrong noni
year egal
yellow majil
young manir

Mars: fantasy and reality

Mars is in the public consciousness right now. The day I’m writing this, in fact, NASA has just announced new findings that indicate flowing water on the Red Planet. Of course, that’s not what most people are thinking about; the average person is thinking of Mars because of the new movie The Martian, a film based on a realistic account of a hypothetical Mars mission from the novel of the same name.

We go through this kind of thing every few years. A while back, it was John Carter. A few years before that, we had Mission to Mars and Red Planet. Go back even further, and you get to Total Recall. It’s not really that Mars is just now appearing on the public’s radar. No, this goes in cycles. The last crop of Martian movies really came about from the runaway success of the Spirit and Opportunity rovers. Those at the turn of the century were inspired by earlier missions like Mars Pathfinder. And The Martian owes at least some of its present hype to Curiosity and Phoenix, the latest generation of planetary landers.

Move outside the world of mainstream film and into written fiction, though, and that’s where you’ll see red. Mars is a fixture of science fiction, especially the “harder” sci-fi that strives for realism and physical accuracy. The reasons for this should be obvious. Mars is relatively close, far nearer to Earth than any other body that could be called a planet. Of the bodies in the solar system besides our own world, it’s probably the least inhospitable, too.

Not necessarily hospitable, mind you, but Mars is the least bad of all our options. I mean, the other candidates look about as habitable as the current Republican hopefuls are electable. Mercury is too hot (mostly) and much too difficult to actually get to. Venus is a greenhouse pressure cooker. Titan is way too cold, and it’s about a billion miles away, to boot. Most everything else is an airless rock or a gas giant, neither of which scream “habitable” to me. No, if you want to send people somewhere useful in the next couple of decades, you’ve got two options: the moon and Mars. And we’ve been to the moon. (Personally, I think we should go back there before heading to Mars, but that seems to be a minority opinion.)

But say you want to write a story about people leaving Earth and venturing out into the solar system. Well, for the same reasons, Mars is an obvious destination. But the role it plays in a fictional story depends on a few factors. The main one of these is the timeframe. When is your story set? In 2050? A hundred years from now? A thousand? In this post, we’ll look at how Mars changes as we move our starting point ahead in time.

The near future

Thanks to political posturing and the general anti-intellectual tendencies of Americans in the last generation, manned spaceflight has taken a backseat to essentially everything else. As of right now, the US doesn’t even have a manned craft, and the only one on the drawing board—the Orion capsule—is intentionally doomed to failure through budget cuts and appropriations adjustments. The rest of the world isn’t much better. Russia has the Soyuz, but it’s only really useful for low-Earth orbit. China doesn’t have much, and they aren’t sharing, anyway. Private companies like SpaceX are trying, but it’s a long, hard road.

So, barring a reason for a Mars rush, the nearest future (say, the next 15-20 years) has our planetary neighbor as a goal rather than a place. It’s up there, and it’s a target, but not one we can hit anytime soon. The problem is, that doesn’t make for a very interesting story.

Move up to the middle of this century, starting around 2040, and even conservative estimates give us the first manned mission to Mars. Now, Mars becomes like the moon in the 1960s, a destination, a place to be conquered. We can have stories about the first astronauts to make the long trip, the first to blaze the trail through interplanetary space.

With current technology, it’ll take a few months to get from Earth to Mars. The best times happen once every couple of years; any other time would increase the travel duration dramatically. The best analogy for this is the early transoceanic voyages. You have people stuck in a confined space together for a very long time, going to a place that few (or none) have ever visited, with a low probability of survival. Returning early isn’t an option, and returning at all might be nearly impossible. They will run low on food, they will get sick, they will fight. Psychology, not science, can take center stage for a lot of this kind of story. A trip to Mars can become a character study.

The landing—assuming they survive—moves science and exploration back to the fore. It won’t be the same as the Apollo program. The vagaries of orbital mechanics mean that the first Mars missions won’t be able to pack up and leave after mere hours, as Apollo 11 did. Instead, they’ll be stuck for weeks, even months. That’s plenty of time to get the lay of the land, to do proper scientific experiments, to explore from ground level, and maybe even to find evidence of Martian life.

The middle

In the second half of this century, assuming the first trips are successful, we can envision the second stage of Mars exploration. This is what we should have had for the moon around 1980; the most optimistic projections from days gone by (Zubrin’s Mars Direct, for example) put it on Mars around the present day. Here, we’ve moved into a semi-permanent or permanent presence on Mars for scientific purposes, a bit like Antarctica today. Shortly after that, it’s not hard to envision the first true colonists.

Both of these groups will face the same troubles. Stories set in this time would be of building, expanding, and learning to live together. Mars is actively hostile to humans, and this stage sees it becoming a source of environmental conflict, an outside pressure acting against the protagonists. Antarctica, again, is a good analogy, but so are the stories of the first Europeans to settle in America.

The trip to Mars won’t get any shorter (barring leaps in propulsion technology), so it’s still like crossing the Atlantic a few centuries ago. The transportation will likely be a bit roomier, although it might also carry more people, offsetting the additional capacity. The psychological implications exist as before, but it’s reasonable to gloss over them in a story that doesn’t want to focus on them.

On the Red Planet itself, interpersonal conflicts can develop. Disasters—the Martian dust storm is a popular one—can strike. If there is native life in your version of Mars, then studying it becomes a priority. (Protecting it or even destroying it can also be a theme.) And, in a space opera setting, this can be the perfect time to inject an alien artifact into the mix.

Generally speaking, the second stage of Mars exploration, as a human outpost with a continued presence, is the first step in a kind of literary terraforming. By making Mars a setting, rather than a destination, the journey is made less important, and the world becomes the focus.

A century of settlement

Assuming our somewhat optimistic timeline, the 22nd century would be the time of the land grab. Propulsion or other advances at home make the interplanetary trip cheaper, safer, and more accessible. As a result, more people have the ability to venture forth. Our analogy is now America, whether the early days of colonization in the 17th century or the westward push of manifest destiny in the 19th.

In this time, as Mars becomes a more permanent human settlement, a new crop of plot hooks emerges. Social sciences become important once again. Religion and government, including self-government, would be on everyone’s minds. Offshoot towns might spring up.

And then we get to the harder sciences, particularly biology. Once people are living significant portions of their lives on a different planet, they’ll be growing their own food. They’ll be dying, their bodies the first to be buried in Martian soil. And they’ll be reproducing.

Evolution will affect every living thing born on Mars, and we simply don’t know how. The lower gravity, the higher radiation, the protective enclosure necessary for survival, how will these changes affect a child? It won’t be an immediate change, for sure, but the second or third generation to be born on Mars might not be able to visit the birthplace of humanity. Human beings would truly split into two races—a distinction that would go far beyond mere black and white—and the word Martian would take on a new meaning.

Mars remains just as hostile as before, but it’s a known danger now. It’s the wilderness. It’s a whole world awaiting human eyes and boots.

Deeper and deeper

As time goes by, and as Mars becomes more and more inhabited, the natural conclusion is that we would try to make it more habitable. In other words, terraforming. That’s been a presence in science fiction for decades; one of the classics is Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy, starting with Red Mars.

In the far future, call it about 200 years from now, Mars can truly begin to become a second planet for humanity. At this point, people would live their whole lives there, never once leaving. Towns and cities could expand, and an ultimate goal might arise: planetary independence.

But the terraforming is the big deal in this late time. Even the best guesses make this a millennia-long process, but the first steps can begin once enough people want them to. Thickening the atmosphere, raising the worldwide temperature, getting water to flow in more than the salty tears NASA announced on September 28, these will all take longer than a human lifetime, even granting extensive life-lengthening processes that might be available to future medicine.

For stories set in this time, Mars can again become a backdrop, the set upon which your story will take place. The later the setting, the more Earth-like the world becomes, and the less important it is that you’re on Mars.

The problems these people would face are the same as always. Racial tensions between Earthlings and Martians. The perils of travel in a still-hostile land. The scientific implications of changing an entire world. Everything to do with building a new society. And the list goes on, limited only by your imagination.

Look up

Through the failings of our leaders, the dream of Mars has been delayed. But all is not lost. We can go there in our minds, in the visuals of film, the words of fiction. What we might find when we arrive, no one can say. The future is what we make of it, and that is never more true than when you’re writing a story set in it.