This past weekend I gave a presentation at InConJunction in Indianapolis, and one of the attendees requested that I make it available online later on. So let’s give it a go!
First of all:
What is a Conlang?
Conlang is short for “Constructed Language”, meaning any kind of artificially and intentionally created language. You’re probably familiar with them, considering that fiction is absolutely rife with them.
I’ve been on the writing corner of the internet for a while now, and I’ve got a long, involved history with questionnaires.
Whether you’re crafting a single roleplaying OC or an entire world, you’ll find thousands of lists full of all sorts of questions.
Those lists can be super short and to the point (“What does your character want? What are they willing to do to get it?”) or they can be enormous and inane (“Does your character prefer smooth peanut butter or chunky? Does your character dream in color? If your character was an animal, what kind of tree would they climb?”)
For the past several days, I’ve been compiling a list of worldbuilding questions that I ambivalently look forward to applying to most of the countries in my upcoming world. I’m daunted because this is gonna be a ton of work, and I’ll have to repeat the process over and over and over again. At the same time, I’m excited because this kind of thing can create a much more intricate and interesting world.
I have a piece of advice for you, though, if you chose to use questionnaires:
Easily 90% of the answers to those questions– maybe even 99%– will not and should not ever actually make it into the story you tell.
The specific answers to each question don’t matter as much as what they tell you about the bigger picture. Nobody cares what three items your character would bring to a deserted island, they care about what it says about that character– whether they would go for something practical, or something suited to a hobby or interest, or so on. Nobody cares what a country’s tax code looks like, so much as they care about the way the people respond to that tax code, whether with squeezing their employees harder or tax evasion or what have you.
That’s where the story is. That’s what matters. The rest is just a tool to help you flesh out those details.
In my first sketches of this current WIP, the protagonist was one of two children born to a single mother. The family began and ended there; these three were each other’s whole world, and nothing mattered but each other.
It’s a very American family structure, which isn’t a bad thing– but it didn’t fit to the world I was building.
I’m not the kind of person who can just make up a thousand characters off the top of my head. I can’t create a family without first fitting it into some kind of structure.
That’s where the family tree comes in. I used FamilyEcho, but you can find plenty of free software online.
There’s nothing like death to add drama and angst to a story. It’s a source of grief, of guilt, of shame. What leaves the biggest scars, though, is that while the angsting character might have contributed to their loved one’s death, there’s nothing they could do to stop it once the pieces were in motion.