Sunday, August 17, 2014

A Language Of Their Own

Over the years, our family has developed our own little collection of unique phrases and terms. Things that come up frequently and would completely baffle the rest of the world. It's part of what binds us together as a family.

Just as in real life, the characters in our stories have their own specific catch phrases, unique sayings and little speaking quirks that set them apart. Or at least they should. Shared language and slang is one tool authors have to create a unique identity for the cultures, families and individuals we bring to life in our books.

A perfect example of that mechanism in action can be seen in James Dashner's The Maze Runner. From the very first chapter we're thrown into a new world filled with language unique to its inhabitants. Words like Clunk, Gladers, Greenie, Griever, and Shuck-face. While Dashner definitely takes his made up language to the extreme, filling The Maze Runner's pages with terms such as the ones above, his writing illustrates the collective culture the Gladers have developed and their unique way of speaking really reinforces that.

It's easy to talk about shared language and distinctive phrases when you're thinking about fantasy, science fiction or dystopian stories. Tolkien's stories would be far less rich and enthralling without their beautiful language and terms unique to the characters like Hobbit and Shire. But every book, regardless of genre, has the opportunity to use language in a unique way to create character and culture.

In our family, from spring through fall, we evaluate each day's potential for awesomeness based on the number of wild rabbits we see in the neighborhood. A rabbit's foot is supposed to be lucky so I figure four feet still attached to a live rabbit must be really lucky. A one bunny day is pretty good. A four bunny day is amazing. Six bunny day? The sheer potential cannot be contained. Most evenings, over dinner, my husband, daughter and son all volunteer what sort of bunny day they had. My son, in particular, delights in shouting out "I had a three bunny day!"

Little details like our bunny rating system tell a lot about our family and our sense of silliness and whimsy. When you're writing your next story pause and think about the language, stories, terms and phrases that are unique to your characters and why. Don't forget what a powerful tool shared language can be in bringing your story to life for the reader and creating distinctive characters that will be remembered long after the last page is turned.

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