Early attempts at writing novels

I wrote a lot from 2008 to 2012 – my high school years. 2008 was the first year I participated in NaNoWriMo. That, I think, was what got me into writing seriously. I’d written a couple of things before November 2008, both for fun and for school assignments, but I’d never finished a longer story until I started participating in NaNoWriMo.

I had a ton of energy and wrote A LOT during those four years: 978,123 words from November 2008 to the end of December 2012. Not all of this was done during NaNoWriMo, CampNaNoWriMo, or Script Frenzy, either – I did a lot of writing on my own.

The title of this post says “novels”, but it probably should say “stories”. I didn’t just write novels – I participated in Script Frenzy when it was still a thing and wrote a couple of scripts. I even wrote an epic poem. I also wrote plenty of short stories, but I won’t be mentioning them here. This post is solely about the longer stories.

Runes – November 2008 to March 2011

At 168,305 words, this is the longest story I’ve ever written. I started it during NaNoWriMo 2008 and worked on it on and off until I wrote the last word on March 03, 2011.

Runes is a mess. It was imagined as a fantasy novel and it stayed that way, but the level of technology changed drastically from beginning to end. There are characters I thought would be important in the beginning who I then realized wouldn’t be useful to the story. At least I knew the ending I was working toward – it probably would have been more chaotic if I hadn’t decided on that early on.

I also ended it in such a way that I could write a sequel, and I was thinking about doing that for a while – mostly when I was writing Runes. By the time I was done writing, I didn’t want to do that anymore.

Project XLVI – May to June 2009

Aside from Runes, this is the story I was obsessed with in early high school. I drew so much artwork for it! I even had a bunch of character pages for it on my Freewebs site.

I wrote fourteen chapters of this story, which turned out to be 37,951 words. I even posted some of the chapters up on Fictionpress. And then…I stopped working on it. I don’t even know why. I was so excited about it for years. I spent so much time on this story – worldbuilding, creating characters, outlining – and then it eventually turned into nothing.

As an aside: Most of my notes on Project XLVI are actually in various old notebooks that I seriously need to digitize and NOT in the Project XLVI folder that I’ve managed to keep across five different computers. I genuinely thought I’d lost all my character information until I started looking into the Freewebs webpages that I’d saved. All the info was there on those character pages. I was literally worrying about nothing.

Revenge of Python – November 2010 & November 2011

I started this during NaNoWriMo 2010, stopped at the end of November, and then came back to it and finished it after I was done with my 2011 NaNo novel. I genuinely have no idea why I didn’t just finish it in December or January. I wasn’t really working on anything else at the time.

This ended up being 62,285 words long. It was the first novel I wrote that I actually liked. It’s in need of some rewrites, but nothing serious. Who knows when I’ll get around to rewriting it, though.

The Colorless Ones – December 2010 to April 2013

I genuinely have no records of when I started writing The Colorless Ones. I only have a couple of finished comic pages which date back to the end of December 2010, so I’m assuming I started the script a few weeks before that.

Apparently I worked on this during Script Frenzy in 2012 and Camp NaNoWriMo in 2013. Then I gave up on it because I had no idea where I was going with it. I genuinely had no idea how to end the story.

Everflame – April to December 2011

This was another script, started during Script Frenzy 2011. It was supposed to be a six-arc story, but I didn’t even get through the first arc. I had way too much planned for this story. I didn’t really know how to go from one thing to another.

One good thing did come out of this: I learned that I like writing scripts.

The Children of the Dark – June 2011 to December 2012

This is a story I never finished because I didn’t know where it was going and I had no idea how to end it. I did actually try to revisit the story in 2016, but I never got past organizing some of the character information.

I am actually planning on coming back to this sometime! Also, this is the only Young Adult story I’ve ever considered writing, so I think it’ll need a lot more rework and care than the rest of my usual fiction.

24 of 38 – July 2011

For the first ever Camp NaNoWriMo session, I wrote and finished a 50,381 word novel. I don’t know if it was possible to set goals other than 50k for Camp sessions back then, or if I was just used to doing 50k during NaNo.

This was my first attempt at a mystery novel as well as a prequel to Welcome to Nowhere. It was fine for what I had planned, but I also learned I didn’t particularly like writing mystery stories.

The Fire in the Night – August 2011 to February 2012

This one is…an alternate-history western? I think? It also ended up being around 50k words. It was good writing practice. That’s really all I have to say about it.

BUTCHER – November 2011

This was my first attempt at a horror novel, and also the first novel I wrote while being part of a writing group. I don’t remember doing a lot of planning or really having much of an idea what I wanted to do with this novel, but I still managed to finish it in a satisfactory manner. It needs some heavy edits, but it’s not unsalvageable like some of the other things I’ve written.

Jhilhit – January to November 2012

I genuinely don’t have any memory of writing this. I know I did, because I have the whole manuscript, but…I don’t remember writing it. I couldn’t even tell you what it was about or who the characters were, because I seriously don’t remember a thing.

Brave Aertène – May to September 2012

This is the first and only epic poem I’ve ever written, started during National Epic Poetry Writing Month. I’m glad I did it, because I now know that I have no interest in writing another epic poem.

This is THE GAME – June 2012

Like with Jhilhit, I don’t remember writing this at all. I’m assuming it was good writing practice, but…I really have no idea.

The Man with No Face – June to November 2012

I don’t remember much about writing this. Years ago, I was wondering if I was going to go back and finish the story, only to open up the manuscript and find out that it had already been finished – for years.

That makes three entire novels that I really don’t remember writing. Has this happened to anyone else? I don’t think I’ve heard anyone talk about this before. I don’t know if this is a good or bad thing.

Welcome to Nowhere – August to October 2012

This was my second attempt at writing a detective story. It was actually a collection of short stories instead of a novel. I never finished writing it because…I don’t like writing mysteries. I learned that with 24 of 38, and finally confirmed it with Welcome to Nowhere.

Šinathu – November 2012

This is the first novel that I actually revised! I ended up deciding not to do anything with it in the end, but it was a genuinely good learning experience, and I’d like to revisit the story sometime in the future.

Overview

I jumped around to a lot of different genres from 2008 to 2012. Most of it had to be abandoned, since I was still learning what I actually wanted to write. I actually spent another couple of years (until some point in 2016, I believe) figuring this out, but those years aren’t nearly as formative as these ones.

So, a question for all the writers out there: how long did it take you to figure out what you actually wanted to write?

Creating a basic naming language

A naming language is a very basic conlang: a phonology, an orthography, a small dictionary, and enough grammar to name things: people, places, deities, etc. Naming languages aren’t intended used for full sentences or passages, so there’s no need to create detailed grammars.

Of course, you can always do that. Your conlang just wouldn’t be a strict naming language anymore.

Step 1: Phonology

The first thing I think about when creating a naming language is (aside from the culture that will be speaking it, of course) the phonology. A phonology is the sounds that comprise a language and how those sounds fit together – syllables, morae, stress, tone, etc.

What consonants do I want the language to have? What vowels? Do I want consonant clusters? Diphthongs? Vowel harmony? All those decisions are made in this stage.

Looking at the phonology of a real-world language can be helpful. If I want a language to sound Finnish, or Japanese, or Irish, I look at the sounds of that particular language.

In my amateur conlanger opinion, Wikipedia is actually a pretty good reference for phonology. Here are the Wikipedia pages for Finnish phonology, Japanese phonology, and Irish phonology.

Picking phonemes

Now, let’s pick out some vowel sounds: /a/, /e/, /i/, /o/, /u/

And some consonants: /p/, /t/, /k/, /m/, /n/, /ŋ/, /s/, /ʃ/, /x/, /j/, /ɹ/

I like to organize this information in tables:

naminglang1

Some of these sounds may look unfamiliar to those unfamiliar with linguistics:

  • /ŋ/ is the sound in sing
  • /ʃ/ is the sound in shoe and ash
  • /x/ is sound in Scottish loch and German acht
  • /ɹ/ is the non-trilled, non-rolled, non-tapped, r-sound used in English words such as red, right, and wrong
  • /j/ is the consonantal sound in yes and you

If you want to familiarize yourself with IPA, here’s an IPA chart with sounds.

For this example conlang, I’ve decided against having diphthongs or vowel harmony. Maybe another time!

Deciding on a syllable structure

Syllables can have relatively simple structures of CV, like in me /mi/ or more ridiculous structures like CCCVCCCC, like in strengths /stɹɛŋkθs/. Yes, that’s three consonants, followed by one vowel, followed by four more consonants, all in the same syllable.

Let’s use a simple CV syllable structure, where C = any consonant and V = any vowel. This produces syllables such as:

  • mi, mu, me, mo, ma
  • pi, pu, pe, po, pa
  • si, su, se, so, sa

Stress

This probably isn’t entirely necessary for a naming language, especially if you never actually plan on pronouncing any of the words you create. I like to do it anyway.

Let’s put the stress on the first syllable of a word, because that’s pretty easy to remember:

  • /ˈmo.mo/
  • /ˈna.na.ka/
  • /ˈka.sa.ja.ni/

Step 2: Orthography

What letters are you going to use to represent the sounds of your language? I generally like to stick with something naturalistic. There’s no reason, of course, that you can’t use <c> to represent /t/, or <X> to represent /a/. However, a language that did that would be obnoxious.

naminglang2

I generally arrange my orthography like this, with separate tables for consonants and vowels. I find it’s easier to keep track of things this way.

Step 3: A Dictionary

This is where I start creating the words I need – names & placenames. I generally find creating words to be pretty tedious, so this is my least favorite part of the process.

Usually what I do is create a word and assign an meaning to it. Here are a couple of examples using the words I created earlier:

  • momo – noun – bird
  • nanaka – noun – king
  • kasajani – adjective – red-colored

This continues until I have all the words I think I need. Most of my planning & worldbuilding happens before I start writing, but it’s inevitable that I miss something and end up having to come up with a couple more names later on in the story.

Step 4: Basic Grammar

Sometimes I skip this part if all I need are names. Okay, I usually skip this part for a naming language. But it may be worthwhile to work out how adjectives modify nouns or how the verbs in your language work. This usually requires deciding which cases, genders/classes & numbers a noun/adjective is marked for, and tense (at the very least) for verbs.

Two naming languages I created for The Book of Immortality

Meitsung soré: the main language of the elves and humans in the Meitsung Empire.

  • Lisel = bigleaf hydrangea
  • Tsensung = heavenly overseer
  • Suli = purple
  • Showakelu = stone river
  • Meitsung  =splendid
  • soré = language
  • Hengshal = north borderland
  • Shensi = east homeland
  • Kelutshélin = river plateau
  • Shihun = great lake
  • Ménghun = south lake
  • Méngwing Nang = southwestern mountain range
  • Wingshal = west borderland
  • Tengming = central capital city

Mayu lháni: the language of the tigers. It has the sound /ɬ/ <lh>, which I think is most commonly known as the Welsh <ll> sound.

  • Muhánquri = mountain tribe
  • Hirúka = shining sun
  • Qursin = luck + belief
  • mayu = language
  • lháni = tiger
  • Arquhin = true origin
  • Símaqágu = great forest

How I name things

Story names

Sometimes I figure out the name of a story early on in development, like The Land of Two Moons, The Illuminated World, and Venére Magic. Sometimes I come up with a good-enough placeholder title and end up using it for a long time due to my inability to come up with a better name, like The Book of Immortality. And then, sometimes, I can’t even make up a halfway decent placeholder title for a story, which is a problem I’m currently having with a story that’s in the very early plotting stages.

Actually, I did have a title for the aforementioned story, but it was “Broken Sword” and that’s both the name of a fantasy novel by Poul Anderson and a series of point-and-click adventure games.

I don’t think I have an actual method for naming my stories. Here are the explanations behind the titles I’ve come up with for some of the stories I’m currently writing or planning on writing in the future:

Samael is the nickname of the main character. Super easy title.

Silver River is more the name of the series than the title of an actual book. It’s the name of the galaxy in which the story takes places.

The Book of Immortality is Yrrum Innué, the book that Lisel’s group is tasked with stealing.

The Illuminated World is a spoiler. I can’t talk about it!

The Land of Two Moons is the literal translation of Tsurennupaiva, the country that the story takes place in.

Venére Magic refers to the magic of the Venére family. Explaining any further would mean I’m giving out spoilers for a story I haven’t even written yet.

Character names & placenames

There are two types of stories I write:

  1. Stories that take place in the real world (alternative history or otherwise), where real-life languages and cultures exist.
  2. Stories that take place in constructed fantasy/science fiction settings, with zero real-world languages and cultures.

With type 1 stories, I can use real-world names. Once I’ve decided on a character’s ethnic/cultural background, I go to name websites (Behind the Name is a favorite) if I don’t already have something in mind and pick a fitting name.

Even after doing all that, sometimes I still can’t come up with a good enough name for a character. At that point, I give them a placeholder name. Sometimes I end up using this placeholder name for long enough that I decide it’s good enough and doesn’t actually need to be changed to something better.

Type 2 stories are much more difficult. Since I can’t use real-world languages (except with a tiny minority of stories), I have to create all the names myself. And that generally requires creating a kind of conlang known as a naming language.

Fortunately, I’ve been creating conlangs since 2008, so this is easy for me. It does actually get fairly tedious if I have to create more than three languages for a story.

Once I’ve created a decent amount of vocabulary, I start naming characters & places. I’ll use a couple of examples from The Land of Two Moons:

Tsurennupaiva is parsed as tsu “two” + rennu “moon” + paiva “country”. Thus “Land of Two Moons”.

Tivadshy is the Rennukat word for “capital”. Yes, the capital city is named “capital”.

Aven means “crossroad”. 

Veitlen is the name of one of the moons orbiting the planet. Tyvokala means “shining lake”. Nymue means “song”, Kallinu means “sincerity”, Chanda means “serendipity”, Lillin means “full of hope, and Syvukala means “blood lake”.


I have no idea if my naming process is more in-depth or not compared to other writers. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything on how someone else names things.

If you do something similar or have a different method entirely, I’d love to hear about it.