Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Some ideas behind the conception of Yaghan

I think it is pretty cool to have some insight behind the decisions of an artist (whoo, big word, especially when you self-apply it ahah). So I wanted to talk about some of the " whys" of Yaghan's design decisions.

The first important thing is that the story is set in our world in a not too distant future (I will explain why later). It has several consequences. I will tackle only 2 of them today since I also need to get on writing ;).

A little note: knowing all this can spoil the experience of discovering the world. If you know "the special effects", you'll be more likely to spot them. Let me know in the comments if you'd rather not read these kind of posts or if it's not a problem and I should keep them coming.


 In fantasy novels set on another planet like Game of Thrones or LOTR, a tree is a tree, oak is oak, pine is pine, and bunny rabbits are bunny rabbits. The only deviations are the occasional dragon or undead thingies. In other words, the wildlife is 99% the same as what we know, with 1% being strange mythical stuff.

Not so on Yaghan. It is a completely different world with it's own very particular biosphere. Think Pandora (from Avatar), with more variations in terms of biomes (there are deserts, mountains, jungles, plains... not just one ├╝ber forest). 

I have made the choice that life on Earth and Yaghan is totally compatible and that species can even mate with each other. Otherwise I thought it would get really contrived and would slow the story down if people had to only eat species imported from earth and so on... Constraints can lead to better stories, up to a point when it's just too complicated to deal with. 

Unlikely as it seems, there is some ways to defend that: life has been refined for million of years on Earth and is super optimized (Darwin, etc), and we can easily imagine that with similar conditions (Yaghan is very similar to Earth in size, shape, composition, etc), the same result would appear elsewhere. Also note that it is very likely that there is millions of planets just like ours in our galaxy alone, and that's scientists talking, not me, so this assumption is not much of a stretch.

However the problem of this new ecosystem is that I have to design every species from the grounds up: a tree is not a tree: it is something that looks like a tree but that is different. An herbivore is not an herbivore, but something else : my bisons are gigantic creatures that turn carnivorous if they can't find enough food (I have also made the decision that Yaghan's wildlife is very dangerous). I say they are similar to bisons because they are herbivores (...), are brown, have horns, and are big, but it pretty much ends here.

It has a cool consequence and a complex one.

A benefit is that I think it adds a lot to the flavor of the world. One of my goals is to make you travel to an exotic place. Yaghan is wild, savage and beautiful and I hope I'll be able to really instill that feeling of awe, and all those strange animals can really help with that.

I am aware I should not overdo it: readers still have to have reference points otherwise they can't imagine what you describe. It's one of the reasons I compare those new animals to earth's species, and conveniently, Yaghan's inhabitants still have some archives of Earth, so they have a rough idea of our wildlife so that's covered.

Also, the colonists brought a lot of things with them: horses, dogs, cats, farm animals, some wild animals (like petrels, don't ask me why), farm plants for obvious reasons, useful tree essences (mainly oak, pine and bamboo)... So Yaghan is a blend of the similar and the strange.

The drawback is, I'm constantly scratching my head over the design of new animals. Actually, the biggest problem for me is not to design them, I have lots of ideas for that, thank you very much, but I have trouble naming them. Which leads me to the second part of this post.


The inhabitants of Yaghan actually speak languages from Earth since they are descended from Earth colonists. It has several consequences.

 I don't have to design a language (which sounds fun, but hard), so everything goes faster. One point for me.

On the other hand, I have to think about what are the likely languages to have survived after centuries and a limited set of colonists. Somewhat sadly, I tend to think English, the lingua franca for space missions, is probably the most widely spoken language (I say sadly because I love languages and I think variety is important). Of course, it also has a benefit: when English is not the spoken language, there should be a reason, and it means there is a story there, which is great for me.

One of the problems I have is naming. I can't call a big feline-like creature a "rakashan", however cool it sounds, because this word doesn't exist and has no basis, no root. People would not make up names when naming new species, they would name them using their own words to form new names. So basically all the fantasy blabber that sounds vaguely elvish is out. Believe me, it makes things harder, because now every name has to make sense in addition to being cool sounding and evocative.

One last cool consequence of choosing English as the main language of Yaghan is a bit unexpected. Since I'm french and I don't write in my own language, I sometimes make mistakes on how I structure my sentences. Especially when I go fast, I sometimes make the very common mistake of translating a sentence word for word (I actually don't translate in my head per se, but you see what I mean). So the sentence has a french structure with english words.

Oh, it's understandable, but it's certainly not good English. The funny consequence, that has been pointed out by my friend Sean (Salut mec!) and several other persons after him, is that it gives the impression that the language has evolved over time. It adds to the exotic feeling in a way. So now, I really hesitate when correcting my texts :). Some mistakes are so bad that it's a no brainer, they need to be fixed, but some, I really don't know... Actually, your opinion is very welcome.

Ok, that's it for now, see you tomorrow for the next chapter of the Law of the Plains, or tonight, if enough of you ask bout it :). (please, beg... ahem!)

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