Behind the scenes: Language development

Amber Eyes

Language Development

This post may be a tad longer than the others, because it is so central to the way Nameless talks (or doesn’t, depending on who’s reading the books.)

There are a host of articles on the web discussing the fact that a language delay is always present with a mental disability.  Mind you, these articles are focused on children who have some socialization with others – their parents, siblings, day care, school, or play mates.  Only a few articles approach child development from the perspective of the child having no socialization, which is the cause of the language delay.  When this happens, it is not the mental development that hinders language development.  It is language development that hinders mental development.

Again, go back and read The girl in the window carefully.  Though Dani was 7 when she was adopted, due to the neglect that led to the lack of language development, she had a rather severe mental disability.  One that she still hadn’t over come by the time she was 10.

Even the other verifiable case of a feral child found in the US, another girl named Genie, was unable to overcome her disabilities despite extensive work by psychologists and other therapists working in conjunction with her foster parents.  The rare cases when a child learns to speak after being “rescued” often involve children who were between two and three years of age when their neglect began, or they were lost to the local wilderness.

That leads to the next look at the crafting of Nameless.

There is still an ongoing debate about when the critical window of development closes for language.  Even though someone who already speaks can learn it at an older age (such as middle school, high school, or college) this is because the foundations for at least one language have become embedded in the person’s psyche from birth.  For Nameless, I took the outer most edge of the disputed range, having him introduced to language around age eight.  Needless to say, this led to a host of problems for he and I to overcome.

The first, and most obvious, was how he was introduced to languages in the first place.  Most feral children without language, do manage to grunt, or make some type of sound they’ve heard in their environment before.  Since I knew I’d need a character who could speak, I’d already laid the foundations for verbalization before I knew about the issues that come with a feral child.  (Lucky me?)  I was able to build up from there, though keeping it plausible was not an easy task.

A more subtle concern was figuring out how to maintain the intelligence necessary for the child to survive once he matured into adulthood.  Almost everything I read indicated that feral children often behaved similarly to autistic children, which would not prove to be a good thing within the story’s premise.  That’s where I bent the rules a little bit.  Though Nameless doesn’t do everything perfect (the obstinacies that come with a high intelligence, or mental disabilities was one of the things I held on to), he does learn very quickly.

I’d already had him problem solving with age-appropriate solutions, so making the change from an internal drive to solve a problem to an external was not that large of a leap.  However, there still remained the issue of language fluency to go with this.  Just because Nameless learned to speak did not mean he grasped the concept of grammar and syntax.

To be honest, if I had stayed any closer to the truth, Nameless probably would never have been able to speak a complex language.  Something reliant on point and grunt should have been the maximum he could learn to speak, though he would understand others.  I chortle whenever I hear people complain about the way he mangles the English language.  I think readers would rather have a mangled, cryptic dialogue than one along the lines of “he pointed at the object he wanted and grunted excitedly.”

I may be a good storyteller, but I doubt my skills are up to being able to keep that type of dialogue interesting very long.  Not to mention, I’d wind up having a murderous time with the big, bright, shiny repetition button.

That’s it for this week, so I’m going to turn it over to you.  Do you have any questions about what went on behind the scenes so far?  Please leave them in the comments below, and I’ll do my best to answer them.


Next week, I’ll start addressing another behind the scenes aspect:  Infant Survival

Behind the scenes reality: Feral Nameless

Critical Windows of Development

Since I’m dealing with a character who not only holds center stage, but also has to be able to accomplish quite a bit, I knew that I would be bending plausibility a bit here.  In part because I was having to bend the rules a tad about how much can be learned outside the acceptable critical windows of development.

Just what are these windows?  As The Science of Waldorf Education these are time periods of time during development that the brain is open to a particular type of experience to result in a particular talent, and after the window closes, this talent can no longer be learned.  OK, let’s break this down a bit more, since the example provided in the article doesn’t exactly make sense for a fantasy book.

The basics, like walking, grabbing, and imaginative play all have toddler and early childhood windows.  Making sure Nameless experienced these was an interesting challenge – he had no one to model his behavior against, nor did he have much environmental stimulation to drive him into achieving these milestones.  A little fancy foot work, and being able to think outside the box allowed me to include these achievements.  The main achievement, the one that seems to determine if there is a “human” within the character, however is the one I had the most difficult with – language development.

That will be the discussion for the next installment.

How did the Followers of Torments Saga come to be?


This is the most common question I am asked about the series.  So, before you have to ask again, let me go ahead and answer it.

Back around 2005 or 2006, I was introduced to an online chat 3-D chat platform called IMVU by a friend.  Since I was new to the platform, I tended to stick around the same chat rooms my friend did – which meant I had to come up with a role play character pretty quickly.  And, not just any role play character, either.  The stated rules on most of the rooms included “no humans allowed unless you are someone’s pet or lunch.”  Seeing as I didn’t want to be either, I had to find another race or species that would let me learn the ropes.

I’ve always enjoyed role play, though up until this point, I was more familiar with Dungeons and Dragons, or similar table top game systems, so I figured that would be the best place to start looking for a character base.  It took a while, but I finally found one.  Even then, the character I thought I created was not the character that survived.  My first attempt wound up being shelved, except for rare occasions.  In place of, a darker, more malicious character emerged.

For some reason, one that still leaves me puzzled to this day, a group who liked my character formed.  (It puzzles me because the character is NOT a nice person.)

Before much longer, this small group split off, and the concept of the Tormentor was born.  As our role play continued, the concept grew and took root within the free flow role play game we were involved in.  When life caused the group to dissolve, I figured I was done with this particular chapter, so shelved the concept, story, and character into the dustbins of memory.  This was somewhere around 2009 or 2010.

Fast forward a couple of years.  In 2014, the story hit me over the head with an ultimatum:  Write me, or don’t sleep.

Mind you, I’m someone who takes ultimatums very poorly.  This incident was no exception, especially since I was starting my Masters program.  I fought, I really did.  However – the story won that round (and just about every one after that, too.)

I started writing Out of the Darkness, thinking it was a stand alone.  Then I ran into an issue I could not resolve, which led me to going back and reading what was written so far.  The end result was Remember the Shadows coming into the scene, though at first the title was supposed to be Into the Sunlits.  A duology, not exactly what I had in mind, but if it meant I didn’t have a story yammering at me, I’d take it.  Then the story decided to live up to its name.  From two books, it bloomed into five.

By this time I’d become, not exactly resigned, but accepting of the fact I was now a working author.  All because I had a role play story that insisted on being transformed into a novel, and I really wanted to sleep.  That my friends, is how the Followers of Torments Saga was born.