If you're a fantasy or sci-fi fan, chances are you've heard multiple fabricated languages, and chances are some of those have been really, really bad. A language is more than just throwing letters together that don't go together in your native tongue (like, four consonants for English speakers), keyboard smashing names and painting phrases with apostrophes. However, you don't have to get a Ph.D. in linguistics in order to make your language sound realistic and plausible.
1. Don't Make It "X-Lite"
Every modern language has evolved over hundreds or thousands of years, built upon languages and dialects before it. Even languages relatively close-- such Romance tongues-- are mutually unintelligible; that's what makes them separate and not just dialects (and, mind you, dialects can be mutually unintelligible too).
Someone reading or listening to your language shouldn't be able to tell exactly what culture or region you based it on. Now, there's a difference between blending together syllables and phrases that sound Scandinavian or Asian in origin, and changing maybe a letter or two in Cantonese and calling it a day.
2. Think Beyond The (Simple) Sound
Unless there's no written code or communication, there has to be consistency in how a language looks. Even in that case, most languages have frequent or at least recognizable syllabic and phonetic patterns. If you really want to focus on how the language sounds, think about inflection, tone and certain syllables that repeat. A note of caution: don't try and make a language you yourself could never pronounce — it'll just be a mess.
3. Crack Open That Grammar Textbook
No, you don't need to be a grammar enthusiast. But it probably wouldn't hurt to brush up on the rules your mother tongue uses: in English, for example, adjectives have an order they must go in. But in French, that order is completely screwed up. That's not even touching on principles like gendered nouns, a neutral gender, verb conjugation, and verb-subject agreement, all things that change in even closely-related languages.
4. Keep A List And Study It
Oh, you might think you'll remember the word for "sky," but trust me, once your language starts to grow into, you know, a functioning (enough) language, there will be too many letters and sounds and spellings. Start up a log and edit as you go as new rules and certain exceptions come to mind. When making new words, reference the list — many names of newer discovered/ invented things tend to be built off of words for more basic or archaic concepts or objects.
5. Choose A Writing System
No, there's not just "the" alphabet. There are three types of writing systems: alphabets (letters), logographies (characters) and syllabaries (symbols). An alphabet is easiest to craft if you're a Westerner and typically has fifty or fewer pieces. Syllabaries are somewhat longer and typically number at around one hundred pieces, while logographies have hundreds of characters and tend to be very complex. Each has pros and cons and will change what your language sounds like and how people communicate (think about Chinese versus English). Know what you're getting into, and stick with it.
6. Be Careful with Diacritics
We've all seen languages — both real and fictional — that are chock full of diacritics (accents, cedillas, umlauts, and so on) or other sound marks. This doesn't mean stuffing your language with them is bad, per se, but for people who speak English, this can alienate your audience, for two reasons. One, if the sound change or mark doesn't exist in the language of your readers, they'll have no idea how to interpret it. Two, even if they understand it, too much can get distracting. Yes, Hawaiian utilizes the 'okina (a glottal stop) frequently, but that doesn't mean you can unless you have a firm grasp of how and when it is used.
Creating a language should be fun and exciting, and if you're making it for yourself, go hog wild. However, if you're inserting it into your art (novels, videos, etc.), it's important to be consistent, unique and relatable. Put in the time and effort, and it'll show.