1. BlackHouse
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    BlackHouse New Member

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    How do you go about informing the reader of terms in your writing?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by BlackHouse, Dec 2, 2009.

    If you are writing a fiction piece that induces a variety of different objects or things that the reader is more than likely not familiar with, how do you go about informing them on these terms, etc?

    Should you simply write it and let them use context clues and conclude what you are talking about or should you create an index of things to refer to in the beginning of your work?

    -TBH
     
  2. Unsavory
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    Unsavory Active Member

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    The index idea would probably never fly, but context clues if done with care can be a great instrument for getting your point across.

    I hesitate to mention this since it can be a bit cliche and it needs to fit the context of the story, but a situation also might come up where a knowledgable character explains certain inner workings to a novice character which in turn explains it to the reader. Like Obi Wan explaining the force to Luke or Morpheus explaining the matrix to Neo.
     
  3. Twisted Inversely
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    Twisted Inversely Senior Member

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    As Unsavory has already said context is best, especially for common every day objects/ideas (every day object/ ideas in the world of your story that is).

    For out of the ordinary objects/ ideas further explanation might be needed. A knowledgeable character is good here. Remember this character need not be an all knowing wise sage like Gandalf, or Yoda, or Obi-wan, they can just be anyone who knows more about that particular object/ idea than your MC.
     
  4. Unit7
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    Unit7 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Like said before, if its an everyday kind of thing give the reader context clues. They might not understand it at first, but they should catch on real soon.

    If its not common then have another character explain it a little.
     
  5. deltaquid
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    deltaquid Member

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    Or, if it's a holy grail or other useful object that your MC or another character takes, you can have them explain why they take it. "An explon! We can heat this mineral with our laser rifles to make it blow up that door!", for example.
     
  6. sprirj
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    sprirj Contributing Member

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    My I ask a thread related question? The examples given are Morpheus and Obi Wan explaining to the MC, but would it work the other way around? ie Your MC is the knowledgeable one explaining to a supporting character? Or would this come off badly?
     
  7. Unsavory
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    Unsavory Active Member

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    The original way is an easier example, but there would be no problem with reversing the formula as long as you have a good reason for doing so within the story. Maybe your lead character is a grizzled old shop teacher and he's explaining basic mechanics to a new crop of students.
     
  8. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    It also depends on how important it is to the story. If it is important, then take your time (and the reader's) to make its use and appearance clear through context and clues.

    The phlaget appears to be some sort of bellows (with a long handle or some resistance, if it takes both hands to operate it), and the quonce is some sort of furnace or cooking stove. As more of the story unfolds, the reader will have a clearer idea of what these objects are, and what the character's life is like.
     
  9. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    You've not indicated if these things are real life objects or the regalia of a fantasy world so my advice would differ in both cases.

    If they are real life items then make them clear through context. If they are fantasy items, look at them carefully. Are they just fantasy versions of actual items? If so, consider carefully if you really need to create new terms for them.

    [​IMG]
     
  10. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    That graph is...spot on.
     
  11. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    great graph, wrey!... is it your own, or did you find it somewhere?

    tbh...
    we really can't help much till you give us some examples of what you're referring to... post excerpts of the words in context, so we can see how you've used them and give you valid feedback...
     
  12. hszmv
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    hszmv Member

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    Though that graph is not always true. J.K. Rowling has been praised for her word-smithing in the Harry Potter series, and Dr. Suess is remembered mostly because of his silly words that only existed to fit a rhyme. Star Wars made the universe feel lived-in by refering to occupations (nerf herder), routes(Kessel Run), even entire sentient species that never mayed an on screen appearence (Bonthans).

    Giving house hold items new names does make the universe look "real" if you're showing a universe that is alien to the reader. Just don't over do it by complicating it with your plot.
     
  13. jwatson
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    jwatson Active Member

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    that graph is...hilarious

    Yes, I was going to say JKR did it. However, if my memory serves correct, the only term in the first Harry Potter book was 'muggle.' I think that after it's success, her editor/publisher wouldn't give a hoot what words she wrote, because they anticipated a lot of $. If it's a first time author, I would try to limit the creative words. I admit, I struggle with that as well.
     
  14. deltaquid
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    deltaquid Member

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    Well, J.K. Rowling's Latin makes me cringe, and that has been there ever since the first book.

    Also, love the xkcd graph. :p
     
  15. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I would hazard the opposite.

    Household items should be just that. House hold items. A tea pot should be a tea pot, not a Colorian steeped beverage dispenser. Even in a fantasy story.

    Even in a science fiction story.

    In the world of Star Trek they drink Romulan Ale and Vulcan Brandy. Sure, the terms are qualified by appending the planet of origin, but still they are ale and brandy, words known to the reader that do not induce a, "What the?" effect which pulls the reader out from the story.

    When I write, "They enjoyed the rare treat of some ice cold Romulan Ale," you may not know what a Romulan is, but you know what ale is and your mind is able to immediately paint a picture of people enjoying a drink. The reader remains in the story.

    When I write, "They enjoyed the rare treat of some ice cold Romulan Bleckabloo," now there is no point of reference. The mind is unable to paint anything. Next comes an info-dump in order to explain, at the very least, what Belckabloo is.

    If you wish to give special importance to an item by giving it a special name, then let that item be something that is important to the plot, not just item-X in a string of one-time-mention items that distract the reader by calling attention to themselves and then never turn out to be of any importance to the story.

    Another example:

    In the Darkover universe created by Marion Zimmer Bradley, Ms. Bradley made plentiful use of matrix crystals as a plot device, which enhanced the latent psychic abilities (laran)* of some of the residents of Darkover. The residents of Darkover, over the long history portrayed deftly in the books, learn to create many machines and weapons with the matrix crystals. But the only term in its context that she really asks you to learn is matrix crystal. All the things made from the crystals are given names that the average reader would immediately understand once the short explanation of the crystals was given. Matrix sword. Matrix cannon. Matrix drill. Matrix array.

    * Ms. Bradley also makes some use of altered versions of Earthly languages. The original languages of the original settlers of Darkover. She only sprinkles these words lightly, and again only when they are important to the plot of the story and the overall exposition of cultural diversity of Darkover. And again, only when it is something of value to the plot.
     
  16. Gallowglass
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    Gallowglass Contributing Member Contributor

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    Shakespeare made up words, but he didn't write books ;)
     
  17. .daniel
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    .daniel New Member

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    Tolkien made up an entire language.


    But all the authors we are pointing out are exceptions, not the rule. In some fantasy books I've read the innumerable made-up words, even when explained well, got very old and cliche.
     
  18. fantasy girl
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    fantasy girl Contributing Member

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    do what Terry Pratchett does. write the word, put a * next to it, then either on the bottom of the page or at the back of the book put what the unknown words mean.
     
  19. .daniel
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    .daniel New Member

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    This. It flows just as well and everyone knows what the heck you're talking about.
     
  20. fantasy girl
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    fantasy girl Contributing Member

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    Yay, for once someone agrees with me :p
     

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