1. Dylan_Anderson
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    Dylan_Anderson New Member

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    How to use Obsure Slang/Jargon?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Dylan_Anderson, Aug 29, 2012.

    I've recently finished a novella and it's one of the first that I don't instantly hate. It's about a pair of con men, its well researched and includes a fair amount of grifter slang with the intention of setting a certain tone for the sotry.

    I've passed this draft to a friend to read and give me feedback, while not everything I write is really aimed at this kind of person (or age group) they keep an open mind and usaully give me positive feedback. (that's why they always read my stuff first, to give me an easy first reader). On this occasion though they were less than enthusiastic and one of the main reasons seems to be the use of slang

    They said that the they didn't understand a lot of the slang/'grifter talk' in the book and felt it was confusing.

    It's not an easy problem as finding a way for a character to clarify words they would naturally use feels false and removing this language altogether takes away from the feeling and tone of the story. At the same time, if the language is an obsticle in the story-telling, then that's not good either.

    When I started writing this story I felt that the lingo would only add to this exciting and strange world of grifting and give it some weight but after my friends comments I'm not so sure.

    So over to you fellow writers, what do you think? What advise would you give?
     
  2. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    It's a pickle. I love old words - old slang - hence my user name. But a lot of time when it's out of it's time zone it's like running across
    a lost language. And trying to get someone who doesn't understand the language to follow a conversation and get it's meaning,
    is as hard as giving dirrections to a foriegner.

    Maybe you used too much or maybe you should mix it up with some nowadays lingo
    - have you ever watched the movie Brick? I think it uses a mix.
     
  3. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    As long as the word or phrase is clear from the context, I'd say you can keep using any obscure slang/jargon.
     
  4. Pheonix
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    Pheonix A Singer of Space Operas and The Fourth Mod of RP Staff Contributor

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    I agree with third wind, if you make it plain what it means, by actions or intentions, the average reader will be able to pick up on the meaning. But if you don't clarify, at least with context what is meant, then you've got a problem. I understand what you're trying to do, and I think its a really good idea to add authenticity to your work, but you have to make sure it's still understandable. I'd have other's read it, see what they think before basing everything off the review of this one person.
     
  5. GHarrison
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    GHarrison Senior Member

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    You can footnote, lots of books do that. Or, like clockwork orange, if you have a super-ton of obscure language, make an appendix!

    Cheers,
     
  6. B93
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    B93 Active Member

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    I have a suspicion that footnotes or an appendix will lessen the appeal to an agent or publisher, despite the fact that I myself would like them.

    I recall that it took me 20 minutes to read the first page of Clockwork Orange, but somehow I was hooked enough to put in the effort. You might want to review it to see how he pulled it off.
     
  7. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Please don't use footnotes or an appendix. It's really annoying to have to stop reading and look at the bottom of the page (or at the end of the book) to see what some obscure word means.
     
  8. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Sparingly.
     
  9. Michelle Stone
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    Michelle Stone Member

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    My opinion is free and worth every cent. I'd use common slang but find ways to minimize the most offensive words. Remember, they are all in the dictionary now.
     
  10. marktx
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    marktx Contributing Member

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    Some jargon is fine to use--actually good to use--but I agree with Cogito that a little dab'll do you. When used well, it adds verisimilitude and pulls your reader into the con artist's world.

    But you don't want to confuse your reader, so pick your poisons carefully and wrap them in plenty of context that makes it clear to the newbie what you're talking about. Obviously, there's going to be the "mark," as you can't run a con without one. There will be some other key terms that get introduced and worked in. But in those cases where you are referring to a specific con by its trade name, you will probably need to back off and find more generally understood terminology, even if a true pro would use the trade name.

    I do the same thing in my story with drug terminology. In one scene I refer to a crackpipe as a "straight." I get away with this somewhat arcane term because the actions involving the "straight" make it clear that we're talking about a crackpipe.

    But in another scene, I refrain from using the term "pusher," which refers to a short piece of clothes-hanger wire, because readers are likely to confuse it with the term "drug pusher," which went out with bell bottoms and platform shoes. So instead I bend the terminology slightly and refer to it as a "residue pusher," which is still a technically correct but somewhat less-used term.

    In another instance, I introduce the term "beer run," which has a very specific meaning among crackheads and is probably unfamiliar to the average reader. But in the ensuing conversation in which the characters describe what went wrong during the "beer run," it becomes clear to the reader that a "beer run" is actually a snatch-and-grab theft of a case of beer from a convenience store.
     
  11. DanesDarkLand
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    DanesDarkLand Senior Member

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    RA Salvatore wrote a series called the Crimson shadow. Not sure if you've read it, but it was an excellent read, and I felt drawn in enough to keep reading the whole series. One of the characters, a halfling thief named Oliver deBurrows, has a thick accent that would make reading it difficult. When using slang, jargon, or accents, you still have to write it for the reader, and explain in description what they might be hearing. If you make it difficult to read the dialogue, people will skip over it. Remember, your readers won't want to do the research you obviously did to make the dialogue.

    In my book that I am currently revising, if I decided to use all the words from the fantasy language all the time, it would be difficult for someone to read it without always having to refer to some sort of translation, or dictionary pages. Introducing words, and explaining them, should not fill the whole book, but should be used to make the scene, or help the story along, not be the story.
     
  12. bsbvermont
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    bsbvermont Active Member

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    If you have jargon, or dialectic terminology, I would use the ones that are most easily recognizable, or somehow use it in a context where the meaning is clear.
     
  13. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Absolutely. I did this in a short story once. It was a near-future science fiction piece, and the culture surrounding the technology was highlighted by the fact that language had adapted to that culture. I didn't go overboard, just a couple slang terms, but I feel they helped shape the tone of the story.

    Context is a great way to illustrate the meaning of a key term.
     

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