1. Michael Thompson
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    Michael Thompson Member

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    Including a Glossary in Sci-Fi

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Michael Thompson, Dec 11, 2015.

    A couple of the beta readers that actually read my 2nd draft suggested I add a glossary for reference about names, ships, planets, technology...

    I have never written a book before and I (sad to say) am not a big book reader... Is this a common thing or does it take away from the book?
     
  2. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Just my personal 2p...

    If your book actually needs* a glossary, then you've used far too many terms that are unknown, meaningless, or confusing to your reader. Your reader should not have to leave the story to understand the story.

    *Ask your Beta readers if this is just a suggestion on their part, something to add, or if they felt a need for a reference to keep track of all the words that were throwing them off.
     
  3. NigeTheHat
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    NigeTheHat Contributing Member Contributor

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    I see it quite a lot - just make sure it's an extra. Having to constantly look up terms to see what they mean is distracting as fuck. It should be obvious from the text.

    ETA: Ninja'd. What @Wreybies said.
     
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  4. Michael Thompson
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    Michael Thompson Member

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    A couple who read it understood things very well. The one person that's constantly mentioning this glossary idea, I think just wants to know more about the history of things from the story maybe...

    For example, the mane of the place my characters come from, Elatha... This was the name of a Celtic moon god.
     
  5. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    A glossary wouldn't suck (for people who don't pick up on certain things) but don't rely on it to do your worldbuilding for you. Focus on ensuring that the main text works without a glossary, and remember that some people just don't read sci-fi and don't have the patience for it (we have a couple of those in my writing group, and the sci-fi writers have learned to ignore the fact that those two people can't keep the universe straight and wouldn't buy the book anyway because of the subject matter).
     
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  6. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I agree with @Wreybies and @NigeTheHat . No problem with having a glossary there as an extra if you want to include one, but if the book actually needs the glossary in order for people to keep track of people, places, and terminology, or to understand what is going on, then you've got a problem with the book.
     
  7. Bookster
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    Bookster Banned

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    If I pick up a book at the library or bookstore and it starts with a long list of characters, a glossary of terms or with maps, I put it back on the shelf and move on. I read fiction for pleasure, and I just don't want to have to work that hard.
     
  8. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    The glossary should be at the back, so that only people who want to read it out of interest will ever see it :)
     
  9. Inks
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    Inks Contributing Member

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    What Wreybies said.

    Also, my head jumped immediately to the Red Cross booklet on that one, haha.
     
  10. sprirj
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    sprirj Contributing Member

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    Anyone interested in ALL your research and references should visit your webpage perhaps? If it is not needed do not put it in.
     
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  11. tonguetied
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    tonguetied Contributing Member Contributor

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    I would defer to the experts such as Wreybies, Steerpike, Commandante Lemming, etc., but I am wondering how relevant the information found in the glossary is to understanding and enjoying the story? I have a terrible memory for reading a book with a lot of characters in it and often thought it would be nice to have a reference to where the character was introduced so I could refresh my memory. One of my favorite authors, Peter Tremayne usually has a list of characters at the beginning of the book with a brief description of the person's position, but I still get confused about the significance of certain characters. Of course what I am needing is more like an index than a glossary so this may not apply well to your question.
     
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  12. Alstroemeria
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    Alstroemeria Member

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    No novel, even sci-fi or fantasy, should use an excess of invented words. No novel should.
     
  13. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    True, but views on what constitutes "excess" will vary. Therein lies the rub.
     
  14. ILaughAtTrailers
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    ILaughAtTrailers Member

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    I think that sort of thing turns readers away. Just make it simpler.
     
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  15. Michael Thompson
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    Michael Thompson Member

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    Thank you all for your input... I don't think it's about being too hard to understand... I think the few that have asked are interested in the history of names and terms I use... One person wanted to know more about the technology I invented for the story...
     
  16. nastyjman
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    nastyjman Contributing Member

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    Currently reading Hyperion, and that books is suffused with terminology and jargon... BUT it does it so well that you don't need a glossary to understand what was happening in the book. What Simmons did was ease you in with the terminologies. One chapter would mention something about the "Hegira," then the next chapter gives more hints about it, until finally it explains what it is. This happens in parallel with other terminologies that it's not actually overwhelming.
     
  17. AsherianCommand
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    AsherianCommand Active Member

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    If it is how to pronounce words or different meanings that have symbolic meaning, I mean it couldn't hurt to have it. Though I don't know too many books that have glossarys at the beginning.
     
  18. Cave Troll
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    Cave Troll Bite the bullet, do your own thing. Contributor

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    I have read one or two that have had the glossary of terms. Warbots by G. Harry Stine '89, has two, one for the military slang, and the other for military personnel. This is a Sci-Fi book by the by. Although I have a fairly decent understanding of Army slang, since my parents both served, but the newer slang is a bit different. So I think it was a good idea for Stine to add the glossary for those who would otherwise not know the terms.

    As for my own Novel(s), I did not add a glossary for slang or alien terms. For the slang end of it anybody can simply google it (something that on simply could not do in the days before the interwebz :p) And the alien terms are pretty self explanatory, or are indirectly summed up as to what it is. Not that I overuse these terms in my writing, just to convey that there are different languages/cultures. Kind of went with the whole 'Less is more' approach, if you know what I mean. :p

    In short, it depends on the writer as to whether to add in a glossary or not. If you use way to many complex/alien terms then sure a glossary may be needed. For names probably more so if you feel like your characters deserve a little more 'ego' (though it may not make them as exciting this way IMHO). It is all up to the individuals writing style, and just how complex you want to make it. Perhaps should write a peripheral book about such things, like a 'documentary' of the story itself. But this again falls on the shoulders of the writer and just how 'involved' they feel their story should be. Books should be entertaining, and not overly complicated IMO. Reading it should be fun and exciting, unless you're an anal technical freak. :D
     
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  19. Lew
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    Lew Contributing Member Contributor

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    I am doing historical fiction, set in Rome, China and Central Asia @100AD, but I think the same rules apply to sci/fi. I included a glossary of foreign words, place names, personal names of all major and minor characters. This WIP is in draft. This appendix serves two purposes, the primary one is for me to remember how to spell them! The second one is for the reader's follow-on interest. Colleen McCollough did this in Her First Man in Rome series (I think to huge excess), and to a lesser extent, Lindsey Davis in the Marcus Didius Falco series. I will probably cut mine down considerably after it has served its purpose (keeping me on track), and yes, it should be put in the back, so as to not intimidate the reader at the outset. I did include a map of the world showing the different empires of 100 AD as the backdrop against which this story will unfold, and a final map at the end which shows the vast extent of their massive journey.

    Foreign words, real or made up, should serve a purpose, and be immediately translated. "He went to the praetorium, the headquarters command tent." "The bowman showed him a lian-yu, which Marcus told him meant 'continuous cross bow'." Later, that is demonstrated to be a repeating crossbow, capable of firing 10 arrows in about 15-30 seconds, which the Romans find very interesting. And I italicize foreign words, so the reader doesn't feel puzzled why I am using a word he/she doesn't recognize.

    Since I am using period names, Myos Hormos (no longer existing) and Eudaemon Arabia instead of Aden in Yemen, I included a map for each chapter where there is movement, so the reader can locate themselves, and understand that Myos Hormos is at the north end of the Red Sea, and Eudaemon Arabia at its mouth on the Indian Ocean. Also, this allows me, with the mapping software I used, determine exactly how long the leg is and how long it would take in a sailing ship averaging about 100 miles a day.

    The best advice I heard, is that you should involve your reader in your story, not try to impress him/her with your research, or in the case of fantasy/sci-fi, the vividness of your imagination. However, in the interest of your story's continuity, you might want to write down all the details of your world for your own use, so that as details are introduced in the story, they will be consistent. For example, I had an archaeological paper on the Chinese capital at Luoyang @ 100AD, including a detailed map showing the gates with names, palaces and major government offices. What I used was a tiny fraction of what I had in hand, but I didn't have to worry about inconsistent descriptions of the parts I used. Just enough for the readers to picture it, and see it as the characters saw it.
     
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  20. Michael Thompson
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    Michael Thompson Member

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    I actually do keep notes on everything from ship numbers to technology... I keep notes on all my research in a word document for easy access... I don't know how many times I've had to reference them for a character's hair color or a parent's name...
     
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  21. Cave Troll
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    Cave Troll Bite the bullet, do your own thing. Contributor

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    I do something similar. But instead of a doc, I use a single subject notebook to keep important names, and places. Though it would take an outsider a while to decipher this chaotic mess of information. :p
     
  22. sprirj
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    sprirj Contributing Member

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    I've just started reading pale fire by Vladimir Nabokov (Lolita is probably one of the greatest books ever written) and it starts with a mock foreword by the MC, then a poem by an admired fictional author (the poem is about 40 pages long) then the rest of the book is the MC breaking down this poem and explaining it line by line. I will let you know how I get on, but maybe the glossary, can slot into your book in a similar way?
     

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