1. Donal
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    Donal Contributing Member

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    Using Made-Up Terms

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Donal, Dec 10, 2010.

    Especially used in Fantasy and Science Fiction are made-up words which indicate some magical device or an object that hasn't been invented yet. I'm trying to find a way to introduce these without info-dumping. As well as this are made up slang terms - I want to give certain characters a way of talking and using some colloquial terms - but there's no point unless the readers knows what they are referring to.
     
  2. MetalRenard
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    MetalRenard Member

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    Do they at any point talk to the reader?
    "You need to see our planet to really understand how amazing it is, so let me show you."
    (Like Terry Pratchett does)
    You can do some info dumping if you spread it over other things such as action and interraction.
    Another cool way is to use a term used by us in a day to day manner then have another character correct this person saying "No, it's not -garbage-! It's poubelle!" (French for garbage). Juuust an idea!
     
  3. Donal
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    Donal Contributing Member

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    See those situations would involve a character who is unfamiliar with their world or the characters talking to the reader directly. Its only a short story a few thousand words. I may use other characters reactions, or use the same term intermittantly around the story so the reader can get the meaning from the context.
     
  4. HeinleinFan
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    HeinleinFan Banned

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    It might help if you treat them as "real but obscure." Just as I would describe a halberd, a piton, an athame, or a DAPI with FITC counter-stain, so too would I describe made-up words.

    "The pair crouched low behind a hedge, peering through the branches for sign of their quarry. Smellder kept his oriss, a long fighter's knife with a ten-inch blade, a stubbly crossguard and a tang that went right through the handle to end in a brass buttcap, ready in his hand. It was like a natural extension of his arm, as comfortable a companion as his hat and shoes -- and, in times like these, just as practical."

    Now, the word oriss is made up. But now we all have a pretty decent idea of what it is, what one might use it for, and a hint about who Smellder is and what he does. Not bad for a discription. And this is hardly an "infodump," if it's woven into a larger story.

    As for slang, it oughtn't be too hard to make the words clear from context. You don't need a stranger to translate, either, as long as the character knows more than one word for a particular term.

    Slang example:

    "The lizards are acting up again," Merril said, looking over the wall moodily. "I wouldn't wonder if they tried something tonight. With all this fog, an all." He waved a hand at the eastern gate houses, where the damp of the marshes had crept in, spreading the light of the lanterns into blurry globes and dimming the stars entirely. "Betcha this new eso of theirs is watching, making plans."

    Sera nodded, but didn't say anything. The lizards' old leader had died -- the howling and clamor had echoed across the water for nearly two nights running -- and the new eso was apparently some outlander, not a marsh dweller like the other creeps who'd been in charge. She hoped the new leadership would mean disorganization, perhaps a break in raids, or at least fewer well-armed ones. It would be nice to have peace again.

    I guess that's about it for slang and invented terms. The main thing to remember is that infodumping is only infodumping when it doesn't weave into the story, which is why writers sometimes hear that you shouldn't spend a whole paragraph explaining -- better by far to have a sentence or two of new information, rather than a page. But it's a fuzzy thing, really, and you'll have to practice on your own in order to figure out what you're comfortable with.

    Good luck.
     
  5. darthjim
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    darthjim Member

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    I personally find that the best way is for your writing to explain slang and 'made-up' terms through context. Sure, some readers may be a little confused at first, but if you treat your readers as intelligent, logical beings and carefully use 'made-up' terms in a context that makes their function/meaning clear, you can easily get away without info-dumping.
     
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  6. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    You can also use dialogue, with one character explaining what something is to another. This won't work for invented slang, but it does for invented technical terms.
     
  7. FrankABlissett
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    FrankABlissett Active Member

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    One way to give it out a piece at a time is to have the character pretend to know what it is on its introduction. You know - like when there's some obscure term in your industry or hobby that you should know but don't. The smart person would say "Whatzat you said?". Everyone, every now and then, though just nods and hopes to understand through context.

    In so doing, you can give a little info now, a little later, and more later still. The reader's ignorance will mirror the character's, so won't be an undesirable thing.

    Even if the character does ask, you could go with the mini-info dump. Again, the reader is largely ignorant, but because the character is.

    This isn't a bad info dump as I'm trying to be brief, but instead of:
    Balder said, "Tongles are dog like and very smelly - a smell like a twice dead skunk sitting for a week in a garbage can at the dump. Their teeth are nasty too and can cut through steel like it's crepe paper."

    Try:
    Balder said "Tongles are dog like and very smelly, but that's the least of your worries. Their bite is what'll kill you."

    [then, later]

    He smelt the tongle before he saw it. The smell was like a dead skunk sitting in a garbage can for a week at the dump.

    [and later still]

    The corner of the cargo container started to buckle and they realized that the tongles were actually working their way through the steel with the raw force of their jaws and teeth.

    -Frank
     
  8. goldhawk
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    goldhawk Senior Member

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    Just use your new words in context; people will figure out their meanings from that. I suggest you read Clockwork Orange as an example of how to do this.
     
  9. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Use things that are different to our world but still recognisable - this was where Enid Blyton was always genius - she found words that you knew exactly what they ment, needed only the barest mention and you'd ahh of course. Like my Gran calling the TV a gogglebox. You knew what she ment and it fit.

    My MC (it isn't a device) in my first book uses volcanic, spitting lava, and erupting when he is describing anger.
     
  10. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    [​IMG]
     
  11. VM80
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    VM80 Contributing Member Contributor

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    It needs to be done carefully, otherwise it can sound clumsy.

    I'm not sure some of the suggestions would work so well, as it could sound as if the character is 'lecturing' the reader. Not a good thing.

    I'd use few made-up words, and try to make it clear from the context what is being referred to.
     
  12. FrankABlissett
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    FrankABlissett Active Member

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    LOL - good find, Wrey. Gotta love XKCD.

    -Frank
     
  13. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Agreed. Now that I've have my little fun with comic strips quoting...

    Remember that you are trying to conjure an image in the mind of the reader. When you use neologisms to excess, the mind has no frame of reference, no way to draw a picture with things familiar. The last thing you should ask the reader to do is to traipse off into a glossary to get reoriented. You should be jealous of your reader's attention to the story.
     
  14. Biffa001
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    Just finished the Void Trilogy by Peter F Hamilton (great btw), and he uses lots of made up terms and weird future very original sci-fi phrases and tech.

    There is no explanation per-se or relating things to what we know, he just writes it in and the description of the use of this tech etc is so good you just get what he means.

    Even if it is weird and alien and so unlike anything you would know.

    But on the other hand a list at the end of thee book full of explanations on all the weird words is ok with me. Anathem by Neal Stephenson is like that, but it works well.
     
  15. Quorum1
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    Quorum1 Member

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    Orson Scott Card wrote a book on writing SF and fantasy. I found his advice on made-up words very useful - don't use a made-up word if there is a real word that means the same or similar. Also, readers of SF and fantasy generally expect to see some made up terms in the stories, so give your reader the benefit of the doubt and let the definitions of these words evolve gradually.

    Personally I would limit the use of made-up words. I also have a pet hate of made-up slang and made-up curse words, but that might be just me.
     
  16. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    There's also the old saying - Keep It Simple, Stupid. Use the simplest means to achieve the desired effect. Don't make the reader memorise lots of made-up words unless they really stand for something new and unique no other word can convey, AND contribute significantly to the story.
     

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