1. SuperNed
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    SuperNed New Member

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    What is the consensus on a glossary of terms?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by SuperNed, Oct 19, 2008.

    I couldn't find anything by searching, so I apologize if this has been asked.

    I'm currently in the process of writing a what I hope to be a rather epic fantasy novel, and I'm trying to create a living, breathing world for my characters to travel through. As such, I've designed a rather large world with many intricate details. I do not want a plethora of details to undermine my characters or story, but if I mention something interesting in passing that could perhaps be expanded upon, but such explanation is not appropriate for the story, would not a glossary be helpful and enriching overall?


    Any thoughts on this? Is this a bad path to head down?
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    :arry Niven has put short glossaries at the ends of a couple of his novels. Frankly, I don't like them.

    At least Niven's glossaries aren't necessary. Every term is already shown adequately in the context of the story. They're only needed if you haven't been paying attention, or even skipped sections.

    Do you REALLY want your readers to stop every so often, stick a bookmark in, flip to the glossary for a minute or two, and then resume the story?
     
  3. CDRW
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    CDRW Contributing Member Contributor

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    On the one hand.

    [​IMG]

    On the other hand, I've loved reading the glossaries at the end of the wheel of time books. It's like the author gave just a little more for those people who finish the book but don't want to stop reading. I guess I'm a little strange though because I also like prologues and epilogues, unlike most of the people I've heard talk about them on this site.
     
  4. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    If I had a nickel for every time I saw that graph above...

    SuperNed, I would advise against using a glossary. Instead, try to give enough details and clues in the book so that the reader can figure out what these terms mean without having to refer to a glossary. Flipping back and forth between the reading and a glossary takes away the fun from reading.
     
  5. tehuti88
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    tehuti88 Contributing Member

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    If the glossary is of terms that really do have a bearing on understanding the story, then it might be necessary. (MIGHT.) But, you say that your glossary would be of things that have no direct relation to the story but might be interesting to the reader, in an unrelated way, if mentioned in passing.

    If that's the case then I'd say, no glossary. If the terms really don't need to be understood, or if they really have no importance to the story, then don't assume the reader will want to know about them. I have all kinds of background and personal life details and mythology and whatnot behind my fantasy world but if it has nothing to do with the story at hand, then it has no place in a book, including a glossary.
     
  6. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think a glossary is fine if it enhances the text or helps with pronounciation, but is not required to understand it. There is a series by O.R. Melling in which she uses lots of Gaelic, and has a glossary in the back of each book that tells you how to pronounce the words and gives a detailed definition that sometimes tells you a bit about the culture. People can generally figure out what a word means or at least what the sentense means even if they had never heard the word before, as long as the writer does their job well.

    This goes for made-up and real words. There are several books that people read as children or teens with lots of words they never heard, but you don't see kids (even the most diligent of students) running to the dictionary all the time in order to understand the book. Even as adults, we don't know every word in the English language, so we're occassionally going to come across words we don't know when we read, but very rarely will it confuse us enough to make us read for the dictionary or encyclopedia.
     
  7. Helmut_II
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    Helmut_II Member

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    The first thing I thought of when I read "glossary" was A Clockwork Orange.

    So I'm going to say that making a good story comes first, glossaries are acceptable in a great story.

     
  8. Scattercat
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    Scattercat Active Member

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    I actually really enjoyed the cat-language in Tailchaser's Song. It had a whole glossary, pronunciation, and even a grammatical guide at the end of it.

    On the flip side, none of the words in the story actually NEEDED a glossary. It was obvious, for example, that "nre'fa'o" was a greeting and "fla'fa'az" meant "birds." It was cool (to me, anyway, as a language nerd) to read the back and see that "fa" meant "jump" or "dance", which was a fundamental concept to the culture of the cats. "nre'fa'o" translated literally to "heart-jump-good", or, colloquially, "Good dancing to you." "Fla'fa'az" was "run-jump-cat," which is a pretty interesting way for cats to think of birds. (Dogs were "fik'az", or "loud-cats.") And it was equally interesting to see that other animals were given names differently. Squirrels and chipmunks were called "rikchikchik" after the sounds they made.

    Basically, it really enriched the tone of the book for me to have that tool. I think the key is that the glossary can be interesting, but it should never be necessary.
     
  9. Etan Isar
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    Etan Isar Contributing Member Contributor

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    There's absolutely nothing whatsoever wrong with a glossary. As long as it isn't like the reader has to use it as a reference for translating the story into plain english. A publisher would not necessarily want to include the glossary in their print run, though, and that's where it becomes a real question, to be dealt with by you, your agent, and the editor.

    But if you have not yet reached that stage, I can't imagine it would be a waste of time if you would enjoy doing it.
     
  10. Sato Ayako
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    Sato Ayako Contributing Member

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    Like a lot of people here have said, glossaries aren't that bad if they're really necessary. But be advised that each word should be able to stand (mostly) on its own through context. Not everyone wants to flip back and forth in a book to figure out what the heck you're saying.

    Don't you find it annoying whenever you have to flip around a book to understand it? For example, I'm reading a translation of L'Morte d'Arthur right now, and every few pages I have to turn to the back of the book to understand the "ye olde Englesh". It's annoying. It ruins the already wonky pacing in the book.

    Let's address the idea of a complex world you've built. Complex worlds are great. They help draw your reader into the story and really help your characters build personality off environmental interactions. However, sometimes you have to sacrifice complexity for the sake of your story. If the reader absolutely, positively does not have to know a certain detail, either gloss over the detail or, if you can, don't mention it at all. Especially if you'll end up having to explain it in detail. Or put it in a glossary.
     
  11. Little Miss Edi
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    Little Miss Edi Contributing Member

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    I don't have a problem with glossaries and in the case of names and places that are difficult to pronounce I always appreciate a little guide. But by the time I realise they're there (at the end of the book) I've already made up my own version of pronunciation and missed the point completely. By all means have a glossary but perhaps it's be a good idea to alert the reader to it before the story starts. Just a thought... :p
     
  12. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    My feeling is that if the reader needs a glossary to get through the book, then the writing itself is seriously flawed.

    I don't even really like a glossary as supplemental information, for the reasons I stated in an earlier post. If your readers need to refer to the glossary to follow the story, I'd strongly consider some simplification of difficult names and terms, better narration to help the reader understand the term fully within the story context, or both.
     
  13. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    River of Gods is a book that is selling well. It has a huge glossary and you must use it. However a lot of people's complaint is the fact they have to use the glossary.
     
  14. Emerald
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    Emerald Contributing Member

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    A Clockwork Orange doesn't have a glossary. At least, it's not supposed to...
     
  15. Banzai
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    Banzai One-time Mod, but on the road to recovery Contributor

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    I agree. And to be honest, Cogito is right. If you absolutely have to create a plethora of new words, then you can at least explain their meaning in the body of the story, rather than having to use a glossary like a blunt weapon to beat it into the reader.
     
  16. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    That kind of says it all, doesn't it?
     

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