Wednesday, April 12, 2017

A to Z: Jargon

2017 THEME: Editing Fiction (Because that's what I'm in the middle of doing.)

What is the Blogging from A to Z challenge and where can I find more participants? Right here.

Beyond keeping your story straight and characters likable, you've got to know your own Jargon.  If you're writing a story based in the real world, this would fall under doing your research and knowing what you're talking about. If you've made up your own world, well, you should probably also know what you're talking about.

Make sure you keep special words for technology, races, planets, gizmos and magical things straight. They need to be spelled the same, capitalized or not, italicized or not, used correctly by whomever is using them and possibly in a different manner by characters who don't. Write down the rules for the thing-which-you-have-created so that you, as the Creator of Worlds, make sure those things follow those rules and don't become McGuffins, plot holes, or any other point of weakness.

The things that you create should have purpose and meaning to the plot or character. Don't create or use spiffy words for the sake of tossing them around. If you're going to pull in some technical jargon the reader has to Google to follow the story, it better be worthwhile in the grand scope of things.

Have you spent days/weeks/months creating the most detailed galaxy and know everything about all seven plants and their collective fifteen moons, the nearby asteroid belt, and the two stars that keep it all habitable? That's great, but if your story only involves one of those worlds and has a legitimate reason to mention maybe two others but we never go there, we probably don't need the chapter of world building it would take to share all of that. Stick to what is necessary for the story. Adding a little more for flavor is fine, but don't drag down the pace.

 I once created a bunch of spiffy items with rules and special words, only to realize I could get by with two of them for flavor and the rest weren't necessary to the story at all, fun as they were to create and awesome as they might be in my own mind. That epiphany led to a lot of hack and slash editing. As writers we love to create things, but we also must learn when to cut them. (Tune in tomorrow for more on that.)

Today's post breaks down to a simple: Know thy shit and use it wisely.

Have you created something nifty only to cut it later?


  1. Evenly distributing world knowledge over the course of the story without overwhelming your readers is an art form. Sometimes I think it is a lost art...

    The Multicolored Diary: WTF - Weird Things in Folktales

    1. It is a hard mix of world building and pacing that is to hit just right.

  2. Excellent points. The world-building has to be consistent, even if most of it never makes it into the novel.

    And as regards your question, yes, I've cut almost as much as I've written--at least a third. I pantsed my way through seven novels before I had a clue (a whole other story), and I had to start working my way through excess description and world-building with a heavy red pen. I hated doing it at the time, but it's been a huge improvement to my stories.

    Nice to connect with a fellow fantasy author. :)

  3. Hi Jean - jargon is such an important aspect ... we get our voice and we should watch it ... it could become a real problem if it goes wrong and why waste time - try and get it right ... cheers Hilary

  4. Good post - love the summary, it says it all!

  5. "Know thy shit and use it wisely." Perfect!

    J: Joshua Tree, Jackson & Jerome
    DB McNicol, author & traveler
    Theme: Oh, the places we will go!

  6. "Know thy shit and use it wisely." Love that! I have not written anything that required specialized Jargon. I once tried to read a book where the author seemed so caught up in using their new terms that they make up far too many and the story got lost in the jargon.

    Emily | My Life In Ecuador | Jama Bridge Jumping

  7. It always amazes me what I go back and cut after writing.

  8. I used to get so carried away with research, it would just kill me to not use it. Now I do it more on the fly--after I've roughly sketched out a scene. Then i have a better sense of what handful of key details or jargon terms would be just enough to lend verisimilitude. Your example of building an entire solar system is the perfect illustration of how creativity can run amok on tangents.

  9. I use to find it hard to cut things out after I had spent so much time crafting them. However, I have discovered that cutting out some of these words, sentences, paragraphs, and chunks that aren’t needed makes the piece read so much better. Editing is such a challenging process.

    J for Jealous

  10. It's hard to let things go after so much research went into them, but tighter is better. :-)

  11. Ooh, I like this article. I especially like your suggestion that characters who don't use (thing) might mis-use or mis-spell the in-world jargon corresponding to that thing. And yes-- I have to cut huge chunks of beloved material from practically everything I write. Sometimes, though, you can split one massive story into two (or more) more manageable ones... or that is what I tell myself when I cut a big piece out of a story. "Don't worry!" I say to myself. "This is totally going to be the basis of something awesome." And someday, that may even happen!
    Melanie Atherton Allen


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