How are you with technical words, lingo or broad vocab writers?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Mike Chara, Feb 14, 2017.

  1. Mike Chara

    Mike Chara Journeyman

    I've got a thing, where if I'm reading a book and it uses a peculiar word that I've not come across before, I like it. You know the ones... where the author will name the particular part of a piece of armour or whatnot, which as the armour is no longer a thing in the real world, the name of that particular thing has fallen out of use.

    I enjoy picking up these little tidbits (especially if it's within character from POV, helping build a character by showing his knowledge), as long as it's within reason and not turning the book into a technical document. But I've found that a portion of my beta-readers say these odd words jarr them, 'why not just say the top part of the shield on the left'.

    What about you lot?
    Lisselle likes this.
  2. Insolent Lad

    Insolent Lad Lore Master

    I do use these words but sometimes add a few words of explanation to them or use them in a context where the reader can at least grasp a general idea of their meaning. I would not just pick up a 'dudgeon' with nothing more said about it but I might stab someone with it!

    Readers of fantasy should expect some usages of this sort, I think. I also think they make the worlds we create more real.
  3. Saigonnus

    Saigonnus Dark Lord

    I am pretty good with vocabulary, and I try to incorporate it where I can in my stories. The thing that I am afraid of is how it might be recieved by readers. It wouldn't do for them to have to pull out a dictionary often. Kind of pull them from the narrative a bit.

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  4. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Dark Lord

    I tend to use terminology with context ( or at least enough) that people aren't forced to look it up. For instance, when a character asks where the garderobe is, that it's established somehow that in this instance, garderobe means the potty, heh heh.

    Personally, I hope most fantasy readers are used to these sorts of things... but, I'm sure it bugs a few because everything bugs somebody.
  5. Malik

    Malik Scribal Lord

    I write hard fantasy technothrillers. I get messages from readers telling me how much they enjoyed looking up some of the terminology, and how much they enjoyed learning about the tech involved. I had a reviewer say that she was calling around to local fencing schools before she'd even finished the book. That's my crowd.

    I do sometimes explain it in the narrative if it's reading too tech-y; balancing it in the narrative voice is a bit of a trick and it took the right editor to make it work.
  6. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

    This is what I try to do. But IMHO there's nothing wrong with making the reader work for it a little.

    But you never know who knows what. I once had someone complain because I used the word 'helm' as in wearing a helm. And they didn't know what the heck that was. *shrug*
  7. Steerpike

    Steerpike Staff Moderator

    I like learning new words from books.
    Ronald T. likes this.
  8. Michael K. Eidson

    Michael K. Eidson Grandmaster

    I'm with you. As long as you're not turning the book into a technical document, as a reader (and a writer) I'd appreciate your helping me to build my vocabulary.
  9. skip.knox

    skip.knox Staff Moderator

    I deal with this often because of the nature of my genre (alt historical fantasy). My guideline is importance to the story.

    For example, I have a group of characters who are barbarians who can do magic. These people are exiled and reviled by the rest of the tribes, and they have a name--rixen. Because they are central to the story, that word gets explained. At another level, I have my Roman characters say things like salve or vere. I let the reader figure those from context. It's not difficult. At yet another level, I have a chapter entitled "To the City" by which is meant Constantinople. Some readers--probably not many--will recognize that Istanbul is often translated as "to the city" and perhaps get a smile out of it. It's not necessary to the story, so not only is no explanation needed, it would actually disrupt.

    IOW, I don't think there is a single answer to this question. You have to know your story, know what you are trying to communicate, and judge relevance--and therefore need for explanation--accordingly.
  10. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Dark Lord

    I also think, like many things with vocabularly, it's important to use technical terms only when they make perfect senes, rather than stretching something in order to force it to work. If it comes off natural, great, if it comes off as showing off some knowledge, it's probably going to be less accepted by the masses.
  11. Ronald T.

    Ronald T. Lore Master

    Perhaps I'm a bit odd when it comes to this issue, but I love learning about words I'm unfamiliar with. At home, I always have a large dictionary within reach, whether I'm reading a novel or watching TV. I write the word down if I'm away from home and have no immediate resource. Then I check it out later. I find it endlessly exciting to discover new words, and I don't mind the occasional interruption to a book or a TV show if it is a result of expanding my personal vocabulary. I have no problem remembering where I left off. As a writer, I feel a broad vocabulary is an essential tool within my author's toolbox. And I want the benefit of every tool available. It seems a broad vocabulary is a vital part of a writer's skill set if they wish to express themselves with the utmost versatility and range. I only wish I had a greater vocabulary than I already do. But I'm always learning, and for me, that's what is most important.
  12. skip.knox

    skip.knox Staff Moderator

    I learned as a teenager about words. I cut my science fiction teeth on Jules Verne and H.G. Wells at age 14, so I was all the time running into words I did not know. I read the entire Island of Doctor Moreau and never did know what the heck vivisection was. My family were not readers and there was no dictionary in the house. I just tried to figure words out from context.

    I did not fall in love with the *meaning* of words until I took Latin in college. Once I began to recognize Latin roots, it was like I'd been given the secret decoder ring, and I've been obsessed with etymology ever since.

    The point here (there is a point here, right Skip?) is that we don't know the reading level of our readers. We don't know which words will be mysterious to someone, nor how they'll react when they encounter one. The one guideline I use for myself is not to make the scene depend on the word. If it does, then I have to explain the word. If I make a point of the word, if I draw attention to it, I need to explain it. Otherwise, I'll leave it to the reader to find meaning (or invent it!).

    You may be odd, Ronald T., but not on this issue. ;-)
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  13. Incanus

    Incanus Shadow Lord

    Words are a writer's stock in trade, and just interesting on their own. It's one reason I keep a steady diet of reading. I like to have a wide variety of words floating around in recent memory because I never know which one I might need next.

    And for me it goes well beyond medieval nomenclature or specific terms. I like a good mix of verbs and adjectives and even adverbs going all the time as well. Spice it up. Idioms and imagery.
    Ronald T. likes this.
  14. FifthView

    FifthView Istari

    I'm the same with etymology. "Secret decoder ring" is spot-on for me.

    As reader and writer, I've experienced something of a problem that I like to think about via the metaphor of learning and using a foreign language.

    I studied French for four years, over a couple decades ago, and some Spanish, and to this day, this experience plus my general decades-long interest in etymology, means I can read and somewhat translate from those languages (and even other related languages like Portuguese) far, far better than I can actually speak them. Give me a newspaper, an article, whatever, in these languages, and I can grasp some of what's being said. Drop me in the middle of a foreign country surrounded by native speakers of French or Spanish who don't know English, and I might be able to understand some things being spoken to me—if they speak very slowly, hah. But speak it myself? I'd manage some very basic sentences, but my mind wouldn't come up with the right words for anything complex even if I could first see those words in print and understand them. I think this is pretty normal, a common experience.

    But the same thing happens with English, hah. Reading it or listening to it is one thing, but coming up with it on the spot when writing it or speaking it is a different thing.

    Incidentally, I think this divide affects lots of other areas of writing besides just vocabulary, but that might be a different thread.
    Last edited: Mar 20, 2017
  15. SumnerH

    SumnerH Journeyman

    I agree. On the other hand, it's important to remember that not all (or even most) readers are writers.

    I try to limit truly unusual words to places where they'll help the story without bumping the reader. Things such as:

    • Places where they're used in enough context that either the meaning is obvious or the gist of the sentence makes sense without knowing the precise meaning.
    • Words that are going to be used repeatedly, so you don't have to repeat circumlocutions.
    • Words that are also meant to be abstruse in-story (confusing to a character or several, or illustrating that one is a subject matter expert or an erudite showoff or something).

    etc. On the other hand, I don't try to stick to a midget vocabulary, either. But it's often more reasonable to say that something is "box-shaped" than that it's a "cuboid", depending on the context. If that's the case, I won't try to wedge in the fancy word.
    Ronald T. likes this.
  16. Tort76

    Tort76 Acolyte

    Weapons are the hardest, my first book I used senbon. Their a ninjutsu weapon looking like a pencil but used like shuriken. Present from a girlfriend, my beta readers could understand it so I had to add context. Now I use word levels based on the characters background and use others to help translate it to normal speak.

    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

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