Monday, January 31, 2011

Making up words?

I read an article the other day about making up words in sc-fi books. I don't remember where I read it... wait, found it:

Anyway, the author of the article was strongly against making up fake words for ordinary things just to make it sound science-fictiony. To a point, I agree with her for the reasons she lists, but it got me thinking. Now, she does have a disclaimer at the top of the article, and that's kind of where this post is going... in a round-about way...

Specifically, when she mentioned calling something "klaa" instead of coffee.  I hit a mental speed bump right about there. For those who have not read Anne McCaffrey's Pern series, stop what you're doing right now and go read Dragonflight.

There's a good reason "coffee" is called "klah" on Pern. That makes it OK then, right? Apparently it does (to me at least) for two reasons:

1. Anne McCaffrey is a best selling author and has won just about every sci-fi writing award there is.
2. It fits in with the story. If they had coffee on an alien planet, that'd break suspension of disbelief more than a funk word would throw me out of the rhythm of the story.

I think the point the article is trying to make though, is that one should think very carefully before just making up a bunch of random words. Famous authors can get away with things that would get an un-known author tossed out of the slush pile. And sometimes it just isn't necessary to put in a made-up word when a regular word would do just fine.

Or possibly I'm just defensive because I have some made-up words in my writing... ;)

1 comment:

  1. Making up story elements—words, names, places—is not easy. Rather, it’s not easy to get it right, so a word sounds right, so it sounds as if it belongs there. J. K. Rowling has a knack for it, at least in the “Harry Potter” books. J. R. R. Tolkein did also. Lin Carter discusses some of this in his book, Imaginary Worlds. He has a tendency to chisel his opinions in stone, but he has a lot of goods things to say and he lends some historical perspective on the whole subject.