Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Choosing Your Writerly Words II

Words, Part 2
Last week I rambled on about selecting just the right names for characters and places. This week, I'm focusing on other areas where specific words can be important--or invented. As I mentioned, choosing the right word is especially important in genres such as fantasy or science fiction, where you are world building, creating your setting or story from "scratch."

Today! Even more places and ways to use creative words, oh boy.

Using current slang and keeping up on the latest "hip" sayings are not necessarily a great idea. If those words are too faddish, they've gone out of style in the approximately two years it takes for a book to become published. As an author, you don't want your novel to become puzzling or incomprehensible to your readers later on.

If you're careful, you can invent slang or expressions yourself, and never have to worry about them going out of date. I've used or made up words like this myself, such as: sterling, way sly, shrieking catguts, creepazoids, and screaming frothing bonkers. It's too fun!

I can't help myself. Every once in a while I slip words into a novel that I've tweaked or totally made up, and I'm not only talking about slang expressions. Word 2007 has a predictable fit, dutifully underlining the offending words in red. These can be verbs, adjectives, etc. For example:

twerky--used as in something odd or twistedly strange (ah, I just did it again--it seems "twistedly" isn't a word either…neither is writerly, used in the title of this post)
whoaz--as in whoa, stop the horses, what's goin' on?
irky--used instead of irksome in the character's inner dialogue (my teen character wouldn't have said something as sophisticated or formal as "irksome," after all)
chestward--as in moving something closer to one's chest
lasered--a verb, as in something scored by a laser into a piece of woodwork
whomper-- as in something of great magnitude, as in a whomper of a headache
blithery--the effect or state of a lot of blithering (senseless chattering), as in "Most girls did seem to go all blithery in the guy's presence."

Back to the subject of science fiction or fantasy, the world described sometimes "begs" to include made-up words. In my science fiction novel, SHAPERS, for instance, I made up laundromachine (a combo washer-dryer unit) and serverbot (a waitress robot). I wrote a fantasy novel in the 1990s where I had stinging rodents called leevils, along with monkey-like animals called ferms (one whom was named Rrarf, for an onomatopoeia-type flavor). As mentioned in my recent post about JK Rowling and Harry Potter; she made up the word for an illness that she called "spattergroit," which is delightfully inventive--and rather onomatopoeia-like itself.

Go ahead, play with words!

You do have to be careful, though. I've gotten carried away, and during critiques agents or editors have slashed out my little coined words, or written a puzzled question mark next to them. LOL No prob, I can let some of my invented pets go (some of 'em). *grin*

Of course, a well-known and beloved example of imaginative writing is the following poem:

JABBERWOCKY by Lewis Carroll
(from Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, 1872)

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!"

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought --
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

"And, has thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!"
He chortled in his joy.

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

Lewis Carroll's amusing definition of Uffish: "It seemed to suggest a state of mind when the voice is gruffish, the manner roughish, and the temper huffish."

Even though you don't recognize most of the above words, their very syllables, consonants, and SOUNDS give a distinct impression of their use. They are close to other words that lend an implicit or suggested meaning to the invented words. Pure genius--I love it!

Do you ever make up words--slang, names of objects, or even whole languages?
What are some of your favorite words you've made up?
Or, do you think making up words like this is waaaay too weird and experimental?


  1. I need to make up new words and slang and this post is SO helpful! Thanks! I love the stuff you made up already, so inventive!

  2. That's the funniest part about being a writer is making up words.

  3. Great post. I'm sure a lot of readers don't bother looking up unfamiliar words, and so we can get away with making up ones that sound right - as your list demonstrates so well.
    Agents can be quite picky about unfamiliar words, however. Mine objected to the word 'vatic' on my opening page - even though I didn't make it up and it is in the OED. And you could work out what it meant from the context.
    I'm tweeting this.

  4. PS - I just got 'ullyth' as my anti-spam word. Can anyone tell me what it means?

  5. Great post! How fun it is to make up words! And you've created some good ones:).

    Carol, today I named you as a Versatile Blogger!

  6. Great to see you, Lydia and Patti! Thanks for sharing my appreciation of invented words.

    Wow, DWC! Anti-spam words would be a GREAT place to discover invented words. I think you've hit on somethin' good there. And thanks for the sweet tweet! (Um,yeah, I had to look up vatic to see what it meant. LOL)

    Aw, Maria, thanks! More sweetness and attention. I loooove the online writerly community.

  7. Hi Carol its lovely to meet you. Thanx 4 stopping by my blog today and just for the record Pierce Brosnan is in my ABBA (Mamma Mia) Hall of fame.

  8. Your made-up words are so fun! I've only butchered existing words, flipping them into something a teen would say (or what I've heard my teen say!)

    Happy Thanksgiving!

  9. This is the fun side of words. It's good to play. I make up a lot of words because I write fantasy and scifi but I'm always careful they are not too way out there. I often get friends to read them back to me to see if they struggle.

  10. Hi Carol! So glad you found my blog and that now it's led me back to yours. :)

    I love your made-up words, they sound like something I'd say on any given day, lol! I haven't thrown words like that into my writing yet, but I have had to look up gypsy words, some of which sound made up.

    PS - LOVE Lewis Carroll!

  11. I don't make up words, although I have suggested to friends who write Fantasy they can use the words in Word Verification as names of people and places.

  12. Hi Carol, I see that you already have the Versatile Blogger Award but I wanted to let you know that I am sending it to you today on my blog. :) Cheers!


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