23 June, 2011

Do You Speak Your Genre?

Every genre comes with its own kind of specifications.

Science Fiction is based in the future, Fantasy is based on made-up worlds, Historical Fiction is based on (you guessed it) history, and so on. But most genres also have their own slang and usage to go along with their characters, setting, and plot.

For example, say you pick up a Fantasy book. It saves writing and the reader's time if you just assume the person holding the book understands what it means to scry, or what a mage is, and there are often four elementals.

In Science Fiction, using terms like hyperspace, intergalactic, interstellar, star system, and so on is among the everyday. Starship? Let's get the jump drives fired up, Captain!

And there's the more specialized slang, one of the main ones I can think of being the slew of gaming terms, particularly 1337: j00 KN0W wH@ i m34n?*

Plus, some books are written in tweets and IM and email. In thos cases its eesy to rn into speleing errors and abbrs., wich can b hard 2 read, after a while.

It isn't necessary to use those kinds of terms, of course; I've read several books that used little slang, and pulled it off just fine. However--especially with SF/F and other books set in other worlds--it seems almost inevitable you're going to be using some kind of genre-specific language.

It can go the other way, too. Some books I've read just use word after word after word that I would have to sit around and stare at for a while to get their meaning. Sometimes it's fun to decipher a lot of leetspeak, or puzzle through BRB and LOL and TTYL, but if I just want to sit back, relax, and read, they can get on the nerves.

What about you? Do you use slang, and words with their own specific usage, in your writing? If so, what kind? Do you like it when authors use slang, or does it just get in the way?

*Okay, I cheated. I used this 1337 Translator. I'm not a gamer.

-----The Golden Eagle


Sarah Pearson said...

Oh dear, it's a sign of my murky not-very-distant gaming past that I didn't need the translator!

I've just finished the first draft of a YA novel so this hasn't really been an issue for me. In fact, I've tried to keep even the usual slang to a minimum in case it dates.

Heather said...

I use language that is appropriate for the genre but I try to stay away from slang. The problem with too much slang is that it will date your book. Different slang comes into style nearly year.

Bethany Elizabeth said...

As a general rule, I try only to use slang I could see myself conceivably using. Sometimes it can go way overboard, so I'd rather have too little than too much. :)

Elena Solodow said...

Interesting topic. I always invent dialect/slang specific to the plot and characters, but it always has to be something that a reader can understand through the context of the narrative and situation. I also hate having to work at deciphering stuff. It should all seem natural.

Laila Knight said...

No slang here. I write fantasy but eventhough there are other worlds I'm creating, the people are just like you and me. I like keeping them as real as I can, and slang just doesn't cut it for me.

Summer Ross said...

I'm not big on much slang. I really don't like reading misspelled words unless they are part of dialogue and the author is trying to show how the character talks.

N. R. Williams said...

I don't use fantasy terms in real life and I think it's bad form for a writer to assume everyone knows what an elf is (for example) at the same time, you don't want to lecture the reader. So when you introduce an elf, a well written description that isn't too long, good dialogue and your characters reaction to the elf are the best ways to give the information needed without an info dump. (Writer slang).

Also, I'd love it if you shared my post today with your readers.

That 20 Something Virgin. said...

I've given a little thought to this. The book I'm currently working on is sort of paranormal/ fantasy but I try to stay away from slang. You don't want to date yourself.

Tanya Reimer said...

Oh so fun! I love the creative words that go with SF/F, but I hate the abbreations.

By the way, it took me forever to figure out what BTW stood for. Seriously, I had to call my really cool sister. And she laughed and laughed at me when I told her what I thought it meant.

Sarah said...

My everyday language is a weird mix of antiquated terms, abbreviations, odd, made-up words, and teen-speak that I inadvertently pick up from my students.

I try to write a little cleaner than that, but it makes sense that I lean towards the fantasy/sci-fi genres.

Maeve Frazier said...

I use some slang. I try not to overdo it. Too much of it can date your work. Really great post. Thanks for sharing - Maeve

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I like to read historical fiction set in the time of the Tudors and sometimes I have reread to understand the meaning of words though they're not really slang, just words that have fallen out of use.

Josh Hoyt said...

I like this post it is so true that slang can make a book better and put the person into the world that is being created, but it can also take me out of it.

Rachel Morgan said...

All I know is that it would drive me INSANE to read a book made up of "text message" language! Takes far too long to decipher!

I don't think I use too much genre jargon...

Brian said...

Sometimes it's hard to catch on to some of the new slang if you are not familiar with the topic, but I usually catch on pretty quick like!

Christine Rains said...

Interesting post. I writer mostly urban fantasy and paranormal romance. I don't use a lot of slang. I have some gaming and geek slang, though!

Donna K. Weaver said...

Thought provoking post. Thank you. I've got a SciFi and an YA Fantasy I'm working on, and I'm struggling with some of this.

Tessa Conte said...

ROFL!!! *grins*

Modern language can be complicated, more so if you're trying to figure out how to 'speak' in your book... I have a general issue with too-special slang or dialects or the likes in books. It limits your readership and/or is very, very hard to do well.

All my characters/stories are in ordinary language.

I think....

Old Kitty said...

I don't speak genre but I love reading all genres - throw me whatever - I'll have a go - even if it's like James Joyce's stream of consciousness genre - hey!! I tried - and have been stuck on page 2 for over 25 years now, but by golly I tried! Ahem.

Take care

Lynda R Young said...

I try not to use too much slang, but a litle can be quite effective.

Shelley said...

Wow, very interesting. No I don't use genre language, or at least I don't think so... :) If you're reading the book in the first place, most likely the reader already knows the language, so I don't mind when authors do this. Great post! :)

Devin Bond said...

I don't really have a chance to use much slang in my current WIP. But I like to create slang that fits the plot and characters when I have the chance.

Jules said...

I speak hillbilly and anything large or misspelled throws me in a tizzy. :)
Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

No hyperspace, but I did use laserblasts. Really didn't go heavy on the slang.

Samantha Sotto-Yambao said...

Interesting post! Slang, like every word in a novel, should be used thoughtfully. Too much can be distracting, but the right amount can make a story feel authentic.

Michael Di Gesu said...

An interesting post and question Golden.

For me I think it depends on the to story and characters. You may need your character to speak slang to be hip and current.

I did in my second book because it is a y/a contemporary.

anthony stemke said...

Slang is both colourful and dangerous. A little goes a long way. I think too much slang makes it kind of cultish, and thus limiting.

Rob-bear said...

Eagle: I live in the genre called "journalism." Like other genres, it has it's own rules. See, for example, an American Press or Canadian Press style guide.

We journalists, in broadcast and print, have our own internal slang, but we don't use it with our readers/listeners/viewers. That would only confuse people — which is the last thing we want to do.

As for reading, I can handle some Hobbit language or the like, but I prefer clean, clear writing. That would include historical fiction.

Angie said...

Since I write sci-fi, I do use a lot of genre slang. I think it is a really good shorthand to prevent the need for info-dump. Only problem is attracting readers who don't normally read sci-fi.

Krispy said...

I don't know if it's possible to avoid genre specific terms for fantasy and sci-fi anyway, but I try not to throw too much in. It IS interesting to see what we take for granted when we write genre. During her writing workshops, my writing partner was surprised by the kinds of questions her non-genre reading peers asked her about her fantasy-based works. She realized then how many assumptions about world-building and what not people used to reading and writing in a genre make, and that people outside of it don't necessarily make the same assumptions.

As for slang, it depends on the story and the book. I don't try to make up too much slang because if it's not done right, it rings so false and becomes distracting.

Madeleine said...

Excellent post. Yes we do need to know the language of the genre to make it convincing and sometimes the accents and dialects of the characters. I've played it pretty safe up until recently, when I tried to write aborigonal-english in a flash fiction piece. I guess historical novels also have their own terminology like sci-fi and fantasy that is essential to it sounding authentic. :o)

Margo Benson said...

Good post. I write contemporary romance and only sprinkle in a little slang or accents etc just to give a flavour of the time, mood or character.

Too much can throw mw out of the story.

Paul Tobin said...

An interesting post. I have to say I am not sure that I agree with the basic premise; if I have created a world be it fantasy or of the future then the words belong to that place. therefore is it slang? I use what you term "slang" in the world I have created to give it depth, a reality that it might not otherwise have.
Did you know there is an Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction? It was published in 2007 and was edited by Jeff Prucher. It is an interesting read, he cites the first time a word was used and offers an definition. The first word is actifan and the last is -zine. neither of these really give you a flavour of the book, perhaps moonsuit is a better word to leave you with

Flying high in the sky.... said...

very interesting....

Michelle Merrill said...

Awesome post! I don't know if I've gotten into the slang much, but I hope to incorporate it more. It can add depth to a story if used correctly.

Nicki T. said...

When I started really reading fantasy, I didn't have a clue as to what a mage was! It was painful trying to figure it out until I realized that it referred to a wizard. I do not use slang as a rule.

Charles Gramlich said...

This has proven to be a bit of a problem with my writing group. I'm writing a space opera piece and almost none of them have ever read any. They keep trying to get me to change the slang but I tell them I can't, that the readers for the genre will enjoy it, and even expect it.

Sangu said...

Hmm well at the moment I'm writing stuff that's set in the world we know - or at least almost identical to it. So I tend to only use slang that you'd hear here already (in England anyway) or slang that's based on existing slang (if it's a futuristic-but-similar world). I think too much slang in a book can be off-putting but you're right - certain genres like SF and fantasy NEED certain vocabularies!

Carol Kilgore said...

I write mystery and suspense, so I use some cop-speak and criminal slang. But it's always done through the POV of the character.

Happy Weekend!

LynNerd said...

Haha! I LOVE this post. Good one. A little slang can spice up a ms, but too much can ruin it.

I'll be tagging you later today, so please stop by my blog later for the details. Have a wonderful weekend.

Alleged Author said...

You are so right about the "genre slang." I picked up a fantasy novel the other day and noticed quite a bit of it!

Clarissa Draper said...

Because I write mysteries, I don't often use odd words. However, I do some odd lingo like DI, SOCO, Incident Room and the like.

Susan Kane said...

When I look at a book written with slang or gamer lingo, I put it down. The book will become irrelevant in 5 years, and there won't be any reprints. Writing has to rise above that tendency, the reader needs it to do so.

The Golden Eagle said...

Sarah: Well, we all have our passions. ;)

I agree, dated slang can be confusing--and certain words get old pretty fast.

Heather: True!

Bethany: I agree. Too little slang is better than too much--with the latter it can be really hard to understand.

Elena: I don't often come up with slang or dialect; most of the time I use words people use in real life, although sometimes it is interesting to find new words sprinkled here and there. :)

Laila: Sometimes it doesn't for me, either; depends on the situation.

Summer: I agree! I really wanted to edit and change that sentence after I wrote it; it almost killed me to put in so many typos. :P

Nancy: Great advice!

Writers have their own slang, don't they? ;)

I mentioned it in the post I just published. Hope it helps!

20 Something Virgin: I agree--if the slang in a book is dated, it doesn't necessarily mean it's a really negative thing but can drag the story down.

Tanya: Abbreviations bug me, too; and it's a pain in the neck to trying Googling for them, since they often mean different things to different people. :P

Hey, it took me a while to realize what LOL stood for.


Sarah: There's more freedom in those genres--all the different people should have their own way of speaking.

The Golden Eagle said...

Maeve: Definitely!

Thank you! :) Glad you liked it.

Susan: It's usually understandable, though; most of the time words from that time period relate to the ones we use today, or the meaning is guessable. :)

Josh: Glad you liked it!

It depends on how it's used--if the words are in odd places, or significantly different from the way people use slang, it can be jarring.

Rachel: I agree! I read a book in that kind of language; it drove me nuts after a while. :P

Brian: I'm sure you do. :D

Christine: Thanks!

Think you'll ever use it in a story? :)

Donna: Thank you!

You're welcome for it. :)

I find that searching for terms can help for things like SF slang; I've found a lot of Wikis and general pages about slang and terminology online.

Tessa: LOL. :D

It can. I've come across novels where the author used too much specialized slang and it just ended up confusing me. Tamora Pierce is one author who usually pulls off using a lot of slang quite well.

Old Kitty: Good for you! :) I've never tried reading James Joyce, but it sounds complicated . . .

Lynda: Absolutely!

Shelley: I do a lot of genre-hopping; from SF to Fantasy to Historical Fiction, so genre-language sometimes confuses me. :P

Thank you!

Devin: It can be fun to use new words in a story. :)

Jules: Misspelled words do that to me, too. Evil little things, I say! ;)

Alex: Laserblasts seem pretty self-explanatory . . . unless you've got special lasers!

The Golden Eagle said...

Samantha: Thanks!

I agree--it can be effective if used just right. :)

Michael: Thank you!

And, of course, some characters are based on that kind of image; therefore they have to be able to fit into it.

Anthony: True. I've read a few books that seemed to target a fairly specific audience.

Rob-bear: Good point! It would be confusing for many if journalists, and others who work in other areas like it, if the slang was used where anyone could read it.

Angie: True--it's easier for some readers, and streamlines the description, but could result in the confusion of other readers.

Krispy: I agree; writers sometimes use a lot of terms without realizing it. :P


Madeleine: Thank you! :)

I believe I read that one--great job with it!

Margo: Thanks!

Me, too. But a few words or terms can add authenticity.

Paul: Great point! To the people of that world, it wouldn't be slang; it would simply be the way they talk.

I will have to check out that dictionary--I've never heard of it!

Flying high: Thanks! :)

Michelle: Thank you.

I agree, it can!

Nicki: I had trouble finding out what exactly that was, too.

Charles: I do expect some slang in genres like Space Opera; that kind of SF usually covers a set kind of world, with its own terminology.

Sangu: It sounds like a good strategy--not something that would turn readers off by using confusing words.

Carol: Criminal slang? :)

You too!

LynNerd: Thank you! I'm glad you like it.

Thanks for tagging me! :)

Have a great weekend yourself!

Alleged: That happens to me sometimes, too; I'll pick up a book and immediately find slang thrown in.

Clarissa: I've never heard of DI or SOCO. :P Incident Room I can guess at, though.

Susan: True--books with a lot of slang get dated pretty quickly, and that can be a problem later on.

Indigo said...

So far the only kind of slang I've needed in my books has been ethnic.
The Irish have certain words they use, a lot of it is Amer-Gaelic mish-mash.

Then there is cajun speak for Louisiana etc.

Nothing genre specific as of yet. If I did, I'm almost positive that I would find a slang dictionary that specialized in whatever I needed. (Hugs)Indigo