Monday, November 10, 2014

How to Write: Neologisms in Fiction - To Use or Not to Use?

Are you a writer who made up new words for your story? Are you going to bring those terms out for your English-reading audience to interact with? Should you use a neologism in your fiction?

The answer depends on how much you want to "translate" the "language" of your characters into English. If you're writing a story where "English" isn't being spoken (such as in the Ark series), then in theory, everything is "translated" for your English-reading audience. Assuming this, the places where you choose to be literal with your terms is a narrative marker of significance or insignificance. Here's what I mean:

Having written a novel with more than a few neologisms, I found that employing neologisms was important in the places where an English word (or even a loanword like the Japanese sensei) did not do full justice to the breadth of my term.

I use the term didak to refer to a Magisterial Adept's "teacher." "Teacher" does not capture all the nuances I am trying to draw, though, because the role refers to a personal mentoring relationship not only in academics, but in other relevant skills and in life. For that reasons, I chose to employ the neologism to draw out the fact that there is much more than "teaching" going on. (The term padawan in Star Wars is likely used for similar reasons.)

If you're writing a story with neologisms, I would recommend you use this as a benchmark for when and why you translate (or don't translate) those neologisms from your fictional culture into English: "Does English fully or mostly capture the semantic range of the word you're using?" If not, consider seriously bringing the neologism to bear on the text. This will create space for your to do the hard (and fun!) work of storytelling by using context to paint a clear picture of what your neologisms fully mean.

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