Thursday, December 20, 2012

Writing 101: Quit Making Up Words

There are so many words in the English language, it's not even possible to count them all. This is how I know there is absolutely no reason whatsoever for you to make up any more of them. As a self-published author, this is something you just cannot do, and I'll explain why. 


Neologisms, Portmanteaus and Other Stuff You Should Avoid

Making up new words has become a trendy activity, oddly enough. This may be due to the fact that so many people have trouble correctly using the ones we've already got. You might have all sorts of reasons for using neologisms, new words or brand-new uses for words, in your books. You might think it's cute to create portmanteaus, words that have been shoved together to create new meanings. You might really feel the spirit of creativity. You might, in fact, be channeling the spirit of the great Lewis Carroll himself, the man who wrote Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and coined quite a few new words. 

Edit them out of the book. Here's what you do instead: write them down. Save them, file them away. If you can't wait, debut them on Twitter or Facebook. Don't put them in your book for one reason: people are going to think it's a mistake. You're a self-published author, so you're already under a microscope. There are always going to be readers who think you aren't a "real" author, who shun you and your books. Others will search twice as hard for mistakes and stuff to hate. So don't make up your own words, and give them a reason to tell other readers that you're no good. 

You can always save your words for when you hit the big time, after your trilogy blows up and becomes bigger than Fifty Shades of Grey. And once you do, and you unveil your new words, you just may become part of the lexicon. Carroll invented the word smog after he shoved together smoke and fog. Frenemy, a combination of friend and enemy, is widely-used, as are made-up words like craptacular and fantabulous. Cheeseburger is perhaps the best example of a word that was just two words shoved together, a made-up thing, that's now accepted as proper English by one and all.

As a writer, part of your job might be to make up words. But it's also your job to learn how to use the ones we've already got. Chances are extremely high that there's a word to describe exactly what you want to write, and you don't need to make anything up to get there. Instead of making your readers think that you just don't know what you're doing as a self-published author, choose all the right words and prove them wrong. You can make up words later, because there are always more books to write.

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2 comments:

  1. This is so true. My co-author and I discuss this often. We are writing near-future science fiction, so it stands to reason that there is new slang in the future. However, we are very careful to use old words in new ways, rather than make up words. We want the reader to think "new" rather than "typo."

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  2. That's a clever way of doing it! Thanks for the tip.

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