>Words, the writer’s tools …


I’ve spent the last two days working 12 hours straight, teaching and marking. Before that, like Dave, I’ve been madly writing in every spare moment. I am so deep into The Outcast trilogy that I can’t read any other books, or I will forget where I am in approx 2,100 pages of story with 4 points of view and numerous supporting characters. (Each book is between 650 – 750 pages).

So I’m feeling a creatively drained. On Sunday after a marathon session I almost finished the story arc of the third book. Now it is time to go back to book one and work on all the little things I have in my To Fix list for each book.

Today at UNI we were teaching semiotics, which is all about meanings and signs/symbols/words. It made me think about the very small differences in word choice that we, as writers, make instinctively all the time. For instance if I chose ‘rural’, over ‘rustic’, each time I made a small word choice like this, it would eventually lead to a different over-all feel for the book/story.

Then there are the invented words. We writers of fantasy and SF are always inventing words. I want my invented words to have meaning and not just by a jumble of letters. So what I do is look up the thesaurus for similar words, then take a couple of those words and look up their Old English, Old Norse, Old German and Latin roots. Then I come up with a word that has its roots in those origins, so that, while it is an invented word, it has connotations which the reader will pick up on subconsciously. Or so I hope.

For instance, in my T’En trilogy I had a character called T’Reothe. He was betrothed to the main character. I came to his name by looking at ‘Betrothed’ and to ‘Plight one’s Troth’. Betroth comes from Medieval English – trouth/treuth. Troth comes from Medieval English – trowthe and Old English – treowth. All of which mean truth. Maybe no one would ever pick up on it. But to me, his name had meaning and I was comfortable with it, because as a character he held firmly to his beliefs.

Are you as obsessed with the choice of words and invented words as I am?


  1. >Yes.You want scarey? My computer just asked if it could send this large list of words to Microsoft to improve their spell checking … Yes, all the made up words that almost sound like real words, the social ranks of an alien world, the names of characters, countries, cities.I declined. The main spell checker dictionary is safe . . . for now.

  2. >What you want to do is send the list to as many people you know and all have them send the words to MS. Corrupting the language could be fun!

  3. >LOL, Matapam.Spellchecker and I have a love/hate relationship.Even though I teach it my invented words, it still won't give me them as an alternative spelling. You know how if you get one letter wrong in a word, it will offer you the closest word?Well, it refuses to offer the words I've invented.

  4. >Pam, it sounds like you use the spill-chucker the same way I do! :-)I use it to help me make sure my Character names and made-up words are spelled "correctly". I never trust it for anything else, because too many fat-fingered errors produce character-strings that are also words …Rowena, for me it's a matter of producing a sense of compatibility and consistency. I don't want every made-up word to have a "k" or a "g" in it (or both), because no real language "feels" like that. And I don't want two Characters from the same village or region to have names like Kwandrillathoberl and … Tem.But no, I dn't go looking for "real" bases for anything.

  5. >I'm playing with a universe where magic works like a cook book. Say the right word, make the right gesture and it works.For that I go hunting for a key word in a bunch of obscure languages and choose a few pieces of each, or that they have in common. It probably doesn't matter a bit, but I come up with much odder words this way.

  6. >I will – and have – spend hours searching for exactly the right word. Usually what I'm looking for is something that carries the correct connotations as well as meaning, rather like Rowena's example of rural vs rustic.For made up names/languages, I tend to work out the best real-world match for the culture, and use somewhat mangled versions of the names and words from the era and language that matches. Sometimes I just go "the hell with it" and take something that has the right kind of sound, figure out a few things like naming traditions (first son named for the father's father, etc), and go hog-wild. It just depends how I feel at the time.

  7. >Kate,I try to real world matches. I was saying when I come up with names, I try to make them consistent.But then sometimes you find yourself, quite unconsciously, with names that rhyme. Gaaah!

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