Coming up With Your Own Lingo

If you've ever read a Science Fiction or Fantasy book, you'll probably have noticed a few strange names for things. If you read Artemis Fowl, for example you will have come across "LEPrecon" and "Mesmer". If you read Harry Potter you'll end up with "Horcrux", "Patronus", and "Quidditch" (plus loads more). If you read the Hunger Games, you'll have "Tributes", "Careers", and "Avox".

If a book deals with fantasical elements, the author will probably have come up with words to describe some of them -- either by re-purposing existing words, or coming up with new ones. In my own work-in-progress, The Dreamon, I have several. Perhaps the most obvious (and self-explanatory) one is in the title, but there are others. For example....

  • The people who are being targeted by Dreamons (like my protagonist Lucy) are called Dreamers. Notice how the word "Dreamer" isn't made up, but it's being used in a certain context to mean something more specific than it normally does.
  • The people who help Dreamers to get rid of their Dreamons are called Reachers. Again, "Reacher" is an actual word, but in this case it reflects how the Reachers try to "Reach" people in the dream, and help them out.
  • An image of a Dreamon that isn't actually the Dreamon itself is called a Drone. Drones are produced because the Dreamer's brain expects to see a Dreamon, so it creates one for itself. In this way, it's one of the Dreamon's best disguise tactics. The word "Drone" is a mashup of "Dream" and "Clone", but it also reflects the Drones' robotic nature.

Okay, so you might not fully understand my brief explanations of the terms in my book (and they are, of course, subject to change), but do you see how they are useful? After all, it's a lot easier to say "Reacher" than "the person who helps the people with Dreamons to get rid of them".

So what are the rules for coming up with terms to represent fantastical concepts? Of course, in writing, there are no rules, but there are definitely some recommendations. A made-up (or re-purposed) word has to be ...

  • Easy to say. While the word Qxclatl looks pretty cool, my guess is that nobody will know how to pronounce it.
  • Memorable. If the reader can't remember what a certain thing is called, then they'll get frustrated.
  • Relevant to the thing you want it to represent. Don't call a race of mythical beasts the "Glittereyes" unless they actually have glittery eyes.

And, finally, some bonus tips:

  • Don't go overboard. While it might be tempting to come up with a new name for everything your story encounters, it's not actually necessary.
  • Use word play! The reason I love the Artemis Fowl term "LEPrecon" so much is that it sounds like "Leprechaun", but actually stands for Lower Elements Police Recon. Not only that, but the Lower Elements Police is comprised of fairies and sprites, hence 'Leprechaun'.

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