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Density of invented words

scarpelius

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@Phyrebrat because too much is sometime waaay to much. When you have at least 1 invented word in every paragraph (found one with 8), 4 or 5 in the opening, when a described race (taken from Skyrim) is called ogligogli instead of dwarven, when you use an invented word to say the ogligogli height is half the size of a baracruz, but the baracruz word isn't defined prior of that, wouldn't you say is too much?
 

Overread

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Also don't forget - footnotes and glossaries!

Many fantasy novels make use of a map whilst epic novels will often have a character roster with a 1 sentence reminder of who the person is; just to help jog readers memories.

Meanwhile a glossary of terms can be of great help, especially if you've a book that's part of a running series of books and you don't want to load every single book with the same info-dumps, as whilst that can work for new readers its fast becomes a pain for any reading the book as a series*.

Terry Pratchett made use of footnotes for these, often connected to in-jokes within the series and a few key terms, although he's the only author I've read who ever made extensive use of them.



There are other tricks to info-dumping where you can identify the meaning of words. Eg you might make it a thing that at the start of each chapter is a description from a character journal of a place, thing, event etc... Something that is totally out of context for the flow of the story, but which slots in as a neat info dump that expands the world. You can even add in a few instances which are purely world building so that it doesn't "feel" like its always mentioning the next big thing that will appear in each chapter.


*the worst is when you're reading a story that is a tight two or three book story and the start of the second and third book is a recap of what happened before which can often continue happening well into the first half.
 

Joshua Jones

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Forgive me if this was stated prior, but I also think much of it depends on what sort of words are used and how. Stand-in profanity, for example, is usually pretty easy to figure out from context, as are many adjectives. One may not understand the connotations of "eldrich", for example, upon first encountering it (setting aside the fact that this word has become part of standard English), but it is immediately clear that whatever is described thus is an unspeakably, indescribably terrifying thing.

Nouns, however, are a bit stickier. I know this was mentioned before, but if you have, say, ice tigers, one can anticipate that they are either felines which live in icy conditions, probably occupying the same ecological niche as polar bears, or felines composed of ice, and the genre and character interactions will usually make it obvious which one is correct without need for additional information. If you have something like a Goju, then the question is how many of its attributes are necessary to convey. In broad terms, the fewer the better, but even this truism is undermined if the Goju is a significant part of the story as a character itself. For example, if the Goju is something the protagonist shoots with an arrow to have a meal in the woods, it really doesn't matter much if it is more like a rabbit or more like a deer (except perhaps for how full the protagonist is after eating it), if it is colorful or well camouflaged (unless the protagonist is trying to find it), or if it is cute or ugly (unless the protagonist is having an internal dilemma about killing it). If the Goju is an antagonist or under the spell of an antagonist, the details of the creature are vastly more important.

So, all this to say, it really just depends on how clear the meaning is from context and how well the necessary information regarding the fictitious word is communicated.
 

Cathbad

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There have been two works I've done (novel and a novella) I had told myself, "I'm going to create new curse words in this story!" And... dagnabit, no one ever cussed!!!
 

CTRandall

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As Storyteller pointed out, you need to differentiate between different types of neologisms.

First, new words that are similar to existing to similar words. These are often easy to understand. They might be as simple as mispellings or misusage by a single character as a means of giving colour and interest to that character. Count Arthur Strong on Radio 4 a few years ago was a great example (though they weren't all new words). Turning nouns into adjectives or verbs or vice versa is another way of playing with this.

Second, new words which are simple to say and spell and which are used regularly with a clear context to make their meaning absolutely clear. "Grok" in Stranger in a Strange Land or "droogs" in A Clockwork Orange are great examples.

Finally--and the case with many fantasy novels--words that deal with fantastical concepts or creatures which have little counterpart in the real world and which may appear only occasionaly in a story. Royal "Farr" is an example from the Shahnameh (a collection of Persian legends). It is a mystical or divine light/glory/splendour possessed by the greatest kings and its presence or removal is taken as a sign of how moral or just a king was. (This more properly an example of use of a foreign language, as Persian/Farsi-speakers will understand the term.)

On a side note, I've been reading the poetry of Kathleen Jamie of late and she uses Scots English often. Sometimes, it's a modern Scots word here or there and it's easy to figure out what it means. But some poems are entirely in imitation of Robbie Burns--full-blown 18th-century dialect--and these are impossible to figure out, even for my Scottish wife. Oddly enough, I still find them fun to read. They are, however, very short.
 

Scookey

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For me, firstly I think we can only be thinking of our main language when creating new words. If we were to even consider how the word might sound in other languages we would never get anywhere - that's what translators are paid for.
As for number of acceptable new words per work, isn't thet entirely down to the writer's needs and the material being written. If a new word is needed then it is needed. Wouldn't create new words just for the sake of creating new words though.
 

mosaix

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Over and above everything that had been said here, please, please, make the invented words easily pronounceable. There are few things more likely to ruin a good sf / fantasy read than unpronounceable names / words.
 

-K2-

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Just for fun, here is a rough (unedited as of yet) line from my newest work. By this time, readers typically are laughing realizing they're picking up the language. See how you do :sneaky:

Again, Pogue answered with a roar of laughter, "in Sowfilly dey do. Ebeyjawn backs ebeyjawn, mostly. Ja slickup dem un dey slickup ja, dats da reesen mae’ gat along. Sinja brunged da blessin, dey bote wahta back ja."

Again, Pogue answered with a roar of laughter, "in South Philadelphia they do. Everyone helps everyone, mostly. You wash them and they wash you, that's the reason we get along. Since you brought the rain, they all want-to help you."

K2
 

tinkerdan

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When I first read Charles Stross' Accelerando I found the first chapter to be densely overpopulated with a plethora of techno-babel that seemed to stretch quite beyond the bounds of my dictionary. I'm not saying that all the words were made up and maybe by now many of them have been added to the dictionary--one never knows.
Word are created every day and this is one way.
After my experience with Accelerando I decided to limit the new words to as few as possible in as many pages as I could stretch them--but then maybe that's a level of cowardice that many writers such as Charles try to avoid.

Who can say?
 

Robert Zwilling

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But some poems are entirely in imitation of Robbie Burns--full-blown 18th-century dialect--and these are impossible to figure out, even for my Scottish wife. Oddly enough, I still find them fun to read. They are, however, very short.
That can be a common reaction to poetry, liking it but not being able to state exactly why you like it. In some schools poetry is supposed to have an air of mystery to it, the meaning might be diffused over many lines, you probably can't just point to one line and say that sums it up. The length of the poem doesn't determine how powerful it can be. Some times the sounds of the words imply a deep reverence for something which can be felt without knowing which words mean what, but the meaning of what is being broadcast is known. It can also be as simple as liking the sounds the words make together, or the natural rhythm of the words that don't even rhyme, while having no idea what the words are actually saying.
 

CTRandall

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Some times the sounds of the words imply a deep reverence for something which can be felt without knowing which words mean what, but the meaning of what is being broadcast is known. It can also be as simple as liking the sounds the words make together, or the natural rhythm of the words that don't even rhyme, while having no idea what the words are actually saying.
Hammer hits nail! I'm a fan of Paul Celan's poetry, as well, and much of it works precisely by building up images, sounds and rhythms, while the usual lexical meanings fall by the wayside.
 

sknox

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>If we were to even consider how the word might sound in other languages we would never get anywhere - that's what translators are paid for.

Not exactly. Words sound different in other languages, but the same word can be pronounced differently by different speakers of that language. Anyone from Belgium or the Netherlands would be glad to elucidate.

Also, how does one translate made-up words into another language? It's an interesting question. I first ran across it in the marvelous book, Gödel, Escher, Bach where the author considers what is going on when a translator translates the poem Jabberwocky. Since translation aims at the sense of the words, and these words are nonsense. For those curious, here's the German version
JV: Der Jammerwoch
(there are many translations).

As for pronunciation, I say again, what seems easy to pronounce for one reader may not be easy for another reader. Especially for invented words, I guarantee that however *you* think it's pronounced, at least some of your readers will pronounce it differently.

All the poor author can do is to satisfy himself first, then his editors and beta readers.
 

sunspoke

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Invented words are easier on the reader if they contain clues as to their meaning. For example, an invented word that references Zeus or Tesla would suggest an association with electricity. It may also be wise to chose relevant prefixes and suffixes.
 

Overread

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Invented words are easier on the reader if they contain clues as to their meaning. For example, an invented word that references Zeus or Tesla would suggest an association with electricity. It may also be wise to chose relevant prefixes and suffixes.
At the same time you've got to be careful.
Teslabomb might make sense in an alternate reality of Earth, but if you're dealing with ancient peoples or alien nations why the heck is the lightning bomb named after an Earth scientist.

Another trap is that an invented word sounds like a childish connection of words. Whilst, as you rightly say, this gives clue to its meaning; it can also run the risk of sounding childish to the reader and can also feel like a word was invented to convey things that we can already convey and thus why invent the word.

One thing I think Tolkien shows well with his lore building is that when you create your own thing you've got to give it a proper grounding in your world. A complex name can still work without any leaders to its meaning in the word itself; so long as it fits into descriptions that prompt the reader and its used fairly often enough to remain generally familiar.
Another aspect is that a deeper world lore makes for a more absorbing read and gives the author a lot more freedom to be creative within their world setting whilst having the different bits fitting together neatly. One issue with at-random invention is that you can fast make a world that feels like its growing bit at a time according to the authors whim. This can lead to oddities where something is invented to resolve a story issue later in the story; but which isn't presented nor even conceptualised earlier in the story. At its worst it might make the reader pause and go "Wait if they have antigravity boots why the heck aren't they using them in the earlier chapters?!"
 

Teresa Edgerton

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Regarding slang or 'popular' terms and words, I'd not be too quick to discount those era words and phrases 'if' it is appropriate for the character (ex: the old hippie that never outgrew the '60s) and to help demonstrate that stagnated growth/age.

p.s.: before I forget, it even works ridiculously... I know many people who intentionally speak in old West or old South terms, simply as a fun and silly part of their persona. So used appropriately, it can work.
But that was not what I was talking about at all or meant to imply. I wasn't discounting the use of slang that would be natural for the characters who are using it. My apologies if I was unclear.

I was talking about language that is totally inappropriate to the time/place where the story takes place, which readers may not notice at the time the book is published because they hear it all the time and it seems so natural to them, but a few decades later when that is not the case it feels artificial, dated, and sometimes just plain weird.

Now if the story take place during a time (like now) and a place (like here in California, for instance) when and where there are still aging hippies who never outgrew the '60s, then it can hardly be inappropriate to the time and place for such characters to speak that way. Or if there are characters of my age who were brought up on movies and television shows about the Old West (Saturday morning kids programming where I grew up was very largely shows with a Western setting!) who sometimes throw in accents or slang from that period (or that period as Hollywood envisioned it anyway) for humorous effect, then, too, it is hardly inappropriate for the setting for those particular characters to speak in that particular way.

But it would not be appropriate if the setting were, say, ancient Rome. Nevertheless, as I say, if the book was written in the '60s a lot of the original readers would accept '60s slang without a second thought because to them it would seem so natural. But fast forward to1989 (or even more, to 2018) and readers are likely to be put off if Julius Caesar and Marc Antony sound like flower children.

It's like the old movies and television shows with historical settings where the costumers and make-up artists thought they were sticking with the era of the story but just making the actors (especially the stars) a lot more attractive to viewers. Just fudging it a little to make everyone look good. Now that not only styles but aesthetic sensibilities have changed, not only are the anachronisms more obvious, but instead of looking more attractive the actors may actually look less so.

As writers we need to use language that is within the spirit of the times and places we are writing about. Of course that's a lot more easy if we are writing about our own time now or the times that we have lived through personally. (More, we can look at the different eras we've lived through, and by placing the age, etc. of the characters differentiate them, as you suggest, by sprinkling their dialogue with slang that fits with the decade when they were forming their ideas about the world and establishing their habits of speech.) But it's not really so hard whenever the story takes place, because most language is fairly neutral: that is, it can work as a translation for earlier concepts because what it communicates is not so very different from the way people thought down through the ages. But a lot of slang (not all slang, but a great deal), being essentially faddish, embodies the sensibilities of its time and place and cannot really be separated from them. It brings the flavor of an era and all the particular thought patterns with it. So if we leave out the faddish slang much of our work is done for us. Then it comes down to identifying the terms we need to express values, world views, etc. unique to the period we are writing about, and using those archaic terms where they add value, and only then, but never so much that the readers get confused in a barrage of unfamiliar language.*

And, returning more directly to the topic of the thread, it's the same principle: use invented terms sparingly, and only when they add something particular to the readers' understanding of the story, characters, and/or setting, and not just as a shortcut for creating an exotic atmosphere.

____
*There are, of course, exceptional writers who can successfully mimic the language of another era down to the last syllable and produce something extraordinary. Take E. R. Eddison, for instance. But even then, though they may produce great classics they will only appeal to a small slice of readers, because for the rest reading their work is such a great labor, and the rewards they offer don't happen to appeal enough in recompense.
 

Dragonlady

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I think the tendency to infodump world building info comes in here. A show don't tell approach can make it more bearable.
 
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