I’m reading Scott Westerfield’s novel, Leviathan. The world is an alternate history of the First World War with a Steampunk flavor. Westerfield has devised a new vocabulary for his world. Not only words to describe the fantastical walking machines of the Clankers or the scary bioengineered beasties of the Darwinists, but everyday words as well. What sticks in my mind is the word “clart.” His characters use it frequently, and it basically means – well, it means “shit.” The characters use it not only to refer to actual animal manure but as a swear word.
I love it.
In Botanicaust, I have a glossary at the end of the manuscript specifically for invented words. Amarantox. Duster. Nuvoplast. Mostly things that have not been invented yet. A good author weaves the meaning of new words into the book as the words are presented, right? Hopefully readers won’t even need the glossary.
A while back, I posted the first chapter of Botanicaust to an online competitive critique site, and got a reader who said they were confused by all the new words. This critique suggested a glossary first thing. My heart faltered. Beginning with a glossary is not the way to hook a reader.
When this reader listed “chloroplast” in the list of confusing words, I breathed a sigh of relief. First of all, chloroplast is not a made up word. It is the part of a plant cell that performs photosynthesis and gives plants their color. Secondly, I made it very clear in the beginning (without going into the science of it) that chloroplasts are what makes Haldanian skin green.
But I don’t want to confuse readers if it means they will stop reading. So let me ask you something —
Have you ever put a book down because you got confused by the words an author used? Or do you keep reading and try to figure out the meaning of the word by the context in the book? I’d really like to know.
© Tam Linsey, 2011. All rights reserved.