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Slang in SF/F

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The brainstorming thread got me thinking about using slang in a sf or fantasy world. I'm generally in favor and think it can be really helpful, but it can also either feel really false or just... Not work.

For example, in Scott Westerfeld's "Uglies" trilogy (plus one), I thought that at the beginning, the slang was really effective, and really helped set up the world -- the way characters spoke, and the way the words had changed from our time to theirs. But by the last book, I felt like it was really using the slang to the point of overkill; it seemed like every other sentence used "bubbly" or "icy" or whathaveyou.

So I guess I have two questions -- what makes slang effective (and feel real), and how do you decide when to use it?  :eh2
#1 - September 20, 2008, 04:25 PM
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merewald

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JMHO, but I think it's effective as long as you don't overdo it. Like, people don't say "that's cool" all the time, every other sentence, so if you're exchanging a word for cool, it should be used sparingly. Other than that I have no idea, great question allreb! I'm looking forward to seeing what everyone else has to say.
#2 - September 20, 2008, 04:45 PM

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Too much invented slang can make a story almost exhausting to read.  But I agree that when used sparingly, it can be effective.

God Bless,
Susan
#3 - September 20, 2008, 04:51 PM
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Susan York Meyers, Children's and YA Author

Well, even if it's NOT used sparingly, it can be done well (I'm thinking FEED and CLOCKWORK ORANGE, here), but I tend to agree with the others that less is more.
#4 - September 21, 2008, 08:08 AM

CarrieAnn

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Feed is on my to-be-read list, but Clockwork Orange and Farenheit 451 both did really fabulous jobs with slang. I'm on the waiting list for book 3 of the Uglies trilogy, and so far I think that the slang there does the same thing. I'll be interested to see if my feeling changes in light of what you've said. :)

The other thing about slang is that it's got to be completely obvious what it means. I was recently reading a draft for someone, and the slang sounded cool, but I had no idea what on earth the person was saying! You'd think it would be an obvious point, but this otherwise wonderful author hadn't thought of it, so I figured I'd mention it.  :whistle
#5 - September 21, 2008, 09:25 AM

Jaina

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This may sound very picky, but aside from the overdoing it thing (which I have to admit can really bother me), I want to put in a small vote for not making your slang words sound too awfully ridiculous.  As a reader, I can take a slang term seriously if I can truly believe people would use it, but if they're all gleeping and glorking and bleekity-bleekity-blanging without cracking a smile, I have a harder time.
#6 - September 21, 2008, 10:07 AM

Jaina

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Unless . . . wait.  Are you writing about Snorks?  If so, then forget the above.
#7 - September 21, 2008, 10:16 AM

merewald

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Unless . . . wait.  Are you writing about Snorks?  If so, then forget the above.

Should I even ask what Snorks are? :)
#8 - September 21, 2008, 11:57 AM

Jaina

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No, you definitely shouldn't ask.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I4ALjDSsMd4
#9 - September 21, 2008, 12:18 PM

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If you have a minute to consider, do you think this sounds workable? My scifi novel is in a largely oceanic world, and so on land mud is a constant nuisance. I've been using "silt" as a general four-letter word, because it's another mud-like substance, so probably something the people would find annoying, and because it's got some phonetic similarity to a real curse word. I'm not sure how to introduce it, though -- I'm not quite sure if it's something that needs explanation or if it its implications as a cuss will be clear from context.
#10 - September 21, 2008, 08:03 PM
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merewald

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No, you definitely shouldn't ask.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I4ALjDSsMd4

 :D lol.

If you have a minute to consider, do you think this sounds workable? My scifi novel is in a largely oceanic world, and so on land mud is a constant nuisance. I've been using "silt" as a general four-letter word, because it's another mud-like substance, so probably something the people would find annoying, and because it's got some phonetic similarity to a real curse word. I'm not sure how to introduce it, though -- I'm not quite sure if it's something that needs explanation or if it its implications as a cuss will be clear from context.

I think that's really cool, actually. I love the way you tie it to their culture (the mud thing) that's awesome, IMHO. I don't think it's something you need to introduce though, as long as, like you said, readers can glean what it means from the context.
#11 - September 21, 2008, 08:47 PM

RyanBruner

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The Uglies trilogy actually used variations on actual slang, adopted from Australia, where Westerfeld spends lives 6 months of the year.

He then took those slang words and expanded upon the idea to create new ones to fit his work.

But I agree that over time, the use of the words turned into overuse.  Still, even the overuse seemed consistent with the world he had painted. 
#12 - September 22, 2008, 09:49 AM

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Ahahaha, yesterday's XKCD was about this and was pretty hilarious:

(If that didn't work, try http://xkcd.com/483/. Worth looking at, I think!)


**I removed the image since we don't own it.  I think the people who created it would rather us drive traffic to their site with the link.--Jaina**

(My own ETA: Yikes, I apologize!)
#13 - October 02, 2008, 08:19 PM
« Last Edit: October 12, 2008, 02:50 PM by allreb »
BOUND BY BLOOD AND SAND | Delacorte Press, Fall 2016
www.beckyallenbooks.com | @allreb | beckytext.tumblr.com

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