Terminology Difficulties

As a new science fiction / fantasy author one of the problems I am wrestling with is the degree to which I make up new words or terminology. If a species or culture is alien (not-Earth based) then how much do I differentiate the language and terminology that I use?

For example the period it takes for the Earth to orbit the Sun is called a year. A day is how long it takes for the Earth to rotate once. But would another species use the same words, or would they have other words to reflect the same meaning? The obvious answer would be that they would use different words… (unless they had a shared history with Earth).

However I want my readers to be able to understand what I am writing without having to interpret a new language. I want to immerse my reader in fictitious places, but I don’t want them to be incomprehensible. A delicate balance.


2 thoughts on “Terminology Difficulties

  1. I relate to this completely, it’s got me thinking. I think it’s a tussle between being realistic and being accessible – language should never become a barrier between the characters and the reader. I think someone like Douglas Adams got it right (you know him?) using a few unfamiliar words, repeatedly in a clear context to create a feel of otherworldlyness, but without being confusing.
    Ideas such as a day being a different length can add real interest to a story, I’d love to read that kind of detail in a book, but I guess the trick is to not get carried away. Like you say, a delicate balance.
    Thanks for an interesting post.


    • Hi inkbiotic
      Thanks for your comment.
      I agree, I lean towards occasional new words but not many. In a science fiction or fantasy story you will always have new tech/magic to explore/define that will require a new word…

      It’s probably best to save the new words for those purposes, instead of using new words for similarities between our world and the fictional world.

      If you do use a different word, having a very similar word can help: e.g. “He drew deeply upon the magc pool…”. I always remember Robert Jordan in the Wheel of Time referring to an insect called a bite-me; a very clever name for mosquitoes. (Though one shouldn’t encourage the little blood suckers).

      Liked by 1 person

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