This week, I’m recycling a writing prompt from a couple of years ago, all about slang, because it fits so wonderfully with this month’s theme of ‘backstory’.
(Also, because I’ve been on vacation and …)
Invented languages, or slang, are wonderful ways of establishing culture in your novel and of making sure your dialogue feels like dialogue and not ‘speechifying’.
I talked about this on the podcast recently. Check it out.
Read the full prompt here, then come back and leave a comment to let me know what you think. Did you read the linked article? Did it spark any ideas for you?
This week’s prompt is inspired by this article on lost American slang. There is such richness and yet a foreign feel to the language in the quotes, that I couldn’t stop thinking about using this as a way to spice up my own writing.
(The examples in the piece remind me of both Harold Hill — The Music Man’s pop-culture references were meticulously researched — and Mr Burns from The Simpsons! It also made me wonder if Disney intended Bambi’s “Thumper” to have a double-meaning for older viewers.)
Write a story in which your characters have their own slang, dialect, similes and metaphors tied in to their time/place/culture.
- Feel free to make up the slang. No need for historical accuracy here. Just be consistent within your world.
- Think about how your characters see life. Are they agricultural? Sports-obsessed? (When I moved to the US I was bamboozled by political articles in newspapers that relied heavily on sports analogies that meant absolutely nothing to me). Are they engineers? Are they space-based?
- Play with current expressions and change them to fit your characters. In a space opera “How on earth?” becomes “How in the twelve orbiting satellites of Juno?”; the fable of the grasshopper and the ant is transformed into a fable about worker droids and love-bots; etc. In my speculative-fiction novel-in-progress, my atheist-mechanics use expletives like “Great Gears!” where we might use profanity.
- You can use slang to distance one generation from another (my husband and I are constantly having to explain our bon mots to our children, who are growing up on a different continent as well as a different millennium!)
- Have fun with this.
Writing a story is more than just throwing some characters into a situation and seeing what happens. A good writer builds a whole world around the story of the characters.
This is more than setting: it’s also the soundtrack, the slang people use, the color palette of the rooms, the social hierarchy hinted at…
Spend Some Time Painting A Realistic World Around The Edges of Today’s Story
The most obvious place to find examples of this ‘world-building’ is in science-fiction (especially futuristic or space stories) and fantasy. Each of these genres has to define everything for the reader from social structures to the shape of the vehicles, to the way gravity works in this world (think Harry Potter’s wizarding world and its unconventional public transport, or Star Wars vs. Firefly in how they handled the sound of space ships.)
But every story needs a certain amount of ‘world-building’. In a Hercule Poirot story we are in a world of drawing-rooms and exotic locales, and a certain class strata. In 50 Shades of Grey, we are introduced to a world where certain people define the shape of their relationship with detailed contracts.
Pay attention to the details of your world today.
And when you have written your story, log in and post your success in The Victory Dance group or simply comment on this post and let the congrats come flying in.