What do you do when you find that there
isn't a word for something that you want to describe? In a Facebook
post today, Nick Pollotta described the need for a word to mean
"re-editing previous chapters of a story to include foreshadowing
elements for a new plot twist that one comes up with in the middle of a
story." In Nick's words
We need to invent a term for when you're writing a chapter in the
middle of a book, and suddenly realize that you now need to mention
little details in all of the previous chapters (just a word, or two) to
make this twist logical, yet surprising. Dominoes, perhaps, or maybe
breadcrumbs? "Sorry, hon, I was doing breadcrumbs all day, and my brain is exhausted!"
There were many replies. Kate Collins suggested "rewind/splice." I saw
a possible simplification of that. I suggested "back-splicing" and
people seemed to like it. Don't be surprised if you see it used
elsewhere. Larry Niven is good at this sort of thing. In one of his
commentaries on his stories he said that he liked to take a familiar
word and change it slightly to come up with a new term for something.
In one story, he needed a special word for a roving reporter with a
video camera. He came up with "Newstaper"- someone who tapes news as it
happens. This sort of thing helps make Larry's stories more fun to
read, as well as to give a more futuristic feel to the language being
used in the story. George Orwell did this a lot in "1984." Cordwainer
Smith was another writer to use this little trick to great effect. In
fact, the more I think about it, the older this concept gets. People
have been inventing and combining words to express themselves
since... Well, since words were invented, I suppose.
Years ago, when I was world-building on my Bethdish stories, I came up
with the term "sleepfreeze" to describe a suspended animation process
for slower-than-light star ship crews to use on long voyages. Later on,
as I recall, I ran across that very word in an old story I'd never read
before that was in a paperback published long before I began to write.
I can't remember now, nor am I inclined to search through my book
collection to find out who the writer was that thought along similar
lines to myself. Clearly a case of parallel evolution- Because I hadn't
read that story before, so I couldn't have been remembering the word
from earlier reading. But that's the thing, isn't it? Every
writer has a bag of tricks that they use. What I call "your toolbox,"
the tips and tricks and word games that you use while composing a
story. As a writing exercise I once wrote a series of short chapters to
be scattered in a Bethdish story wherein I forced myself to make each
paragraph begin with either three instances of alliteration, or an
adverb followed by a comma. Re-edits of those chapters removed the word
games, but the exercise had succeeded in forcing me to think in terms
of sentence structure before creating the actual content. Thinking in a
new direction is usually a good thing for a writer to do.
Words are some of the tools we use to capture the imagination of our
readers. Dull tools lead to dull stories and lost readers. Do whatever
it takes to keep the tools in your writing toolbox sharp and polished.
Play word games, invent new terms by combining or changing existing
words, and never be afraid of editing something into a better story.
Well, it's about time I shut up and let you get to reading the new
Thanks for your time. Enjoy reading all the great stuff we have on tap
for you this month. Be sure to go over to our Forums section and
comment on the stories and poetry. Check out the Flash Fiction
competition, too. Nate has a good one lined up for this month!