I rarely describe myself as a writer. I sometimes use ‘Architect for castles in the clouds’, but these days that tends to make people think ‘engineer’ So most often I call myself a wordsmith
We’ve talked before about making names for places – and it applies similarly for people – Wright, Walker or Thatcher. Kwaku (Mr Snake) the Setite..Tours Prince the activist (derived from Martin Luther King)
More made up words come into play now we’ve got a Sci-fi range. One instinctively knows that promethium – the fuel used in Warhammer 40k – is flammable. Not only is is a bit like petroleum, but it’s named for the Greek thief of fire, Prometheus. My favorite piece of pseudoscience is the Heisenberg compensator in Star Trek. Heisenberg tells us we cannot know where we are and how fast we’re going (he’s thinking on a subatomic scale) so in order to travel Faster Than Light we need something to compensate for the Uncertainty Principle. Totally plausible whilst being essentially rubbish.
But I want to talk about choosing words, rather than making them up. When we wrote the Sci Fi Concept Cards, one of the hardest to get right was the 7D of Locations – the Rainbow Echo Spa. What is the right word for people-who-attend-a-spa? Are they patients? Well, they do receive treatments. Customers? They pay for the service. Eventually we settled on ‘clients’ as a expression of a closer relationship with a therapist. Not just because it was shorter and didn’t spill over to the next line.
To relate this to you, think about the resonances you use when describing your character or when scene-setting as a GM. If a room is “big’ – that doesn’t evoke anything. Is it vast, towering, cathedral-like? Is it too big for its use – a dining room that could seat fifty set for four? Is it merely big compared to the characters – either physically as in Alice in Wonderland or the Borrowers, or mentally if viewing through the eyes of a tiny familiar – mouse or even ant.
Assuming you are talking to adults – make use of the shared vocabulary of experience. Try to avoid using words which are more suitable for reading ages of five – big, small, right; and never nice. That said, I’ll break that rule if it gets over the atmosphere I’m trying for. A villain lair which was only described in childlike adjectives took on the creepy clown aspect. My players have come to expect poetry – so when they got curtailed language, they noticed.
If you have a pre-written adventure, you can practice by rephrasing the opening paragraph. Try re-casting it as the opening of an 80s fantasy film “A long time ago in a land far far away …”. Now try as the start of a young adult novel.”Evelyn never really saw the rolling fields she’d grown up in … “ Changing language finds us demanding something different from the audience, and by choosing tone we can convey much more about the campaign than simply what it looks like.
Example: A recent Vampire campaign began with a meeting at the Palace Theatre, This is a real place, so most of the players are familiar with the outside, which is a Victorian marble edifice. Inside, it’s a theatre, ballroom, ballet school and bar that serves food. As the setup to a campaign that was meant to be political, layers on layers of intrigue and half truth – I described the foyer as ‘confections of scarlet and gold’ and included several doors throughout the building labelled ‘staff only’. These were all concealed behind curtains – implying that one couldn’t know at a glance where there were doors, and that much of the building remains concealed. Do you feel ready to step backstage and find out how deep the rabbit hole goes?
As for that last – remember, stealing from one person is plagiarism – stealing from many is called research. This post has
stolen from – ahem, researched from – Alice in Wonderland, Star Wars, Star Trek, Greek myth and hard science. At least. Don’t be afraid to use a turn of phrase coined by someone else if it says what you need it to. On that note, I’m going to go read something. Don’t know what yet. What do you recommend?