Learn – and use – the lingo!

11 Sep

It’s a well-known fact that each industry or business or trade or whatever you want to call it – has its own language inculcated in the tradition.

These various languages can be of vital importance to a writer. You can very easily demonstrate your intelligence or display your ignorance by how you use the language native to your story. No, you don’t have to write in French – unless your book is intended for only French-speaking people. Or Hispanic or German or whatever.

No, the language I’m talking about is the one that pertains to the theme of your story. BUT – you can’t just throw these words around in a scattershot approach. No, they need to be used intelligently, and not just to show off the lingual skills of author and characters. The third part of that triangle is the reader – in whatever language you’re using. If the language is so technical the ordinary reader is lost, then step back and investigate.  If your work is aimed at a technical audience, then all is well.

If, however, you’re writing fiction, then all may not be so well. Suppose, your character has to visit a doctor for a routine checkup. The person sits on the examination table until the doctor arrives – with stethoscope around his or her neck. After a brief greeting, doctor says ‘let me check your heart beat,’ and begins to struggle with untangling the thing. He may expound, ‘dang this stupid thing!’ but I can assure you he knows the correct name for it. And also the contraption with which his nurse has already taken your blood pressure. I can spell it, but no way can I pronounce it, but that’s okay, I don’t have to. The doctor or nurse in your story may well need to be able to say it, so you have to be sure they can.

Are you writing about baseball, or football or auto racing? Again, the terminology is vitally important. I spent the latter part of my 20s and a good part of my 30s working for car/truck dealers. I found these jobs not only because I knew the lingo, but had experience driving imported cars (especially) and BIG trucks. That knowledge really came in handy then as now. I am singularly well-equipped to take my car to the mechanic and tell him what’s wrong with it.  Granted, I’ve had a few arguments with tow-truck drivers over the years, who didn’t want to take my word for whatever was wrong with my 4-wheeled baby, but the mechanic always verified my opinion. I don’t get taken advantage of in these situations, because I know the language.

A friend is working on a book about her career as a Powder Puff Pilot. I do know what a plane is, to be sure, but a ‘timing line’? There are no lines in the sky, so how does this work, exactly?  The line isn’t painted on the ground, either, but the pilots with their extra knowledge and special instruments know how to find it.

Some things you really do have to experience before you can successfully write about them: imagine trying to write a cook-book and not knowing your way around a kitchen!  On the other hand, if you can’t experience it, or re-create it – get thee to a library! You’ll find others who love knowledge as much as you do and will be only too happy to help you add to your stock of information!

Happy birthday (9-10-57) to Shawn Prescott Zilliken – wherever you may be! And Colin Firth, as well!  (Both birthdays are/were Sept. 10!)

If you have a question about writing or publishing, please write and tell me about it. I’ll do my best to get you answers! Thanks for reading!


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