Making jargon work in fiction

Here’s a post by Mike Cooper at Lit Reactor: Using The *Big* Words: Five Tips On Making Jargon And Tech Work For Your Writing, Rather Than Against It

I love work.

Not working, mind you. That’s why I’m a writer! It’s the details of other people’s jobs that are endlessly fascinating. How do operators on those thirty-story-tall cranes get to their cab? (They climb the stairs. Union contracts provide up to an hour for the ascent.) What is the highest-value shoplifted item at the supermarket? (Steak. Thieves sell them down the street to ask-no-questions restaurateurs.) Why are those Nigerian-prince emails so badly written? (Quite deliberately—to screen out all but the most gullible respondents.) How do venture capitalists really evaluate a business plan in thirty seconds? (They read the first sentence, then flip to the founder bios.)

Every profession, no matter how mundane it may seem, is filled with technique and art and secret methods.

Fascinating! I had no idea the Nigerian scam emails were badly written ON PURPOSE! That makes so much sense.

And a big part of all this description is vocabulary.

Every profession has its own language. Learning the skills requires learning the words—and it works the other way, too. Any writer whose descriptions are both accurate and true to life will draw the reader in further. Proper language imparts authority. Believability follows. . .and then the reader is hooked. Entranced.

Then Cooper offers, as advertised, five tips for working jargon into your novel.


Don’t write like Wikipedia.

Don’t explain too much.

Don’t translate snippets of foreign language (I so agree! Especially now that practically anyone can google a phrase in a foreign language and get the basic gist.)

Be careful with slang.

And get details about guns right, because whoa do gun enthusiasts care about that stuff.

Click through to read Cooper’s comments about each of these.

As with any “rules for writers,” you can certainly fold, spindle, and mutilate them at will. But jargon is pretty cool. So are any correct details about a profession the author manages to work in properly.

I recall loaning my copy of The Magic and the Healing to my vet. She gave the details about veterinary medicine two thumbs up, so good job there, since I don’t think the author has a professional background in the field. It’s a great book even if you’re not a veterinarian yourself — and the correct medical details definitely add to the story.

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