WRITING AN OUT-OF-THIS-WORLD NOVEL: Unlocking New REALMS Whilst Ensuring Everyone Has The Key

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I was having a conversation with one of my authors recently about the use of slang, colloquialisms and idioms when creating new worlds in writing. In this blog, I’ll be discussing how to strike the right balance between using language that readers can understand, and creating realistic dialogue that characters from another world would use.

A common issue I see as a book editor in novels set in new realms

I’ve worked with a number of authors who have set their novels in alternate universes. But an issue I often spot when first reading manuscripts that explore alternative worlds is that the language that characters use are often inappropriate, and risk spoiling the illusion of peeping into a new world.

Before I begin to explain one of my favourite ways to avoid and overcome this problem, I’d like to give you an example of this type of common error. For the sake of this blog, let’s pretend that the author I recently had cause to discuss this with is called Cathy, and that Cathy is writing a novel set in a universe where robots rule the world, and speak in code.

One of the issues I spotted in Cathy’s manuscript was that she was not only using and mixing vernacular language, but she was using this language to help create a realm completely removed from our own. And it just didn’t work.

For example, Cathy was using phrases such as, ‘En guard!’ ‘Aye!’ and ‘Prithee’ throughout her manuscript. These phrases which can not only be traced back to multiple eras and places, but undermined the creativity of her plot. The analogy I used when feeding back on Cathy’s manuscript was that using phrases such as “En guard!” in the context of her novel would be like going to King’s Landing and seeing a Tesco or a McDonald’s.

I couldn’t wait to get a better, up close insight into this alien world, and I wanted to see how Cathy could get creative by weaving code into her story and typography. So I shared some of my wisdom with Cathy about what to avoid when working on her future dialogue, and how to make is creative and believable. And now, I’m going to share it with you!

What to avoid when creating dialogue in your out-of-this-world manuscript

When creating new worlds and time spaces outside of our own history, avoid using colloquial phrases that we associate with our own worldly history, as this can confuse and prevent the reader from submerging themselves into and believing in your new world.

How to create accessible, believable dialogue that will transport you to a new realm

1.    Invent your own phrases and language

Get creative – you can invent your own names, phrases, words and expressions, and even better, you can have fun creating your own swear words!

I’m not suggesting that you try to create huge reams of new language, or avoid all phrases from our world altogether. If you’re writing for a young adult audience, using f common slang is a way for young readers to connect and identify with your characters.

However, avoid doing this too much, and do consider using my next top tip if you are feeling anxious about removing too many reference from our own world, or unsure what to do.

2.    Distort existing phrases

If you’re worried that readers may not understand what your new phrases and language are trying to convey, you can warp phrases from our on our world so that they are identifiable, but new.

If you’d like to see a fantastic example of an author who really nailed distorting our own language, you must read Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban. Although set in the distant future on a post-apocalyptic earth, it’s a wildly inventive and incredibly inspiring example of how we corrupt our own dialogue and dialect into something familiar but different, and this is precisely what I recommend you do when creating new worlds.

3.     Explain your new phrases/language

This is the most crucial piece of advice I can offer authors. Whether you’re inventing new phrases or recreating existing ones, you must ensure that they are either recognisable enough to avoid confusion, or are suitably explained to ensure full clarity.

To avoid clunky explanations, consider how you can subtly use external characters, resources (such as books and the media within your story), and dialogue to help explain exactly what your intriguing new words and worlds are about to you readers. Because there’s nothing better than reading a book that takes you to another world completely, so have fun writing, and make sure that you create a new world where everyone has the key to enter.

When you’re so close to the fine details, it can be hard as a creator to step back and see your writing from the perspective of a fresh-eyed reader and see what is missing in terms of information. I not only offer the opinion of an editor, but of a new reader too, and work with authors to help create the books they set out to write. To find out about my affordable and adaptable book editing packages, please browse my editorial services for authors, or contact me today.


Chloe Murphy