Wednesday, May 25, 2016

World-building Through Phrases

Have you ever noticed that every group has a certain set of phrases? As a writer, I know what the terms ‘pantser,’ ‘beta read’ and ‘query’ mean. As a nurse, I’m familiar with terms like ‘wound vac,’ ‘IV-drip’ and ‘straight cath.’ But even when not talking about a profession, every place has their own terms too. Their own way of getting their thoughts across.

I’ve been working at my current facility for about six months now. When I first started, I heard the term ‘throat punch’ a lot. Whenever a nurse got frustrated, with a doctor, or with management, or a CNA, I heard the phrase ‘I just want to throat punch them.’ It was so foreign to me, and a phrase I’d never heard before. Besides, it sounded incredibly violent.

For months, I heard the phrase, from various nurses, and then from CNAs as they picked it up from nurses. To my surprise, I used the term myself a few weeks ago. It had seeped into my subconscious, until it was something that seemed almost natural to me.

 In my stories, I try to emulate the same thing. I think the author that showed this the best was Marissa Meyer, in her Lunar Chronicles. All I have to say is ‘Oh my stars,’ and any fan would immediately recognize the reference. Or in Divergent, everyone knows what a stiff is. It’s a term that’s part of a culture, one that everyone uses and knows.

That’s why it’s so important for me to find what phrases my characters use, and how it’s influenced by their culture. Not only does it give a fresh perspective, but it also helps to make the world feel real.