I’m deep in the edits of THE HUNT FOR XANADU. My action adventure thriller about a girl on a mission to avenge her parent’s murder… and I’m finding that I’ve taken quite a bit of literary license with the English language that my editor is “calling me out on.”
What do I mean? Well, one of my characters has a cute affectation. His mouth quirks up at the corner so I made a comment that “his mouth is quirking.” In the edits my editor, Denise Vitola, replied “that’s not a word, delete.” I asked “why?” Her response? “Quirk–a person is quirky or he has quirks. Quirking is not a word and quirk doesn’t have anything to do with expressions unless you say, “He had a quirky expression.” Although, that doesn’t tell the reader anything so I wouldn’t use it.” (twerking is also not a word, by the way! 😉 )
Another time I had my character “scootching” up next to a boy. To “scootch” is a word I’ve used nearly forever in my family – it means to “sidle up next to someone.” Again, I was told: “scootching is not a word, delete.” Apparently “connectiveness” is not a word either (what am I thinking and where did I learn to speak?)
Now, this doesn’t mean you can’t make up words in your stories. In fantasy, every other description seems to be a fantastical word. In my dark fantasy series I use the word “Semptor” for Wizards, “Manogs” for these wild dog-like beasts, etc… you get the idea. In XANADU I also have fantastical animals and had named all of them. My editor balked at this. “Why do you need a name for every single animal and insect? Just describe it.” I couldn’t understand why naming this one cute little creature a Timblit was a problem… but it actually was. I’m asking my readers to remember all these crazy names that might only be mentioned one time in the book. My editor said, “Describe the “cute little ferret-like creature with eight legs” rather than just give it a fantasy name.” She’s right – the reader will remember this description a lot better than a throw-a-way name.
So back to making up words. As writers, we need to be buttoned up. We need to use correct English. It’s one thing to talk about a vicuña coat (like my favorite authors have done) and not know what this is and need to look it up and discover “vicuña is a relative of a llama.” It’s another to make up words that are slang in the first place and will confuse our readers if they don’t understand what we’re trying to say. It’s all about credibility.
My two cents for the day.