A way with worlds: 39 - Technology and Terminology
by Steven Savage of Seventh Sanctum
Page 1 of 2
I have a hobby.
I make generators - programs
that generate characters, plots, items, etc. for writing,
role-playing, and just general fun. It's fascinating to do
something like analyze magic items in standard fantasy, abstract
the words and ideas, and produce a program that slaps them
together to produce something new. Anyone who's ever played
Diablo or Demon's Winter knows what I'm talking about.
Recently I was designing a
Technobabble generator - to make science-fictiony weapons, armor,
and Random Important Gizmos That Break. This got me thinking -
and when I think, I'm dangerous. OK, dangerous and occasionally
boring, but you get the idea.
I began asking about
technology and terminology in world building. A few ideas,
experiences, and personal policies came together and I suddenly
had a column.
Technology and terminology
in original worlds. Be it computers or magic or what have you,
the terms used for technology in our worlds is important to our
continuity and our writing.
A RABBLE OF BABBLE:
Let's face it - in many cases we and writers have to
make things up. We have to guess and extrapolate about how things
work in our worlds. That's why it's fiction. There's nothing
wrong with sitting back and theorizing how people can travel
faster than light or what the rules of magic may be on a fantasy
world. It's part of the writing process.
I've already addressed
creating technology in previous columns. What I haven't addressed
yet is exactly how your characters refer to it.
In having characters refer
to technology, you truly set the tone for your world and your
characters - because references, words, are a vital part of
culture and character's lives.
Unfortunately it's easy to
fall into two traps when your characters refer to technology:
- When you've got Hisenberg Rail Cannons and Nomydium
Alloy Quantum Stabilized Armor, you have technobabble.
Referring to things constantly with a huge string of
words - a common problem in science-fiction.
- Referring to things in a very cold manner. Spells of
"Second Level Healing and Organ Repair." Sure
there's not a lot of complicated words being thrown
around, but the characters basically toss out
descriptions. More and more common in fantasy stories as
they've been influenced by RPGs.
Now which of these are
correct? Well correct is a slipper term in creativity, but my
answer is - neither. Terminology isn't that simple, and thus
neither is the terminology referring to it.
So let's take a look at
things that affect terminology in the worlds you build.
Terminology depends on context. On who is speaking. On
who they are speaking too. On when they are speaking. For any
complex technology, there are usually many ways to refer to it.
The pain in your leg
probably has a very long latinized term your doctor uses. A car
engine is properly an internal combustion engine - but who curses
their "internal combustion engine" for not working. We
refer to an explosive called TNT, but the name is derived from
the chemical formula of the explosive.
In creating terminology and
having your characters use it, keep in mind the situation
characters are in.
There is a time and place for everything. There is a
time to try and find a spare Hyperflux Balance Capacitor, and a
time to "find that Capacitor . . . thing . . . now!"
There is a time to give a formal speech on viral behaviors and a
time to give someone "a shot."
In designing your world and
it's terminology for technology, be aware of how immediate and
sudden situations affect communication. When writing, be
especially aware of this - otherwise your story may sound odd.
Different people have different knowledge, interest, and
ways to refer to technology. An engineer, a scientist, and a
disgruntled user have many different ways to refer to a computer
CPU. If you were writing such characters in a story, they would
speak differently - maybe even to the point of confusing each
Copyright© 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002 Steven Savage, sffworld.com. All rights reserved. No part of this may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the author.