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Don’t call a Rabbit a Smurf

Awhile back I attended a writing seminar at Balticon. The speaker was the Mightly Mur Lafferty. Author of Playing for Keeps, the Afterlife Series and now The Shambling Guide to New York City, she is best known for her Science Fiction and Fantasy stories.  She has been writing for awhile now and is one of the best examples of how self-publishing can lead to main stream. During the workshop she presented her top 10 writing tips. What brought this to mind is, I recently read a couple unedited chapters of a friend’s new story. In the chapters, it was marked with red quotations where she wanted to create name for something; [animal] [plant] [location]. All of us do this, but it reminded me of Mur’s first tip: Don’t call a rabbit a Smurf.

What is meant by that phrase is that you don’t always have to rename everything your writing about, no matter how bizarre you world is. It can actually hinder your story’s progression as you try to describe everything that you’ve named. Or worse yet, lose your reader’s interest. In my friend’s story she named a creature a Lava Slug. This is great, because most people know what slugs are, so they get an instant mental image of the shape of the critter. Now all that needs doing is to explain why it’s a “Lava Slug.” The task can be done quickly now because you don’t have to describe everything from scratch.

“The Lava Slug left a wide ditch in the ground when it passed by our village. It’s eyestalks where out of sight, long before the last of its red glowing body passed us. The plants to either side of the ditch were scorched black while stone and dirt had been melted and smoothed along the ditch bottom. When cooled the town would have a new aqueduct system, bringing fresh water from the upper lakes.”

Now if we rename our Lava Slug with lets say… a Trowlu. What’s a Trowlu??? Well now you’ll have to take time to describe that it is a creature of large size, generates a lot of heat, how it moves, and any other important fact, that will help the reader understand. I’m not saying renaming is a bad thing. As writers, sometimes we can’t help ourselves, but ask yourself this; does it add anything to the story?

Another advantage to using everyday terms is it will help connect your reader to the story. It’ll bring to mind possible personal experiences that’ll help draw your reader down the rabbit hole even deeper. When there is a mention of a rabbit in a story, my mind brings up images of my brother and I trying to lasso rabbits on a cool summer evening. (But that’s another story.) The point is my mind connected my rabbit with the one in the story automatically and now I’m one step deeper into the story. That is the key to a good story, getting your readers to connect with your world.

I will be brining you more of Mur’s top 10 writing tips, until then, happy writing.

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