Aphelion Issue 295, Volume 28
June 2024 --
Long Fiction and Serials
Short Stories
Flash Fiction
Submission Guidelines
Contact Us
Flash Writing Challenge
Dan's Promo Page

What do you do when you find that there isn't a word for something that you want to describe? In a Facebook post today, Nick Pollotta described the need for a word to mean "re-editing previous chapters of a story to include foreshadowing elements for a new plot twist that one comes up with in the middle of a story." In Nick's words

WRITERS: We need to invent a term for when you're writing a chapter in the middle of a book, and suddenly realize that you now need to mention little details in all of the previous chapters (just a word, or two) to make this twist logical, yet surprising. Dominoes, perhaps, or maybe breadcrumbs? "Sorry, hon, I was doing breadcrumbs all day, and my brain is exhausted!"

There were many replies. Kate Collins suggested "rewind/splice." I saw a possible simplification of that. I suggested "back-splicing" and people seemed to like it. Don't be surprised if you see it used elsewhere. Larry Niven is good at this sort of thing. In one of his commentaries on his stories he said that he liked to take a familiar word and change it slightly to come up with a new term for something. In one story, he needed a special word for a roving reporter with a video camera. He came up with "Newstaper"- someone who tapes news as it happens. This sort of thing helps make Larry's stories more fun to read, as well as to give a more futuristic feel to the language being used in the story. George Orwell did this a lot in "1984." Cordwainer Smith was another writer to use this little trick to great effect. In fact, the more I think about it, the older this concept gets. People have been inventing and combining words to express themselves since... Well, since words were invented, I suppose.

Years ago, when I was world-building on my Bethdish stories, I came up with the term "sleepfreeze" to describe a suspended animation process for slower-than-light star ship crews to use on long voyages. Later on, as I recall, I ran across that very word in an old story I'd never read before that was in a paperback published long before I began to write. I can't remember now, nor am I inclined to search through my book collection to find out who the writer was that thought along similar lines to myself. Clearly a case of parallel evolution- Because I hadn't read that story before, so I couldn't have been remembering the word from earlier reading. But that's the thing, isn't it? Every writer has a bag of tricks that they use. What I call "your toolbox," the tips and tricks and word games that you use while composing a story. As a writing exercise I once wrote a series of short chapters to be scattered in a Bethdish story wherein I forced myself to make each paragraph begin with either three instances of alliteration, or an adverb followed by a comma. Re-edits of those chapters removed the word games, but the exercise had succeeded in forcing me to think in terms of sentence structure before creating the actual content. Thinking in a new direction is usually a good thing for a writer to do.

Words are some of the tools we use to capture the imagination of our readers. Dull tools lead to dull stories and lost readers. Do whatever it takes to keep the tools in your writing toolbox sharp and polished. Play word games, invent new terms by combining or changing existing words, and never be afraid of editing something into a better story.

Well, it's about time I shut up and let you get to reading the new issue.

Thanks for your time. Enjoy reading all the great stuff we have on tap for you this month. Be sure to go over to our Forums section and comment on the stories and poetry. Check out the Flash Fiction competition, too. Nate has a good one lined up for this month!