Neologisms: Author’s prerogative or editor’s bugbear?

neologism[nee-ol-uh-jiz-uh m]noun
1. a new word, meaning, usage, or phrase.
2. the introduction or use of new words or new senses of existing words. Dictionary.com

Gale Winskill
Gale Winskill, Editor

I asked my editor and friend (apart from when we’re having a dust-up about my writing) for an editor-sort-of-blog for us. Mac.Gale joins us on 13 May.

Creative invention, author-style

Fiction is clearly the realm of creative invention, so when authors dream up and posit neologisms in their narratives isn’t that just what they do? Without them, the world would definitely be a poorer place. Consider a few which now form part of our daily lexicon: Dr Seuss’s ‘Grinch’, Joseph’s Heller’s ‘Catch 22’, or Sheridan’s ‘malapropism’. All are now used without conscious thought for their origins, and embody laudable contributions to the continuing evolution of the English language.

Enhance and expand

But it’s not just authors who enhance our ever-widening vocabulary. The young are nothing if not inventive utilizers of words. Think, ‘lit’, ‘sick’ … The words may have been re-appropriated, yet modern coinage doesn’t dispense with past meanings; it merely expands, enriches, provides a fresh, innovative spin – vocabulary is revitalized and reinvented through usage.

What’s a ‘muggle’ got to do with this?

In the same way, new words and meanings only exist and come into common parlance via fiction if they resonate with the reader. Without JK Rowling’s phenomenal worldwide success, ‘muggle’ would probably not have endured, and yet it is now defined by the OED as: in her novels, ‘a person who possesses no magical powers’; and by extension, in the real world, ‘a person who lacks a particular skill or skills, or who is regarded as inferior in some way’. But without that initial common understanding among like-minded readers, with the same narrative frame of reference, that particular seed might not have germinated.
So, when working on an author’s text, what is the editor’s role in this regard? Is there a point at which editors should perhaps dissuade authors from certain linguistic creations? Are some inventions just too ridiculous to consider? Or does anything go?

Editor’s role

A fiction editor’s most important function is to stand in for the ultimate reader. If there is a word, albeit extant or unique, that grates or feels out of place in the context of the novel, surely the editor is obligated to highlight and substantiate this concern to the writer.

An editor can only advise, guide and identify how other readers might perceive the author’s diction. It is then up to the author to either defend that usage, or agree that perhaps their editor might just have a point.
After all, on the face of it, A.A. Milne’s ‘Heffalump’ may not suit as the moniker of an East End gangster. Then again, as Pooh knows, ‘Heffalumps hardly ever get caught’, this protagonist is particularly evasive, and the novel a black comedy. But in an otherwise hard-hitting thriller, if a reserved and measured character ‘cackle-laughs’ and ‘angry-chews’ his way repeatedly through the narrative, an editor might suggest that perhaps such hyphenated inventions detract from the characterization, feel out of context and jar on the textual fluidity.

Something old … something new

Authors create; editors make them think. But authors always make the final decision. The result might be a ‘serendipitous’ (Horace Walpole) addition to the English language or the possible loss of a ‘quark’ (James Joyce). As authorial privilege or editorial irritant, successful neologisms form a fundamental aspect of the lexicographers’ ‘whodunnit’ (Donald Gordon), ‘bedazzling’ (Shakespeare) and exasperating us in equal measure with their ‘hard-boiled’ (Mark Twain) persistence.

© Gale Winskill, Winskill Editorial

March Meeting 2019

Feels like we’re getting the hang of this! At our first meeting everything seemed strange and new. A bit stressful if I’m honest.

Getting organised, opening the building, getting the heating right, where to sit, what to speak about, meeting new people, making them welcome. It was early days for a new group.

Winter weather, Christmas holidays and the dark days of January all took their toll. Burn’s Night gave those with a poetic leaning, a glimmer of inspiration. Our first meeting of 2019 brought new faces, different experiences and new ideas for discussion and exploration.

Meeting

March was our second of 2019. I feel we are beginning to tune into peoples’ needs and move ideas forward.

I’m relatively new to all of this and I was fascinated to discover that there are all kinds of things out there to help budding writers:

  • software
  • apps
  • helpful blogs
  • websites

Sure, there are many aspiring new writers, scarily many, but help is there and accessible.

I thought I was doing well ordering my shopping online but words like Scrivener and AutoCrit have now entered my vocabulary, alongside Creative Writing Ink and WordPress. All have been stored away for further investigation.

The other thing that became immediately apparent is that people are happy to share, to listen and be supportive. I for one had used storyboards to teach young children but it had not crossed my mind that I could use them to develop my own writing.

For instance, at the February meeting Andy Frazier showed us an example of how he uses a story board for script writing. Check out Andy’s blog, which gives a basic introduction.

In the beginning

At the beginning of our early group meetings we quickly gave a brief history of what we were interested in and, perhaps, current projects. This helped us get to know each other and our aspirations.

Finding old masterpieces

One group member brought along a folder containing her old writing notes. I’m not even sure if she’d had time to look through them. But it’s surprising how looking back can refresh your ideas.

By the end of the evening she had shared a piece of work that mattered to her. We were glad she found the confidence to do that because it was a wee hidden gem, which we found, mattered to us too. It was a powerful piece, well considered, thought provoking and relevant.

Another member, who had not shared her work at this group before, shared a poem she had penned a while back. She is interested in imagery and it became strongly apparent that she has the ability to convey her ideas through this medium. Thank you both!

Getting published

Not the Life Imagined by [Pettigrew, Anne]One of our returning members explained that a friend of hers, from another writing group, has recently had her first novel published. Whilst this is not necessarily the immediate aim for everyone, in the first instance, it did make our ears prick up.

I for one was subsequently well impressed to find it, with ease, on the Internet. What’s more, with very favourable reviews! Anne Pettigrew, Not the life Imagined.

Using a song

The same member had been interested in taking Andy Frazier’s idea from our last meeting, of using song lyrics for the basis of a short story. Her chosen song was Every Breath You Take by The Police.

Now, like me, you may think of the lyrics as coming from the mouth of a broken-hearted lover. Many couples choose it to play at their wedding. Sting had just separated from his first wife to start a relationship with the person who would subsequently become his second wife, when he wrote it.

However, what if you put a different slant on the words? As our member pointed out, they can have a totally different meaning; the words of a stalker, controlling and menacing. Try listening to them again. She used this to great effect in her resulting short story.

If you come along …

Why not drop in and find out what our group is like. You don’t have to do or bring anything, but you can if you like. You can read a short extract from some on-going writing … anything really … and, of course, you can always try our preparation suggestions, below.

At our March meeting we heard:

  • two brief short stories
  • a poem
  • a chunk of non-fiction
  • an extract of Scottish Historic fantasy-fiction
  • a personal reflection

People responded in helpful and interested ways.

As one of the short story writers, when preparing, I was stumped for a new idea and, for the first time, Googled “creative writing prompts“.

I can recommend it because there are lots, and I found something that ‘clicked’ with me straight away. Job done!

Mac tells me he wrote a blog on writers-block a while back.

Next meeting

From the first, we have been keen to steer the group in the direction members need and want. To that end we had a discussion and agreed on two things for next time.

  • Choose any book and create a logline for it

Image result for logline

A logline is a sentence which summarises a TV programme, film or book that states the central conflict of the story. It often provides both a  synopsis of the plot and an emotional “hook” to stimulate interest. And …

  • write up to 200 words on the theme “jealousy” – whatever it means to you – fiction, non-fiction, a poem, a song … you choose.

Why not come along and share your ideas? Hope to see you soon!

© Jenny Hoggan

Next Meeting, 8th April, 2019

Join us at


A blog about last Monday’s meeting is coming, written by a Writers’ Neuk member.

All members are welcome to blog with us.

New blogs are in the pipeline.

Watch out for more.

Directions? Why not come along …

… and enjoy a pleasant evening, with interesting people who are into writing?

Come blog with us … Let’s blog let’s blog away.

Get involved in producing blogs for our site. There are other opportunities in Colinsburgh Library and, elsewhere in our community.

Dyslexia-friendly

We are moving forward with our dyslexia-friendly approach. Guidelines will follow.

Mac

Next Meeting, 4th March

In the Reading Room at

Colinsburgh Library – 7 PM to 9 PM

Preparation – if you like

Bring up to 200 words to share. This is about improvement, fun and writer-to-writer support. If you don’t want to share, that’s fine too. You are welcome.

Last meeting 7th February

Being a writer’s group, a blog about Thursday’s meeting is here, written by a Neuk member. All members are welcome to blog with us.

Directions? Why not come along …

… and enjoy a pleasant evening with interesting people who are into writing?

Come blog with us … Let’s blog let’s blog away.

If you wish, you can get involved in producing blogs for our site. There are other opportunities for Colinsburgh Library and, elsewhere in our community.

Dyslexia-friendly

We will introduce a dyslexia-friendly approach. This may be accomplished by:

  • changing our site colour scheme, or
  • helping members set-up their browsers to meet their specific personal needs

We’re looking into this and aim to find solutions. With the storm in November and low attendance we didn’t advance this. Let’s clarify and implement our plans.

February Meeting 2019

Here we are again. Some of us have the lurgy, others are recovering, one or two are in rude health and don’t even know what a lurgy is. Many may have been supping medicinal whisky (this being Scotland and all) … even if they didn’t have the lurgy.

Some of us couldn’t make it, others did. All in all we are growing and finding our feet.

Writer Andy Frazier joined us last night. He shares a few thoughts about the experience below. Thanks for this, Andy.

Back into the swing

Andy Frazier

Although I have written numerous books on a wide range of subjects over the last ten years, I must confess, apart from a monthly magazine column, it has been just over two years since I last sat down to write in a professional capacity. During that time my focus has been on our other business, something which involves much more stress.

Time poor

Reaching my wits end last week, I suddenly realised that I was becoming a slave to time, rather than its keeper, and months were passing by with a rushing sound usually reserved for cyclists.

Itch to scratch

So, on Wednesday morning when I sat at my desk, instead of the usual admin, I opened Scrivener, my writing ‘app’ of choice, and started scribbling. In amongst those files are a few pages of ideas, research, crazy facts and half written projects.

An hour’s distraction from the day to day problems around me was all I was seeking. Next thing I knew, it was getting dark outside.

Coincidentally

On Thursday morning, by pure coincidence, I saw a poster on social media for Writers’ Neuk, who were due to meet that evening. I have to admit to having never physically been to a writers group before, although I do belong to a few online. Had it been any other day, I am not sure I would I have noticed it but, on this day, I decided to attend.

Inky fingers

What I found was not only a friendly bunch of like-minded people, but each one with a passion for the written word and a desire to share and receive ideas from others.

Not knowing what to expect, I had taken with me my scribbles from the day before, which had been little more than an exercise I had set myself, to get the ‘juices’ flowing again.

After an hour of general discussions about our individual on-going projects the group asked me to share mine with them. © Andy Frazier

Come back soon and read Andy’s easy introduction to the Storyboard. Ed.

Want to blog with us? Get in touch via our contact form. Our community library and Writers’ Neuk need you.