P. D. Wright

Wrighting Blog

Guest Blogger: Ninja Cups and the Path to a Better World

It’s been a while! Life has been crazy and I’ve let my blog got to waste. :( I feel bad about it, but sometimes life is like that. After complaining to my boyfriend about how much I’ve neglected my blog, he kindly offered to make a blog post for me – kinda a guest spot. Since Dave is brilliant, I thought the idea was fantastic. That said, please enjoy my boyfriend, David Oliver, and his first blog post, Ninja Cups and the Path to a Better World:

Greetings all! I would first like to thank Paula for graciously allowing me to use this space as a guest blogger. This is my first blog post so I was planning on writing something splashy, perhaps revolutionary. I figured it would contain some humor, some drama, perhaps a bit of ageless wisdom and just maybe the Great Key to Literary Success. After due consideration I decided it would be better to simply write about what happens to be on my mind at the moment, which takes us to… Ninja Cups. (I mean, who needs great wisdom when you can have Ninja Cups?)

A few days ago I had a dream in which I was trying to uncover the plans and tactics of a covert organization which recruited a friend of mine. The dream had all the excitement of a good spy thriller, but the plot of the dream was not what got me to thinking. In the dream I first realized that there was more to the actions of the people I was watching by listening to them talk. I found that the people had a habit of talking in strange euphemisms and slang-speak. An example of this was Ninja Cups, which was used to mean “excessive or over the top, but still effective.” The etymology of the word was a story about a ninja taking a walk by a river and realizing he was thirsty. Without a cup he was at a loss until some poor soul happened to pass by the ninja and with a swift ninja kick to the head the ninja retrieved the decapitated head and voila, he had a cup.

This example may be slightly gruesome but I bet many of the readers will remember it, and more still have a greater understanding of the nature of this organization. When writing fantasy or science fiction I have to be careful in my word craft not to include any modern slang, euphemisms or turn of phrases; after all, such linguistic tools are usually specific to this time or that place, and forcing an out-of-place out-of-time expression will drive the reader away from the world they are so painstakingly attempting to create.

This statement poses a problem though; if a writer successfully divests their writing of all the slang, euphemism, turn of phrases and other colorful tools which predominates our language they will find their work made sterile in its formality. The reason is simple; everybody utilizes a veritable cornucopia of those colorful uses of the language countless times every day in all forms of speech. Most people are not even aware of the full range of these tools that they use. For example the term “restroom” is a euphemism derived from other euphemisms which were in turn derived from yet other euphemisms. If a character in a story uses the lavatory, restroom, john or head, that character is going to the same place, but the choice of terms provides the reader with enough contextual diversity to give the reader an understanding of the flavor of the character.

My suggestion, then, is for the writer to be aware of the world they are creating. Some modern terms may be acceptable but it is probably better to assume that they are not. Before a writer first puts pen to paper (or hands to keyboard nowadays,) they should strive to learn their world, learn the political, economic and artistic climate that predominates in their world. Once the writer has achieved a basic understanding of their world, they should set forth to create a small lexicon of slang and phrases which will serve to increase the readers understanding of the world.

The writer needs not use all the full set of phrases developed, just as they may create new phrases as their story progresses, but by being aware of this they can add layers of creativity, understanding and realism to their world. In short, they can make their world a better place. It must also be added, though, that the blind addition of strange phrases will not increase a world’s clarity, rather the writer must make sure that the reader understands the meanings and perhaps history and context of the phrases. Only then will the world be made more real. An example of this is a world I created with a friend some years back. We created a futuristic world of domed cities controlled by corporate “families” where all technology, from cars to doors to lights was connected and controlled by the internet.

In this world we decided to coin the slang term, “waters,” for the internet. From that base we created a massive list of terms and phrases to describe many of the aspects of the lives of the characters, such as “divers” for hackers, “sharks” for high powered attack programs and “puddles” for systems that were cut off from the rest of the internet. In the end we could freely add new slang terms and phrases with minimal exposition. This gave the world a level of complexity and realism that could hold the readers attention and cause them to suspend their own instinctual disbelief.

There are many aspects to the creation of a successful story and a good writer must not only be aware of all these aspects but juggle them as well. It is my hope that while this entry may make the job and the joy of writing a little more difficult for some, it will provide a better story to grace the minds of the readers. Thank you.


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5 Responses to “Guest Blogger: Ninja Cups and the Path to a Better World”

  1. Extraordinary post! This very topic has been prodding my writing as of late. I have recently written a short story, “Into the Grey,” that revolves around half-angel, half-human characters in the late 1800′s. The first submission to the group proved your point: my dialog and narrative was laden with contemporary euphemisms. Upon revising, I strived to eradicate such slang from my text. My review, however, indicates the contrary.

    How is it that I made a concise effort to remove this practice, yet allowed so many to remain? This question sat wry in my head for the past few days. After reading your post, I believe I have discovered the answer; the very reason it developed in my text in the first place, is the same reason it evades me during revision: it is COMMON lingo indeed. In fact, it is so common, that is does not jump out at me, rather, it lay flush along with its brothers and sisters, waiting to pounce on an unsuspecting reader so it may throw them from the realism of the story. Cursed little euphemisms.

    All this to say that I am struggling with a method in which I may catch these mistakes, and am coming up short. What say you?

  2. [...] today, I was reading P.D Wright’s blog, and she has a guest post by David Oliver (GREAT post on slang, ninja’s, and writing). His post discusses the importance of avoiding contemporary terms in a fantasy (or futuristic) [...]

  3. I recently heard two people summarizing a previous conversation about accents, a conversation with a convincing argument for not including accents in your text. It was argued that accents aren’t common in modern fiction and can detract from the story. I had a problem with that on many levels, but the most prominent three are: I see accents all the time in what I currently read, including modern SciFi and Fantasy; I find accents helpful when included and troubling when they are excluded; and everyone I know writes with an accent whether they realize it or not. So, for this writer arguing against accents, instead of giving a proper accent to each character, all characters would have normalized Californian accent – which is still an accent.

    Colloquial language is just another part of that. Using the right phrases and slang can move someone forward or backward in time or put them in another country (or on another planet), but the wrong terms can ruin a story. The same goes for proper names and mannerisms.

    Thanks for the post. I was thinking about doing a similar one… minus the ninja cup story.

  4. David Oliver says:

    Wow, I think this is the first time I ever got comments. I feel all warm and gushy inside. :D

    C. Michael Fontes, I think your blog on balance is excellent and I suggest all the readers to take a look at it. In my own blog post I commented that the writer must not blindly add euphemisms to his story, that such an action would only serve to distract the reader. I think keeping in mind how to balance new slang with old is as important as keeping proper terminology in order. For your story, my best suggestion is to simply use due diligence. In the original writing of the story, do not beat yourself too much over the lingo, such actions will only serve to break your stride, but before you start writing a section, try to place yourself in your world as fully as you can so that the lingo of your world temporarily becomes your lingo. R Garrett Wilson beat me to the punch with the suggestion of research. For your story, since it is placed in the late 1800′s, try reading a couple of short westerns or watching some old westerns episodes. Other sources might be the TV show “little house on the prairie.” I have not seen that show in almost 20 years so I don’t know if it applies, but I might also suggest some time-specific classics like “Little Women” to familiarize yourself with some of the speaking styles of the time. Don’t take any one thing too seriously though; your story is your world, not a historical discourse.

    R. Garrett Wilson, your blog was fascinating and really got me thinking about accents in writing. I never really thought of accents under the same heading as slang and euphemisms, but that was just short-sightedness on my part. In a very real way accents can be seen as phonetic slang with an even greater ability to place a character not just in time and space, but also in their station in life. I also greatly appreciated your suggestions towards research. Also, like a poor choice of terms can detract from a story, so too can an unduly strong accent pull a reader away from the world. I am glad you made your post, though I am sad to see a terrible lack of ninja cups. I mean, everything can be better with ninja cups, right?

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