Write Good SFF Slang
Write Good: An Absurd Storytelling And Adventure Blog
Swear. Out loud. Right now. (If you’re in a place where you can do that without getting kicked out or glared at. If you’re in a coffee shop or library or with your kids, just think it real loud instead.)
That filth you spewed out has a history. It’s got satisfying phonetics. It’s got reflex-level usage on your end, and reflex-level reactions on the hearer’s end. Your story needs that shit so the shit your characters react to feels like real shit.
Slang terms in sci-fi need that too. History. Satisfying phonetics. Reflex-level usage and reactions by characters. We’re talking history that no one in the world you’re building ever forgot because it’s still hitting them mentally, emotionally, and maybe physically. Phonetics as satisfying as George Carlin’s favorite swear words and as full of release as that four-letter word you shouted when you started reading this. Reflex-level usage that emphasizes how serious the characters think the situation is, and reactions like mothers covering their daughters’ ears.
History carves out furrows in a story and its characters. All absurdity aside, your world and the people living in it HAVE to be wrecked in some way due to history. Whether that history is between characters, recent history, relationship history, or a series of events that happened in the world and affected millions, SOMETHING history-wise is hurting them. Find that history. Channel it into a word or phrase. Assemble that word with syllables, beats, and subtext.
On a casual level, something as simple as, “pulling a Zerix” works. It refers to the specific event or relationship that Zerix screwed up. It hints at inside knowledge, and it’s recent history that several characters must have experienced together. No one wants to “pull a Zerix” when a character uses that phrase in the right context.
On a world-sized level, big events that affect thousands or millions have a frick-ton of weight. I don’t even need to reference any examples from real life right now, because you’re already thinking of one. THAT’S how deep-seated the history of your SF/F world needs to be when you’re building swear words or slang for that story. And you KNOW when a writer has done a good job or a bad job at building curses and slang. If it sounds ridiculous or doesn’t carry any emotional weight, it ain’t working. So make yours work. Swear your swear words at the mirror and imagine the other characters reacting to it. No weight? No reaction? Then it ain’t good shit. Re-write your shit and try that shit again.
Back to the friggin’ absurdity: Phonetics in swearing and slang ABSOLUTELY matters! Craptastic phonetics can kick the reader out of the story no matter how fast-paced or engaging your world is.
Here are some über-satisfying words that aren’t even swear words in our English language. Shout these out loud like you mean ‘em (if you can):
See all the weighty Bs and Us and Ks and Ps? And that’s just in REAL words. Take some of those syllables and swap them into words that developed from negative history in your world. You might end up with swear words like this:
Or you might discover a historical event your characters can talk smack about after the fact, like:
The Great City-Piss of 1070 (When everyone in town got UTIs from exotic chickens.)
Culture Crash II (When a culture burned itself out and tried to take others with it. Again.)
The Ten Women War (When ten noble women slew royalty. Or swap men in there.)
Blood Eater’s Bluff (When a cannibal appeared to murder and eat the queen, but was found by the royal guard to have eaten a homeless woman dressed as the queen.)
Wasn’t it fun getting your mind and soul dirty for the sake of good solid slang and swearing in your story?
GOOD! CAUSE I AIN’T DONE CHUCKING MUD PIES AT YOUR SOUL!
For true authenticity in your sci-fi story, the characters gotta use slang and swear words by reflex, and they gotta react by reflex. When you’re driving and get cut off, “What the shit?” or some similar phrase shits right out of your mouth. Even when you’re with the kids or an uptight aunt or a religious cousin.
Zerix pulled a Zerix ‘cause he blurted out, “neander-thot” in front of the new “queen” and the court she was building. So he got executed. Moral of the story being, don’t pull a Zerix ‘cause shooting your mouth off by reflex can get you killed and you never know who’ll hear it.
And that’s how you build some dadgum good sci-fi swears and slang.
Now get out there and write some tasty stories that’ll get readers so excited they swear out loud like you did at the start of this.