In Defense of Jargon


The writing and critique group I attend (almost) weekly is divided: how much sci-fi or fantasy jargon is too much? With such a wide variety of writers who pursue different styles, there’s polite disagreement on almost everything we bring up – but the issue of made-up words seems to be a hot one lately.

As a lover of fantasy and science fiction both, I believe in the power that jargon can bring to the page when it comes to creating a world. I don’t want to smack my readers in the face with excessive comparisons and descriptions based on objects they already know. I want to challenge them, to push them, to make them feel like they really are in a living, breathing other world.

When a reader is presented with new vocabulary or made-up words and languages, that’s a chance to really get him engaged. When she is looking at new jargon in the context of the new world, she’s taking some time to puzzle over the words while exploring a new place.

And that’s what I want! If I’m creating a whole new world for my readers and characters to explore, I want it to have a heartbeat that’s different from our own. I want the reader to hear that quiet thump-thump rhythm and fall into it headfirst, running wild through an unexplored place.


In honor of No Shave November – an awareness campaign for prostate cancer and other cancers that are male-specific – let’s take a quick look at some of the greatest bearded characters out there.¬†

  • There’s no denying that Dr Seuss’ The Lorax sported a pretty sweet ‘stache so pick up his book and remind yourself (and maybe your children) how important his message is, too.
  • Gandalf the Grey, of JRR Tolkein’s famed Lord of the Rings trilogy, has taken beard-growing almost as seriously as he takes his pipe weed (or so we hear)
  • When it comes to bearded wizards, we simply can’t leave Harry Potter’s mentor Albus Dumbledore off the list
  • Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman, a World Fantasy Award winner, features incarnations of the brother Cain and Abel (impressive facial hair and all)
  • Charles Perrault’s fairytale villain Bluebeard kept more than a few skeletons in the closets of his mansion home
  • Gamemaker¬†Seneca Crane may very well have the most elaborate and well-cared-for beard in all of The Hunger Games universe
  • Captain William T Riker (formerly first officer under Captain Picard of the USS Enterprise) just didn’t have the right spring in his step until his grew his iconic beard in season two of Star Trek: The Next Generation