Friday, December 17, 2010

Let’s talk about fictional weapons.

Given that I’m a fantasy/sci-fi writer, you know this is exactly the sort of ground I was going to tackle sooner or later.

Basics first, don’t give your weapons stupid names if they are normal weapons.

If your weapon is a sword, call it a sword. If it’s some special type of sword(like a katana) but you are writing second-world fantasy so it doesn’t make sense to call it that, call it a curved, single-edged sword. Don’t make up some silly name for a sword just to be different, it’s going to annoy the crap out of your readers.

For fictional weapons in general, be realistic. If your weapon is physics-defying or ludicrously difficult to use, odds are your reader is not going to appreciate it the same way you do; especially since at that point you are basically just appreciating your own departure from the norm.

Let’s get one thing straight: being different for the sake of being different and being creative are two entirely different things.

Now, there is always the chance that you’re going to invent some sort of new, original, perfectly reasonable melee weapon. That’s ok, that’s good. Maybe this weapon is different enough that it actually requires a unique name, and factors heavily enough into the story that you can’t get away without naming it. This is where it gets challenging.

You need to study your language patterns. If your characters predominantly speak modern English, with lots of common slang, then you don’t want to give your weapon some sort of old, foreign-sounding name. The above comic is a perfect example.

Try to stick with something simple, descriptive, and not stupid-sounding. Let’s say your weapon is a long poll with sword-blades at either end, and spiked rings for cross-guards. That’s different enough to not fall under any existing name. If I were writing that story, I’d call it something like a Long Arm, sounds kind of like poll-arm(an existing weapon), but not quite, since that’s not quite a poll-arm.

Now what about guns?

Ok, guns is where you have even less latitude than swords. You pretty much need a darn good reason for calling a gun anything other than a gun. Even if its shooting laser beams, if it’s a man-portable weapon you are still pretty much going to want to call it a gun. Hell, the Davy Crocket was called a gun, and it fired freaking nuclear bombs!

You may notice that in my series I use a gun called the Lance quite frequently. What, am I not taking my own advice? No, the ‘lance’ is called a lance because it belongs to a soldier called a ‘lancer’, it is also repeatedly referred to as a gun.

The point here is to say that you can in fact give your guns special names, just keep them simple and keep in mind that its still a gun and should be called that relatively frequently.

So let’s say you’ve invented some kind of crazy, out-there, completely original sci-fi weapon? Give it a name that helps people relate. ‘Lightsaber’ might sound like a stupid name when you think about it, but it sounds cooler than laser sword, and still communicated exactly what the weapon is. Saber means sword, it’s a light sword, but with a not totally ridiculous-sounding name.

How about super weapons? So you’ve invented some kind of wacky new planet-eradicating super weapon, and you need to name it. Ok, so lets remember that it’s SCIENCE fiction, and science doesn’t tend towards silly words better suited to a fantasy novel.

Orson Scott Card, author of Ender’s Game, did a really cool thing with his fictional super-gun. We’re going to deconstruct it now, so you can see what it works out so well.

First off, start with what the device does. In Ender’s Game it was a ‘Molecular Detachment Device’. Basically, it broke molecular bonds. Now, everyone in the story knows what it is and how it works, but they had given it a nickname: Dr. Device. M.D. stands for ‘Medical Doctor’, but it can also stand for ‘Molecular Detachment’, so M.D. Device becomes Dr. Device. It’s mostly an in-joke among the characters, but it’s a good example of a name for a fictional super-weapon.

In the same vein, George Lucas keeps it simple with the Death Star. Like the lightsaber, its kinda silly, but brutally straightforward. You do not even have to stop and question what a ‘Death Star’ is, it’s just right there in the name! Dr. Device isn’t as straightforward, but its got a nice little story behind it.

In the Course Books, we have what’s referred to as the ‘P.K. 19’, short for ‘Planet Killer 19’. This refers to 19 specific ships in the fleet with the ability to destroy a planet. The term has also been used to describe any situation in which a planet is destroyed, or even rendered uninhabitable. Why 19 ships? Ask Laytami, if you can find him.

Now we’re going to move on to a completely different area: specific weapons. Let’s say your character has a sword, it’s still called a sword, everyone describes it as a sword, but they have a unique name for it. Just like you’re a human, but you’ve also got a name. This is really the one place where you get to go hog-wild.

In the Course Books, you may note that Hunter has a sword called Excalibur(some king also had a sword by that name). Naming weapons is not uncommon, it adds a certain flare to the story. If you’ve got a sword that is special in some way, old, has passed through many hands, you’ve got all sorts carte blanch for an awesome name.

For part of The Next Progression, Jason carries a sword called ‘Divine Will’. The character Noa has a sword named Antebellum. In the final installment of the Course Books, Hunter briefly uses a sword named ‘Cindy’.

In closing.

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