Writers seldom create words, and only a few do it well. Lewis Carroll makes it work, as does Shakespeare. Larry Niven gave us a gift with “tasp.” Those guys made excellent words. The rest of us generally work with what we’ve got stashed in the dictionary. Callooh, callay!
Fortunately, writing isn’t a job of creating words but of choosing them. Still, even with a decent vocabulary and a little experience leveraging the thesaurus, choosing is often harder than it looks. Every writer must choose the right words based on character, setting, tone, and a dozen other factors. For instance, there are plenty of words I’ll put in the mouth of a pretentious scholar that just don’t sound right coming from his street-raised bodyguard. But there are also words I’m more or less likely to use when writing a sad story, an action story, a western story, and so on.
Your genre influences your word pool—I get to choose “squamous,” “ineffable,” and “eldritch” more often than, say, a writer of Regency romances—but shared-world and tie-in settings can also determine your choices. Obviously, proper names like “Golarion,” “Tattooine,” and “Immoren” are part and parcel of writing for Pathfinder, Star Wars, or the Iron Kingdoms, but so are more common terms like “starknife,” “lightsaber,” and “storm glaive.”
Where it can really start to bake your noodle are the little differences in spelling or usage. In the world of Pathfinder, for instance, “devil” and “demon” are never synonyms. Republic ambassadors never heard of coffee but enjoy a hot cup of caffa (well, until they did, but that’s a whole other blog on continuity). And in the Iron Kingdoms you need to know the difference between “mechanical” and “mechanikal,” because you’re going to need them both.
Then there’s the problem of perfectly common words that you simply need to use much more often in a particular setting. English is arguably the greatest human language because of its enormous size, which provides many synonyms. However, even “electrical,” “galvanic,” and “voltaic” will soon seem insufficient when you’re describing a long battle involving the Cygnaran forces of Warmachine.
What are some of your favorite problem words from a tie-in setting? Do they work differently outside that setting? Or are they unique to it? What are some words you think didn’t need to be created for a setting? Which ones added something that couldn’t have existed without them?