Ain’t No Such Verb as Riffing

Riff.  The word doesn’t exist.  Not as a noun, a verb, or an adjective.  Not in my Oxford English Dictionary, not in my Synonym Finder, nor my online Microsoft Thesaurus, or my Roget’s Thesaurus.   I finally found it in the online Merriam-Webster dictionary (it’s a musical term used in jazz), but that’s beside the point.  If you’re writing fiction, you’re allowed to make up words. 

I mean, in Science Fiction and Fantasy genres we make up names all the time, right?  Languages too (Nanu-Nanu).  And made-up names for objects in our fantastical worlds are de-rigueur.  Why not actions?  Let’s face it; there is no verb in our human experience that can describe the action of stabbing a vampire in the heart with a wooden stake.  Oh sure; you say staking is the proper term.  But that definition isn’t in any dictionary or thesaurus I’ve found.  I’m not sure which author coined the term first, but we ALL know what it means, don’t we? 

The same idea applies to shape shifting, which is also not defined in dictionaries to include physical transformation.  Again, some author used the verb shifting as more telling than the defined term for werewolf as one who changes form. 

So my point is, if you’re doing some action in your fantasy world which is unique to that world, why not define your own term?  Why not call your interplanetary deceleration out of hyper-space de-warping?  Or putting on the clanks?  You can do it.  And if you do it right, it can add authenticity and specific, telling voice to an otherwise ordinary action.  Happy scrivening.  

This entry was posted in genre, making stuff up, riffing, shifting, staking, world building, writer. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Ain’t No Such Verb as Riffing

  1. I love made up words or words slightly enhanced, but with obvious meaning. And yes, “I was staking the vampire when…” sounds much better than “I was stabbing the vampire with a stake when…” And yet some editors are mighty picky about them. I got nailed in a recent contest for using “untethered” instead of “untied”. Yeah, I knew it had the red squiggle misspell line under it, but I’ve seen it used in books before, darn it, and I preferred the way it sounded. 😉


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.