As a writer I have a habit of giving stuff my own names. People, things, even restaurants. Or maybe that’s just an excuse.
Moving on – I tend to come up with specific terms for tools I frequently use in my writing. And I just came up with one that tickles me so much I thought I’d share with you, plus a whole lot more!
(And yes. I’ve been away* a while. Thanks for noticing.)
My shiny new term: Helper Monkey.
A Helper Monkey is a character whose main purpose in the story is to provide some useful service to Our Heroes (a term I trust is self-explanatory.) That service can range from key information to advice to help getting out of a desperate situation.
Keep reading for more of my writer’s idiolect. (I love that word.)
Ashigaru – Japanese foot-soldiers (the name literally means light feet.) Their primary purpose, at least until they got firearms and a bit more serious, seems to have been to give the samurai somebody to hew down heroically. My usage differs slightly, as you might be expecting by now: my ashigaru are incidental characters who have some kind of amusing or at least unusual interaction before the plot passes them by. In my writing they are most frequently bad-guy foot soldiers, hence my use of the word. However, they are not necessarily either villainous or combatants.
An example that for some reason sticks in my head: an eon or so ago I did a couple novels in the Steele series, which were basically Robocop, except if RoboCop wound up looking more like the post-flesh Arnie in The Terminator. Which is to say, a walking metal skeleton. Anyway, I have a scene in which a couple adorable kids happen to be out of an evening on the banks of the Rio Grande, in a post-Apocalypse Albuquerque, no less. (Sometimes I do write what I know.) Noticing a disturbance in the water, one insists it’s caused by a river monster. The other insists there’s no such thing. Then Our Hero The Steel Skeleton emerges, causing the argument to turn out kind of a draw. Anyway, the cute kids are what I term ashigaru.
Ashigaru are not to be confused with Spear Carriers, as defined by Alexei Panshin in his Nebula-winning novel Rite of Passage. Which is an excellent book and I need to reread. They’re similar (and functionally, that’s what ashigaru really were, at least until the whole “gun” thing came along.) But my ashigaru have lines to speak – that’s part of the definition – instead of being mute as well as faceless. And unlike Spear Carriers they are by no means BTD. (See below. Natch.)
Big Bad – The main villain. Yes, it’s obvious. Sue me. If you want profound, go here.
Box Office – Glorious. Usually showy, splashy, and, optimally, involving SBU. I don’t know if he originated it, but I got it from my long-ago gaming buddy Richard Smith, who incurred a few of his own during our role-playing sessions in The Morrow Project. Can refer to any sufficiently gaudy deed, but usually refers to some heroic death involving the strategically vital self-sacrifice of a character who is -
BTD – Born to Die. Yes, we all are. Sucks, doesn’t it? Anyway, the term specifically refers to a character who was originally conceived with some kind of affecting or Box Office demise in mind. Or both. Most often I use it for a character in whom the reader is meant to have emotional investment, whether good guy (you don’t want him to die) or bad (you totally do.) I do not however apply it to the Big Bad, since his (or her!) death is kinda implied. Usually.
Also: every character ever in A Song of Ice and Fire.
The Royal Scam – What’s really going on. I tend to love deceit and treachery in my yarns, as who doesn’t? Indeed, sometimes the overt part of the sudden-yet-inevitable betrayal – the bait – occurs to me before the trap itself does.
Now, contrary to what you may think, the overt part that usually constitutes what we think of as a scam – think, the ill-gotten treasure offered to you and you alone by the widow of late dictator General Sani Abacha in every Nigerian scam email ever – is not what I mean by The Royal Scam. It’s, as said, the true doings afoot, as well as their real purpose.
For almost every story or novel I’ve written in, jeez, maybe the last twenty years, I have included in my notes a section entitled The Royal Scam.
It’s the name of a Steely Dan song. In all candor I’ve no idea whether it has anything colorably to do with the song itself. Other than the fact there’s a scam involved. The damn title caught in my mind, as did the refrain, “See the glory – of the Royal Scam.”
SBU – Shit Blows (or Blowing) Up. That, pretty much. While I sometimes use it metaphorically, meaning either things fly completely to pieces or big, sudden action happens (again, they’re not exclusive), most often I mean literally a Big Bada Boom.
When I use the phrase talking about movies, it’s usually far from complementary. In that case it refers to a director employing vast, spectacular explosions to cover a lack of involving characters or plot.
And … that’s all I got for now.
Got any pet writing terms of your own you’d like to share? Hit me with ‘em in the comments!
And as always – thanks for reading!
Shit happened. Literally.
As in, my sewer collapsed. And I had to replace the line myself, with more than a little help from my friends.