Pablo Picasso said, “good artists copy; great artists steal.” As far as I know, he never elaborated on the cause-effect relationship there. If I’m great, does that give me license to steal? Or is stealing the act (or dare I suggest the habit) that will lead me to greatness? I don’t know the answer to these questions. All I know is, what I’m advocating in this post encourages outright theft. So be warned.

Lesson three: invent new compound words to create meaning, deliver imagery, and develop a world.

There’s a neighborhood in New Crobuzon called Riverskin. What does that name conjure in your imagination? I see a filthy ghetto with an even filthier canal cutting through the guts of it. For me oil and scum and detritus are gangs fighting a turf war for ownership of the water’s surface.

Now how about Bonetown or Flyside? Those are neighborhoods in New Crobuzon too. In these neighborhoods you can go up to the roofworld, and swooping menacingly above the roofscape are the slake-moths, snuffling up psychoscents and jonesing for dreamjuice.

Perdido Street Station is chock-full of neologisms like this. The psychosphere is home to psychonauts like the slake-moths, who can recognize you by your mindprint. There’s a drug called dreamshit, a weapon called a rivebow (wielded by intelligent, ambulatory cactuses, no less!), a phenomenon called quasivoltage and another one called bloodrust.

Think about how much it says about a city if its residents have to invent a word like bloodrust. It speaks volumes, doesn’t it? In fact, I think it says so much that I’ll have to contemplate that in a later post. In the meantime, though, I’m going to think about the worlds I’m creating in my fiction, and I’m going to see what kind of neologisms people in those worlds are going to come up with. Sorry, China. I’m stealing that one from you.

Advertisements