acronym: a word, such as NATO, radar, or laser, formed from the initial letter or letters of each of the successive parts or major parts of a compound term; also, an abbreviation, such as FBI, formed from initial letters.
Acronyms are a type of abbreviation. Chances are, your characters see, understand and use acronyms. And that can be very useful to you, the writer.
How can you use an acronym?
- Give a context to the world your characters inhabit: You'll use acronyms that everyone will recognize, like AMEX, TSA, IRS. You don't have to spell out the meanings of common acronyms; in fact, omitting the cumbersome definitions is exactly why you use this type of acronym.
- Succinctly enhance setting: If you read AI in a blurb, you're probably going to be reading a science fiction or contemporary/near future work involving computers and artificial intelligence. Think HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey or Bladerunner. I write science fiction military adventure romance (how's that for a sub-genre?) so SOL, SNAFU, and FUBAR and other acronyms that originated in the military let you know you've entered my world.
- To convey mood: If you're an actor, when the cast hears the play is SRO, the mood backstage is energized, happy, expectant. Standing Room Only means your job is guaranteed past tonight. It means big names in the business will take notice, and maybe that break you've been hoping for will materialize after the next performance.
- Give readers "in the know" an "Easter egg": If you're in a hospital and you overhear a nurse say that your roommate is going to get a 3H, you can be glad you're not in line for that procedure. 3H is a medical slang acronym for an enema that is "high, hot, and a Hell of a lot" that is given to troublesome patients. You don't need to define all your acronyms, but you can show their meanings through context. When you don't define an acronym that's been used in dialogue, it probably won't impact your story, but a reader who knows what those letters mean can smile, knowing they've found that secret surprise you left for them.
- Reveal unknown information: You can make up your own acronyms and reveal the definition when it will make the most impact. In my debut YA book, PRISM, the name of the planet matches the landscape of a world where government and military leaders were exiled to twenty-five years ago. Instead of plants, crystals and crystalline forms grow. The reader sees the sunlight streaming through prisms of different shapes and colors. It's a harsh, but beautiful, planet. Late in the book, the hero sees a top secret folder stamped P.R.I.S.M. The cover page reads Prisoner Relocation Internment Security Management. This information changes the mindset of the hero—and, hopefully, the reader. Because this prison world was never meant as a place for a thousand people to survive and thrive.
- Avoid overused acronyms. ROTFL was fun when it first became widely used. Now, it's not so fresh, which means description, either visceral or using the senses will have much more of an impact.
- Add humor: What if my character uses acronyms but can't spell? What if she changes the meaning of the acronym with one letter. Say she types ROTFS for rolling on the floor screaming. She thinks its hilarious, but no one knows what she means. If I wrote anything funny, I could see this used as a running gag to reveal her character. Imagine she texts, "HM, I had my first VT at lunch today." HM: holey moley, VT: vampire taco Warning--PSA (Personal Story Ahead): I guess it's been a long time since I've been out to eat, because today, I saw a "vampire taco" on a menu. I asked what it was and the server described it. It sounded innocuous, and who doesn't want to brag they've eaten a vampire taco? So I ordered it. Let's just say the server needs to talk to the cook. But I have eaten a vampire taco.
Have you used acronyms in your writing? How might you add them to your WIP?
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Fae Rowen discovered the romance genre after years as a science fiction freak. Writing futuristics and medieval paranormals, she jokes that she can live anywhere but the present. As a mathematician, she knows life’s a lot more fun when you get to define your world and its rules.
Punished, oh-no, that’s published as a co-author of a math textbook, she yearns to hear personal stories about finding love from those who read her books, rather than the horrors of calculus lessons gone wrong. She is grateful for good friends who remind her to do the practical things in life like grocery shop, show up at the airport for a flight and pay bills.
A “hard” scientist who avoided writing classes like the plague, she now shares her brain with characters who demand that their stories be told. Amazing, gifted critique partners keep her on the straight and narrow. Feedback from readers keeps her fingers on the keyboard.
P.R.I.S.M., a young adult science fiction story of survival, betrayal, deceit, lies, and love, available for pre-order October 2, 2017.