The term jargon applies to words that are potentially confusing or impenetrable to most readers either because they are very specific to a certain field or because they have different uses or meanings in different fields.
Jargon is necessary in some genres in order to make the scenes, conversations, procedures etc. realistic and authentic. For example, in crime fiction, the use of jargon may be necessary to bring realism to your work – when police, forensics, medical examiners are talking for example. It is also useful to add authenticity and authority to characters and to give readers a feel for their personalities – a snobby university professor, for example, who wants to impress his colleagues, might drop a few literary terms into his conversations. If this is only a veil of pretention, and they don’t actually have the knowledge to back up how they want to be perceived, they may even use the wrong ones. A salesman or executive might use industry-related jargon like ‘blue sky thinking’ or ‘thinking outside the box’. If your character speaks like this your reader will know immediately the type of person he or she is.
Remember, however, that while jargon can be an effective way of expanding on the traits of a character and expressing their knowledge, or lack of knowledge, it should never be used as an opportunity to show off what you know. While we can all relate to that situation in writing where there is the perfect opportunity to throw in a big word, you have to be sure that such a word fits the text, or the character saying it. What is more impressive than a clever word is clever, perceptive and subtle writing.
The key thing to remember is your audience. If you’re writing crime, then the chances are that your reader will expect some jargon, and your book will need to include it. Do make sure you’re using the correct terms though – if you don’t there will be someone, somewhere, who will helpfully point that out to you in a review on Amazon. Otherwise use jargon sparingly – successful, engaging, creative writing calls for clarity.
As always, have your reader in mind.
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