As a science fiction reader, I encounter certain words and concepts on a more than regular basis. As a writer, I’ve used a few myself. But as an editor, I’ve been thinking recently about the many different ways words might logically be spelled.
Sci-fi authors have it rough: there are a lot of space-ish terms that tend to be compound words, any of which could be either run together or separated with a space or hyphen. (Is it space time? spacetime? space-time? Micro gravity? microgravity? micro-gravity?)
But that’s not all: you also have to keep track of the terms you invented yourself. If my alien empire is made up of a population of Kobolliams on one page and Kolboliams on the next (don’t ask), you’re going to wonder what the frack is going on, right?
What you need, my friend, is a style sheet.
A style sheet is the master list of every editorial decision you (and your editor) make about your book: correct spellings, yes, but also the treatment of different types of numbers, elements like footnotes or section headers, punctuation—anything that may conceivably need to be checked against for consistency with the rest of the manuscript.
To jump-start your style sheet, I’ve put together a list of terms you may have used in your science fiction manuscript that you can easily rein in. The spellings below are from Merriam-Webster’s, and you’ll probably notice there are far less hyphens in the list than you might expect.
- algorithm (not algorhythm)
- bull’s-eye (not bullseye or bulls-eye)
- crew member
- g-force (not gee force or G force)
- ice caps
- mother lode (not load—really!)
- mother ship
- parsec (which is a unit of distance, by the way, not time)
- side effect
- space suit
- takeoff (noun)
- take off (verb)
- time lag
- visor (or vizor, but come on)
- x-ray (verb: I’ll x-ray your elbow; sometimes capitalized)
- X-ray (noun: This elbow X-ray is crazy)
If you’re using some of these terms, it may be worth sweeping your manuscript for them. Enter a few variations in your Search tool to ensure sure you’re spelling the word the same way each time you use it. Lose whatever terms you aren’t using, but definitely add your own to the list, noting your preferred spellings for names, places, and new words.
I am not trying to assimilate you. If you want to spell something in a different way, go for it: language is constantly evolving, and there’s every reason to think it will have continued to do so right through your futuristic sci-fi novel. But the key here, as with anything, is learning the rules so you can break them mindfully. Because spelling the same word three different ways in a single book is just silly.
What science fiction terms have you been wondering about?