Describing Acronyms while Writing Fiction

acronyms

At a recent critique session, the group was reviewing a chapter from my second unpublished novel, New Duet. Dan is a veteran, and while having dinner with Issy, he tells her about his truck being hit with an IED, mentioning his MOS while serving in the military. However, nowhere did I define what those acronyms meant. Defining IED (improvised explosive device) and MOS (military occupational specialty code) to my critique group help me realize I needed to make them clear to my reader. So within the dialogue exchange over dinner, Issy asked the questions one might ask in a casual conversation. Therefore, giving the definitions and making things clear rather than the archaic writing style of the narrator stepping in and saying, “Dear reader, let me explain what he is talking about.”

Obvious Acronyms

Some acronyms need no explanation. SWAT- everyone knows these are specially trained police in bullet-proof vests carrying assault weapons with particular skills to take down the bad guys. We know FBI, CIA, DEA. And every TV viewer now knows what CSI and NCIS stand for. Tests like MRI or CAT scan or CPR are understood either through experience or watching medical dramas.

Define so they stay engaged

Then again we can’t assume everyone knows. I recently ran across DIY. My mind went blank. But within the ad were the words do-it-yourself. Ah, sweet clarity. As writers, we should be familiar with the term WIP. But non-writers have no clue. Work in progress needs to appear somewhere in the same paragraph for clarity.

If you are writing about a specific trade the acronyms need to be defined once either before or after its first use. Otherwise, readers are confused and leave your story to google the mystery letters. Too many of those and you’ve lost the momentum of turning pages to get to the end at 2 a.m.

My example

As you craft your story, don’t forget to define terms within the story as quickly as you can without drawing the reader out of the story.  If a DEA agent comes to the door, don’t stop to give a brief history of the Drug Enforcement Agency. Instead:

“Men, are in position, sir.” The tall lanky DEA agent looked to Detective Marshall for confirmation.

“Tell the men to move in. Slowly. Don’t want to spook these guys.”

“For sure, they’ve given us the slip more than once. “The agent keyed his mike. “Move in, low and slow.”

“If they flush the drugs, our case is toast.” Detective Marshall kept his eyes on the third story window. Three guys sat at a table. What they were doing could not be seen from his vantage point. Fear moistened his collar. He hated dealing with drug smugglers. It always brought in the feds, and more hands in the pie could end badly.

“I heard from a guy in Vice over at Precinct 23 that these guys operate in four states.”  The young detective moved closer with the declaration. Marshall wasn’t in the mood to chat.

“Well, today it stops here.” Withdrawing his Glock from its holster, he moves in a squat posture toward the building.

Now in this less than stellar scene you get the idea. I have given you the information that the DEA is a federal branch of law enforcement that deals with drug-related crime. I’ve given the reader the needed info without stepping away from the scene.  Always give just enough to define the acronym but not so much as to drag the reader from the action.

What interesting acronyms have you run across? Do you have an example of how yuo defined an acronym while still moving the story along?

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