Welcome to my guide on how to write technobabble! Every post will start with one letter of the alphabet, from A to Z, and cover tips and ideas for all you writers of sci-fi. Whether you’re writing about near-future science fiction, far-flung alien worlds, or historical steampunk adventures filled with advanced technology that never was – these posts are designed to help you write convincing and unique tech for your story!
A is for Acronym
Coming up with cool and convincing words, tech, and advanced science for your sci-fi or steampunk story can be challenging. One of most noticeable things in a lot of sci-fi are the names given to pieces of technology: warp drive, light saber, and so on. So how do you come up with cool-sounding names for things?
I’ll go into more details about naming stuff in a later post. For right now, here’s a quick and easy way to name tech for your stories: use an acronym. An acronym is the first letters of a series of words and is used as its own word. It’s a pretty acceptable way to not only abbreviate a highly-technical term, but the acronym itself can be used as a cool word.
And this isn’t just a sci-fi trick – this comes from real life. The word “laser” is pretty commonplace in our language today. But did you know that it’s an acronym? It stands for “Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation.” And what about NASA? “National Aeronautics and Space Administration.”
Acronyms are common in sci-fi technobabble. For example:
-In The Martian, the ship that evacuates Mars at the very beginning, and that Watney uses to escape at the end, is called a MAV. It’s an acronym for Mars Ascent Vehicle.
-The various Star Trek series have used numerous acronyms: MARA=Matter/Anti-Matter Reaction Assembly, EMH=Emergency Medical Hologram, Phaser= Phased Energy Rectification, Padd=Personal Access Display Device
-In the Stargate shows, one of the items they are perpetually searching the galaxy for is a ZPM=Zero Point Module. In Babylon 5, every security officer is armed with a PPG=Phased Plasma Gun.
-In the Marvel movies, there is the organization of S.H.I.E.L.D.=Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division. Okay, so that isn’t a tech term specifically, but you get the idea.
If you have a long scientific description for your gadget, turning it into an acronym is a great way to make it easier for characters to use in dialogue for readers to understand. And if you’re having the opposite problem—that is, you can’t come up with a cool technobabble term for a gadget—well, an acronym can still be a great way to go.
You can put a word into the story—a made-up collection of letters like EMH, or a real word like “shield”—and then come back to it later and create the words for each letter. An acronym can be a great “place-holder” of sorts to give you a tech term to use in your story, without slowing down your writing while you try to come up with a grandiose-sounding scientific wonder.
Creating cool technobabble is an important part of writing science fiction or retro-futurism. Creating acronyms for gadgets, even before you have the “real” name of the thing, is a time-honored way to get your technobabble going without losing your creative flow or sacrificing the story.
Now go create some technobabble acronyms!