Use Acronyms Safely

I always assume writers know how to use acronyms safely. Silly me. Some are so easily recognizable they seldom need explanation, but really it depends on context and familiarity. When I lived down the road from NASA – everyone knew what those letters meant, but where I live now, it’s a crap shoot. Really.

You mean them fellers that send monkeys out into space? Yes, dear. Them folks.

Which brings me to the point. You may not be an expert about every topic you want to include in a story. That’s okay. We’re all ready to learn a bit for the sake of craft. However…(wait for it)…you need to be sure the acronyms you’re using are the right ones, and there may well be regional variations, but maybe you want to take a more general (think national here) approach. If the reader has no clue what the hell you’re referring to, or has to spend time figuring it out, ppphhhhzzzttttt….that’s the sound of the twin-engine Cessna you’ve been flying about to lose it’s second engine.

Crash and burn.

Here’s the case in point. I am not a cop. I have never been a cop, not even in a previous life. I suspect I may have always been on the other side of law enforcement efforts and I’m okay with that. But sometimes, I write about people who are cops. Maybe not realistically, but with enough confidence to think I’ve pulled it off. The trick is to identify what your acronym is supposed to stand for by telling the reader and repeating as necessary (especially if it’s been 400 pages since the last time you used it). To me the letters DB mean “dead body”, as in the body is dead-on-the-ground, hanging-in-a-tree, or sitting-atop-a-dinosaur. Likewise, the letters DBA do not mean “dead body arrived” to me, that means “doing business as” – now in a really creative scene that could mean the dead body is doing business as a doorstop or something equally bizarre – but otherwise.

Smoke and fire.

That’s me being flung right out of the storyline. I drop the book, scratch my noggin, spark up an imaginary cigarette and try to figure out what was going through your gnarly little mind when you let that one slip. Then (insert author’s name) goes on my be-wary-of-this-guy list. Not what a writer wants.

Probably. Just saying.

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