Nobody cares that it’s called a ‘poop deck’.


If you’ve read any of my recent posts, you are aware that I’m having an epic and very public fight with chapter 10. I’ve drafted it twice and was getting ready to rewrite it for a third time before I handed it over to my wife. My wife is a lovely and tolerant woman, and also the most well read person I know. I actually had to design our house around built in bookcases (if you don’t believe me, ask her. This actually happened.) Anyhow, she’s usually a good sounding board for identifying ideas that suck, but she’s always kind enough to not say “this sucks,” instead offering suggestions on how it could be better.

Turns out, chapter 10 didn’t straight-up suck, it just needed a little more focus, which we got to the bottom of fairly quickly before dissolving into an argument discussion about the intention of a particular character, as if he were real. It kind of made me feel good because it’s the sort of discussion we have over other people’s books. One of the big messages though, was “you’re not Patrick O’Brien*, nobody cares what a poop-deck is.”

There is a balance between what is necessary for plausibility and what is just too much information. While I have spent a reasonable amount of time and energy researching historical British naval terminology, it’s completely unnecessary for anyone reading my story to know that. Furthermore, it would be best if they didn’t. So, describing the poop-deck is overkill, I need to find another way to deal with the description.

At this point, I bet you’re already not asking yourself, what is a poop-deck? -assuming you haven’t already not bothered googling it. Contrary to what you may be imagining, this is not where sailors take their poops, that’s done at the head. According to Wikipedia, the name poop-deck originates from the French word for stern (rear of the ship), which is la poupe, from the latin puppis. The poop-deck is the highest deck at the stern. It was typically unarmed and served as the station for the signaling officer. So, poop-deck aside, how am I going to deal with naval terms nobody except Patrick O’Brien fans will care about? Well, it’s pretty straight forward. As much as possible I’m going to limit the naval jargon to dialogue, then back that up with action for context. Instead of saying something like:

  Todhrel made his way to the poop-deck.

I’m going to say something more along the lines of:

  “An’ he’s on the poop sir, shall I call ‘im?” the young midshipman said.
  “No, I’ll fetch him.”
  Todhrel mounted the narrow stairs to the deck with more vigor than he felt.

I can’t say this sort of approach would be a solution for everyone, but it’s how I’m going to do it, and hopefully, I’ll be able to avoid the over-sharing of details no-one cares about.


* Patrick O’Brien wrote the Master and Commander books, which are exceptionally dry and full of obscure naval terms. I love these books. Jack Aubrey is my 3rd favorite captain after Mal (if you have to ask, don’t bother), and Kirk (I repeat).


6 thoughts on “Nobody cares that it’s called a ‘poop deck’.

  1. Dave, that’s absolutely the best way to go about it. Make the reader do the heavy lifting. If they don’t know what it is through context, give more context. If they don’t know what it is because they’re lazy, well, they’re lazy, and they’ll gloss over the term and move on to the rest of the action. Is it a word that appears in the kindle dictionary? That’ll help, too.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I hadn’t considered the kindle dictionary angle. That’s a good way to think about it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • The dictionary angle assumes the reader uses that feature. I do. It’s hit or miss, because the dictionary is somewhat robust, but lacks a lot of specialized words. Those words are the ones I’m usually wondering about. I think I have a decent sized vocabulary, but if something truly eludes me because I don’t understand it through context and can’t find it in the dictionary, I may flag it and look it up later. If I have a computer at hand, I may type it in to Google to see what it is. It usually needs to be something important in the story for me to look it up, though I enjoy learning new words as I go.

        Another aspect of the dictionary is standardized spellings. If something is foreign and uncommon, it’s not in the dictionary and we either have to search it on line or assume that it’s not that important. Or, you have a character translate in their head, if it’s important.

        Just keep asking yourself: Is it vital that the reader understands this? Is it vital for the reader to see this? Is it vital that the reader hears this? If the answer is no, then it can be a throwaway. Those are the words and phrases you put in which are contextual and lend authority and realism to the text but aren’t necessary for an understanding of the story.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. “…dissolving into an argument discussion about the intention of a particular character, as if he were real. It kind of made me feel good because it’s the sort of discussion we have over other people’s books.”

    Sounds like you’re on the right track.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You’re just getting me more and more psyched for the book, man. Can’t wait!!

    Liked by 1 person

Make it a conversation, leave a comment below.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s