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Author Topic: Things that annoy you when fiction writers get it WRONG
andersonmcdonald
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Back, side or ground quiver? The Bayeaux Tapestry ( http://www.hs-augsburg.de/~harsch/Chronologia/Lspost11/Bayeux/bay_tama.html ) depicts four archers that I can see where the quiver can be discerned; in three of those cases the quiver is carried on the right hip, and the arrow is knocked resting against the bow's right side (archer's perspective). Either there is a fixed arrow rest or the archer is resting the shaft on his left thumb. A little thought show that if you are drawing from quiver you have to wear this would give you the quickest firing rate.

I use a back quiver. I'm right handed, so the mouth is positioned just between my right shoulder and elbow. Handling the arrow by the nock instead of the shaft gives you control, so you don't have to even look down to nock the arrow on the string. It takes a little practice, but becomes second nature after awhile. Also, a lot of what you read as far as military archery is based on the English longbow, primarily a long-range weapon. They were powerful - 100 lbs draw weight or more and over six feet in length - but cumbersome. I shoot bows anywhere from 60" to 66" in length, a lot more maneuverable in tight quarters. Many bows from history fall into this category.

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Robert Nowall
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Further thoughts on introducing political argument into fiction:

You do so, and at a stroke, you've alienated that portion of the audience who disagrees with you. And some of those who read further, say, into the "fascism is bad" bits in Harry Potter (must be beyond the first book, which is as far as I've read), might think the issue misunderstood by the writer and abandon further effort.

I'd discuss what fascism actually is here, but, again, that would involve discussing politics.

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Robert Nowall
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A note and discussion started at the Locus website yesterday might have some bearing on this topic:

http://www.locusmag.com/Views/?p=799

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MattLeo
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quote:
Originally posted by Robert Nowall:
Further thoughts on introducing political argument into fiction:

You do so, and at a stroke, you've alienated that portion of the audience who disagrees with you. And some of those who read further, say, into the "fascism is bad" bits in Harry Potter (must be beyond the first book, which is as far as I've read), might think the issue misunderstood by the writer and abandon further effort.

Well, potentially offending some readers is no reason not to say what you want to say. Likewise, being seen as ignorant by some readers is no better a reason to censor yourself. There's nobody more sure of what they know than an ignorant person, and tip-toeing around their view of the world is a fool's errand.

I'm a satirist. Mostly I write gentle satire that is sympathetic to its subjects. But at times I am offensive, and when that happens it is no accident. When I take a white supremacist's cant and use it against him, I carefully select my material to deliver that special pain that only being made a fool of with your own words can deliver.

Where I draw the line is the cheap shot. If I'm going to stick a pin in people peddling racist pseudo-science, I'll do them the justice of reading what they have to say rather than making stuff up. I think a writer has a right to take a position, but he should put the work in to do that position justice.

quote:
I'd discuss what fascism actually is here, but, again, that would involve discussing politics.
Politics should probably be taboo on a writer's forum, but should not be taboo in writing. I'll let my stories about fascism state my position on fascism for me. If some people disagree with what position, that doesn't bother me in the least, unless they can show I've been unjust to someone.
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Foste
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It should be okay as long as it doesn't include strawmen and doesn't come off as preachy.
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rcmann
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An article on the news and reviews page of this site about how the SF writing community is becoming more conservative politically. Or no, maybe it's a bunch of liberals with a few conservative outcasts. or no, maybe it's something else. I can't quite figure out what it's saying.

Anyway, I would start a thread asking for opinions on whether the sci-fi short fiction market tended toward one political end or the other. Except I'm afraid to.

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MattLeo
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quote:
Originally posted by rcmann:
An article on the news and reviews page of this site about how the SF writing community is becoming more conservative politically. Or no, maybe it's a bunch of liberals with a few conservative outcasts. or no, maybe it's something else. I can't quite figure out what it's saying.

I read that article too, and I think the notion that conservative sci-fi authors are a new phenomenon is hogwash. There have always been manifestly conservative sci-fi authors, and while they may not have won the most literary respect, they've always sold well. I think there is some justification for that lack of respect, not for the *conservatism* of the authors but their *obviousness*. Obvious, ham-handed liberalism is equally contemptible.

I think a skillful author usually makes it difficult to impossible to peg him politically just by reading a story he's written. If he's any good, his characters think differently than he does. In speculative fiction it's even tougher because it takes place in an unfamiliar universe. If the author's any good that universe isn't so predictable you can choose a label like "conservative" or "liberal" and predict the future course of events from that.

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rcmann
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That might be a bit extreme. I don't see how an author can avoid saying something when they write. Inevitably, their own opinions/outlook is going to leak through even if they try to hide it. Nobody is that good at prevarication. Otherwise the writing will lack any semblance of sincerity.
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hoptoad
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quote:
MattLeo wrote: I think a writer has a right to take a position, but he should put the work in to do that position justice
This is part of the very point I was trying raise. My original comment was about political or social/media debates. Absolutely, a writer has a right to take a position on political/social issues but to not apply it consistently in your story is like getting the "sound in space", "grandfather paradox" or "faster than light travel" inconsistent.

As an aside to this, and speaking to the internal drive to consistency and integrity of thinking, see this comment by Priscilla Tolkien talking about her father. Here (YouTube).

(You might want to turn off autoplay.)

[ June 26, 2012, 06:24 AM: Message edited by: hoptoad ]

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Robert Nowall
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Actually my comments were purely on the effect it would have on sales and artistic qualities---approval or disapproval of the politics involved isn't central to my point.

I can't say I've intruded my own opinions of politics on my own writing, at least not in the foreground. But I like to think I've put little bits of background stuff, detail work, that some people might pick up on when they read---that is, if anybody would actually read them.

*****

I couldn't figure out which article rcmann referred to. Being somewhat out of touch with current SF---another failing of mine that's appropriate to discuss, but not here---I don't know the politics of many current writers. But I had a pretty good grip on the situation up through, oh, 1985 or so.

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MattLeo
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quote:
Originally posted by hoptoad:Absolutely, a writer has a right to take a position on political/social issues but to not apply it consistently in your story is like getting the "sound in space", "grandfather paradox" or "faster than light travel" inconsistent.
Not *too* consistently, to the degree you're only making the point because you obviously have your thumbs on the universe building scales -- especially in sci-fi as opposed to fantasy. In fantasy black and white is more acceptable, but if you read Tolkien carefully, you see that he gives even orcs considerable complexity when the occasion permits.

quote:
As an aside to this, and speaking to the internal drive to consistency and integrity of thinking, see this comment by Priscilla Tolkien talking about her father. Here (YouTube).
Holy cow. She looks just like her father. It could be him wearing a blond wig.
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Charles P. Shingledecker
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quote:
Originally posted by extrinsic:
[QB] I suppose I meant amore more than eros. By amatory I meant the love variety portrayed in romance novels and elsewhere where eros is as much indistinguishable a love feature as amore. Anyway, the amore love variety we can only know from our present, perhaps individual perspectives, and not too well at that.

I think I'm going to have to disagree with this a bit. While generally speaking I agree, the idea of love that parallels our own ideas, can be found in ancient literature. The Hellenistic Romance novels of the 1st and 2nd centuries BCE are a prime example. plenty of these novels have lovers who fall in love (in the sense we would understand) are separated (often by a belief than one or the other is dead), fall into despair, and are then reunited.

Some ancient historians believe these are novelized versions of the dying and rising god motifs where a male god would die, the female god would visit the tomb, anoint the body, and raise her lover back to life.

Granted, for most people marriage was generally not based on "love" (or amore). But the concept I believe did exist even in literature. Perhaps not as much in Western Mediterranean as in the Eastern portions, and certainly by the middle ages the concept had become even more rare, but it was there -- if not in reality, at least in literature, legends, and myths.

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hoptoad
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quote:
MattLeo: Not *too* consistently, to the degree you're only making the point because you obviously have your thumbs on the universe building scales -- especially in sci-fi as opposed to fantasy. In fantasy black and white is more acceptable, but if you read Tolkien carefully, you see that he gives even orcs considerable complexity when the occasion permits.
I'm having trouble parsing this statement. Specifically the function of the words "*too*", "only", "you", "obviously" "carefully" and "considerable complexity".

I am also confused by the meaning of "you're only making the point because..." Is that "you" as in a general non-specific "you" or do you mean "you" as in a specific article?

If it's non-specific, the phrase "thumbs on the universe building scales" would then mean tipping the balance in a certain way in order to accommodate a certain event or occurrence that would otherwise be implausible/impossible but is critical to the plot?

Is that right?

Sorry to be so thick.

Yes, Patricia looks like her dad, You should listen to Christopher, though. He sounds just like him.

[ June 26, 2012, 07:51 PM: Message edited by: hoptoad ]

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hoptoad
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In relation to the love discussion.
Extrinsic is right when it comes to marriage, at least.

My understanding may be faulty, but I think love was never recognised as a factor in the legal component of marriage. Simply because it is impossible to legislate love. Marriage was literally an agreement that the man would stick around and look after his children. In order to achieve this, it's necessary for both parties to promise sexual exclusivity. Firstly, it assures the woman that the man would not have children to other women (and hence divide his effectiveness) and secondly, that the man would not end up unwittingly looking after some other bloke's child.

Love, although a happy, desirable and proper thing, always falls outside the scope of legal arrangements.

The idea of erotic or amatory love aimed at those outside your marriage is a transgression of basic human law which predates recorded history, perhaps even predates language and is /must be/ as old as human culture. Transgressive love is a rich vein of conflict that taps into ancient psychic pathways. That's why it works so well in literature and has been exploited by story-tellers and writers at various time and various places with powerful effect.

That's just my 2 worth.

PS: people seem to be using "amatory love" and "erotic love" as somehow different. Please forgive me, but is there a difference?

[ June 26, 2012, 09:19 PM: Message edited by: hoptoad ]

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babooher
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hoptoad, I believe amatory love is more about heart and soul while erotic love is more about figuring out new (or at least new for you) ways of poking people.
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hoptoad
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so, in context of this discussion, "amatory" means "romantic" and erotic refers to facebook? [Wink]
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rcmann
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Biologically, at least during our prime breeding ages, when two people are attracted to each other their brains release endorphins and other chemicals, in addition to the hormonal upswings. In a real sense, we become physically addicted to each other. This is the infatuation phase and is (I believe) what most people refer to as erotic love.

In terms of evolution, this is the bait on the hook. It begins the process of sealing a pair bond and encourages frequent coupling, thereby getting the woman pregnant as fast as possible. Which is, after all, the whole point of mating from nature's point of view.

By the time the baby is born, infatuation has begun to fade. But it will be replaced, hopefully, by the bond both parents develop with their child. As well as the deeper and more permanent bond they develop with each other through suffering the agonies of the damned together trying to get the hellion raised. I think the Greeks called this agape, but since I don't speak Greek I can't be sure.

I'm pretty sure this biological mechanism predates modern history.

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Charles P. Shingledecker
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quote:
Originally posted by hoptoad:
[QB] In relation to the love discussion.
Extrinsic is right when it comes to marriage, at least.

My understanding may be faulty, but I think love was never recognised as a factor in the legal component of marriage. Simply because it is impossible to legislate love. Marriage was literally an agreement that the man would stick around and look after his children.

From my research, I tend to agree. That is not to say that married people would not eventually fall in love, because they sometimes would, but marriage was a legal act which meant that father's no longer had to feed their daughters or have them live under their own roof. Sounds harsh, but that's generally the way it was looked at. Even within Christianity, marriage as a Church sacrament didn't exist during the first thousand years of the religion.

quote:

In order to achieve this, it's necessary for both parties to promise sexual exclusivity. Firstly, it assures the woman that the man would not have children to other women (and hence divide his effectiveness) and secondly, that the man would not end up unwittingly looking after some other bloke's child.

At least within Roman culture, sexual exclusivity for the husband was never a part of the legal arrangement of marriage. Husbands were free to have sex with their slaves and slaves were expected to perform. The woman of course was expected to remain loyal to her husband. Though they too would hook up with their slaves from time to time. There are all sorts of records of Roman historians writing that slaves could refuse their masters nothing (Balch, David L., Early Christian Families in Context: An Interdisciplinary Dialogue 2003).


quote:


PS: people seem to be using "amatory love" and "erotic love" as somehow different. Please forgive me, but is there a difference?

As far as I know, there isn't. Eros means romantic and/or erotic love. And though I don't know Italian, I think amore is the same thing. As you said, the idea of romantic love is ancient, though the the idea romantic love leading to leading to marriage is certainly a "new" development especially for the common man.

PS: I gave a reference not to show off, but so people know I'm not pulling stuff out of my butt. [Big Grin]

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MartinV
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Speaking of history, Roman women had more personal freedom than Greek women. While Greek women were expected to remain inside the household, Roman women could even establish businesses, though not as easily as men.

As to romantic love, I've read that it is a concept invented in the medieval times, when abstract concepts were more fully formed.

One interesting thing: motiff of fear of death only became apparent in Greek mythology when democracy and individualism developed and that was in the time after the Persian wars. The idea is that before this time individuals saw themselves as parts of a clan and/or tribe and therefore physical death was not such a frightful thing since the most important part of a person, the community, would live on.

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MattLeo
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As fiction writers we're often concerned with things that don't happen to have an unambiguous, commonly understood word meaning precisely what we want to say. Sometimes it's like we're trying to carve a cameo and our language toolbox contains nothing but hatchets.

"Love" is the prime example of a word whose gamut of meanings can't even be confined to any one precise category of thing. It can refer to the feeling of infatuation, which is an emotional experience; it can also refer to a kind of ethical stance in which one treats the welfare of another as valuable. It can mean thousands of other things.

The miracle is that it *is* possible to carve a minutely descriptive cameo armed with nothing more than a collection of lexical hatchets. A storyteller can depict a highly specific kind of love (e.g., love-as-infatuation, love-as-affectionate-familiarity, love-as-charity) in a way that's instantly recognizable to readers, despite not having just the word for it. Storytellers no more need fifty words for different kinds of love than Eskimos need the apocryphal fifty words for snow they've been claimed to have.

Where the multiple meanings of words like "love" becomes a real inconvenience is when we are critiquing or analyzing a story. If we write that "love" is one of the themes of some story, we've told the reader practically nothing. So end up inventing compound terms like "erotic love". The problem is that in most cases those compound terms have no pre-ordained meaning to people who aren't engaged in some kind of ongoing critical dialog with us.

"Erotic love" is a good example. I'd argue that it has at least three distinct but related meanings. It can mean the physical act of two or more persons pleasuring each other (especially if the person speaking is too prudish to use even clinical words like "intercourse"). It can mean lust. It can mean a kind of erotically tinged obsession with another person. Love as erotic obsession is not the same as lust. One can experience lust without wanting to be with the other person all the time, or hanging on that person's every word, or jealously pursuing exclusive possession of that person.

"Erotic love" as obsession is something that exists in every culture, and probably predates history. The courtship that goes along with that doesn't necessarily exist in every culture, and may look radically different in different cultures. Likewise in different places and times erotic love may be associated with very different kinds of social institutions (e.g., monogamous marriage in modern Europe, pederasty in Ancient Greece, concubinage formal an informal in many cultures).

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MartinV
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Hm, just thought of something that might be considered a fluke: every human being (well, most anyway) on any planet in the Star Gate universe speaks English. To some, this is an insult. Why would English be so superior that a myriad of peoples, originating from various times and places of ancient Earth, would all somehow evolve their language into common English?

The reason is if they didn't all speak English, the show would be about the challenges of linguistics and nothing else or every episode would start: "They come to a new planet, then spend six months learning the local language. After that, the story continues..." Disabling that particular degree of freedom made the show possible.

Sometimes it will look like a mistake but other times it will be the writer realizing that in order for the story to work, you have to make some asumptions and just go with it.

Speaking of going with it, who in their right minds would want to ride in a tincan of a spaceship through deep space while the damned thing is falling apart around you? But we all loved Firefly anyway.

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extrinsic
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Wow! I love you-all, talking about love and junk. And the kind of love the world could use a lot more of, agape, the unconditional love of genuine caregiving as contrasted to the dysfunctional caretaking, controlling, micromanaging, codependent enabling love.
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Charles P. Shingledecker
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quote:
Originally posted by MartinV:


As to romantic love, I've read that it is a concept invented in the medieval times, when abstract concepts were more fully formed.

I've read that too. But I've also read some of the Hellenistic romance novels of the 2nd century, which really do debunk that idea. I think during the late medieval period it found a new mass popularity, and people began to think it was something that the every day person could aspire to find, but it certainly existed in the ancient world -- at least as a motif.
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Charles P. Shingledecker
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quote:
Originally posted by extrinsic:
Wow! I love you-all, talking about love and junk. And the kind of love the world could use a lot more of, agape, the unconditional love of genuine caregiving as contrasted to the dysfunctional caretaking, controlling, micromanaging, codependent enabling love.

I can't speak for anyone else, but I'm a hopeless romantic, which is why I found the discussion so fascinating.
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InarticulateBabbler
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quote:
Speaking of history, Roman women had more personal freedom than Greek women. While Greek women were expected to remain inside the household, Roman women could even establish businesses, though not as easily as men.
This is flawed. Even using using "Greek" in comparison to Roman or any other civilization of the time breeds inaccuracies. The Greeks were tenuously a nation at best, and held together, generally, only through a larger common threat. As for the women, at least in Sparta, the women were given many equalities. The women were known to be even tougher than the Spartiates--it took strong women to breed "real men." Athenians, as a rule, held no respect for elders and would cast them aside to die in the streets, while Spartans placed great respect on their grandfathers.
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extrinsic
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Chapter XV, first paragraph of the Poetics of Aristotle, Project Gutenberg. Web.

"In respect of Character there are four things to be aimed at. First, and most important, it must be good. Now[,] any speech or action that manifests moral purpose of any kind will be expressive of character: the character will be good if the purpose is good. This rule is relative to each class. Even a woman may be good, and also a slave; though the woman may be said to be an inferior being, and the slave quite worthless. The second thing to aim at is propriety. There is a type of manly valour; but valour in a woman, or unscrupulous cleverness, is inappropriate. . . ."

Aristotle was Greek and at a time when the Greek states had organized into a comparatively cohesive country. His attitude toward women, slaves, (and children) reflects, at the time, Greek society's regard for gender, class, and age stratification.

Odysseus, another Greek from an earlier time, held his Ithacan kingship through the matrilineal succession of Queen Penelope. Though Odysseus professes his love for Penelope, in the Homeric Cycle, his true agenda for the Odyssey is to return to his seat of power. Odysseus lived at an earlier time than Aristotle in Greek society, when men and women shared power and social standing more akin to the city-state tribal society of ancient Greece, and not too coincidentally, most every other proto-neolithic society.

[ June 28, 2012, 12:41 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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rcmann
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This discussion seems to have veered wildly off track methinks. Also, it seems to have landed into a rut of remarkably ethnocentric dimensions. I haven't seen any mention of Chinese history. Since Far Eastern civilization is older and larger than western civilization, it would behoove anyone who wants to cite references to at least acknowledge its existence. No? Women in early Chinese history held position such as warlords and merchants. Granted, there were periods when they were little more than chattel, but that was by no means universal. And the themes of romantic love were certainly included in poetry and literature of the Far East.

Middle East too. Anyone ever read Arabic love poetry?

What about Africa? How old is the theme of romance in Africa? Half a million years? Longer? We have on way to know, since the African climate does not do a good job of preserving evidence.

The Native Americans include many traditions of romantic love. No one can tell how old they are, or how many centuries they were carried forward through oral tradition.

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hoptoad
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Sorry mom. [Wink]

quote:
There is no subject on which more dangerous nonsense is talked and thought than marriage.
George Bernard Shaw

One mistake that bugs me when I come across it -- and you may not even think it is a mistake -- is when the story didn't need to be in a sci-fi OR fantasy setting but is anyway. I feel a little cheated when the story could have easily happened here and now without the spacesuit or the +20 vorpal sword and would not have suffered at all.

[ June 29, 2012, 08:21 AM: Message edited by: hoptoad ]

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extrinsic
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While I expect we are more familiar with Western society's modern and historic, to a degree, love traditions than other cultures', I also respect there are broad similarities and differences.

My concern with discussing other cultures' traditions is the potential for the discussion becoming politically and emotionally charged.

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MattLeo
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quote:
Originally posted by hoptoad:
One mistake that bugs me when I come across it -- and you may not even think it is a mistake -- is when the story didn't need to be in a sci-fi OR fantasy setting but is anyway. I feel a little cheated when the story could have easily happened here and now without the spacesuit or the +20 vorpal sword and would not have suffered at all.

I often wonder if this doesn't happen more often than we realize. Very few stories are like Asimov's *Nightfall*, having a premise that can't be approximated in a contemporary or historical story.

Take Bester's *The Stars My Destination*; it has elements of sea-going stories and borrows heavily from *The Count of Monte Cristo*. Only its ending (which involves teleportation) is strictly speculative.

I suspect the impression "this doesn't need to be sci-fi" comes from lazy use of sci-fi tropes. With more skillful use we might not notice.

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rcmann
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Getting back to the original post. One reason for irritation, if anyone has access to the internet, is ubiquitous availability of info now. One of my characters is a fur trapper. I wanted to insert a brief description of the character preparing a fur while talking to someone. A quick google search instantly returned several hundred hits, including a step by step instruction manual on how to skin and cure various fur bearing critters and prepare them for either tanning or shipment to commercial processing plants. Five minutes total time invested.
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Robert Nowall
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I'm just a little leery of someone who's writing a description of skinning a critter from research, rather than from the experience of doing so himself.

Of course I've had to do it myself---not the skinning, but the writing from research---but it's the kind of thing that often shows...

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Foste
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quote:
Originally posted by Robert Nowall:
I'm just a little leery of someone who's writing a description of skinning a critter from research, rather than from the experience of doing so himself.

Of course I've had to do it myself---not the skinning, but the writing from research---but it's the kind of thing that often shows...

I doubt we'd have much interesting literature if people only wrote about things they experienced first-hand.

Or we'd run out of critters pretty fast.

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extrinsic
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The little basics they leave out.

I didn't know the flour has to be sifted. The recipe doesn't say so.

I didn't know wood has to be sanded before finishing, between paint coats. Nor the crisp edges have to be knocked off so they hold paint.

I didn't know a fish has to be viscerated before cooking, has to be scaled before cooking.

I didn't know shellfish has to be harvested on a falling tide.

I didn't know yucca root has to be carefully washed and cooked.

I didn't know plant-based fabrics must be washed before sewing into garments.

I didn't know hunter's bread, greenbrier root needs to be beaten into a paste before sun baking, before eating.

Dressing game or livestock, preparing skins and hides, I've done my share though I haven't stalked prey, not with a deadly intent. For sport and research, yes.

I didn't know how hard starting a fire by rubbing two sticks together is until I did it. Once I learned how though, it isn't hard to do. Same with flint and steel.

They leave out the most basic steps. A project's success or failure pivots on them.

A world-reknowned expert made a specious claim in a book written about the expert's area of expertise. I felt the claim was bogus. I tested the claim using materials and processes apropos of the claim. Uh-huh. Invalid claim. The expert didn't appreciate being called on it, though the expert changed the tune in public to add the results of my heuristic testing.

Much that is published, much that is said by so-called experts is open to interpretation, is opinion in the guise of fact, is folklore in the guise of fact, is elaboration in the guise of fact.

However, relating exhaustive detail is a burden for prose readers, unless portraying complications related to a problem wanting satisfaction.

Back when horses were primary transportation, for example, it was a common amusement for a dandy to spend exponentionally more time preparing a horse to ride than it would have taken to walk where he was going. Skip it if it has no bearing on the story. Detail it if it develops plot, character, and setting. In between detail if it develops only one.

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rcmann
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Actually, I have killed both in hunting and domestic livestock. I have skinned and dressed small game, deer, hogs, cattle, etc. many times. In my case I never bothered to save the hides since I was after the meat. But that wasn't the point I was trying to make. For someone who doesn't know anything about the process, there is no excuse for not gaining at least enough superficial understanding to avoid looking like an idiot. Granted, there is no substitute for experience. But for example, the pdf I found about skinning out a fox gave diagrams and step-by-step instructions including where and how to make the incisions, where and how to apply pressure to peel off the hide, how to stretch the hide, how long to leave it stretched in order to avoid damage, etc. Anyone who is not helpless with a knife, and not too squeamish to carve up a carcass could take that pdf and teach themselves how to skin small game in short order.

The knowledge is out there, if you look for it. It depends on how lazy a person is when it comes to research. As for cooking or woodworking, it isn't difficult for most people to get access to a kitchen or a block of wood and start tinkering.

Granted, not everyone nowadays has access to horses. But many people have access to *other people* who raise and ride horses. Get someone on a forum like this who rides horses and start quizzing them, and if they are a true afficianado they will soon get enthused and start filling you ear with more info than you ever wanted to know about their pet hobby.

A writer doesn't need to become an expert, They just need to take the time to learn the basics. As a courtesy to their readers, I don't think that's too much to expect.

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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quote:
Originally posted by extrinsic:
My concern with discussing other cultures' traditions is the potential for the discussion becoming politically and emotionally charged.

Mine, too. Thanks for voicing that, extrinsic.
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rcmann
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It is certainly a concern. Then there's the flip side. For instance, several members of my family are of non-western European heritage. I also have some Amerindian ancestry. When I read the prior comments I realize that most likely nobody meant it that way, but it could easily have been taken by the overly sensitive as a casual assumption that only the western European history of the world was relevant. Again, I don't think anyone meant it that way. But neither did anyone mention any other culture that I noticed.

There was a heavy emphasis on Greek philosophy and the Middle Ages. But nobody mentioned the Song of Solomon. Hardly western European, yet I would call it influential.

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Utahute72
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Boy, you guys know a lot of esoteric.....stuff.
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MartinV
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Welcome to the jungle, Utahute72. [Wink]
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MattLeo
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quote:
Originally posted by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury:
quote:
Originally posted by extrinsic:
My concern with discussing other cultures' traditions is the potential for the discussion becoming politically and emotionally charged.

Mine, too. Thanks for voicing that, extrinsic.
This comes up every time a male author writes a female character and vice versa. I sometimes critique female authors who initially caricature their male characters as swaggering, bragging, belly-scratching Neanderthals who are horny all the time and crude about it. I point out that all men aren't like that, and even the ones who are sometimes like that aren't like that all the time.

If you had to get everything precisely right, you'd only feel comfortable writing about characters who are exactly like yourself. I think you can get away with writing people who are different than you if you follow two rules.

(1) Avoid, tone down, or subvert stereotypes. Just because a character is Chinese doesn't mean he has to know Kung Fu. If he does happen to know Kung Fu, you should at least show awareness that this isn't culturally built-in to all Chinese characters. And you should not have him speak like a character in a Pearl Buck novel. Native Americans don't automatically know how to track an animal, and if your Indian detective does you should show awareness this is extraordinary. Tony Hillerman fell into this trap, and when he actually got to know Indians personally introduced more authentic characters who had conflicts between their police role and their Navajo ideals.

(2) Write the character as having recognizable motivations, albeit sometimes pursuing them according to unfamiliar rules. This is how Jane Austen writes her male characters (other than the most idealized ones). Like the women they are looking for security, respect and love, but they operate under different rules than the female characters. Don't assume that motivations are "built-in" to a character by dint of their ethnicity and need no explaining (e.g. Fu-Manchu or Emperor Ming).

If you follow those rules the character will be more believable, even if you get some of the details wrong. Sometimes you can build in some margin of error to the character background. The TV dramatization of Tony Hillerman's Navajo Tribal Police mysteries cleverly make Joe Leaphorn (Hillerman's early, less realistic Indian detective) an off-reservation Indian who grew up in LA. This explains his lack of understanding of the niceties of Navajo culture and gives the writers an audience identification character who can be brought up to speed on those.

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