Archive for May, 2018

The Capital Letter “I”

Of all the words in the English language, the capital letter “I” has to be one of the easiest to type.  I suppose the lower case word “a” is even easier since you don’t have to use the shift button on your computer keyboard, but capital “I” is a close second.  Yet, every now and then I see a post, usually on Facebook, where someone has written lower case “i” to refer to him/herself.  I always take notice, and I’m always a little disappointed that someone would go to that length to type that way.

Why?  Let’s take a short look at handwriting.  I’ve studied handwriting analysis (a long time ago in a city far, far away), and it has the potential to give an expert an insight into the psyche of the writer.  It can provide a window into the ego, into the subconscious of the writer.  People will often reveal characteristics of themselves in their handwriting they would never reveal in conversation.  A lot of factors go into analyzing handwriting, including the slant of the writing, the pressure of the pen on the paper, the spacing of words, spacing of lines, the way certain letters are formed, and so on.  And it includes how they make the capital letter “I”.  There are so many factors I can’t list them here, and I don’t even know all of them.  Handwriting analysis has to be used with care to avoid ascribing something to a person that isn’t there.  As a result, a handwriting analyst has to be very highly trained, a situation in which I definitely do not belong.  I do know that the letter “I” is a reflection of the self, and can reveal things about how the writer feels about him/herself.  So when I see a lower case “i” in a blog or Facebook post, I always wonder about what the person is thinking.  What’s going on in his/her life that caused him/her to write about themselves in lower case.  But there’s more to it than that.

When someone writes with pen or pencil on paper, writing lower case “i” is simple and straight forward.  Just a tiny vertical line with a dot above.  But on a computer, at least with the writing programs that I am familiar with—Microsoft Word, WordPress, and Facebook—writing lower case “i” will be changed to the upper case form by auto-correct.  In fact, it already has several times in this post.  Whenever I’ve written “i”, I’ve had to go back and change it from upper to lower case because auto-correct has taken the lower case and made it upper.  And then it flags it with that red, wavy underline because “i” isn’t in its list of acceptable words.  That means that anyone who wants to purposely write the lower case version on a computer also has to go back and change it.  Not as simple as writing on paper.  So why do they do that?

I can’t say in any particular situation and I am certainly in no position to try to analyze it, and I suspect the reason may be different for different people.  I’ve seen only a few examples of it, but it always concerns me.  It tells me something about the person I may not want to know.  It could, potentially, at least, be an indication that the person is feeling “down” or “blue” in some way, perhaps seriously.  I always wonder if I should notify someone.  (However, that could be an invasion of privacy.)  If you see a lower case “i”, I suggest you wonder about it too.

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Truth – A Personal Definition

Several weeks ago I attended a talk where the speaker made a comment I think worth repeating.  I’m putting it into my own words here, but the comment was to the effect that today’s young people are more insistent than ever before on knowing the truth about what is going on in the world.  Actually, I think that probably extends to all people, but that’s a little off the topic I want to discuss here.  Someone from the audience asked, “How do you define ‘truth,'” and the speaker got onto a religious definition, which was okay, but limited, and I thought didn’t really answer the question.  (It was a valid answer, but not exactly what I was expecting.)  After the meeting, I thought more and more about what the speaker said, and started to wonder if there was a way to define ‘truth.’  What is the ‘truth’?  What do we mean when we say we want the ‘truth’?  What is it we’re looking for?  Is there a definition we can all agree on?

The dictionary has several definitions of ‘truth,” several of which exist only in certain limited cases.  But I’m looking for a definition that fits the above situation: what do we mean when we are looking for the ‘truth’?  The closest my dictionary (Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Edition) comes to this is, “The state of being the case: FACT,” or “The body of real things, events, facts: ACTUALITY.”  Both of these definitions are close to what I want, but there are problems with them.  The first is somewhat vague (I don’t know what the “case” is), and the second is overly broad.  So, what’s really going on here?

In my limited cerebral wanderings on this subject, and trying to stay within the parameters given above about what people are actually looking for, I’ve come up with a definition that goes something like this.  The truth is the ultimate reason, the bottom line, the real, unvarnished root cause as to why someone does something.  It’s the fundamental cause of a human’s action.  It’s the primary motive force driving a person’s actions.  In it’s simplest terms, it’s the real reason someone does something.  So often—way too often, really—that reason is hidden, and we have to guess what it is, or go to great lengths to bring it out.  So much of our lives are invaded by politics these days that even the definition of a word becomes a guessing game.  “What is the truth?”  The FBI informant Deep Throat famously told Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein back during the Watergate era, “Follow the money.”  Money, or the desire to get more, is the leading candidate for why a lot of things are done, especially in the political arena, but it’s also true in everyday life.  But whatever the reason, money or otherwise, find the ultimate, bottom line as to why someone has taken a certain action, and you will find the “truth.”

This, of course, is just my personal definition, and you may have a different one, but let’s see what we can come up with.  How do you define “truth”?

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Sci-fi Worldbuilding: Anthropology

I just got back from the 2018 edition of the Pike’s Peak Writers Conference, (#PPWC2018) and had a great time.  As usual.  Lots of good sessions on many different aspects of writing, and had a chance to pitch my first sci-fi novel to an editor.  He asked for the first 50 pages, which, by the time I write this, have already been sent.  I met lots of good writer friends, and handed out business cards.  Business cards are always good, whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned veteran.

But what I want to consider in this blog post is one session in particular.  It was titled “Fantasy and Sci Fi World Building: Writing Like an Anthropologist.”  It was given by Darby Karchut, who’s written several sci-fi novels.  The premise of the talk was a factor in world building that I had given some thought to as I wrote my trilogy, but hadn’t gone into in great detail.  When building a new world for your characters, you have to supply them with all the intricate facets of life that we have here on Earth.  It’s not enough to create a planet and populate it with aliens.  They have a life.  They have a history.  They had to get on that planet somehow, and there may be a substantial number of details you haven’t thought of that play a role in your character’s daily life.  (Assuming they have days and nights on their planet.)

Ms. Karchut listed eight factors that should be taken into account when worldbuilding.  1.  What is the government like?  Representative?  Repressive?  Dictatorial?  2.  What is the economy like?  What are the main driving forces in the economy?  Science?  Politics?  Food?  Beer?  3.  Is there a religion?  If so, how religious are your characters?  4.  What is life like on your planet, and how do your characters spend their daily life?  What dominates their daily life?  5.  What are the arts like?  Music?  Movies?  6.  What are the dominate social groups?  To which group does your main character belong?  Do you have rich and poor people?  Or is everybody at the same social level?  7.  History.  Delve into the history of your planet.  That one factor can shape the daily life of your characters in many different ways, especially ways you may not have thought about.  8.  Language.  What language do your characters speak?  How did that language originate and how did it come down to them?  If a visitor comes to your planet, how does that outsider know how to speak their language?

I appreciated this session because it brought up so many things I hadn’t thought about, or only briefly considered, about my characters and their home planet.  If you write sci-fi, I strongly recommend you take these things into consideration.  A reader will be more likely to keep reading if he/she understands that you’ve delved deeply into your imagination and taken the time to build a complete world.  That’s what makes science fiction good: imagination.  More so that most any other genre of writing.  A well-thought out  world may help fill plot holes, too, because if a difficult situation arises, you will have already developed a fully-functional economy that will give you a clue as to how your characters will act and how the difficulty will play out.

 

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