0483: "Fiction Rule of Thumb"

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Pisthetairos
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Re: "Fiction Rule of Thumb" Discussion

Postby Pisthetairos » Wed Oct 01, 2008 2:04 pm UTC

I don't know what you are all talking about. Making up words is a perfectly cromulent literary technique.

I also immediatly tought of Clockwork Orange, but also of 1984's newspeak - these are unique cases because the wordmancing is part of the metaplot. So, you have a book where not only the author makes up some words, but the characters make up words.

Now, if you excuse me, my blunderpuffs are done.

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Re: "Fiction Rule of Thumb" Discussion

Postby wisty » Wed Oct 01, 2008 2:06 pm UTC

This is obviously a case of observer bias.

There are hordes of awful fantasy / sci-fi with made up words. There are hordes of awful books about ponies, romances, cowboys, detectives, soldiers, serial killers, and so on, few of which have a lot of made-up words. I guess that Randall has read a large number of fantasy / sci-fi books of very dubious quality, while only reading the truly great books from other genres.

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Re: "Fiction Rule of Thumb" Discussion

Postby I am! » Wed Oct 01, 2008 2:10 pm UTC

People are getting all boiled up about 1984 having newspeak, but not being mentioned. I think that the whole premise of those new words was different from what is being mentioned in this comic, though. Like, newspeak was a focused on as a way of oppression and acknowledged as something new and sometimes ridiculous. Whereas the comic talks about using words like icht'mur for humans, instead of humans and having the readers accept that. Newspeak was somewhat of a way to illustrate oppression to the readers, and the readers were probably intended to dislike it and it's use.
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Re: "Fiction Rule of Thumb" Discussion

Postby Yeti » Wed Oct 01, 2008 2:16 pm UTC

rwald wrote:
Flewellyn wrote:Corollary: any book which takes an iconic figure or creature of folklore, and egregiously violates its commonly understood attributes, is likely to suck.

q.v. Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series, with the sparkling vampires.

Actually, I once read an interesting story where vampires were mindless beasts with less intelligence than dogs. They also could be remote-controlled by a necromancer into doing useful stuff: the necromancer would see through their eyes, hear through their ears, and go into shock if the vampire was killed. It didn't make the story suck by any means.


Well, the original myths depicted vampires as mindless zombies, so it isn't much of a stretch. Personally, I set this to a bell curve. You rehash the same creatures, quality is low. You remake just enough to make things interesting, it's good. You change everything until it can no longer be recognized, bad.

I have a slightly different system of judging novels. I look at the description on the back cover and count how many times the author praises himself. Some of the worst books I have ever read are little more than a sentence on the plot, a sentence of random "wacky" things you'll encounter in the book, and paragraphs on how the author is the next "Joe Awesomeauthor".

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Re: "Fiction Rule of Thumb" Discussion

Postby Ocker3 » Wed Oct 01, 2008 2:19 pm UTC

I laboriously made my way through a near-future semi-Armageddon story dealing with highly intelligent whales and one scientist who figured out how to communicate with them. Problem is that the 'author' decided to use "listened" instead of "heard" whenever the whales communicated via whale song. "The whale pup listened her mother's call from across the bay" as an example. Not so bad if it only comes up now and then, but as the book progressed it became more and More about the whales and what they were saying, and it bugged me no end.

But then, I'm the kind of guy who sees those scrambled letter forwards (where the middle letters are scrambled, but the brain can still decipher the original word) and wants to choke the person who sent to me, it actually feels offensive to have to read them. My brain tries to vomit the words back out of my eyes.
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Re: "Fiction Rule of Thumb" Discussion

Postby Alzheimers » Wed Oct 01, 2008 2:33 pm UTC

Oddly enough, replace the word "Fiction" with "Presidency" and the graph still holds true.
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Stephenson: "Fiction Rule of Thumb" Discussion

Postby Moto » Wed Oct 01, 2008 2:38 pm UTC

Neal Stephenson was in Denver for a book signing yesterday and this topic was touched on. He started writing the book not wanting to create new words, but found he had to start to invent terms to explain concepts along the way. The new terms were a result of the writing process it seems, and not some intentional desire to be cute or different.

There are a lot of books that attempt to use newspeak as a gimmick or method without a clear purpose or intent. 1984, Dune, LoTR, some others use new language with a considerable amount of thought and planning into the setting, culture, and characters and therefore seem to beat the odds.

Strangely enough, a few of the folks waiting in line were willing to talk to me about our love of XKCD. Perhaps the Venn diagram of Stephenson/Monroe has a greater intersection than I would have thought.

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Re: "Fiction Rule of Thumb" Discussion

Postby william » Wed Oct 01, 2008 2:46 pm UTC

Hasufel wrote:Hmm. I'm not sure if I quite agree with this one. I've read a lot of good books that had quite a few made-up words. But yeah, I guess, if there are too many made-up words, it makes it harder to read, and therefore less interesting. But it's better than boring vocabulary.

And I'm surprised no one's mentioned Harry Potter yet. J.K. Rowling and Orson Scott Card should be exceptions to this rule.

What about Orson Scott Card and the ramen/framlings/varelse?

And "utlanning" and "xenocide", too!

Also "ansible" though technically that was Ursula K LeGuin.

Dev Null wrote:Child of Fortune, by Norman Spinrad.

Which brings up the obvious corollary; if you can't _tell_ its made up without looking it up in a dictionary? It doesn't count.

Also the sublemma*: enough made-up place names that I need a map to keep track = kiss of death.

- rob.

*Gods I hope I just made that word up...

http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/sublemma

Alzheimers wrote:Oddly enough, replace the word "Fiction" with "Presidency" and the graph still holds true.

I was about to say something about Warren G. Harding inventing the word "normalcy" but Wikipedia tells me that's an urban myth. :(
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Re: Stephenson: "Fiction Rule of Thumb" Discussion

Postby Alzheimers » Wed Oct 01, 2008 2:50 pm UTC

Moto wrote:Strangely enough, a few of the folks waiting in line were willing to talk to me about our love of XKCD. Perhaps the Venn diagram of Stephenson/Monroe has a greater intersection than I would have thought.


The guy is really too brilliant for his own good.

I've been a huge fan of Stephenson since the days of Snow Crash, and I've been to several of his book signings when he wrote the Baroque cycle. Pretty much the opinion of everyone I've talked to at these events is that the thing he needs most is an editor (the second, also universally recognized, is to find a way to put an ENDING to his books, but I digress...). There were hints of this in Cryptonomicon, but ... For every masterful 10-page exposition on the proper temperature milk for eating Cap'n Crunch, there's a hundred pages of filler that could easily be excised without affecting the narrative or plotline.

The guy can make up words till the cows come home, as long as they make sense thematically. Once he approaches quad-digits on the pagecount, though, it's time to turn it it into a *trilogy*.
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Re: "Fiction Rule of Thumb" Discussion

Postby Vertana » Wed Oct 01, 2008 2:54 pm UTC

Shakespeare most definitely has to be the biggest criminal at this one lol.

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Re: "Fiction Rule of Thumb" Discussion

Postby Alzheimers » Wed Oct 01, 2008 2:56 pm UTC

Also, since we know that XKCD and Doctorow fans seem to cross over fairly regularly, let me posit this question:

Without giving away too much in the way of story, how would you say Anathem compares to Doctorow's The Things that Make Me Weak and Strange Get Engineered Away
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Re: "Fiction Rule of Thumb" Discussion

Postby darthjee » Wed Oct 01, 2008 2:58 pm UTC

there are no exceptions, since the chart talks about probability.

imagine them how many bad books are out there so that we have good makeupers like shakespeare and Tolkien.

I will keep that probability in mind when i am to write a book :D

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Re: "Fiction Rule of Thumb" Discussion

Postby jqavins » Wed Oct 01, 2008 3:02 pm UTC

I would like to retract my earlier statement regarding rules of thumb after re-reading the strip. Oops.

But this part stays:
Just once (and I mean it: once and only once) I'd like to see a book that goes to the extreme. Start off in an extant earthly language, e.g. English, introducing a few made up words. Introduce more and more words, and sentences that use more and more of them together, until the reader has learned a whole made up language, and finish the book completely in said language, with not a word of the original language in the last chapter or two. It would require an author who is both hell of a skilled writer and one mighty good linguist to not only make up a rich enough language but also teach it to the reader while spinning a yarn worth telling. But it would be truly awesome if someone could pull it off.
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Re: "Fiction Rule of Thumb" Discussion

Postby buildguy » Wed Oct 01, 2008 3:05 pm UTC

Fraa Erasmas:
Spoiler:
"Our opponent is an alien starship packed with atomic bombs. We have a protractor."

That has to be the best Chekhov's Gun that I have encountered. La la la, I can't hear you. I will not admit the 800+ page book I just read has flaws.

Actually my flaw-admittance time for "acclaimed" science fiction has risen ever since I read The Difference Engine, which was almost immediate. It rose steadily through Jurrasic Park, Timeline, Contact, R/G/B Mars, and the Foundation Series. After this point, my time started to show logarithmic characteristics, coming to a limit of 29 days after completing Snow Crash and Cryptonomicon. As for Anathem, I consider it one of the best pieces of science fiction I have read, but I completely understand that for a good number of readers the content becomes brain-numbing. This I accepted pretty quickly.

Shh, secretly I was hoping for a TARDIS to materialize the whole time so it could telepathically translate it for me. I was also hoping for a flowerpot to materialize, but that was for entirely selfish reasons.

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Re: "Fiction Rule of Thumb" Discussion

Postby dutch_gecko » Wed Oct 01, 2008 3:12 pm UTC

shadowjack wrote:The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe

This one's interesting, because none of the words are actually made up - they're all either English words that have fallen into disuse, or foreign words (which may also have fallen into disuse). Since the books are tremendously good, I take it the graph shouldn't apply?

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Re: "Fiction Rule of Thumb" Discussion

Postby skiboyjake » Wed Oct 01, 2008 3:13 pm UTC

james joyce "finnegans wake"

first page: http://www.amazon.com/gp/reader/0141183 ... eader-link

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nuff said

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Re: "Fiction Rule of Thumb" Discussion

Postby buildguy » Wed Oct 01, 2008 3:16 pm UTC

skiboyjake wrote:"...not yet, though all's fair in vanessy, were sosie sesthers wroth with twone nathandjoe."


What did you say about my mother? How dare you!

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Re: "Fiction Rule of Thumb" Discussion

Postby bumpgrrl » Wed Oct 01, 2008 3:39 pm UTC

So, to summarize:
1 - remember what probability means
2 - parodies and political commentaries using language as a medium don't count
3 - learn to recognize more languages than just English
4 - obfuscation of meaning by superfluous verbiage, fictional or factual, is unacceptable
5 - put some effort into language creation, goddammit.

Thus endeth the lesson.
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Re: "Fiction Rule of Thumb" Discussion

Postby mythago » Wed Oct 01, 2008 3:45 pm UTC

awa64 wrote:Tolkien and Lewis Carrol get exceptions, but Frank Herbert doesn't? I'm a little surprised by that--but generally the rule holds.


The rule doesn't say books *can't* be good, just that the probability drops as made-up words increase.
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Re: "Fiction Rule of Thumb" Discussion

Postby StrixVanAllen » Wed Oct 01, 2008 3:54 pm UTC

# Well, I'll keep this graph in mind while I write my books. xD

# [And, as a lazy (future) author, I agree with it. Creating languages is boring and useless, if you don't want to work hard.]

-------------

# By the way, I'm realy upset about the changes in written Portuguese. Damn it! I grew up writing and reading many words with a (´), like "herói" and "idéia" (hero and idea, respectively). Now, they're going to be "heroi" and "ideia". These aren't big changes, but they hurt my eyes. And there are many other changes that hurt them, too. T__T

# Well, none of you will be affected by this. You don't speak Portuguese, I do know. But I had to open my heart to people that won't reply "I really hate using (´), so, I'm totally happy with the changes!". :mrgreen:
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Re: "Fiction Rule of Thumb" Discussion

Postby Mix » Wed Oct 01, 2008 4:07 pm UTC

Having read through this thread, I've decided to tone down my opinion on the comic itself. The alt-text still bugs me. And if you guys are saying that a book with lots of made up words in it can still be good, because it's a probability graph (totally fine with that) then those guys shouldn't need exceptions.

My first reaction was "What about Dr Seuss?" And I'm still thinking that. But I've expanded. I think children's fiction should get an exception in general. Because making up silly words is very important for kids.
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Re: "Fiction Rule of Thumb" Discussion

Postby Plasma Man » Wed Oct 01, 2008 4:15 pm UTC

I can't believe how much controversy this is generating, it's nearly as bad as "fuck grapefruit". I bet there are millions of unpublished books out there, full of made-up words, so the ones that get published are (theoretically) the good ones, so that explains how your favourite book / author seems to defy this graph. They're one of the good ones that got published, ok?

Oh, and to all those going "Shakespeare made up words, xkcd is wrong, ner ner ner nerner", the comic says probability book is good.
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Re: "Fiction Rule of Thumb" Discussion

Postby virgletati » Wed Oct 01, 2008 4:34 pm UTC

Fiction rule of thumb 1b: the rule of thumb shall be applied with inverse proportionality to the number of apostrophes in your made up words(plus 1).

Quality = RoTscore/(apostrophes+1)

Seriously. If your language has so many redundant letters that you need three apostrophes just to say the name of your race, just speak English.


# By the way, I'm realy upset about the changes in written Portuguese. Damn it! I grew up writing and reading many words with a (´), like "herói" and "idéia" (hero and idea, respectively). Now, they're going to be "heroi" and "ideia". These aren't big changes, but they hurt my eyes. And there are many other changes that hurt them, too. T__T


Ha. In my opinion, the fewer apostrophes OR accents, when I'm learning a language (real or fictional!), the better. I'm taking modern Greek right now and grateful every day to the Board of Philological Elders or whoever gets to change a language that I don't have to memorize extraneous punctuation. (Although I do like accent marks that indicate pronunciation.)

And I hate, hate, Hate! reading a book that takes place on some different planet or the future or whatever where all the characters have names like Lh'ei'a. Why should I care about someone with such a stupid name?

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Re: "Fiction Rule of Thumb" Discussion

Postby Beacons! » Wed Oct 01, 2008 4:50 pm UTC

But the Edge Chronicles are awesome...
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Re: "Fiction Rule of Thumb" Discussion

Postby Lumpy » Wed Oct 01, 2008 4:53 pm UTC

"Younglings" was the worse part of Revenge of the Sith.

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Re: "Fiction Rule of Thumb" Discussion

Postby Chipersoft » Wed Oct 01, 2008 5:00 pm UTC

Alsn wrote:At a glance(having not read his books) 'ramen', 'framling', 'varelse' and 'utlanning' are all swedish words meaning 'the frame', 'stranger'(the noun), 'creature' and 'foreigner' respectively but without knowing in which context they are used I can't conclusively say that they aren't "made up".


They were indeed used in that context, and the origin of the words is explained in the book (shame on whoever brought these up, you didn't read closely enough). Ender's sister was on a swedish colony planet when she chose the words to describe the different types of association to an alien entity.
As for the word xenocide, it's a perfectly acceptable conjunction of terms. No different than genocide, infanticide, insecticide, and herbicide.

I have yet to read Anathem, but The Diamond Age was FULL of made up words. Personally I didn't find it to be a problem, if the origin of the word wasn't obvious, he explained it. Considering just how awesome of a book Diamond Age was, I think Stephenson has earned a free pass.

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Re: "Fiction Rule of Thumb" Discussion

Postby Phrone » Wed Oct 01, 2008 5:13 pm UTC

This might already have been mentioned, but Nadsat's largely derived from other languages so I don't think Clockwork Orange counts.

My first "Exception!" was Vladmir Nabokov's 'Invitation to a Beheading.' But yes, there are lots of exceptions. I think it should be "made up words that don't further the plot in any significant way."

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Re: "Fiction Rule of Thumb" Discussion

Postby tyn_peddler » Wed Oct 01, 2008 5:17 pm UTC

I don't think he wrote the rule quite right. The x-axis should be labeled "number of new words the author makes up to describe old concepts." If you make the rule this way, there are a lot fewer exceptions.

Take Dune for example. What would you call a gom jabar in english? Well, it only exists in Dune so it's a gom jabar. Or how about the weirding way, or a dozen other things. Sure Herbert makes up new words, but he uses them to describe new objects and ideas.

Look at Tolkein. He didn't make up new words so much as he made up a new language and then wrote parts of his books using it. So he doesn't fall under the rule because as with any language, it expresses ideas in a slightly different way from any other language.

Even Shakespeare doesn't fall under this rule. Accused, addiction, circumstantial, eyeball, radiance, submerge, these are just a few of Shakespeare's words. It's not like he made up new words for children and elders and crap like that, he literally filled in and fleshed out the english language.

Now Lewis Carrol, yeah, he made up stuff. But then I've never been much of a Lewis Carrol fan so I'm not sure I'd consider him an exception. Sorry guys.

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Re: "Fiction Rule of Thumb" Discussion

Postby mikekearn » Wed Oct 01, 2008 5:24 pm UTC

Man, why so much hate for Rowling and Paolini? They write kids books, and just happened to become really famous for it. I personally enjoy the books tremendously. Are they great and amazing works of literature to by immortalized in song as wonders of our generation? No, but they're entertaining, and that's why I read them.

Plus, Rowling has that whole "gets kids who never touch books to at least read something" thing on her side. If we can get kids to accept magic in a relatively modern setting, that's one step closer to getting them to read about it in a full on fantasy setting.

jqavins wrote:The notion that the graph represents a probability is appealing, but there doesn't seem to be evidence that that is what Randall meant.


Take a look at the graph again. Tell me what it says along the Y-axis, please.
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Re: "Fiction Rule of Thumb" Discussion

Postby NY Earthling » Wed Oct 01, 2008 5:27 pm UTC

One more exception to rule: Ursula LeGuin. The best SF novelist ever, imo. (All you physicists, go read The Dispossessed, right now!)

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Re: "Fiction Rule of Thumb" Discussion

Postby Spazikstan » Wed Oct 01, 2008 5:28 pm UTC

I personally think Herbert and Dune are alright because a lot of the language is actually Arabic or derivatives. During my first read I was in my third year of Arabic in high school and a lot of it was just Anglicization of Arabic terms. Not all of it, but a lot.

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Re: "Fiction Rule of Thumb" Discussion

Postby sesquipedalian » Wed Oct 01, 2008 5:34 pm UTC

I, like many other people on here, am forced to disagree with this comic because of Shakespeare...
although, yeah, every random author out there is not shakespeare and should stop thinking they are. In this specific regard, anyway.

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Re: "Fiction Rule of Thumb" Discussion

Postby Doodle77 » Wed Oct 01, 2008 5:42 pm UTC

What I really hate is when authors make up letters.

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Re: "Fiction Rule of Thumb" Discussion

Postby Alzheimers » Wed Oct 01, 2008 5:43 pm UTC

Lumpy wrote:"Younglings" was the worse part of Revenge of the Sith.


Lumpy wrote:"Midichlorians" was the worse part of Revenge of the Sith.


Lumpy wrote:"Hold me like you did by the lake on Naboo" was the worse part of Revenge of the Sith.


Lumpy wrote:"Hayden Christiansen" was the worse part of Revenge of the Sith.


So many "fixed that for yous", so little room.
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Re: "Fiction Rule of Thumb" Discussion

Postby fransisco4 » Wed Oct 01, 2008 5:44 pm UTC

osmigos wrote:I loved this one.

The first thing that came to mind was 'wait a minute... what about Tolkien?', which was closely followed by 'I bet he's mentioned in the alt text'. Yup =p

Exactly what i did.

After reading this thread i'm guessing that i'm the only person that enjoyed Eldest.

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Re: "Fiction Rule of Thumb" Discussion

Postby chrisj » Wed Oct 01, 2008 5:48 pm UTC

Pandaburn wrote:I was talking about "arakh"


Arakh LOBSTER? :D

I feel unaccountably singled out just because I do this and have been zinged for it before, but remain unrepentant. Here's why...

Conlangs are really interesting, but coffee should be coffee- we use simple english terms to refer to stuff that's not meant to come off strange and alien.

Things like placenames and given names compel you as a writer to come up with SOME way to represent the alienness of the referent- you can't call the aliens Fred and Ethel, and you're unlikely to be traveling to the planet Springfield. At least, not unless you're intentionally trying to make a joke, or something.

I'm writing sci-fi right now in fact, publically, and am smack in Randall's crosshairs, knowing full well that some people are going to get thrown by the conlang stuff. I have two main points that I won't retreat on- stuff that's important enough that I don't care how mad it makes some people, I'm not giving it up.

Firstly, while most characters don't talk inexplicable conlang gibberish, there's this one very central character who does. There's a reason for this. The words are part of his culture's very rigid protocol and he's so compelled to follow it that he doesn't worry about whether the listener speaks his language- but more importantly, the guy is basically intolerant. He's not especially hostile, but it's a story point that, although he has appealing qualities and redeeming features, there's going to be this continuing problem with getting him to relate to other cultures, and the glimpses of his spoken-word protocol aren't just 'see how clever', they are 'I'm not going to really admit I'm not at home here'.

I have to warn anyone against doing this because it appears the only conclusion readers draw is that _I_ am yanking their chain, rather than this character ;)

Secondly, it's good to have different alien races be speaking distinct languages and to me the holy grail is similar to the first point- if you have race A and race B and you're reading off a list of names, and they're all race A names except suddenly there's one that's recognizably race B even though you don't know what any of the words mean- if the reader can actually get that the race B name doesn't belong without speaking either language, you win. There's gotta be enough rigor to the language construction that you can grab bits of context and basic rules out of it without understanding it, because you're never going to demand a reader learn it for you- the default assumption is that it's a made-up word that won't be understood, and that leaves the question, why?

-because it's a placename or proper noun for something not better referred to in English
-because you're desperately trying to make Dorothy not feel like she's in Kansas anymore
-because you're making the point that the speaker can't or won't communicate openly in English
-because you're establishing the point that mere English won't cover everything you need to put in your amazing book ;)

I dislike lots of made-up cod-conlang dribble, but some's good- Tolkien most of all, because he had an honest love of conlang and obscure languages. Also, huge points to Klingon for its construction and the depth of understanding that goes into it- the great thing is if the conlang can also convey basic point of view in an alien fashion. It's all fine and good if smeerpbadikdik is the word for Coca-Cola, but what words cannot exist in the new language at all, what very short words in the new language take a lot of explaining in English?

None of this changes the fact that lazy annoying conlang is annoying, so I have to admit that Randall is right with the comic :) the odds are against you blimingous hofstrobates.

Flewellyn
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Re: "Fiction Rule of Thumb" Discussion

Postby Flewellyn » Wed Oct 01, 2008 5:49 pm UTC

Alzheimers wrote:So many "fixed that for yous", so little room.


Revenge of the Sith was the worst part of Revenge of the Sith. Let's be honest with ourselves.

Though I still agree with Lumpy, "younglings" was the thing that made me wince the most.

Volkov
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Re: "Fiction Rule of Thumb" Discussion

Postby Volkov » Wed Oct 01, 2008 5:50 pm UTC

There's also C.S. Lewis, though he's mostly just made-up place names. Oh, and Larry Niven, who made up all kinds of words. Some great English language writers have gotten away with made up words. Most have not.
Last edited by Volkov on Wed Oct 01, 2008 5:52 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.

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GCM
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Re: "Fiction Rule of Thumb" Discussion

Postby GCM » Wed Oct 01, 2008 5:51 pm UTC

Yes, Paolini. But you're excused for making it into a language. At least, by me. Now ask these other guys.

Also, I'd like to note to some that it's "probability" that the book is good. And that it's an inverse exponential graph, because probability cannot be negative.
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Notes: My last avatar was "Vote Robot Nixon", so I'm gonna keep a list here. :D

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Re: "Fiction Rule of Thumb" Discussion

Postby Izawwlgood » Wed Oct 01, 2008 6:02 pm UTC

Um, has anyone mentioned Dune? It had a glossary.
... with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandalled feet.


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