1. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Ben Bova says "if it seems like a shark, call it a shark"

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Wreybies, Aug 29, 2014.

    I'm in a little snippet of narrative where a ship entity makes its masters aware of a certain thing that they have been searching for. From the vantage point of the ship entity, the masters are tiny and multitudinous and excitable. I want to describe them as ants in a disturbed mound.

    Neither the ship entity nor the masters are remotely human or from Earth.

    I am vexed.

    In one of my "how to" books - this one written by Ben Bova - he addresses the matter of naming alien things from the perspective of the aliens, not from that of human beings. Aliens talking about alien things. He mentions that when a predator flying through the cumulous layer of a gas giant is seen by the floating natives of that gas giant and it represents to them what a shark would represent to us, have a native scream "SHARK!!" not "BOOFLPOOG!!" because booflpoog is meaningless and carries zero emotional impact, whereas shark is understood by all and the threat is made clear and concise through that one single word. I have in fact used this same bit of citation from Bova in the past in similar matters, yet still I feel hesitant. o_O

    Something to this tune:

    When the first entity had come into being and Tharmokesh communicated the fact to the Masters, they became ants in a disturbed mound. A scurrying ripple of bodies spreading through all corners of the fleet.

    Thoughts?
     
  2. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Use the ants metaphor. As Bova said, it has to be meaningful to your reader, and your reader is human.
     
  3. Ben414
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    Ben414 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Some media handle that POV issue by making a idiom in a context so blatantly similar to a common human idiom's context as to carry both the human emotion and still retain that POV. I'm not sure if there is a good example for your ants idiom, though, since that idiom is not too common. Maybe it could be something like

    When the first entity had come into being and Tharmokesh communicated the fact to the Masters, it was if someone had stirred up a blorgon's nest.

    Actually, I'm not sure if the "stirred up a hornet's nest" idiom is that common, either... Either way, I hope my point is clear. Replacing a single word in a very common idiom in a very common context could do the trick very well, if you can find a good example.
     
  4. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I think stirring up a blorgon's nest and, they became ants in a disturbed mound both convey the image and both fit with calling a shark a shark.
     
  5. Lewdog
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    Lewdog Come ova here and give me kisses! Supporter Contributor

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    What do the aliens look like? Are they bug like creatures? Could they scurry like cockroaches when you first turn on the lights? What other creatures scurry and why?
     
  6. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    The Masters themselves are largish, us-sized creatures. What makes them ant-like is the perspective from which the ship entity perceives things. Thermokesh and her partner, Tohkah, work together to keep a fleet of thousands of ships in synchronous flight at near relativistic speeds. Thousands of ships with thousands aboard each ship... ants.
     
  7. Lewdog
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    Lewdog Come ova here and give me kisses! Supporter Contributor

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    Well if the perspective makes them look like ants, call them ants. :agreed:

    When we are in tall buildings or some other high position we usually refer to the people below as ants. I guess the only thing is it too cliche?
     
  8. Bjørnar Munkerud
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    Bjørnar Munkerud Contributing Member

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    If you use the name "Tharmokesh" I see no reason why you couldn't also call a shark a "Booflpoog". If you tell the readers or explain to them what a booflpoog is, then their reaction will be at least as reasonable as it would be if you called it a shark. Also, why are there sharks in this absolutely-not-human world of yours? And it's also worth noting that your book is in English and not in whatever language your characters speak, so you've already taken some creative licence.

    Personally I suggest telling them at once the first time the booflpoog is mentioned that it's (basically) a shark, and then call it a booflpoog from then on. If this makes things hard to understand for the reader because there are many words like this, you may need to reconsider how many different types of creatures, places and spells or whatnot you mention in your book. Additionally I think it might be wise to call it something other than a booflpoog (which I'm sure's just something you made up on the spot), though I actually do like that word, but I suppose it's a bit too strange and comedic for most books.

    The real core of the matter might be, however, that if in actuality it's a shark you're describing you should call it that, whereas if it's technically a booflpoog, you owe it to the readers to both tell them so and to explain what that means for the story.

    Of course, if it really doesn't matter, you could just decide it's a shark. There's no technical reason, from what I know of your story, that it couldn't be a shark. Or, if none of what I've just said fancies you, you could simply adopt a policy of "If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it IS a duck." for the purposes of your story.
     
  9. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Except 'booflpoog' doesn't have the right sound to it. 'The magpierct sunk its 16 rows of teeth into his lower appendages', has a better ring to it.
     
  10. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    A shark is a shark and a booflpoog is a booflpoog. Calling one the other would destroy my trust in the English language and (for me) lead to internal anarchy.
     
  11. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Isn't internal anarchy the perpetual state of the human race?
     
  12. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    If there are no humans aboard this alien ship to relate this story, I'd say avoid any direct ants or sharks references. My first reaction as a reader would be 'they have ANTS?' Or 'there are SHARKS that can swim in space?'

    Instead, I'd stick to a quick description of what these critters do, and the emotions they create in the spectators. Specks with legs, swarming all over one another in the hunt for food/exit/mates, etc. The slow threat of a fierce creature much bigger than any of them, circling outside the ship, waiting for an accident to happen. Etc.
     

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