1. whimsy
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    whimsy New Member

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    Language precision while writing SciFi

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by whimsy, Jan 5, 2015.

    Hi all! 1) I'm a new member, 2) this is my first thread, and 3) I had one too many cups of coffee today, so (please) be gentle! :oops:

    Mostly I'm here to commiserate, as most people in my real life don't care to hear about my writing road blocks. I'm not exactly experiencing a road block right now (hooray), but I often find myself staring at the screen for far too long, contemplating whether I can/should use a certain word in my work-in-progress YA sci-fi/fantasy novel. Most recently, my cursor hovered over 'glass' for at least five minutes. Can I say glass? I decided that I could. But what about 'lavender?' I guess I could. The color itself has a spot in the dictionary. But on the other hand, I'm sure that definition originated from the color of the plant. A plant that grows on Earth. KWIM?

    Am I the only person writing a setting outside the bounds of Earth who does this to themselves? I feel like I waste so much time! :pop:
     
  2. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    You have to decide what is jarring and what isn't. I don't think glass is a problem As a reader, I'd probably pass right over "lavender" without giving it a second thought, though some readers might think about it for a moment.

    Let's face it, you are writing the book in English (or perhaps another extant language) so it is readable by a person living on this planet. A large number of words in the language have bases in historical, natural, or other phenomena specific to Earth and its natural and human history. Trying to weed all of them out would be a fool's errand, in my view.

    Overt references, such as those to geographic locations on earth, would be problematic (I once read a story (unpublished) set on a distant planet in the distant past that referred to a character as having Asian features, which is problematic on a few levels, not the least of which is the fact that the word "Asian" made no sense in the context of the story). Apart from those things that really jump out at a reader, I wouldn't spend a lot of time worrying about this.
     
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  3. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Don't overthink it too hard. If glass exists in your world, then glass is fine. Lavender as a color is not going to make your reader stop, a la Sheldon Cooper and back-track the logic of that use, concluding that it's illogical to use.

    But...

    The other day I was reading a part of my WIP and saw that I had compared an underwater city to the Great Barrier Reef in proportion, and it was a character's inner thought. There is zero reason for my character to have ever been to the Great Barrier Reef and he certainly does not have the life of leisure that would make for diving that reef. To me, that needs reworking, but not lavender or glass.
     
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  4. whimsy
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    whimsy New Member

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    I agree with you both completely, but it doesn't stop me from wasting an inordinate amount of time. Sometimes I just set the word to a bright color and assure myself that I'll come back to it later. For now, that's probably my best bet.

    I have never compared myself to Sheldon Cooper, but you are so right. I'm acting exactly like he would. I have to chuckle.
     
  5. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Are you talking about a planet with no connection ever in the past to Earth? Once you've decided to write in English, I don't think you need to worry too much about word etymology. I would concern myself with flora and fauna being different, but not colors or other translated [into English] words.

    I've been working on the slang on my planet. Not only is it not Earth, it's ~1.5 centuries in the future. Same with idioms and colloquialisms, I need unique language there. Names of things not only differ, I have two populations that have had little contact with each other since arriving on the planet. Though English is the native language of both populations, their names for everything on the planet originated separately.

    I think if you spike the punch with the flavor of your planet, readers won't notice the sugar and water is the same as they read.
     
    Last edited: Jan 6, 2015
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  6. whimsy
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    whimsy New Member

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    Yes. The planet the characters came from has no connection to Earth, past or present. I've been careful with the originality of flora and fauna, and so far it hasn't been a problem. I think I'm sweating the small stuff at this point, getting caught up in the semantics. I have 70K words, so I guess it hasn't slowed me down that much, but I have a bunch of bright blue words in the document to keep me busy later.
     
  7. Revanchist
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    I think the same thing plagues me occasionally. Confusing response incoming, hopefully you'll get it haha:
    Just go with it. I often thought how they did that in games. For example the setting of a game uses bows and guns, but who invented them? The same people who invented them in our world? If not then they HAD to be different? Or named differently? Personally I never felt the need to dig and demand an explanation from the author but seeing as how it's a parallel universe, a chance of identical occurrences exists if you know what I'm saying.

    For example you can say lavender because who's to say such a flower exists or doesn't exist in your world? Perhaps the nature in your world decided to keep such a flower and perhaps a man who stumbled into it for the first time also decided to name it the same way a person did in our reality. Creating an entirely new universe would be confusing, and if you want it to be 100% original you might as well write it in a new language. Look at any other fantasy universe, it has to carry parts of our reality into it, titles and names, because it has to in order to be understandable.

    I don't know about others but I don't mind "wasting" time on small things (as long as it isn't too much (months etc.)). For example name selection takes me a great deal of time, but I enjoy the process.
     
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  8. whimsy
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    whimsy New Member

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    Thank you to everyone who's responded so far! I remember contemplating whether I'd specify that a door on the spaceship was made of titanium, steel or a made-up alien metal. To save time I added a placeholder in blue font, so I guess I'll be dealing with that later. I think I'll probably go with a made-up metal in this case because the ship's fuel already has a made up name and I want to be consistent.
     
  9. Vandor76
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    Vandor76 Contributing Member

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    Titanium and steel (and glass) are materials that most probably exists in every single developed civilization. They will name them differently (and not necessarily in a human-like language : "beep-beep-bibip") but they will have a different word for everything else as well, therefore there is no point to translate only 90% and create some alien-sounding words for things that clearly have an English equivalent, just because it looks cool. Keep these alien words for special occasions and use them to let the reader know that "here we deal with something totally unknown on Earth".

    The reader understands that the book is "translated" for him so he will not have problems with Earth based names. Lavender is a plant but it is also a color and it has an alien name on that planet that translates to "lavender" (and some other words translate to "red", "green" or "blue"). You can't avoid using such words. Imagine that you need to describe a sunset without using the word "orange".
     
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  10. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    English: Lavender
    Basque: izpilikua
    Galician: alfazema
    Indonesian: warna lembayung muda
    Latin: casia
    Slovenian: sivka
    Vietnamese: cây oải hương

    Whatever your aliens call it, you will need to translate it into English to be understood...but just look at the variants that we on Earth have produced!
     
  11. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    In this case I think you're over-thinking it. Go with 'lavender'. Wouldn't jar me. I might've thought about it for a second, then go like "don't be a nitpicker" and carried on. :p
     
  12. DaveOlden
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    DaveOlden Member

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    I draw your attention to Nightfall, by Isaac Asimov and Robert Silverberg. Here's link to the book at Amazon.com. Click on the cover image to bring up the "Look inside" preview, and at the front of the book, is a little piece called "To The Reader..." It's only a one page.

    You'll see they ran into a very similar problem to the one you just described. Their solution was brilliantly simple.

    -- Dave Olden
     
    Last edited: Jan 24, 2015
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  13. Ivana
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    Ivana Contributing Member

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    My book's setting takes place outside Earth as well, but I wasn't worrying too much about this issue. This is how I worked it out : I made up the names of plants and animals, while I used words such as glass, steel, bow, arrow, cave, mountain etc. But I also paid attention not to use word "people", for example in "a group of people..." because I wanted to make clear they are aliens (although they probably do originate from us). :)
     
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  14. Chinspinner
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    Chinspinner Contributing Member Contributor

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    I would rather read a translation into a language I understand i.e. lavender; than the following description: "it was the colour of kahanafragatron and smelled of dahaapangranAAAARRRGHahat ta rana flar."
     
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  15. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah, the problem is generally referred to as "calling a rabbit a smeerp," which is a saying attributed to James Blish.
     

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