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The Daily Prompt on Monday challenged everyone to pick a letter of the alphabet and write a blog entry without it.  I picked the letter between R and T, and even up to now I have needed to re-word a lot!  I think the current writing will not be very long.

In a vain effort to write about an intriguing topic, I want to examine the employ of new grammar in fiction.

I have before tried to write a piece in which the main character was of a third gender – neither male nor female.  The third gender appeared a third of the time in that world, rather than only once in a while, and I had to build a new grammar to account for it.  I needed a new pronoun.  I found it hard to remember to utilize it where needed.

Have you ever changed language to better tell a tale?  How did you find it?

What is self-reference, and is it good, bad, or indifferent to the vagaries of moral indignation?

Self-reference is when a sentence, idea, or formula refers to itself.  It can happen when a film, novel, etc, talks about itself, such as, for example, when Bastian finds a book called “The Neverending Story” and starts reading it to discover that it is a book about a boy called Bastian who finds a book.

Also Monty Python – The Quest for the Holy Grail contains this line:

“Oh look, it’s the old man from scene 24.”

and many other similar references.

So is it a good thing?  It can definitely be used for comic effect, very effectively.

To give an example of where self-reference has been taken to the extreme (I really hope for comic effect), consider this story, by David Moser, which includes such delights as:

This is the first sentence of this story. This is the second sentence. This is the title of this story, which is also found several times in the story itself. This sentence is questioning the intrinsic value of the first two sentences. This sentence is to inform you, in case you haven’t already realized it, that this is a self-referential story, that is, a story containing sentences that refer to their own structure and function. This is a sentence that provides an ending to the first paragraph.


This sentence comments on the awkward nature of the self- referential narrative form while recognizing the strange and playful detachment it affords the writer.


This sentence raises a serious objection to the entire class of self-referential sentences that merely comment on their own function or placement within the story e.g., the preceding four sentences), on the grounds that they are monotonously predictable, unforgivably self- indulgent, and merely serve to distract the reader from the real subject of this story, which at this point seems to concern strangulation and incest and who knows what other delightful topics.

I suggest you go and read the full story for a better idea of what the story is about.

On the other hand, when it occurs in more serious work it is harder to do well.  I am probably not alone in finding that too many self-references jolt me out of the fantasy world and back into the one where I am sitting on a sofa reading.

It can work, though.  It’s just difficult.  So difficult that I can’t think of a book I’ve read that did it well.  Does anybody else have any suggestions?

If you have made up a new world for your novel, how do they deal with crime and punishment?

The prison service have recently opened a restaurant in Wales, staffed by low-risk convicts.  The restaurant is quite posh, but the convicts are only earning £12 per week.  Not a lot, but is it fair?

They are gaining experience and qualifications out of it; some people pay to gain those.  They have, essentially, free room and board, since they are living at the prison.  And, they are supposed to be being punished.

On the other hand, are they taking jobs from the fine, upstanding, normal folk?  That seems to be the main objection to the scheme.

Anyway, back to the point.

Some cultures go for locking offenders away, some for public whippings, some for execution.  Some go for more financial punishments, or mind control.  Some go for incentives to prevent crime and corruption.  I read a book once where the financial estate of those chosen as leader of the country was blended with the state monies, and they got the same proportion back at the end of their term.  Good incentive to help the country’s economy!

Whatever method is chosen, there are consequences.  If you lock offenders up you need to  pay for their upkeep, and have the risk that they might revolt.  Mind control has moral implications.  Using incentives requires a plan for when they fail.

How well thought through is your legal system?

Apparently there are planets orbiting binary star systems.  In the past we’ve found single planets orbiting two stars, but it was thought that more than one planet would see the gravitational forces throwing them either into the stars, out of the system, or into each other.  Kepler-47, in the constellation of Cygnus, has two planets – and one of them is in the habitable zone, where liquid water can exist.

It’s probably a gas giant, but Prof William Welsh, from San Diego State University, said:

“Kepler-47c is not likely to harbour life, but if it had large moons, those would be very interesting worlds.”

Now I’m wondering what a day would be like on one of those moons.  Imagine, you are on a moon, orbiting a planet, orbiting two suns.  What would you see and experience as the day progressed?  Obviously you can’t answer that properly without knowing the lengths of the orbits involved.  My astrophysics is not good enough to figure it out even knowing the orbits.

On the other hand, is it important?  How many books have you read in which the protagonist noticed what phase the moon was in?  (Apart from books about werewolves, they don’t count!)  Unless the fact that there are two suns is central to the plot, why should it matter?  The occasional comment about the suns rising or the planet setting, and that should be enough.

How much thought do you put in to how your society evolved?  I imagine, if you are anything like me, you know a lot about the way it currently works, but less about how it got there.

And yet, history is important.  There’s a difference between a society where some citizens are lower class because they have slowly evolved to be that way over time, and one where some citizens are lower class due to conquest.

That’s an extreme example, of course, but the point is that history matters.

This article in the New Scientist is what sparked the thought in my brain.  It’s part of a series about inequality.  The author is suggesting that unequal societies are inherently more unstable, which causes them to put more emphasis on expanding – which spreads the inequality.

On a side note, like many internet articles, the comments section is almost as entertaining as the article itself.  In particular the number of comments which “breached the terms of use and have been removed”.  You know an article has hit a nerve when that happens!

The trouble with science is that sometimes it gets in the way.  Take for example a popular science fiction trope – going “out of phase”.  In essence, the protagonist has a gadget or a power caused by radiation or some similar thing, and they become able to pass their hands through solid objects.  Sometimes nobody can see them, sometimes it only works when they want it to.

Pretty useful, right?  You can stick your head through walls to check what’s on the other side, get into places that are locked, and if you’re invisible you can listen to all sorts of conversations that you shouldn’t.

However, the problem with it was ably demonstrated by “Wormhole X-treme”, an episode of Stargate SG-1 in which Martin Lloyd, an alien TV producer, has started a show based on the secret government project.  In this scene, one of the actresses is questioning him and the director about her character’s plot.

REESE Ah I’m having a little trouble with Scene 27. It says that I’m out of phase which means I can pass my hand through solid matter or I can walk through walls.

DELUISE Yeah. Cause you’re out of phase.

MARTIN Exactly.

REESE How come I don’t fall through the floor?

Martin and Peter stop. They look at each other and then back to Reese.

MARTIN We’re gonna have to get back to you on that one.

Floors (and ceilings) are made of matter.  If you can’t interact with it, then one of two things should happen.  Either gravity still affects you, and you fall to the centre of the Earth, where you are trapped forever, slowly starving to death (because you can’t interact with the hot magma on the way, so you don’t die, and you can’t interact with food either), or gravity doesn’t affect you, in which case you go spinning off into space as the Earth continues its orbital path.

In either case, the outcome is not good for you.


Would you consider buying a dress with litter sewn into it?  How about a hat made from dismembered Barbie legs?  No?  Not even if they were arranged like a mohican?

It’s the latest fashion trend, and once again I am confirmed in my belief that fashion is dumb.
But it does make an interesting thought – when you’re writing books about the future, how much do you think about the fashion?  Not just catwalk styles, but the everyday clothes that all of your characters wear?

Has there been a shortage of cotton in your world recently?  Environmental or economic reasons for re-using items?  Has there been a boom in the availability of materials, like the one I suspect will occur when star trek-style replicators are invented?  Has there been an ecological disaster which caused everyone to wear long sleeves to protect their bodies?

So many questions to consider!  It’s a wonder any of us write the actual stories.

When we’re writing, we need to think about the places that our characters live, work and play.  How much time to you spend thinking about the effect of buildings on the environment?  This recent article from the BBC reminded me that conditions on streets depend very much on what buildings surround them.

Skyscrapers are becoming ever more common, and many sci-fi novels contain massive cities which tower into the sky and spread for miles.  Where several large buildings are grouped together, canyons can form, with noise at street level being massively increased and wind tunnels springing into existence.  Even one skyscraper, if badly designed, can cause high speed winds from higher up to be diverted to the ground.

And that’s ignoring the long shadows and sometimes ugly car park entrances.

Fortunately, modern architects seem to be taking notice.  The Gherkin in London has an unusual shape not just to look good – it helps the winds go around the structure.  The almost-completed Shard (also in London) casts its shadow mainly over the River Thames.

When you’re writing about life in a city, whether it’s real or fictional, it’s important to understand what kind of city it is.  Is it modern?  Old?  Has it reached the point in its development where the citizens have started to build skyscrapers, but are still building them square?  Has the government of your country or planet decided to limit the size of buildings for any reason?  What effect will all that have on the microclimate at street level?

And of course, the feel of a city centre is enormously different to the feel of a suburb.  Cities in different parts of the country can be poles apart, let alone cities in other countries.  Ultimately, the best thing to do might be to find a real city with similar conditions to the one you are writing about, and go there.  Soak in the feel of the place, and notice the little things.  And then write.

How do you become smarter?

For some (birds, at least) it seems the answer is “move higher“.  Researchers at the University of Nevada have studied chickadees on mountains and came to the conclusion that those at higher altitudes – even 600 metres – had larger brains and better spatial recall than those at lower altitudes.

Another reason for those super-cities of the future to be arranged with the high class rulers at the top and the lower classes below perhaps?

The Author

Nicola Higgins is a 30-something martial artist who runs two Brownie packs and works full time. She somehow still finds time to write.

Her favourite genres are near-future and alternate world science fiction and fantasy.

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