Puns and Descriptions

26 May 2001

I got enough sleep last night. This is not only a new thing, but also a very good one. As an indicator of how tired I was last night, here's the joke I made up at dinner (coherency much improved by Mark): Where did the Scientologist hobbits want to keep the One Ring?

In Elrond's cupboard.

I was so tired last night, I found that hysterically funny. I was mightily impressed with my own cleverness. When we got home, I told it to Timprov, and he came up with the following: What weapon did the Scientologist elves carry into battle?

Elrond's halberd.

I also found that quite impressively funny.

I'm more awake now.


This week I learned what a degree in nuclear physics is good for. Wanna hear it? It's good for figuring out how Finnish magic works out. I'll bet Tom Huber didn't know, when he was teaching my very first Modern Physics course, that the stuff he taught me would be integral to a book without ever showing up in it. I'm told that no knowledge is ever wasted, but sometimes the ways it's used are strange.

Writer-geek quote of the week: "Well, as you know, Marissa, infodumping can be solved in a number of ways." -- Avi

Sam was writing in her last journal entry that she was trying to figure out what to do about describing her main character, especially as it related to ethnicity. This is a problem I'm having, too. A lot of the ways we have of describing people's skin and general features rely on traditional notions of ethnicity. And while I'm sure there will be people who look Norwegian, Japanese, or Ghanan in twenty years, there will also be people who look Norwegian-Japanese-Ghanan. And trying to describe people in terms of traditional ethnic groups seems like it's going to date a work just as fast as having all the heroes be square-jawed, Aryan males.

Do I think the concept of race or ethnicity is going to magically disappear overnight? Of course I don't. But it's going to get a lot messier. It's getting a lot messier right now. We need more ways to describe people's faces and skin without getting stereotypical or offensive. (Note to other writers: not everyone of African descent has skin that looks like food! Cinnamon, coffee, molasses, chocolate -- find something else! Of course, white folks have cream and olive, so I guess it's not just for "black" folks, but it's more predominant there.)

A couple of people I respect informed me that if I didn't state what racial/ethnic group a character belonged to, my readers would all assume he/she was generic white. I don't think that's true. It hasn't been in my experience. I have one character who has been assumed to be Korean, very dark-skinned African, Native American, German, Dutch, half-British/half-Indian...in short, this guy is whatever people want him to be. And -- news flash -- not everybody wants him to be generic white.

In general, I'm tempted to describe less and let the reader bring more into it. But some readers require a visual picture. One of my first readers for Fortress of Thorns could not keep two very distinct characters (the rest of my readers assure me on this point) straight, because they were not described in long passages right off the bat, and his assumptions about their appearances were fairly close. Some people are just that visual. And while I don't think I'm likely to be their favorite author (except in this one case, perhaps), I also don't think that I can just say, "well, that's just not a valid point of view -- I won't write for those people."

Timprov is reading the paper here, and he came upon a news item: our power companies are paying through the nose to get power from British Columbia. Every customer there is getting a $130 rebate. Says Timprov, "I feel better about the power bill knowing that some of it is going to Spider Robinson." Indeed.

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