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I’ve been noticing another wave of incorrectly used semicolons. I joined another writing forum to see if I could meet any interesting writers, concepts or tips, and to provide advice. It seems a lot of amateur writers are caught in that transition phase between simplistic writing and using linguistic features (such as punctuation, and in this case semicolons) to spruce up their narrative. Unfortunately, this transition phase tends to see a lot of errors.

So let’s lay down some quick terminology. You should all know what a semicolon is. A comma splice is when two sections of a sentence are joined together by a comma when they can be standalone sentences by themselves (known as a main clause/independent clause). By the way, if you omit the comma altogether (so it’s just two sentences stuck on the ends of one another with no punctuation in between) it’s known as a fused sentence.

I’m still learning about punctuation, today I learned how to use semicolons.

That’s an example of a comma splice. Now there’s a number of ways to fix it.

  1. Separate it into two sentences. I’m still learning about punctuation. Today I learned how to use semicolons.
  2. Use a coordinating conjunction (for, and, nor, but or, yet, so). I’m still learning about punctuation, and today I learned how to use semicolons.
  3. Use a subordinate conjunction (because, since, once, as, if, unless, though, etc.). Because I’m still learning about punctuation, today I learned how to used semi colons.
  4. Use a semicolon. I’m still learning about punctuation; today I learned how to use semicolons.

Let’s just solidify what those examples should have taught you (if you didn’t already know) and refocus on semicolons. The two clauses separated by the semicolon have to be independent clauses. They have to be sentences by themselves. It’s very easy to remember but oddly hard to follow.

On an ending note, I’d like to point out that sometimes rules can be broken. I’m a big advocate of bending the rules for stylistic effect but I’m tired of seeing people use this as an excuse. If you break a rule to create rhetorical effect, fair enough. Just make sure there’s a distinct purpose for you breaking the rule, and that even an idiot can tell you did it on purpose. And don’t overdo it. It’s only special if it’s rare.

While I’m on the topic, here’s another excuse that really ticks me off. Using cummings as an excuse to ignore rules of English. For those that don’t know, cummings was a poet famous for (among other things) ignoring capitalisation in his poems. That’s why people often don’t capitalise his name; it’s sort of like a weird little tribute to him. However, let’s get this straight. First, he wrote poetry, which already bends a lot of rules. Second, he became famous. It’s very difficult to criticise the successful. Third, you are not cummings. There are literally tens of thousands of other writers competing with you (in any sense of the word) and not many people have even heard of your name. You will not be excused for breaking rules. At least not until you become famous first.

This is one that people often mix up, and for good reason! A parody is a type of satire. Satire is the umbrella term, and involves a wide range of satirical techniques. There’s no such thing as a “parodical” technique. I guess in this sense, you could be excused if you call a parody a satire, because technically that would be true, but specificity is a hallmark of true knowledge. If someone showed you a picture of a flounder and asked you if you knew what it was, and you said “yes, it’s a fish”. Well …

So, the difference? Well, the commonly accepted difference is that a satire is more subtle. How? It’s sort of like the difference between metaphors and symbols. A metaphor is explained and made clear in the very sentence it is introduced. A symbol is never explained and thus open to interpretation. Similarly, a parody is always self-evident. The best examples are parody movies like Scary Movie, Vampires Suck and Meet the Spartans. You know straight away what they’re imitating; it’s blatant and exaggerated, and it’s precisely that hyperbole that creates the humour.

But a satire? A satire is subtle. It’s the gentleman of the mocking genre. Often, the uninformed will not even realise the text is a satire and will just read the surface as if it were a story on its own. The example that comes to mind here is Animal Farm, a classic by George Orwell. It is a criticism of communism and its failings, and identifies the nature of greed and megalomania as inherent personality flaws that will always undermine any attempt at equality. Of course, there’s more to the story than just that, but those are the main overarching themes. However, the uninformed would just presume it was a story about animals on a farm that ended up trying to run the place by themselves and live like humans. A funny little fiction, but not something as deep as political and sociological commentary.

If you’re familiar with any of the texts I’ve mentioned, you should be able to identify a key difference between parodies and satires. While both engage in ridicule, the method by which they do so is different. If we were to classify the humour as a point of reference, parody would be slapstick. It’s in your face; it uses hyperbole to blow things to ridiculous proportions and it’s meant to be lighthearted. Satire on the otherhand is clever, witty, intelligent humour. It uses references, symbols, themes and similarity to create humour, but the humour is more of a dark chuckle when you get it. It’s not lighthearted, it’s usually something heavy and deep, the kind of stuff that makes you question the intelligence of your leaders in politics or the nature of human society or our shortcomings as a species. It’s a sad moment of realisation that causes the laugh. Sometimes, there’s no humour at all; just realisation.

Notice I’ve mentioned similarity and imitation. Here’s another key difference, one that’s far easier to remember for you guys to keep in mind. A parody will mimic something blatantly. The characters and plot will be very similar (if not exactly the same). If you’ve seen the underlying text, there’s no way you’d not realise it’s a parody. Even if you haven’t most of the time things are so overblown that you’d realise it was a parody anyway. Satires don’t mimic things; at least not blatantly. They copy scenarios and concepts but replace everything so that only the underlying skeleton remains. Take Animal Farm for example. You’d never be able to tell a bunch of talking animals who want things on the farm to be more fair to everyone were actually representative of communist society. At least not unless you read very deeply into it.

 

Epithet

Noun

A word or phrase used to characterise something. It can be used as a descriptive substitute for the name/title of a person such as The Great Emancipator (Lincoln) or Alexander the Great.

 

http://www.lettersofnote.com/2012/02/i-love-my-wife-my-wife-is-dead.html

I love the end of this paragraph:

I know you will assure me that I am foolish and that you want me to have full happiness and don’t want to be in my way. I’ll bet you are surprised that I don’t even have a girlfriend (except you, sweetheart) after two years. But you can’t help it, darling, nor can I — I don’t understand it, for I have met many girls and very nice ones and I don’t want to remain alone — but in two or three meetings they all seem ashes. You only are left to me. You are real.

It must be hard to be a realist but love her so much. His logical mind would refuse to believe in an afterlife or any way to connect with her but his emotional mind would have been weeping.

Do I have anything to say about this? Well, you can take from it what you will. I’ll let the letter speak for itself.

Again, a short story in warm up for my novel. Again, first draft; excuse any errors. Experimenting with repetition in this one. Please let me know if you feel it’s too overdone.

————————————————————–

Rain

There was a lone man walking in the rain.

It was the well into the night and she would never have seen him if she hadn’t been gazing aimlessly out the window. Raindrops hammered the house relentlessly, filling her ears with a sound like static. Her vision was hampered by the crisscross of the rain outside, driven at different angles by the wind. But a small patch of illumination struggled bravely under a streetlight and surely, there was a man walking through it.

What was he doing out in that kind of weather? It was getting dangerous.

The man reached the edge of a faint circle of light and melded into the darkness. She waited breathlessly for him to reappear at the next light.

As she waited, her eyes began to widen and her heartbeat began to race. It was so mysterious and exciting, and so very surreal. Surely, he knew what he was doing. Nobody in their right mind would walk through such dangerous weather.

Just as the man reappeared, a strong gust blew a sheet of rain into him. He staggered as she heard a crescendo in volume. By the time the sound faded back to its usual static, the man had disappeared again.

She felt uncertain now. Maybe he needed help? She couldn’t see him clearly but what reason could anyone have to be out at this time in the middle of a storm? What if nobody else had seen him except her? She could be the only one that could help him right now.

As she hesitated, a flash of lightning lit up the darkness. She saw the man hunched over a bundle in his arms. He was wide eyed, as if he were in panic, but determined to protect whatever he was holding.

He disappeared then promptly reappeared again at the streetlight right outside her house. She could see a tiny hand reach out of the bundle as he struggled on. The road was ahead of him; she lived on the corner of an intersection. He didn’t slow a beat as he continued on his path.

A peal of thunder crashed overhead, making her jump. It rang and crunched and crashed in her ears. It drowned out all sound for two long seconds as she saw a pair of headlights appear out of nowhere. They collided with the man and just as suddenly, both were gone from sight.

She screamed.

Running out of her room, she crashed into her mother who was coming in to check on her.

“What’s wrong sweetie?”

“There was a man! Outside, in the rain! He’s dead. He just got hit by a car!” Inexplicably, tears overpowered her and she couldn’t breathe. As she struggled to regain control of her heaving throat, her mother pulled her close.

“Even after all these years you still can’t forget how your daddy died?”

A moment of surprise hit her. Her dad had never crossed her mind. “No! I mean it; there really was a man outside!”

“It’s ok baby, it was a terrible experience for you. And it happened on a night just like this.”

Angry now, she shoved her mother back and ran to the window. It was too dark to see anything, so she pressed her cheek against the cold pane and craned her neck for a better view.

“I swear … I really did see him.”

Her mother shook her head sadly. “It’s just the rain, dear. It’s a horrible, strange rain that brings back bad memories.”

She heard her door click shut behind her but she kept peering out the window. Nothing. No sign of anything.

Maybe it really had been just the rain.

With exams over I’ve been trying to get back into writing. It feels bad knowing I’ve neglected my magnum opus for so many months so I’m trying to get back into the swing of things by writing a few shorts to warm up my creative mind. As usual, I don’t bother editing stuff that’s just meant for practice so excuse any errors you may find; it’s just a first draft.

—————————————–

Sanity

He couldn’t see it, but he knew it was there. He could feel it – a warm, sticky sensation that hung thick in the air. It weighed heavily on his lungs, and even worse on his mind. It was oppressive and paranoid. It was fear.

Footsteps tapped in the background, distracting his senses. No, the sound of footsteps did not scare him. What hunted him could not be heard. It had no feet.

Trapped in a moment of respite, he tried to think of an escape but he couldn’t focus. His mind jumped from one thing to another in a frenzy of disjointed thoughts. As the panic burgeoned, he began seeing in brief flashes and blurred impressions. Each vision that appeared in his mind’s eye shook violently as it was quickly replaced by the next until he was stuck watching a cacophony of muted colours. But one thing solidified, right in the centre of his vision. The outline of a familiar man.

He muffled a scream as he opened his eyes. Without realising, he had closed them against the swirling images. He could feel the sweat on his clammy skin but it was still dark. What if it had come closer? How could he be so stupid! To close his eyes at such a dangerous turning point? Absolute stupidity.

Rising from the corner he had been crouched in, he quickly scanned his shadowy surroundings. Nothing moved but the footsteps got louder. They were approaching.

A cold shiver teased his skin and he started at the sensation. It was getting closer, but he had no escape!

The footsteps stopped and there was a metallic grind of something being slid aside. Brilliant white light poured in. Illumination, hope and salvation beckoned. The chilling sensation tingled through him again, somehow more urgent. He could see the outline of a man again. But his eyes were open!

Fear blossomed in his chest and his mind fixated on the only thing it could identify. The light. It promised escape.

He ran, full speed, towards that glorious square of hope. The man got bigger, closer, but he couldn’t stop. He was almost there.

Something crashed into him, solid and cold, stopping him dead in his tracks. Metal bars. Holding him back, keeping him away from the light. Trapping him in the room with the man. He could see the man clearly now. There was a mirror on the opposite wall showing a man behind bars in a dark padded room. It was the man that haunted him. One last burst of courage shot through him and he slammed the bars but they would not budge. Then all he could see was an explosion of colour – images and impressions flooded his mind and whispers echoed in his ears. All remaining strength in him fled, and he sank to the floor laughing.

“As you can see, the patient has lost any remnants of his sanity. His condition has progressively worsened upon arrival at the asylum, so we recommend a full lobotomy. For his own good.”

Do you suffer from procrastination? Never get around to finishing that novel? Spend more time imagining and jotting down every little detail of your fictional world than you do writing the story itself?

Then story outlines are probably not for you.

I know a lot of people will say to plan out your story and whatnot but I’ve always frowned upon this. For clarity’s sake, I consider outlines/planning to be anything related to the story that isn’t actually writing the story itself.

Ok, so planning stuff gives you an idea of where to go with the story, and keeps you “on track”, but consider this: have you ever stuck to your original plan? For me, that’s an easy no. As I write, new ideas come up and they are inexplicably more brilliant in their brief creation than anything I could have planned beforehand. Sure, my beginning and end usually stay the same, and maybe even some major plot points, but it’s a writhing, winding road between these.

Think of it this way. Nothing, and I mean nothing, you write in a plan or outline will ever be read by anyone except yourself. It doesn’t contribute to the story at all – the purpose of a plan is just a crude note to yourself to remind you of things. Despite this, I see people caught up in extravagant world building, from the terrain of the entire planet (when the story only takes place in a few cities), to religion, governments and other aspects that are not directly tied into the story. Worse, sometimes amateurs will consciously realise how much effort they’ve put into the plan and will try to incorporate it into the story somehow. This results in huge infodumps which are a big no-no in writing.

But I think the one thing that really epitomises the uselessness of planning is the use of “character profiles”. Really? Is it that important to know every character’s exact height to the centimetre? Their exact weight? Or, worse, their “likes and dislikes”. Let me tell you now, if you can capture your character in the brief confines of a profile then your character is weak and shallow. Further, the majority of your profile is literally useless and is really just a tool for wishful self-fulfilment to allow the “writer” to feel as if they’ve created a story with a set of strong characters when in reality the story is only in their heads. It’s not a story until you start writing it.

So am I saying everyone should stop planning? No, of course not. It works for some people because they know how to do it. However, I guarantee these people don’t sweat the insignificant stuff. A pre-writing outline should be a few key scenes jotted down. No detail – just the concepts. Your goal is to move the story from the beginning scene to the end scene, and I guarantee that along the way your plans will change more times than you can count. If you really are a dedicated writer, your story will plague your mind. Haunt you while you breathe and sleep. You shouldn’t need any plan to remember the important things in your story. At most, as you write, you should jot down specific numbers, features and directions so that you can keep them consistent throughout the story. You don’t want your characters changing hair colour half way through the story, or a city teleporting to another location. That’s about it.

Seriously though, just remember. Your plan is just to remind yourself of things. No one’s going to read it. Put your effort into the story itself.

Another religious post? I’m on the verge of being an atheist bully here aren’t I? Well, suffice to say I just like poking holes in incorrect logic and it has nothing to do with my own beliefs (which are not really atheist anyway).

So I’m sure many of you have heard of the “absolute morality” argument posed by theists. In fact, it’s almost inevitably brought up by any professional debate (many of which you can watch on Youtube – it’s fun listening to how people construct logical arguments). The crux of the argument is that without (a) god(s), we cannot have absolute morality. The arguments leads on to say atheists have no absolute morals because they cannot know that their morals are “absolute” without god telling them that it is. Therefore, the existence of absolute morality (such as an aversion to murder) is proof of god’s existence.

Again, I don’t wish to insult any of my theistic friends, but this argument is absolute codswallop. Unfortunately, I always get the feeling that other debaters fail to properly dismantle this “argument” (maybe because Youtube comments usually lack intelligent input). So I’m going to lay it out, step by step.  Again, this is mainly directed towards Christianity – as it is the largest religion and thus the one I pay attention to most.

Let’s approach this as if a theist has proposed absolute morality as evidence of god. I will proceed to do something I love – flipping an argument back on somebody with logical principles. Let’s begin:

Without (a) god(s) there can be no absolute morality.

1. Then are you accusing all atheists of being immoral?

Yes – Then you are “playing god” by judging someone, which is god’s job. “James 4:12 There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you–who are you to judge your neighbour?“. If you attempt to argue against the negative implications of playing god (which most Christian ethicists are in agreement on as a sinful thing), then you must re-examine a whole range of other issues such as euthanasia and abortion, as well as accepting the fact that you are in direct defiance of the bible (including the verse I included above, as well as others).

Further, you are not only at odds with your own holy scripture and beliefs, you would be objectively immoral for being arrogant enough to claim superiority over another human being based on their beliefs. You cannot say “yes, all atheists are immoral” because that’s tantamount to saying “I, playing the role of god, judge all atheists to be inferior people”.

No – This is your only acceptable answer due to your own theistic beliefs.

ButAtheists are only moral because god gave them morality, regardless of whether or not they believe in god. That’s one possible argument, but here’s why it’s wrong. First, if atheists are moral then atheism is not a sin, which means the rejection of god’s existence is not wrong, which suggests that it is correct or that god doesn’t give a damn. Both are quite likely, but that would raise questions about the validity of religious organisations and holy scriptures, which implicitly and explicitly say otherwise.

Further, all of that is moot anyway because this argument is circular reasoning (a logical fallacy in case you guys forgot). The purpose of bringing up absolute morality is to prove the existence of god. God has not yet been proven so you cannot say that god gave atheists morals yet. You can only accept that atheists either have or do not have morals. If, at the end of this debate, you prove the existence of absolute morality, then you can say you have proven god’s existence (based on this argument – which is not comprehensive), and then after that you can say that god gave atheists morals, which returns you to the first problem I proposed in this paragraph.

But Atheists have no basis for objective morality. They cannot know that a moral is objective without the existence of god. This is the most common route taken. If you watch atheist-religious debates, you’ll often hear the argument follow down this path. If you’ve paid attention to the previous steps, you’ll realise that the reason why (or part of the reason) this argument always turns to this option is because the above options are not viable. No theist can answer any of the above alternatives without breaching their own belief system, as well as that of society and of logic.

Here’s where the fun begins. If atheists are moral but they reject the existence of god, that means that they do not get their morality from god/religion. Again, you cannot argue that they already have morality from god because that takes you back up to circular reasoning. This is tantamount to saying that atheists are intrinsically moral. That means that atheists act morally for the sake of being moral, and not for anything else. However, theists believe that their morality is given to them by god, therefore it is in fact morality given by authority (which, by the way, is not objective). By now, some of you may already see what I’m getting at – but let’s not spoil the surprise.

One of Sam Harris’s examples come to mind, though he used this example to prove a different point. Imagine a classroom scenario. If the teacher tells a child to hit the child next to him, the teacher – as the authority figure – is giving the child an authoritarian imperative. This act would not be immoral in a classroom scenario (yes, the teacher would get in trouble, blah blah – think of a closed system or this example will just get bigger and bigger, but still end in the same result). As the act is not immoral and has come from an authority (if it helps, think of the teacher as a pseudo-god), the theistic child will go ahead and beat up his classmate. The atheist, however, would not. Why? Because the atheist’s morality is not dependant on authoritarian edict. It is intrinsic, as I have said.

Morality can only be morality if it is done for the goodness of its own sake, not because it was given by an authority figure. Therefore, atheists are more moral than theists. The fact that – as the theist puts it – “atheists have no basis for objective morality” is in fact evidence of the atheist’s superior morality. If you want to argue otherwise, you go back to point number one, which will lead you back down to here.

*     *     *

That argument is what I think of as a “logical trap”, in which you force your “opponent” down a path that results in a conclusion suiting your own argument. There are, however, much shorter ways of debunking the whole “where did morality come from” thing.

If you remember Occam’s Razor and Rationalism, you’ll know that god – as the highest possible level of complexity and inexplicableness – is always the last option. Logically, if you have any other explanation, it will be more likely than the existence of god which cannot be explained at all. Fortunately, science not only has explanations, it has very likely ones.

The first I’ll point out is from Richard Dawkins. Morality is evolutionary. That is a fact. It is the reason why moral paradigms have changed over time – even amongst religious peoples. We no longer oppress women as much, nor do we put down the disabled or mentally retarded. Torture and execution are no longer as commonplace, nor is homosexuality as strongly opposed. But most of all, think of this: if murder was not immoral, do you think we, as a species, would have ever come to inhabit large cities? No, that would be stupid. If morality was not part of the evolutionary process, our species would not exist in its current state. Natural selection weeds out the unproductive traits. Even past religions that included human sacrifice were weeded out due to the evolutionary stupidity of such actions – their followers could not propagate because their populations were limited by human sacrifice, and eventually they died out.

The second is one that appeals more to reason than any specific science. Do you really think that if tomorrow we proved that the bible was fraudulent, theists around the world would start killing everyone they see? And if any theists are reading this – do you think that if your own beliefs were disproven, you would revert into an out-of-control sinner? If you do, I feel sorry for you. Your identity and morality should not be that fragile.

As usual, I hope this post hasn’t offended anyone religious. The goal was really just to demonstrate logic at work.

In 5 billion years, the expansion of the universe will have progressed to the point where all other galaxies will have receded beyond detection.  Indeed, they will be receding faster than the speed of light, so detection will be impossible.  Future civilizations will discover science and all its laws, and never know about other galaxies or the cosmic background radiation.  They will inevitably come to the wrong conclusion about the universe……We live in a special time, the only time, where we can observationally verify that we live in a special time.

– Lawrence M. Krauss

Just imagine – a day when the skies are completely black at night and no matter how advanced technology gets (if classical physics is right and light speed is the max), they will never know anything about other stars or galaxies. The only evidence that they ever existed would be old stories. Mind blowing stuff.

By the way, I’ve heard a question in response to this quote basically wondering how the galaxies can be receding faster than light speed if light speed is the maximum. The reason is because the receding of galaxies is not “physical” travel through space, but rather it is the expansion of the fabric of space-time. Those familiar with science will understand this. If it helps, imagine two dots on the surface of a balloon. As you inflate the balloon, the two dots move farther apart because the surface of the balloon is expanding, but their physical locations on the balloon is still the “same” (i.e. the dots aren’t moving along the balloon, they’re still where you put them – it’s the surface of the balloon that’s stretching).

As promised, the science joke. It usually opens with some sort of problem (anything really), in which a scientist is brought in to solve the conundrum. The punchline then follows with the scientist proclaiming “I have the solution! But it requires spherical chickens in a vacuum” (where chicken can be replaced for something more contextually appropriate).

Basically, the joke is that scientists can theoretically solve anything, but the practical application of their work is often hindered greatly by physical effects (such as resistance, gravity, etc.). Hence, spherical chickens (a sphere having equal distribution of forces applied on its surface) and in a vacuum (where there is no resistance). More broadly, and in the context of my previous post where I mentioned this joke, it refers to the need to make some simplifying assumptions for any science to be done at all. There’s no way to make any sort of progress by accounting for everything at the same time (which is why there still isn’t a grand unified theory). Some might say this undermines the credibility of science. I claim the exact opposite – it’s so precise that it only works in certain situations; but when you combine different scientific models/theories, you get a whole bunch of really accurate explanations that can account for a much wider range of scenarios. It’s certainly more academic to limit your parameters than to say “oh yeah, it works for everything; no explanation required”.

This nerdy joke has appeared on The Big Bang Theory.

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