Arnie – my hero!

I know it’s probably not wise to admit to really liking big Arnie’s movies but, what the hell, I do! I’m not blind to the challenges he faced in the acting department though. Nonetheless I do admire the fact that he was smart enough to play to his strengths rather than trying to be something he was not.

Let’s face it, could anyone else have played the Terminator better? I think not. Some would say that his success as the Terminator was thanks to clever casting but I prefer to think that Arnie knew his limitations and was not too proud to admit to them.

There are all sorts of deep and meaningful things I could say about playing to your strengths and knowing your limitations but this is a personal blog so I’m just going to say that I learned about some of my limitations over the weekend and I’m not going to boo-hoo about them anymore.

As a writer I know that I am never going to give Shakespeare anything to worry about and I’m pretty sure I won’t be bumping anyone off the bestseller lists either. But. That was never my intention. I wanted to tell a story, a long story, in a way that hadn’t been done before. I still do.

Right from the beginning I knew my approach was risky because stories about aliens and alien planets are usually told from the perspective of a human observer. That human perspective makes the aliens accessible. It also gives the author some very powerful tools to work with.

I chose to tell my story in a different way and so I have had to find different tools to work with. Some work, some don’t but I have decided to stick with some of my choices.

One choice that will probably cause readers a lot of angst is my dialogue.

‘“Apologizing for disturbing important work,” the Messenger said without any trace of sarcasm.’

In normal dialogue this would read as “I apologize for disturbing your important work”.

That is how we, as humans, would say it but the Messenger is not human. It is humanoid but the differences are more than just cosmetic. For starters my humanoid aliens are true hermaphrodites, meaning that they can take on either the female or male reproductive roles. Which role a particular alien takes depends on who wins the mating battle. The winner takes the male role while the loser takes the female role. The consequences to the loser include an almost 100% chance of bearing an offspring. And the consequences of that can be dire.

This kind of biology directly affects the language as well as the behaviour of my aliens. When ‘he’ and ‘she’ have such personal and private connotations ‘I’, ‘you’, ‘we’ and ‘us’ take on a different meaning and context as well.

Still on the theme of biology, these aliens do not have vocal chords or lungs as we know them. Their mouths are solely for feeding. Communication occurs via the cilia which are like the pipes of an old pipe organ. Thus even the most ordinary of speech involves harmonies and discords which are understood as giving tone and inflection to what is said.

Last but not least, the cilia are connected to scent producing glands which reveal the emotions the speaker is feeling. Most adults can control these tell-tale scents but in order to do so they have to try and ‘distance’ themselves from those emotions. This need for distance and control is again reflected in the grammar and phrasing of their speech patterns.

Then there is the question of courtesy. In a strongly hierarchical society courtesy can be a question of life or death. Drawing attention to oneself is neither courteous nor wise and how you refer to someone else can be even more critical.

There is precedent for this extreme courtesy amongst many terran languages as well. The two that I’m most familiar with – French and Hungarian – both have completely separate pronouns and verb forms for saying ‘you’ to a superior or ‘you’ to an equal. [For those interested they are ‘tu’ and ‘vous’ in French and ‘te’ and ‘ön’ in Hungarian. From wiki : ‘Here “you”,[in Hungarian} the second person, is grammatically addressed in the third person.’].

The language of Vokhtan solves this dilemma by removing pronouns from the language almost completely[except for ‘it’ and swear words]. In Vokhtan the word ‘you’ is considered so offensive that it is only ever used as a profanity. So if I, as a human said to the Messenger from the earlier example “Can you direct me to the waste pit?” I would probably be killed on the spot. Vokhtah really isn’t a great tourist destination.

For all of these reasons I made a decision to be true to the biology and culture of my characters in all ways, including dialogue. I’ll be honest, if I could think of a way of making the dialogue easier for readers to understand without losing the biology I would but it’s just not possible. Like it or not the Vokh and the iVokh are real to me now and I can no longer remake them into a more convenient form. So like Arnie, I’m going to play to my strengths and pray like crazy that my future readers will forgive me for making them work so hard!

I wish I could post a picture of what my aliens look like but my artist-in-residence is not happy with the original concept art so my hands are tied. When the Daughter speaks I yank on my forelock and slink away. After all, how many artists are prepared to work for nothing more than a roast dinner?

I know it’s only been a couple of days but I’ve missed you guys and it’s good to be back. 🙂

About acflory

I am the kind of person who always has to know why things are the way they are so my interests range from genetics and biology to politics and what makes people tick. For fun I play online mmorpgs, read, listen to a music, dance when I get the chance and landscape my rather large block. Work is writing. When a story I am working on is going well I'm on cloud nine. On bad days I go out and dig big holes... View all posts by acflory

10 responses to “Arnie – my hero!

  • john malone

    this is an excellent blog: not only because I’m a Terminator fan —- like you say, who else could have played him? — but because like you I play to my strengths NOT my weaknesses. I like it too that you are thinking about your story — that’s what I do once I’ve slammed down the opening [as in the crrent blog]


    • acflory

      Yay! I knew you were a man of excellent taste 😀
      Sometimes I get such a clear picture in my head it all flows, almost without thought but, I must admit I did a lot of thinking about my aliens in particular.

      Speaking of thinking, I read the opening to your new short story and I love the crows. Write more 😀


  • metan

    If a creature or person in a book speaks differently from the norm I prefer it if this is shown through the way the dialogue is written. If it is written just as we speak each day it is too easy to see them as the same as us when that is not the case. It is a bit like that wobbly earthquake article that was visual, not silly.

    If nobody ever tried anything scarily different, how boring life would be.

    The Man and I love Arnie too. He is often quoted in our house, Probably too much! “I’ll be back”, “Sarah Connor” (in the flat Terminator monotone) and so many more. Is inappropriate use of Arnieisms a recognised illness?

    Glad you’re back.


    • acflory

      -grin- Yes, ‘I’ll be back’ is part of our vocabulary too! Daughter and I have been Arnie fans for a long time so whatever you’ve got, we’ve got it too. Hasn’t proved fatal so far 😉

      Thanks for the kind words about the dialogue. And yes, the visual impact of that article is a perfect analogy.

      I know a traditional publisher wouldn’t accept that argument because their job is to sell as many books as possible so making readers work would be seen as a dreadful crime against the dollar.

      Luckily I decided to go indie a while back. I’m sure I’ll still have some heated debates with the editor [once I find one] but some times you have to dig your toes in and this is a line I’m not going to cross. Wow so many cliches in one sentence. :/

      The silver lining to my sook is that I’ve clarified a lot of things in my own mind. Still lots of work to do but I’m not stumbling around in a fog any more.

      Up, up and away!


  • lorddavidprosser

    No, you couldn’t give Shakespeare a run for his money, but that’s because you don’t write the same genre as him. On your own ground he wouldn’t stand a chance against you. Have a little more faith in yourself and if Katie kicks off again, leave the gravy off her meal until she agrees to your demands. After all, the artist in both of you must be fed.


    • acflory

      Lmao! I’m sitting here smiling at the thought of the fireworks I’d get if we had no sauce!

      In defence of Shakespeare I’ve often wondered what genre he would be writing in if he were alive today. After all, he wrote plays that featured the nobility but he presented them to commoners as well. So he knew which side his bread was buttered.



  • Candy Korman

    I’m looking forward to visiting another world in your book — especially because it is from an original POV.


  • Ilil Arbel

    You may not give Shakespeare something to worry about, but you might have given Frank Herbert something to think about. Building a total, complete world is incredibly difficult, and I can think of only a few of my favorites who had succeeded in doing so. In addition, choosing to do so WITHOUT HUMANS is an incredibly brave choice, but you are succeeding in doing so.

    The way your dialogue is working is perfect. There is no reason why the alien dialogue should be like ours – as a matter of fact, if it had been like ours, it would have been a flaw in the concept. The impersonal patterns of speech work PERFECTLY with the repressive, scary society, particularly since the protagonists are using it to hide their thoughts and feelings. It is not all that alien to me even on earth. I believe it was Talleyrand who said that language was given to us to hide our thoughts; remember the times he lived in, and you see the connection.

    The hermaphrodite option had been explored by Ursula Le Guin in The Left Hand of Darkness, but it was done from the point of view of a human, so you are taking it a step further not only by the fact that again, there are no humans, but because of the horrific dangers involved in it. The violence that is added to the act of reproduction, before and after mating, is extraordinarily insightful.

    Glad you are back, Arnie. Keep saying “I’ll be back” and all shall be well.

    P.S. Somebody must speak firmly to your daughter. Her art is marvelous — it brings the aliens to life perfectly — so it’s time to stop being so modest about it. I LOVE it and so does everyone else here!


    • acflory

      Thanks Ilil! Reading Left Hand of Darkness gave me one of those incredible moments when you can actually feel the gears in your mind turning and going down new paths. I still think it is one of the very best science fiction novels ever created.

      This may interest you. When I was researching my aliens I came across a remarkable parallel in earth biology. There is a species of worm that is sort of hermaphroditic so when two of them come together to mate they duel to establish which one will get to deposit its sperm. When I discovered that I knew I was on the right track. 🙂

      The Daughter is studying to become an animator for video game development so she does use her creativity in character design but I’ve been trying to convince her that there are other areas in which she could use it as well!


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