Pocket Full of Words: Holly Lisle’s Blog

5 comments… add one
  • Shane Lees Jan 8, 2021 @ 23:57

    OH WOW! Thank you so much for that in depth response. I forgot to mention an important detail, I am sorry. See when I wrote that I was listening to your podcast. Miami Mice is going to be a graphic novel. I am a sufficient artist to do this. I will get better. However I am not a writer. I’m not even a good one. But I have these amazing ideas and I have to get them out. Which is where you come in. I need to learn how to write mystery, dialog, stage a scene. SOOO much. And I suck at writing.

    Anyways when I just went back to work after spending 2 months residential treatment for anorexia and an exercise addiction. I devoted so much time to my addiction and eating disorder. I am putting that energy into my art. I will be purchasing a membership. Because I need so much help writing.

    Thank you so much for that in depth response. I appreciate it so much because I need a lot of help.

  • Shane Lees Jan 7, 2021 @ 7:12

    I listened to the episode for world building. I am writing a science fiction about mice. It’s 500 years in the future and some rodents are sentient and intelligent. My world is a character in the book. Its going to called Miami Mice. Can world building be over descriptive. Think of Miami, miniaturized and in a sewer.

    • Holly Jan 7, 2021 @ 9:56

      Hi, Shane.

      Worldbuilding done well is always a character in a book, and you’re on the right track in realizing that. With worldbuildng, though, you show. You don’t tell.

      You don’t describe the buildings, the streets, the layout, the way the sewer system works.

      Instead, you use the world, having your mice building little dwellings that have to be engineered around the nightmare flooding during the hurricane season when the area gets even a sideswipe from a Category5. You might have them build tethered submarines or something like that so they don’t all drown.

      Most worldbuilding done by new writers is, in fact, way too overdescriptive. The writer falls in love with the city under the city, and all the work he put into drawing the maps and naming the streets and planting little rodent-friendly gardens, and starts putting in paragraphs where the city isn’t an obstacle his characters are fighting through, but a tour guide of all the cool sights.

      If you’ve ever been on a guided tour, you’re either asleep or gnawing your own arm off by the time you manage to get off the bus. Don’t do that to your readers.

      On a second topic and because if you’re a writer, you need to use the right words to express your meaning, I’m going to point out that “sentient” is the wrong word to describe your mice.

      All rodents are ALREADY sentient. So are all amoebas.

      All humans (with functioning neural networks, anyway) are sentient. “Sentient” means being able to feel and react to neural stimuli, and while rocks aren’t sentient, plants could be sentient. They grow toward sunlight, after all.

      And all animal life is sentient.

      The word you’re looking for is SAPIENT. Human beings and other species capable of observing, reasoning, and changing their behavior based on observation (of LEARNING) are sapient. Sapience comes in different levels, but all thinking beings use the scientific method to solve problems.

      SCIENTIFIC METHOD
      1. Identify the problem or ask a question.
      2. Research.
      3. Create a hypothesis.
      4. Experiment.
      5. Analyze the results.
      6. Conclusion.

      To demonstrate that this isn’t just a human thing, I’m going to demonstrate sapience with my cat, Sheldon.

      Sheldon loves cat snacks, and as a kitten nibbled my elbow to let me know when he wanted one. It was always a dainty little nibble, it was cute, so when he nibbled, I gave him a snack. This was our default state — our PRE-PROBLEM SITUATION.

      One day, Sheldon had already had his limit, but he didn’t know or care (and still doesn’t) about limits. So when he nibbled and I told him “no”, (a word he does know but sometimes chooses to ignore), he nibbled HARDER. Significantly harder – enough so that I decided that behavior was never going to be rewarded again.

      So I yelled at him loudly, and scared him.

      In other words, when I yelled and refused to reward his behavior, he encountered a PROBLEM. And he backed away from me, looked at me, and IDENTIFIED THE PROBLEM, which was “Biting Harder Does Not Result in More Snacks, but Does Result in Loud Angry Human Noises.”

      The little bugger took about ten minutes to sit there, looking at me, during which time he built a HYPOTHESIS, which was MAYBE IF I DO SOMETHING THAT ISN’T BITING, I’LL GET A TREAT.

      He then EXPERIMENTED. He jumped up on the bill box that sat beside my office chair, stood on his hind legs to rest one paw on the arm of that chair for balance, and with the other paw, patted me on the shoulder.

      It was a winning experiment. I laughed, patted him on the head, and gave him a treat. HE ANALYZED HIS RESULTS.

      And then he came to his conclusion Patting works, biting doesn’t.

      And changed his behavior to use the results of his experiment.

      Yes, this is pretty low-level sapience, and I doubt that he could think at a much higher level than that. He couldn’t develop complex tools, or write a novel, or build and manufacture a machine… but he has a provable degree of sapience — of being able to identify problems, formulate and test solutions, and keep the results that work while discarding those that don’t. He can adapt to and modify his surroundings, not out of instinct, but by reasoning.

      THAT is sapience. Yanking your hand back from a hot stove top is sentience. Not touching the stove top again when it’s hot is VERY, VERY low-level sapience, but it is learned behavior, not simply a neural response… so that, too identifies sapience.

      Checking to see if the stove is on before touching it? That’s learning from experience and modifying your behavior to survive.

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