Tuesday, April 10, 2012
Ten Fun Facts Writers Should Know
By OFW editor: Renée Miller
Published: April 01, 2012

Fiction writers not only provide entertainment, but we also have an opportunity to impart knowledge. Why some writers don’t take advantage of his opportunity is anyone’s guess, but I firmly believe we should at least stop perpetuating misconceptions. Sure, you can have a character state something incorrectly, but let’s make sure the reader knows it’s incorrect. Here are a few bits of misinformation I’ve read in my life. Maybe you have a few more?

1. Henry VIII did not have six wives.
Yes, Henry VIII was involved with six women, but he officially only had two wives, not six. How is this possible? Okay, let’s take it from the top.

His marriage to his fourth wife, Anne, was annulled because the marriage was never consummated. Anne was also engaged to marry the Duke of Lorraine, which would have made the marriage null anyway, because marrying someone while betrothed to another just wasn’t done in Henry’s day. We’re down to five wives.

His second marriage to Anne Boleyn was declared illegal by the pope, because apparently he was still married to the first wife, Catherine of Aragon. That brings us to four.

Henry, being king and the head of the Church of England, declared that his first marriage was invalid because he couldn’t sleep with his brother’s widow. He declared the same thing with his fifth wife, Catherine Howard because according to him, she was sleeping around. Anyway, that brings us to two wives. Number three and six, Jane Seymour and Catherine Parr.
2. Chameleons do not camouflage themselves, so stop using that stupid cliché.
Have you ever watched a chameleon? I mean, really watched it? They actually don’t blend in very often. The reason they change color is not because they want to blend in anyway. They do it primarily because of their emotional state. At some point, it’s a given that their mood will match the drapes, no? Chameleons change color when threatened, mating, and when they’re pissed off. Blending in serves little purpose for them. First, their prey (insects) has poor eyesight and second, they don’t have any natural predators because they’re an apex predator. So please, stop describing characters as chameleons unless they tend to change colors based on their emotions.
3. Darwin did not say we evolved from chimps.
Most of you probably already know this, because many fiction writers are obsessed with evolution theories (that’s what I tell myself anyway to justify my constant reading on the subject), but I’ll clarify because I’ve read scenes in a couple of novels where a character refers to the man evolved from chimps theory as Darwin’s. Never, not once, did Charles Darwin ever imply that we evolved from chimps. Actually, he never implied we evolved from apes at all. The theory of Evolution via natural selection basically states that Homo sapiens (that’s us) share a common ancestor (that lived more than five million years ago) with all members of the Ape family. This common ancestor is an organism that evolved from squirrel-like tree shrews. There are later theories which make the connection between humans and chimps, but these did not come from Darwin.
4. Satan’s number.
It is not 666. So you all can stop leaving seat 666 vacant and skipping house number 666 (although we all know if your house is supposed to be 666). Satan’s number is actually (according to people who study this shit) 616. Apparently it got lost in translation. The number comes from the book of Revelation. But in 2005, someone came across a translation of the earliest known copy of the book of Revelation, which states (quite clearly apparently) that the number is 616, not 666. The approximately 1,700 year old text was recovered from the city of Oxyrhynchus, in Egypt, and deciphered by a palaeographical research team from the University of Birmingham, UK.

5. The sky in ancient Greece was not gold or bronze.
I've read novels set in ancient Greece, where the sky is described as golden or bronze, and I wondered, but thought perhaps it was golden. But later I learned that it wasn't, and that this is a common misconception. So, in the ancient Greek language, they had no word for blue. The sky needed description though, so they used the nearest words to blue they had. Glaukos and kyanos, are expressions pertaining to relative light intensity rather than color. When ancient texts refer to a bronze sky, they meant that it was bright, like the sheen of a shield, rather than bronze-colored. The ancient Greeks described things based on other qualities too. When a word is used that you or I would interpret as yellow or light green, they meant that it was living, fluid or fresh, because they had no words to describe plants, blood, animals or the sea. It would appear to us that the Greeks were referring to all of these things as yellowish, but that’s because of the difference in how things were described. Now you know.
6. There are more than five senses
So, Aristotle identified the five senses we know; sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch, but scientists now agree there are at least four more official senses. Some scientists believe we have as many as fifteen senses, and believe hunger and thirst should be included. The four they can agree on? Thermoception is the sense of heat, or its absence on your skin. Equilibrioception is our sense of balance (determined by fluid-filled cavities in the inner ear). Nociception is the sense of pain. Proprioception is the conscious knowledge of where your bits and pieces are without looking. So close your eyes and wave. You know where your hand is in relation to the rest of you, even with your eyes closed. That’s proprioception. Cool. So now when you’re writing, you’ve got more to work with when creating texture and color for your story.
7. In Columbus’ time (Medieval), people did not believe the earth was flat.
I’ve read many historical novels in my time, and usually, this isn’t even mentioned. Once or twice though, I read (and believed) that people living before Columbus did his big old journey across the ocean, thought the earth was flat. Well, that’s wrong and so was the reason many books give for his journey. Since about the fourth century BC, pretty much no one, anywhere, has believed Earth was flat. This misconception might be largely blamed on the book “The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus,” written in 1828, which stated that Columbus set out to prove the earth was round. What everyone failed ot remember is that the book was fiction. Not true life. Most cultures of the world at the time had already worked out through math or just observation, that the Earth was roundish.
8. Moths are not attracted to light, so stop using this cliche too.
Moths are not drawn to light at all. Moths use natural light sources, like the sun and the moon to know where they’re flying. Basically, the light tells them which end is up, and helps them to fly in a straight line. When we come along with our bad selves, and light a candle or whatever, it confuses the poor bastards. They think they’re moving in a curved path, because the direction of the light source has suddenly changed. So to get their shit straightened out, they try to change their trajectory, but with the artificial light source being so close, the only way to do this is to fly around in circles. Bonus fact: Moths are not to blame for eating your clothes. It’s their larvae (caterpillars).
9. The equator plays no role in plumbing.
How many of you believed that the toilet flushes different directions in places like Australia? Don’t feel bad, I believed it too. I’ve certainly read this fact enough times. Well, maybe Aussie toilets do flush opposite to my toilet, but the reason is not dependent on which side of the equator you are on, but on the shape of your toilet bowl. The belief that Coriolis force (created by the earth’s spin) is what makes toilet water swirl is just not true. Coriolis force influences bigass, long-lasting weather patterns like hurricanes. It also influences ocean currents. But sadly, it can’t affect your plumbing. The direction of toilet swirl is determined by the shape of the bowl, the direction in which water is ejected into the bowel when you flush, and by the tiny tornadoes started when the flushing action begins.
10. Camels do not store water in their humps.
If you all would stop referring to the water in a camel’s hump, I’d appreciate it. It shouldn’t annoy me as much as it does, and really, there aren’t a lot of stories that call for camel facts, but still the few writers that tackle camel themes get this wrong. Camels store fat, not water, in their humps. This fat is used as an energy reserve. Water is stored throughout their bodies, just like it is in ours, but it is stored predominantly in their bloodstream, which is how they avoid dehydration. Camels can go about a week without water, but when they do drink, they go to town, drinking up to fifty gallons at a time. This may be how the misconception about their humps began, but if you hadn’t drank anything in a week and you’re all covered in hot sand and whatnot, wouldn’t you be thirsty?

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