Writing and Worldbuilding: Things You Love to Hate

Sandspurs.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cenchrus_echinatus

Sandspurs are Evil.

We’re not talking low-level, ow, annoying evil, either. Evil. Tenacious, persistent, sneak-through-the-undergrowth as it hugs the ground and blends in with other grasses, only to sprout thorny balls that can go through socks, shoes, and heavy leather gloves like a hot knife through butter. Like mesquite  had gone undercover as a grass ninja assassin.

You might think anything so thoroughly nasty would have to be an invasive species. Like lionfish in the Gulf of Mexico, fire ants in the U.S. Southeast, or gray squirrels in Britain. Sadly, no. This stabby minion of vegetable evil is, insofar as I can determine, completely native.

(Though it has become an invasive in Australia. Which, whoa. I wasn’t sure anything was nasty enough to do that….)

So, in the interests of making our fictional worlds as realistic as possible, I have to ruefully conclude that any universe we create had better have its bits of Annoying Evil. Maybe it’s a mold that likes to grow in airlocks. Maybe there’s a particular kind of hoof-and-mouth curse that afflicts people who try to catch unicorns. Maybe it’s just that local raven who’s learned that if it waits until your back is turned at the ice-fishing hole, it can pull up the bait – and maybe a fish, too!

Because seriously. Something trying to kill you may be a “Needs Hero!” situation, but it generally isn’t part of the day-to-day ho-hum grind that wears a temper into quivering shreds. No; something actually trying to end your life in a gory pile of claw-shredded hunks is fairly easy to deal with. At least compared to not choking the life out of Brad in the next cubicle over, who’s just squeaked that one chair wheel for the last time.

Granted, we’re writing fiction. So I, personally, plan to keep Annoying Evil to a minimum. Fiction’s supposed to be fun!

But it should still be there. Like the sandspurs.

I wonder if I could use a jewelry torch on them….

 

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22 thoughts on “Writing and Worldbuilding: Things You Love to Hate

  1. Ah yes, the dratted sandspur . . . get it stuck on yourself and discover just how quickly one turns into Golum (we hates it!) . . . I have spent many a time picking the little burrs out of our various cats’ fur. Through sometimes I don’t discover that Scamp had one attached to his coat until I find it in my blankets. Usually by laying on it.

    Annoying Evil needs to exist. If for no other reason than minor obstacles are also supposed to impede your hero. So unfortunately this means not ignoring the existence of stuff like sandspurs. And mosquitos. Or stuff like poison ivy and poison oak . . .

    Or something that doesn’t ordinarily bother you can be bothersome in certain circumstances. Like I’m sure Sinbad (and Simon) discovered that napping (and/or other activities) on sandy beaches often means getting sand in places that sand should never be (or so I’ve heard).

    Or you are handling something small and fiddly and it slips out of your fingers and disappears, taking forever to locate it on the floor. It seldom went far but jeez was it difficult to find.

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    1. Burdock is pretty terrible too. The seedpods are like velcro, and when you try to pull them out of whatever they’re stuck to, they break apart into individual hooks.

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  2. Truth be told, sandspurs look a little better than some of the native plants.

    For example, every kind of spinifex is made entirely of pointy bits, and there’s this one giant grass type thing with pointy leaves, and ridiculously spiky seedpods, all at thigh-height, and sharp enough to go through denim.
    All Australian plants are made of spikes, poison, or both.

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    1. Best quote I’ve ever heard, paraphrased in Around, is in Australia, everything is either poisonous, venomous, or sheep.

      But it’s the little details that make a story! Like, maybe the Hero is crabby one morning of the Epic Quest because he put his bedroll down wrong and slept on a rock. Or the moral of the Army of Righteousness is sapping lower everyday that breakfast is just a dull mush of indeterminate origin or actual cooking time. Or the Ebil Dude just wants the Big Damn Heroes to stop messing up his plans to keep the damn cats out of his lawn without even noticing they’re doing it! Little things make a hero, or a villain, a person.

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  3. > I wonder if I could use a jewelry torch on them….

    The news at 11: Prolofic fan fiction authoress found with jewelry torch in hand, muttering, “I thought it was a good idea at the time.” while observing an active 3 alarm building fire. Fire Marshals aren’t quite sure what caused the blaze, but believe sandspurs were a contributing factor. And now the weather!

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  4. You don’t have to go that far away. Here’s a weed I’ve been fighting with and it is Evil: tarweed fiddleneck.
    http://biology.burke.washington.edu/herbarium/imagecollection.php?Genus=Amsinckia&Species=lycopsoides
    I’ve found plants that get up to four feet long that weave between my garlic plants and if it isn’t pulled when it’s green, the seedpods dry up and stick to *everything*, when green the prickles go through everything that isn’t a leather glove and if even only partially dry it can leave nasty scratches that *itch* for hours.

    Also, did you know there are cactus as far north as Washington state? The one I found was small, only an inch or two tall, but they have spines on them a good three inches long and they’re hard to see in addition to being able to punch through an unwary hikers’ shoe. (I was lucky I hit it with my foot and didn’t actually step on it. I still ended up with a good sized scratch. owww…..) http://derbycanyonnatives.com/2014/native-cacti-of-central-washington/

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  5. It could be worse! Look up the ‘sandbox tree’. If I didn’t know those were an actual real thing I’d think someone was pulling my leg. Bark covered in long, sharp, nail-like thorns. Poisonous sap. *Explosive seedpods*. Nature you scary.

    (Did they name the tree after any of these qualities? No because that would’ve made sense, they named it because the dried fruit casings made for pretty little sandboxes for the kind of a fine sand you’d use to dry ink in Ye Olde Times..)

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  6. You want something nasty for a planet? Try the puncturevine seeds. The name is completely accurate. In college, I had to replace my bike both of my bike tires twice. The first two times, I just had to replace one tire each. The last time they took out both my tires at the same time. And if they get on you ankle where the sock meets the shoe, expect blood. They are EVIL.
    Some pictures: https://www.google.com/search?q=Puncturevine+seed&rlz=1C1LENP_enUS500US500&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwit1uXQxs7NAhVGKB4KHfv3DmEQ_AUICCgB&biw=1366&bih=667#imgrc=CKknlyh2CtUMnM%3A

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