Lorem Ipsum: The Extremes of Good and Evil

Have you ever seen the phrase “Lorem Ipsum” and wondered where it comes from?  I have, ever since ye dayes of olde when I did typesetting with rub-transfer Letraset sheets.  For obvious reasons, we always ran out of the letter “E” in ye goode olde tymes.

But seriously, ever since the 16th century, printers have used the phrase beginning with “Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet” as dummy text to showcase the layout of a piece.  That way, your eyes can take in the design of the typesetting without getting distracted by reading the actual words.  (Unless you happen to read Latin, but we’ll get to that in a moment.)  There’s a rumor that the whole Lorem Ipsum thing is a bunch of random text that lacks any real meaning.  Turns out it does, in fact, have meaning.

The Extremes of Good and Evil

I’m going to digress for a moment to talk about extreme characters.  As we all know, interesting characters are neither chock full of lily-pure goodness nor mustachio-twirling villains with a “Nyahahah!” laugh.  But that doesn’t mean they need to be plain-Jane vanilla, either.

I’ve read any number of unpublished manuscripts where the characters are “ordinary” folk — regular, everyday people that don’t leave much of an impression on the reader.  The late, great Blake Snyder (author of the inimitable Save the Cat books) says you should give your characters a hook and an eyepatch.  Conjures up quite an image, doesn’t it?  And that’s why you should do it.  You don’t have to actually accessorize your hero with pirate paraphanelia, but you should make him an extreme example of the human condition. 

How to Create a Character No One Will Ever Forget

Don’t make your main character assertive — make her bold, brave, even foolhardy.  Make her so focused on getting her way or doing the “right thing” that she steamrollers over her friends, creating conflict and dramatic tension everywhere she goes.

Don’t just make your antagonist deceptive, make him an outright liar.  Give him the gall and cold-blooded calculation to leverage lies to his advantage at every turn, destroying careers and entire families, gaining power for himself and spinning a web of intrigue that will threaten your heroine’s very existence.

See where I’m going with this?  Don’t take the middle ground with your characters.  Go to extremes.  Make these people bigger than life, more intense than the “average” person in every way.  Do that, and you’ll have a story on your hands before you know it.

The Secret of Lorem Ipsum

Believe it or not, the Lorem Ipsum mystery was solved way back in 1914.  Although the exact wording had been scrambled over time by careless typesetters, a Latin professor by the name of Richard McClintock cracked the code.  He traced a fragment of the passage back through history to a treatise on the theory of ethics written by Cicero in 45 BC.  It’s called “de Finibus Bonorum et Malorum,” which roughly means “The Extremes of Good and Evil.”  Here’s an excerpt:

“…occasionally circumstances occur in which toil and pain can procure him some great pleasure.”

Sounds like he might’ve been trying to write a novel.  A crafty fellow, that rascally Cicero.

Do you have a writing question? Need a writing coach to help you solve a problem with your novel? Just ask! And if you try this idea and like it, let me know!

Categories: For Writers, how to write a book, how to write a novel, writing, writing a book, writing a novel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “Lorem Ipsum: The Extremes of Good and Evil

  1. Totally fun tidbit. Love it!

  2. Thanks! Funny enough, I was digging through my office one time and found some old Letraset sheets from my typesetting days. Holy cow are those old school now!

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