What’s in a Name?-A name I stole from another Author’s Blog!

image from open clipart.org provided by Astro

 

Rick Polad shared What’s in a Name?  It inspired me to create my version.  And since we both admit we’re crap at creating names (well he struggles, I admit I’m crap at it), I figured I’d steal his title to keep with the theme…because I don’t want to waste time creating another title not because I couldn’t.  


It’s content that matters right?  Except if your title or name sucks, no one will ever get past it and into all the good stuff, which can leave writers stuck.  Even people good with names, can feel stymied by the pressure applied to first impressions.  Bland titles that don’t search well in Google or Amazon.

I have a few thoughts.  First don’t use character names that start with the same letter in a single story. I know Polad speaks about using Rose and Rosie as two different character names in the same work.  I’m thrilled it worked out for him.  As someone with dyslexia it wouldn’t work out for me as either an author or a reader.  Those two names read the same on a casual glance.  Figuring out the characters are separate and keeping them separate would slow my reading down to a snail’s pace.  I might need to make notes.  So don’t make your characters’ names so similar please.  


 I go one further and try never to use names that start with the same letter.  People skim, they don’t read anymore.  I don’t want to confuse anyone kind enough to read my work with names that tangle different characters together into one person.


I also suggest using one name for a character.  I’ve read a lot of books where halfway through characters develop nicknames that are either shorten versions of their full name (i.e. the author tired of writing the full thing out) or the character develops a random pet names.  It’s annoying to keep track a bunch of different names.  Use one name even if it’s not the real name have everyone call him Snake or whatever.  
There is ONE series of books where the author used nicknames to her advantage.  In it she has the main character name those around her after their predominate traits.  It works because it helps us get to know her main character and because the main character’s insistency on these nicknames ends up forcing other characters to adopt them.  The nickname that uses the character’s defining trait becomes how everyone addresses the guy formerly known as Bob.  


I’d like to tell you not to make the name ridiculous, but I use outrageous names all the time.  What I will say is that it’s a balancing act to make names unusual and other names more standard.  Consider when a name might be too on the nose or when one person has a unique name in a sea of bland.

And Now Helpful Resources:
 First is Behind the Name If you’ve got a theme, this site will fill your queue with potential names.  You can search through meanings, country origins, and genders when hunting for names.  All of this can be a sly nod to a reader or something meant only to tickle the author.
My second favorite site is the Fake Name Generator.  Ashley, in writers’ group, gave me this site and now I’m sharing the love.  Identity genorator offers “believable” if you are looking for that living in the real world vibe.  Fill in the specifics you have and let the site give you the rest.  It’s an interesting creators’ tool.  

*Edit 11/7/18 I just found Reedsy has a interesting detailed name generator that offers names for Villains, heroes, mentors, and side kicks.  Or names specific to fantasy races, or names bases off of certain languages.  I still prefer Behind the Name, but Reedsy’s resource has too much possibility to exclude.*

Next I recommend a writers’ group or series of peers.  Ashley gave me a name for one of my characters and she let me know another’s name isn’t “too on the nose”.  Having outside feedback is key to getting into a potential readers’ mindset.  


Last, when all else fails, I bang the keys of my computer and see what rises from the gibberish.  I like grabbing scifi names this way.  
Talk to me.  Do you have trouble creating names for people and places?  Do you have tips, tricks, or favorite sites to help?  Any other thoughts on what not to do when naming a place or person?

Creating Aliens

Photo by Chris Palmer

I’ve read science fiction all my life and, while many of my stories deal with the out-of-the-ordinary in some way, my latest story, tentatively titled “Cold Water” is one of my first forays into aliens, alien planets, and space opera’ish settings.

The story started in a stupid way. One of my writing exercises if I’m stuck on something is just to write stream of consciousness drivel. On that day, I didn’t even write real words. I wrote a string of gibberish: Whee. Sallah-bwii. Sallah-boynda. Then I started imagining this as an alien language and the story started building in head. Of course, at some point, I had to figure out what this sentence meant.

Inspired a bit by the “Soo Soo Sook” line from the water seller in Dune, I decided it was an alien water seller. The line means: “Here! Fresh water! Cold water!” and with that, I started a small vocabulary for my aliens.

The aliens started taking form next. The Chirukh are about one and half meters tall. Imagine a cross between a bearded dragon and the Pokemon Sandshrew. Spiky skin, double-pupil eyes. They have two hands on each arm, a clawed overhand and a more delicate underhand because they evolved from creatures with eight limbs. They are venomous, ritualistically eat their dead, and have a weird defecation habit. Their world has been environmentally devastated and is a hot, radiation blasted semi-waste. But the Chirukh have a certain nobility about themselves and the universe, they are non-violent, gregarious, open to strangers, and believe poetry and mathematics are the same thing. To learn more about them, you’ll have to read the story, but I will discuss a little more about the bits and pieces of their language that I worked out.

Knowing the translation of the water seller’s call, it’s pretty easy to figure out what each word means and a little of their grammar. “Sallah” means water. “Whee” is “here”. “Bwii” is “fresh”, “Boyna” is cold. Adjectives come after the noun they modify.

I only had to create a few words and phrases. This isn’t like Klingon or Dothraki and I’m not a linguist. I just wanted a little flavor and to give a little insight into the alien’s thought process. Knowing they are mathematicians, the next line I wrote was “Gesta chi harra, sallah-boynda ges ii” – “The hotter the sun, the colder the water.” A direct transliteration is “Relationship between sun heat water colder implied causality will be,” which I think has a kind of mathematical notation to it.

One more: “Bu trosh agram-ii ayon mallah kham e” is “My honor it would be your flesh to eat.” I liked the idea that “sallah” is water and “mallah” is flesh because they would rhyme in the Chirukh language. “Sallah gi mallah” is “Water and Flesh.” That syntax is pretty close to Japanese.

All told, I only created a handful of phrases and less than twenty words in my Chirukh vocabulary and, whether the constructs are linguistically sound of not or whether the reader will dig into them, I’m pleased with the internal logic of them and they make my world feel more real.

Question on the Hour: What place does Music have in Your Writing?

 

photo by Amanda Standfield

 

Do you listen to music when you write or is the room dead silent?  Do you use a special mix with specific songs or do you pick a genre and then let Spotify or pandora pick the playlist?  Do you prefer songs with lyrics or are you into pure instrumentals?  Can you write only with music or only in silence?

For starters, my music service of choice is Pandora.  Ever since the service came out, I loved its evocative name and the way the service introduces me to new music has always intrigued me.  Countless hours in college fiddling with the radio settings and “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” different songs, forged a lifetime bond with this service.  I keep some channels so fine tuned that some songs I like don’t play on one station, only the other.  All this personalization is perfect for writing because I can pinpoint what kind of emotion and tempo I want while I write. 

As a general starting place, I listen to pop/dance music when I write.  The fast beats encourage the words to flow fast and constant.  Most pop/dance is repetitive and uncreative (sorry), which helps me get to a state of mind without coloring my prose.  Unless as you read this you’re thinking “oh no no no, don’t phunk with my heart,” Black Eyed Peas make consistent appearances on this channel.  The best part of my dance music motif is that when I get stuck on a certain scene, I can stop writing and start an impromptu dance party!  Nothing drives progress like an endorphin hit.

That said, I have a short story I inspired by one specific song.  To write it, I looped the one song the during the whole writing process—hours of the same song, and I still find that song mysterious and inspiring.  Something about its slow start that transforms to frantic drums and ends abruptly –

For reference, while I like pop/dance just fine but they aren’t my go to genre.  Except Lady Gaga whose amazing, my music preferences just for enjoyment include hard rock, metal, alt rock, grunge, and folk.  Angry and loud or pensive and angst (but never Emo they feels are manufactured).  I like songs I can channel feelings through and release.  Problem with this kind of music is that sometimes it makes me feel too much.  The writing becomes too personal or I’m too busy wallowing in an emotion to refocus on what I meant to do.  I might occasionally listen to a folk or rock station briefly so I can capture that bit of that depth my writing, but I don’t want to live there.  Writing or reading a story that’s all brooding anger and open wounds sounds terrible and exhausting for everyone involved.

Do your music preferences match what you listen too?  If you use a writers’ playlist, what does it reveal about you as a person or as a writer?  Follow up thought: do you longer works have playlist?  What about your characters?  My favorite creation, Roxi, has a playlist and I wonder how many other authors’ creations take on a life of own through music.

Swiping Inspiration

graphic from open clipart.org by qubodup

 

Writing is theft.   Confession time: there are no characters, situations, or concepts in my writing I haven’t lifted from a real world experience.  While anything is fair game for a story, I’m most focused on having “real characters” that a reader can relate to and believe are real while I make a world full of the fantastic these normal people have to deal with.  Because I like character studies, my most stolen tidbits comes from the surrounding people. 

When I talk to you with that over eager, boisterous barrage of questions, I am interested in you, but I’m also pilfering all your experiences and responses to mash up later when I sit down to write.  Do not leave me alone in a room because I rifle through every drawer.  There’s no shame in my cat killing curiosity and there’s no end to it.  Tell me to back off anytime now.  I know my intensity is off-putting, and I try to keep a lid on it.  If we ever meet, I hope you’d never suspect how hungry I am to hear your life story.  How much I want to dig into an abstract hobby of yours.  I want facts I can check to see if you’re the honest sort, but either truth or lies, I’ll incorporate that study to some Frankenstein-esque mash up of you and four other people I met this week.  It’s alive, and the only part I can claim rights to is how I fit the Tetris blocks together.   

What in your day-to-day life do you steal the most inspiration from?  Are your gems personal experiences and past events?  Or do you explore expansive new places, plumbing each place for its local traditions, retooling them to your desires?  Do current or past politics spur you into creative world building?  Are you seeking to recapture old myths and fairytales in an unique way?  Or maybe you dream of technological break through in the present and think of what they’d mean in the future (or what they would mean if delivered to the past)?  There’s so much information offered, rife for a writer to pluck up and entwine into a new story.  How is a creative to choose?  Tell me what you hunt for, what parts of your story are the “most real” and how do you obscure the origins of those tidbits?

Why Do You Write?

image from open clipart.org by Firkin

 

It’s a simple question, but one I’ve found a lot of writers have never asked themselves.

I write because I have stories and I want to tell them.  Compulsion pulls me through where a reasonable person may surrender.  There are days where I think “even if no one ever sees this, I need to complete it.”  That’s an internal part of writing, when an idea gets too big to hold in my head and needs to come out to the page.   There are stories of mine I’ll never seek to publish.  I “had” to write them, but that doesn’t mean they are good or meant for public consumption.  Two, even though they are fiction, just mean personal things I don’t want to share.  Others are artistic dabbles that I either think aren’t good or may be acceptable but not noteworthy enough to go through the work trying to publish.

I write because I enjoy reading but it’s rare I find an engaging story.  Arrogance at it’s finest, to think I can be more unique and captivating that those already published.  What I want is so niche it’s probably not worth creating.  If I’m looking for a gritty urban fantasy with relatable characters, attainable goals, and both good and negative parts of magic and myth running the world, there must be other people looking for that.  Urban fantasy readers can’t all be there for the romance and laughs.  Some of them must be like me looking for the substance.  American Gods exists and was a huge hit.  There are so many other directions a work like that could go that I want to see.

I write as a way for reaching out to others.  As someone shy, nervous, and concerned about other’s feelings and perspectives, there is no better way to broach difficult topics than through fiction.   It’s a lot harder to feel attacked by an idea expressed in an imaginary world than an idea that will affect people now.  Stories create space for people to say “that’s an interesting idea, could it work here?” or “I wonder if issue X is relevant now and what that looks like?”

I write because it distracts me when my anxiety is high.  To a lesser extent: I write when I’m depressed because I need something beautiful or I write when the world spins out of control because writing is all in my hands.  Most writers I know have an element of this.  They are pensive, depressed, anxious, socially awkward and writing mitigates that for them.

I write because it’s one of the few skills I have that makes me proud and leaves me feeling accomplished.  I write because I have something to say and I’m always exploring new ways to express my points.

And now you, the reader, know me better.  Tell me something about yourself.  Are you a writer?  What do you write?  If it’s fiction in nature, why write it?  If you’re a reader, what do you read and why read it?

August Submissions Roundup

We have an ongoing submissions page here.  Back because it seems like our round ups get the most comments.

 

Aug 15th 

 

Strange Constellations– Short speculative stories 3,000-7,000 words scifi-fantasy preference but will take anything that compels pays $30

 

Psycho Pomp Magazine– up to 5,000 words”The Psychopomp Magazine staff is committed to publishing original fiction that dares to redefine traditional storytelling and genre borders. While we like stories that treat the concepts of passages, transitions, and the state of being betwixt and between, we are open to all work regardless of theme. We are generally not looking for traditional realist fiction or pure hard genre.” pays $.02/a word

 

A Punk Rock Future– 350-6,000 words “We’d like to see dystopias, utopias, or something in-between; anything with a punk rock sensibility/ethos; alternative history; the promise of punk; the failure of punk; music-inspired stories; science fiction; fantasy; or horror. No matter the genre label, stories must have a speculative element.” pays $.06/ word

 

Luna Station Quarterly– 500-7,000 words scifi/fantasy with Crones as the main proganist looking for female identified authors pays $5

 

Aug 21st

 

Colp– 1,000-5,000 words anything goes with the theme “Sky is the limit” pay $5 for 2,000 words and $10 for above 2,ooo words

 

Aug 22nd

 

Three Crows Magazine– up to 4,000 words looking for weird dark fiction or gritty fantasy/scifi/horror looking for morally ambiguous decisions pays $25

 

Aug 30th

 

Qulit Magazine– prose up to 8,000 words no genre suggestions pays $100

 

 

Oklahoma Pagan Quarterly– a scary story contest with prize money for Samhain aka Halloween themed stories.  They have more details at their side

 

Apparation Lit– 1,000-5,000 words on the them of the theme of diversion speculative in nature= scifi, fantasy, horror, weird fiction, genderless fiction pays $.01 a word

 

There are a lot more submissions out there, but I cut the list down to what interested me.  Others either didn’t click with my creative muse or insulted my inherent sense of value (I’d do that, but not for the money they’re offering).  Very subjective collection, but I hope it gives others a place to start this month.  Happy writing!