Writing Techniques: Place Names

My strategy for place names is similar to my strategy for character names, which I previously discussed in a blog post here.

By similar, I mean it is almost exactly the same, but there are some nuances worth discussing.

I know a lot of folks trend more toward the “don’t sweat it” when it comes to names for characters or places, but I fall more into the opinion that names are important for characters and for places. I think a good name is indicative of the place/character it is bestowed upon, and thus should be selected with care. But if you’re poring over name websites or google translate for 100000 hours trying to whittle a list down to the “perfect” name, it might be time to relax a bit.

For places, my strategy is a bit simpler than it is for names, but the technique is generally the same. There are 2 websites I rely on to help me concoct place names, and they are:

Google Translate (lots of options and more in-depth)
Indifferentlanguages.com (Presents choices in list-form, which is a bit easier to read/use)

Essentially, I analyze the place I am trying to name and pick out certain characteristics – like, is it rural/urban, are there mountains, is it defined by a certain landmark, what sort of people live there, etc. – and then look up related words in Google Translate or on the other site. Sometimes I have to go to other sites to translate character-based languages, but these two are the sites I utilize most frequently. For example, if the place is a snowy, northern city with a small population, I’ll see what “cold,” or “ice” or “desolate” mean in various languages, and try to align my choices so that the name sounds indicative of the place, if that makes sense. Often, I’ll combine two or more words – like, “ice town” could be Ledoras, a combination of related Serbian and Romanian words. Sounds like a plausible name for a city or a town; or a Middle-Earth elf.

Lastly,  I google the end result just to make sure I’m not accidentally swearing or using a questionable term. And wherever possible, I like to throw in an umlaut or an accent mark. I love a good umlaut.

I also think it’s a better idea to select/create names that are going to be at least somewhat easy to pronounce. But that’s a personal preference.

For I’m With You, the names of the Empiryan cities were mostly rooted in Latin with a couple of exceptions, like Kelvar, which I made up so long ago I genuinely couldn’t tell you where it came from (though, in retrospect, it is very similar to “kevlar” but I stand by it) and Terra Speranza, which is a combination of Latin and Italian, loosely meaning “Land of Hope.” For example, Fortisan is derived from the Latin term for “strong.” Postremo means “lastly,” or “and finally,” since it’s their first stop after a long train journey. Mount Gelu means “ice,” Silex means “flint,” Econtra is derived from “conversely” or “opposite” Fomeus means “smoke-filled,” and Organum has a dual-meaning, as in “organ” (instrument) and “organ” (part of the body) because the town itself is vital to certain characters. That’s the gist of it, anyway.

For the nation of Selva (which means “wood”), I mainly used Italian, even though Selva is an amalgamation of various places/cultures and not profoundly influenced solely by Italy. I also used a certain theme when it comes to the city/town names… Pero means “pear.” Fragola means “strawberry.” Mela means “apple.” That should make the theme clear. I couldn’t tell you why I named the cities and towns of Selva after the contents of a fruit bowl, but I’m fond of it.

It’s easy to get stuck on the details of writing, like names – or get so preoccupied with character names and personalities that the development of the setting/place names get tossed onto the back burner. It doesn’t have to be a hassle or an inconvenience to choose names for particular sites or settings in a story; it can even be a lot of fun, paring down options and trying out different word combinations, figuring out what to call the places that have already taken shape in your mind. Naming, though it’s not as major as actual plot development, helps to give the place/setting life – and outside resources certainly help to make the process easier.

The Woodpecker

I have always had a complicated relationship with birds.

I actually think birds are pretty awesome; I mean, they come in so many shapes and sizes! Penguins are the bomb, owls are rad, falcons are fierce, and hummingbirds are adorable. I especially LOVE pigeons; whenever I travel to different cities, I make sure to take several pictures of the local pigeons. I think I have 100+ photos of pigeons from England/France alone. The bird population could maybe take it easy on my car, though; I get a bit tired of seeing white splotches and streaks all over the exterior of my beloved Nissan, especially after I have literally just gone through the car wash.

However, there is one bird that I consider to be my eternal nemesis. A bird that will never, ever earn my admiration. My feud with this particular avian menace began in the spring of my final year of college. It was a cool morning, just shy of 6AM, and I was sleeping soundly, likely dreaming of finals and finally earning my degree after 3 arduous years…

…and then I was awoken by the sound of a jackhammer on my roof.

At least, that’s what it sounded like. A relentless drilling, so loud it echoed throughout the entire second floor of my house, preventing me from slumber. The source of this noise was not immediately apparent, and after about twenty minutes or so, it stopped. Sadly, I was now too awake to fall back to sleep, so I just roused myself out of bed and watched Spongebob reruns for 2 hours until I had to go to class.

However, the sound returned the following morning, and the morning after that. Same general time frame. Same obnoxious, head-ache inducing frequency. After the third day, I managed to puzzle out what was causing the sound, and it was not, in fact, a tiny man with a jackhammer terrorizing my roof.

It was a woodpecker.

Now, I have absolutely no evidence of this, because I never actually saw the woodpecker, except for the flutter of wings as it retreated to the refuge of the forest behind my house. It was drilling in a part of my roof that I couldn’t see properly without a ladder or rocket boots, though it sounded like it was slamming its beak directly into my brain.

But I don’t know what else it could have been if not a woodpecker, so I’m assuming my Sherlockian deduction was correct. I also didn’t know how to make it stop. After doing a bit of googling and research on woodpeckers, I settled on a method for dealing with this problem: doing literally nothing while hoping it would just go away. Sadly, this method did not work, as the woodpecker continued its assault on my roof for many mornings to come.

This rage-inducing situation – of being awoken every morning by the presence of a woodpecker – began to take a toll on my mental state, shortening my temper and limiting my patience in other areas of my life. I vented about my woodpecker dilemma to friends and coworkers at my university’s writing center, which they found very humorous. Admittedly, if I hadn’t been the one suffering, I probably would have thought it was hilarious, too.

But I was not laughing. The sleep-deprived days and groggy mornings continued to accumulate, until, one morning, I finally snapped.

While this was going on, I tried not to structure my schedule around the inevitable woodpecker wake-up call every morning, as it wasn’t always feasible to go to bed early. On this particular morning, I’d been up late the previous night working on a draft for a project since I didn’t have an early class to wake up for. A certain avian demon did not get this memo and promptly began its morning routine of hammering its beak into my roof, this time at half past 6 in the morning.

This time, I retaliated. Or, rather… I tried to. I didn’t so much breathe fire as I blew a lot of a smoke.

Determined to make the feathery fiend stop, I stormed downstairs, stomped into the kitchen, threw open the back door, and flew down the steps into my backyard, trying to get a glimpse of the creature. With little restraint, I unleashed my fury.

“SHUT UP!!!!! JUST SHUT UP!!!! I AM TRYING TO SLEEP!!! FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, STOP IT!!!”

Alas, this verbal assault happened to occur when two of my neighbors were outside with their dog. Dressed in my Batman PJ pants and a “Yankees Suck” T-shirt, I met their inquisitive/bewildered gaze across the fence, then offered them a sheepish smile. Even the dog looked a little spooked by my behavior. To explain, I pointed to the area of my roof where the woodpecker had decided to wreak its ungodly havoc, and informed them, “It’s a woodpecker.”

They just nodded, offered uncertain smiles, looked at me like I had sprouted an extra limb from my head, then went back into their house. I never interacted much with these neighbors; in fact, that might have been the only time I ever actually spoke to them in my 3 years of living there. If so, I can only imagine what their ultimate impression of me was. “Crazy Woodpecker Girl,” no doubt.

So, with my tirade completed, I slipped back into my house, brewed my morning coffee and poured my morning cereal, and calmed down. The woodpecker had ceased its torment, and I went about my day. I think yelling at the bird was cathartic, in a way; I felt much calmer after the confrontation. Perhaps all I needed was to scream a little and let out my frustration. Not always the healthiest method for approaching a problem, but in this case, it seemed to help.

And the next morning? I was effectively woodpecker free after two weeks of agony and I never heard from it again. I know the timing of my freedom was probably coincidental, and the woodpecker was not frightened off by me shrieking at it – but still, I like to think it was. And this experience (plus some hindsight) showed me a few things; sometimes, endurance and adaptation are the keys to weathering a tough situation. Or sometimes you just need to yell a bit. Either way, the storm will pass, even if the downpour seems too heavy and the lightning just won’t cease. Just have patience, and learn to evolve in order to properly deal with the cards you are dealt.

 

Writing Rewind #4: Wings of Fate Chapter 2

Last time on Writing Rewind we got a kickstart into this bloated disaster of a story as our hero, Heiwa, received a letter imploring him to attend a mysterious meeting. Is he finally about to embark on the adventure he’s always dreamed of and achieve the chance of a lifetime? Probably. I mean, there’s still 200,000+ words to go, so something obviously happens.

To set the scene, since I skipped over some exposition to get to the first selection for this chapter, Heiwa is at the airship base with his new friend, Daisuke, whom he met on the way. Along with several other members of the military who received the same strange letter, they are now waiting for the mysterious meeting to begin…

Without further ado, here we go!

KEY/GUIDE:
Strikethrough = cut out
Highlight = rephrase/reword/awk
Blue highlight = minor additions
DANGER RED HIGHLIGHT= massive cringe

ch2first

….Lord, I need a drink. We’re getting into character descriptions. This is going to get messy. I wonder how many “tall and muscular” male characters I’ve got in this; I’m sure it’s several.

So, here are my initial scans…

ch2firstchanges

It’s hack n’ slash time!!!

Per usual, all of this can be condensed a considerable amount – there are ideas expressed in 2 to 3 sentences that could have been accomplished in 1. Also, there is a lot that needs to be rephrased for clarity and to fix some clunkiness.

And here is the fixed version:

ch2firstfixed.PNG

The three paragraphs have been shaved down to two, and the descriptions – of both the setting and our new character, Kaminari – are much more concise. Not every detail spelled out, but just enough to (hopefully) paint some sort of a picture.

Further along, we have this gem:

ch2second

I think it is quite obvious that I did not know what I wanted the airship to look like, so I threw some random features into the description and hoped that was enough. Also, “unmei” means “fate” or “destiny” in Japanese… see what I did there? It’s like when they say the title of a movie in the movie!… I’ll see myself out.

So, here are my pinpointed corrections…

ch2secondchanges.PNG

Literally cannot believe I used the word “radical” in this context. Daisuke’s dialogue is going to generate a lot more cringe as we go along, because if I remember correctly, he has a “surfer dude” style of speech that comes across as completely terrible.

Also, there’s a lot of trimming to be done here, some punctuation tweaks with the last bit of dialogue, and a few sentence removals to eliminate unnecessary or redundant ideas.

So here’s the fixed version:

ch2secondfixed

A bit clearer; less bogged down. I slimmed down the description of the airship because it does get explained (in painstaking detail) later on, and I’ve chopped out some needless words and sentences, because this entire segment is dragged out wayyyyyy too long. I think this version is still relatively coherent, despite the changes.

Moving on bring us to…

ch2third

We meet the general again; the fellow from the prologue! It’s all falling into place now! I think he’s a cold, intimidating guy, but not sure what would have given that impression…

ch2thirdchanges.PNG

We’re getting into the nitty-gritty of the mission (with is super improbable, but whatever) now, but the major issue in this selection is obviously the character description of the general, Matthias – who is a main character, if my deliberate pandering failed to make that clear. He was my favorite character at the time that I wrote this, and that should be obvious by the amount of superfluous detail I provided on his appearance, and my constant mentioning of his “cold” personality and features. There are some other issues to address, like the typical wordiness to eliminate and sentences to rephrase, but the character description is the glaring one.

I’m all for character descriptions in stories, whether they be gradual or spelled out at the start, but I definitely now lean more to the side that they should be as brief as possible if it’s all going to be dumped in one place. Outfits do not needs to be described down to every last button or thread, and hairstyles do not need to be detailed down to every last hair. Simple is best, for most cases.

Here is the fixed version:

ch2thirdfixed

I probably could have shaved the character details down even more, but it’s definitely less wordy than the previous version. I’ve described Matthias without going too overboard. I also cut down on some of Dr. Black’s (the mastermind of the mission) speech about the mission. Exposition is still important, but the more to-the-point it is, the better, and it was getting a bit rambly.

Speaking of rambly… there is one more paragraph of description for Matthias…

ch2fourth

Wow. That is bad. That is a paragraph straight out of the “what not to do” manual of writing character descriptions; literally an entire paragraph about how cold his eyes are, which was already stated IN HIS PREVIOUS APPEARANCE. Good lord, based on this description his eyes could join the Justice League! This illustrates the very definition of ad nauseam.

So, these are my proposed changes:

ch2fourthchanges

It is all cringe-worthy and it all NEEDS TO DIE.

So, there is no fixed version to post, because it was razed entirely. It is gone FOREVER, sliced from existence, and I hope it burns.

Lastly, we have this segment:

ch2fifth

Same old, same old – wordy and awkward. Nothing too terribly major, but improvements can definitely be made. It’s time to bring out the axe and the red pen…

ch5fifthchanges

“Brown eyes twinkling in the winter sun” probably should have earned a red highlight, but I think the previous selection was enough cringe for today.

Also, a “confidential meeting” of this nature probably shouldn’t have been held outside during the day, where outsiders could possibly hear. Security is tight and the base is well away from the city itself, so it could be plausible, but if I were doing a complete rewrite, I could probably have held the meeting inside the hangar as opposed to the outside.

ch2fifthfixed

The edited version is a bit simpler, but still gets the point across. So far, this series has definitely been an exploration in being succinct – or significantly less verbose.

And there we have it; chapter 2 was finished all in one post, though I assure you, there were many more opportunities. Now we know that the mysterious mission is a year-long adventure on an amazing airship, though details are still sparse! Next time, we venture onto chapter 3, where Daisuke attempts to convince Heiwa to go along on the mission, despite his obligations at home. Will he succeed?!? Spoiler alert; he does. Wouldn’t be much of a story is Heiwa stayed home, would it?

Stay tuned for Chapter 3: The Hardest Decision. I have my trusty axe ready to chop, and I’m sure I’ll need it a lot.

 

Writing Rewind #3: Wings of Fate Chapter 1 Part 2

I can feel a headache brewing already… which means it’s time for part 3!

Last time, we met our beloved hero, Heiwa, who lives in the countryside with his grouchy grandmother and his terminally-ill mother. Now, we get the first taste of the plot, as Heiwa receives a mysterious (and likely poorly written) letter…

KEY/GUIDE:
Strikethrough = cut out
Highlight = rephrase/reword/awk
Blue highlight = minor additions
DANGER RED HIGHLIGHT= massive cringe

HERE WE GO! To set the scene, Heiwa just got some mail…

ch1p2first

I mean… I invented a new branch of the military for this story, and that probably was… erroneous. Definitely would have applied a different tactic if I were writing this for the first time today, but I’m not going to delve too deeply into it, because it would require a massive overhaul. Regardless, on a superficial level, I could definitely improve the way my fictional military branch presents itself. That letter is just a big ol’ ball of NOPE.

Here are the changes I pinpointed…

ch1p2firstchanges

Ahhhhhh, so much to cut out, so little time! Well, actually, I do have time; that’s why I’m doing this. Anyway… like so many parts before this, it suffers from “Too Much Detail” syndrome, and the only cure is extensive slashing. The letter is way too verbose, and there’s also some phrasing to rework, but nothing that major (for once).

Here’s the fixed version:

ch1p2firstfixed

Short, sweet (I guess), and to the point. Well… the point was for the letter to be vague, but intriguing. And the shorter it is, the better, so not to over-emphasize.

Later, Heiwa is watching television with his mother… in WAY TOO MUCH DETAIL. But we do learn a bit about Heiwa’s deceased cliche – I mean, father.

ch1p2second

In ninth grade, I obviously did not know the difference between “interlude” and “prelude.” So, that’s great. Also, I think Izumi has “smiled weakly” three times in this chapter alone, and TWICE in this segment. Good grief.

My initial scan yields this:

ch1p2secondchanges

Again with the emerald orbs!!!!! GAHHHHHHHHHH!!!!

Anyway, per usual, there’s a lot to rework to fix some awkward phrasing and general issues, and a couple of cringe-worthy and superfluous sentences to axe.

Here is the fixed version:ch1p2secondfixed

Much more concise, and nothing was lost. It’s easy to get caught up in the mentality of trying to ensure the reader knows EXACTLY what you are trying to day, but really, I think it’s more about providing the framework, and allowing them to build their own mental picture around it. You don’t need to provide them with a fully-furnished house and try to convey each little feature in painstaking detail. There’s a balance to be had; a balance that eluded me way back when…

Lastly, to bring chapter one to a close, we have our hero reflecting on his day…

ch1p2third

WHAT THE ACTUAL F*CK, PAST ALLIE?!?!! I reread this and whispered “oh my god” under my breath about sixteen times. I cringed myself into the next plane of existence. This is utterly AGONIZING, from “jade colored eyes” to “please, star” and everything else. I mean, the concept itself is totally cringe-inducing, but I definitely can make it less so without cutting the whole thing out… though I really, really want to. Sadly, (SPOILER ALERT) the “wishing star” theme returns later… much later, though. So I have time to recover from this.

So, obviously, I was able to concoct some changes…

ch1p2thirdchanges

There’s some of the typical wording fixes to make, but it’s going to be quite a hefty order to make this less cringe-y. Time to grab my trusty scissors (also known as ctrl + x) and get to work!

ch1p2thirdfixed.PNG

Ahhhhhh. So much shorter. So much less… painful to read.

I was a real sentimental fiend back in the day, so there will be more instances of this type of (cliche-riddled, hopelessly optimistic, saccharine) writing as we proceed… I can hardly wait to share it with you. The good thing is, it’s definitely making for a cautionary tale, and even though I can’t actually steer my past self away from this writing, it’s already been a helpful experience to be able to recognize my errors and fix them now, so many years after the fact.

Next time, we learn about the “mission”… sort of. Secrets will remain, but we also get to meet some other members of our main cast! And a certain icy general might make another appearance, so stay tuned for Chapter 2: The Mission. Until next time!

LAST CHANCE!

The Countdown Deal for the kindle version of my YA novel, I’m With You, ends tomorrow morning! The price is currently $3.99!

Here is the link: LINK!

book-cover

In a YA, low fantasy, and vaguely steampunk adventure, follow fifteen-year-old Ciarán Morrigan and his little sister Remiel, who, with enlisted help from a band of misfits, strive to escape their unstable father and the ghosts of their past.

The Kindle edition of I’m With You is now $2.99!

The Countdown Deal continues for the kindle edition of I’m With You – price increases from $2.99 to $3.99 in a little over ten hours! Here is the link to purchase: LINK!

IMG_20170429_152725_395

Follow fifteen-year-old Ciarán Morrigan and his little sister Remiel, who, with enlisted help from a band of misfits, strive to escape their unstable father and the ghosts of their past.

 

 

Countdown Deal still LIVE!

Just a little over five hours left for the first increment of the Countdown Deal for the kindle version of my indie YA novel, I’m With You! Currently $1.99!

Here is the link to Amazon: LINK!

IMG_20170429_152725_395.jpg
Follow fifteen-year-old Ciarán Morrigan and his little sister Remiel, who, with enlisted help from a band of misfits, strive to escape their unstable father and the ghosts of their past.