research findings

My Favourite Place for Names

A while back I wrote about names. I offered some stories and strategies I use for coming up with names. What I didn’t talk about, however, was how sometimes names just won’t come. Everything you try doesn’t sound right. Or you aren’t sure where to start looking when it comes to names for people from different cultures. Or maybe it’s not a person you need to name, it’s a place. What do you do then?

Find yourself a name generator.

I have a personal favourite for this task that I wish to share. Fantasy Name Generators was a website I came across while bored browsing the web. The Fantasy Name Generator is an endless source of naming delight. Their random generators touch all corners of your writing needs, from fictional people in a modern setting, to fantasy worlds, and the realm of fanfiction.

Under the ‘Real Names’ section, seekers will find three columns listing generators by ethnicity. The names range from modern to archaic to ancient in some cultures. Within, you can select whether you want a male or female name, as the family names generated are the same for both, you can easily go through dozens of names before finding one that you think fits.

Some warning here though. As some cultures use different writing systems from us and have different naming conventions, it is always best to do some follow-up research on a name. Make sure you have the western spelling right, and maybe ask someone from that culture if the name looks right.

Under the Fantasy Names tab, you get a strange and assorted list. Anything from Amazons to serial killers to vampires to wizards can have their name generated here. You get goblin names like Plyz or Slivak. Detective names like Norah Sharpe or Dan Maxwell. Superhero names like Venombite, or Doctor Smooth Vulture.

Okay, that last one was a bit silly. Some of them are.

The Pop Culture section is a fanfiction writer’s dream. While it’s not as extensive, it does focus on the bigger names: Harry Potter, Dr. Who, Star Wars and such. Great if you’re trying to name that minor original character from your Avatar: The Last Airbender story. Or if you just can’t decide what to name your next World of Warcraft character.

But for some, naming a character is easy. It’s the places around them—the cityies and cafes the parks and mountains—that stump the writer-to-be. Your protagonist could have a date at The Royal Junction or buy their morning brew from Big Boulder Coffee or spend their nights with friends at Club Embassy. Information is exchanged during a foggy night at Sunnyside Memorial Park. The possibilities here are endless.

But that’s not where it ends. Need a title for that catchy tune the bard is always singing? They have a Song Name generator. They’ve got Guild Names and Spell Names and Afterlife Names and Currency Names. Within their “Other” section, you’ll find all sorts of miscellaneous names you never knew you needed!

But this site offers more than just names. Stuck on an idea for your next short story? It offers plot descriptions and prompts. Need an actual idea for a city? It won’t only give you a name, it will give you some history and attractions for you to use as a springboard when you develop your world. The descriptions can be tweaked of course, to better fit your story.

The Fantasy Name Generator is easily one of my favourite resources for names. Here’s hoping it may become one of yours.

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How Not to Write a Novel: A Review in Short

There are a lot of books on how to write novels. Countless titles of tips and tricks adorn the shelves of local bookstores. Yet, the single most useful book I’ve ever read didn’t tell me how to write a novel, it told me how not to write one.


How NOT to Write a Novel by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman provides readers with 200 missteps in novel writing and how to avoid them. Both authors are also editors, combining their years of experience to show readers the most common problems they’ve noticed in manuscripts. They go through each example, detailing why it doesn’t work, and offer a few suggestions on how to fix the problem.

Also, the book is hilarious.

Each misstep is marked by a piece of sample writing, supposedly based on submissions the authors actually received during their time as editors. These samples are groan-worthy, overly ridiculous, and extremely fun to read aloud in your most over-dramatic voice. The amount of snark in the commentary is also incredibly fun. This is one self-help writing book you’ll actually want to re-read.

The advice offered is solid. The authors cover everything: plot, characters, narrative voice, dialogue, world-building, even a few novelties like sex scenes and humour. While they ask you to avoid most everything they show, they do acknowledge that these missteps do work in some genres. And while you may see best-sellers that do everything this book says they shouldn’t, well, Mittelmark and Newman couldn’t have possibly predicted Fifty Shades of Grey, could they?

Now, you may flip through this book and think that the authors are pointing out the obvious. Of course this is bad writing. Of course you shouldn’t do that. How is this book going to help you if you know all of this?

Well, if you’ve ever read fanfiction, you’d know that some people do actually think this is good writing. How NOT to Write a Novel asks you to step back and examine your own work for these flaws. I did, and found I was responsible for taking too long to get into the plot, delving pointlessly into a character’s childhood, and having long trains of exposition with little action.

I’m still guilty of the last one, occasionally.

But I’ve learned more from this book than I have from any other self-help writing books to date. I recommend it to everyone who’s really serious about writing a novel. It’s insightful, hilarious, and you’ll probably catch yourself reading it for entertainment as well as education.

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I’m A Writer, Officer! I Swear!

If there’s one thing that’s important for a writer, it’s research. And sometimes, that research, taken out of context, might make the writer in question seem like a serial killer.

It’s always fun to talk about demented Google searches with my writer friends. Research ranges between us for different stories. Sometimes I’m looking up what the weather is generally like in Sierra Leone. Or what happens if someone dies in prison and the family won’t claim the body for burial. Or the best way to deteriorate a body to remove all trace evidence, followed by the best place to hide the body so it won’t be found for a long time.

Our Google searches prove we writers can skirt a very interesting line. When I asked what my peers had searched up before, I only got two responses, but they were interesting.

“One time I researched how burning flesh and bone is supposed to smell.”—Cindy

“I had to do a Google search for how well a human body would work as fertilizer. Turns out it’s only effective if ground up, as I originally assumed.

Also, in the same day, I had to research how long someone would last with arrow wounds, knife wounds, a slashed throat. And I think, either shortly before or after, I had to do research on chloroform.

I imagine I’m now on some sort of watch list.” –Aaron (Yeah, you probably are.)

Let’s just say you can tell a lot of about which direction a story may go based on what the writer’s been Googling. Granted, I suppose the people who deserve more scrutiny are the ones who have the answers.

Did you Google something really serial killer-ish for research? If you have, you should totally share. It’ll be hilarious.

Categories: musings, On Writing, research findings, This is my life | Tags: , | Leave a comment

The Things Research Brings

Can I talk about the Victorians? You bet I can.

Writing a series that takes place in an alternate version of Victorian era London (with some jumps into other locales) means I’ve had to do research. Whenever you write about a time you never lived in or cultures you’re not part of, you need to do extensive research. Yes, research can be boring. Different topics are interesting to different people—I’m not the most attentive person when it comes to wars and rebellion or science—but everyone can find that one topic that is just utterly fascinating and makes them jitter like a caffeinated squirrel.

One of my chapters required research on Victorian era funeral practices. I haven’t been to many modern day funerals, but I expected Victorian ones wouldn’t be much different.

It is absolutely delightful how obsessed with death these people were. The Ancient Egyptians applaud their efforts.

There were burial clubs, many of which persuaded people to reach beyond their means for the most expensive funerals possible. Families took morbid photographs alongside their deceased loved ones, propping the corpse up like a doll and painting eyes on the corpse’s eyelids. You could get jewelry made with a strand of hair from your dead loved one. There was mourning attire, and you were expected to wear it. They had periods of mourning and half-mourning, which varied depending on how you were related to the deceased. There were superstations that revolved around death: seeing yourself in a dream meant you would die soon, not stopping a clock in a death room brought bad luck, if you didn’t hold your breath while passing a graveyard you wouldn’t be buried.

Death in the Victorian era is absolutely fascinating, but all of these fails to excite me as much as something I learned about only a few days ago.

Death. Nightclubs.

In the late Victorian era, especially in Paris, there were places you could go to celebrate death. The Cabaret du Néant (The Cabaret of Nothingness) served drinks named after diseases and customers drank off coffins and caskets.

Cabaret of Nothingness

There were also two of these nightclubs taking cues from Dante, one being the Inferno and the other being Paradiso. The Cabaret de l’Enfer (The Cabaret of the Inferno) was right next to the Cabaret du Ciel (The Cabaret of the Sky). Both these clubs were decorated and had servers and musicians to fit their themes.

Cabaret of the Inferno and Cabaret of the Sky

I’d have loved to see one of these. It’s fiendishly cool what kinds of things you can uncover with research and what those things will inspire.

Read More Here

Categories: Cool stuff, research findings, Victorian Era | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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