Monthly Archives: December 2016

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what if

What If? A Writing Exercise to Generate New Ideas

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What if you had a foolproof way of finding new and exciting ideas for stories? If you’re like me, sometimes ideas flow like water over the falls, tumbles and tangles of the beginnings, middles, or ends of workable storylines. Other times, though, not so much. When that mighty river trickles to a stop and I despair of ever having the makings of a good story again, there’s one writing exercise I return to consistently: The What If.

This exercise isn’t magic, but it can seem like it, particularly when you’re stumped for ideas.   While you can look online for writing prompts, finding one you like in your genre can be difficult. Because this exercise lends itself to any genre or story length, it’s perfect for any writer.

The “What If” in a Nutshell

This is so simple it’s gonna make you mad you didn’t think of it earlier. Let me walk you through it:

  • First of all, you’re at a loss for a story idea.  Zero. Zip. Nada.
  • You have a favorite genre. This isn’t necessary, but it is helpful. For the purposes of this example, I’ll choose horror.
  • Finally, start with a simple, everyday scenario — like this:

A girl is walking down the street.

Now add your “what if” magic (insert magic wand sound effect here).

  • What if the street is in a bad neighborhood?
  • What if the street is the mirror image of a street in the underworld that runs just beneath it?
  • What if the girl is a shapeshifter?
  • What if she spontaneously shifts shape when a cloud passes over the sun?

You get the idea (pun intended). You can add any “what if” element to your scenario, and I encourage you to do so. Add things even if they seem ridiculous. Since you never know how something, or combination of things, is going to trigger a phenomenal idea for a kick ass story, make sure you write each one down.

Let’s try another one, just for fun. Here’s your scenario:

An old man is drinking coffee at the kitchen table. The sun is shining through the curtains.

  • What if the old man is an alien?
  • What if nanobots have infected his coffee?
  • What if the sun is artificial and the man doesn’t realize he’s living in a simulation?
  • What if the coffee was grown by an enslaved population on the planet Valdez where 12 million die every week to harvest it?
  • What if the coffee is addictive and it’s made from the stomach acid of the deadly Vorblesnox ?
  • Finally, what if there’s only one Vorblesnox left in the world and the old man has it chained in his basement.

Now You Try!

Make your own magic. Get scenarios from real life, grab them off a television show, or enlist a friend to shoot you a sentence or two. Then, unleash the brainstorm that’s brewing just beneath your surface. Just utter those two simple words and turn the most innocuous of scenarios into the sweetest story concept yet.

Go on, I dare you!

See you on the next page!

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what's in a name

What’s in a Name? Character Naming Basics for Authors

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Last week I gave you a whole list of fantastic name generators. Then I got to thinking: It’s easy to generate random names, but they need to fit your character to be effective. You need to explore what’s in a name before looking to a generator, or even your imagination, for the right one. These rules may seem simplistic, but following them will help avoid a character moniker that doesn’t jive with their personality, looks, gender, or position in society.

What’s in a Name — Gender

Let’s face it, in the real world, you’re stuck with the name you’ve got for the most part. In our world, you might find someone with an ultra-feminine name, like Clarissa, as an army general. In fiction, though, you have the option of pairing your character with a name that denotes their personal attributes — or not. In fiction, you might want to name your female general Casey, a much more masculine sounding name than Clarissa. Or, perhaps you leave her with a feminissima moniker because you want to juxtapose her cruelty against her soft looks. Or perhaps she is a new kind of general, one that embraces her feminine side, and this is important to your story. Either way, you’ll need to recognize what’s in a name that makes it seem masculine or feminine so you can choose wisely.

Girl’s names have more vowel sounds, boy’s have more consonants.

Endings like – issa, ella, etta, ah, elle, and just plain “a” usually indicate femininity; consonant endings or endings with “o” or “u” lean more to the masculine.

Here’s an example of a made-up name in both masculine and feminine forms — can you choose which is which?

Norell     Norelle

See how that extra “e” makes the second name seem more feminine? The first choice would be better for masculine or androgynous usage.

Of course, there are many names that are androgynous, meaning they can be used by any gender. Chris, Pat, and Kelly are just a few of these. For more examples, here’s a list that gives you male/female and androgynous versions of common names. If you have a character with a unique gender, or who is gender fluid, an androgynous name might be a good choice.

What’s in a Name — Personality

Who’s more likely to be a girly-girl — Ashlyn or Greta? Who’s more sensitive — Egeh or Cassyon? I’ll bet you picked Ashley and Cassyon for your answers. Do you know why? The guttural “g” sound in Greta and Egeh makes the names sound forceful and abrupt, not the attributes you’d associate with extreme femininity or sensitivity. Consider the personality of the character when choosing a name. Names that sound discordant or guttural are good for abrasive, abrupt or evil characters. Ones that flow can help exaggerate a character’s sweetness, calmness, or poise.

What’s in a Name — Position

Another way to help bolster your reader’s vision of your character is to use a name that conveys the character’s job or position in society. Going back to medieval times when people’s surnames were indicative of their industry, you can name a metalworker “Smith” or a saddle maker “Tanner”. But you can also use these names to convey deeper meaning as well. “Taylor” might mend souls, minds, or rifts between populations. And Bruer (Brewer) might stir up rivalries.

Names are useful to show a character’s rank in society, or the status of the society itself. Let’s look at two names of peoples from the television science fiction series “Defiance“.  There are many sapient species present on post-apocalyptic earth, two of which are the Castithans and the Irathients. If you don’t already know, which do you think is supposed to be more civilized? If you chose, Castithans, give yourself a star. Notice how “Castithan” flows off your tongue. It’s elegant, with sibilant sounds. “Irathient”, on the other hand, makes you think of “irate” or “irritated”, which pretty much defines the culture of this group.

What’s in a Name — Final Points

Names can help you give readers a fuller, more illustrated, view of your characters.  A name can be feminine, masculine, or androgynous. It can help convey personality or status. It can define your character’s mindset, their job description or foreshadow their destiny.

But don’t forget that giving a character a name that is opposite from their actions, looks, or personality can be effective, too. Doing this can have readers pre-judging a character, only for you to slowly and effectively reveal their “true” nature over the length of your story. This type of naming strategy is also useful for throwing a character’s most important attributes into high relief, for instance, naming a particularly evil creature an unassuming or sweet name makes it somehow seem even more evil.

The sky’s the limit when it comes to naming. You’ve got your imagination. You’ve got these great naming generators. And now you have some ground rules, too. What’s in a name? You decide!

See you on the next page!

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name generator

The Name Game: Great Name Generators for Your Next Novel

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A good name generator, if you can find one, is a fiction writer’s dream. After writing tons of stories, sometimes you just get all “named out.” Problem is, it’s hard to find quality generators.

That’s why I’ve compiled the following list for you, with a bit of description so you know why they’re so dang awesome. Whether you need to title a disease, a character, an evil creature or the village square, you’ll find a great source, below.

My Favorite Name Generators

  1. Behind the Name. This one lets you choose male, female  or ambiguous epithets with as many as three middle names, a first name and a last name. The bonus: You can choose to generate your names from some of the sixty languages available, plus ancient languages, and some fictional ones, too. I chose Armenian – Berjouhi Hourik.  Brilliant!
  2. The Seventh Sanctum — Seventh Sanctum is a series of generators to name anything from cat beings to extreme fantasy characters to realms of wonder. You can find evil names, names for settings, names for technology and more. I used the magical phenomena generator and produced a fluctuating power disjunction. Awesome!
  3. Rum and Monkey — This just speaks to my ego. There are a series of generators (ex: viking, vampire, anime, wolf, dragon, superhero, mad scientist — you get the idea) and you decide whether you want a male or female name, then input your own name (or the name of your husband, dog, or best friend as suits your mood) and press click. My dragon name is Omnirok, Bringer of Fire.
  4. Mithril and Mages – Not only does this name generator give you fantasy, western, modern and more, but it can also design a city block, give you a dungeons and dragons scenario, determine your criminal history or come up with name of your next restaurant. I generated a natural terrain feature — Lower Letherby Falls.
  5. Name Generator – Yes, it’s generic, but very useful. This site gives you the usual name generation capabilities plus allows you to generate words as well! That’s where I learned about norrisology and the infamous slabdrill.
  6. Benedict Cumberbatch Name Generator. Because — BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH! I got Blasphemy Curdledmilk, followed by Broccoli Cockletit. You just gotta love it. Gotta.
  7. Oobleck — This site focuses on Victorian or steampunk names. You can choose male or female and from which walk of life you’d like: military, aristocrat, commoner, clergy, and more. I was Inspector Lilly F. Phipps.
  8. Squid — You can find a customized dragon here, or Tolkien-esque names, or book titles, like Inverfora Nocir’s Lexicon on Alchemy or The Tome of Varghani Architecture, by Damarroth of the Wood.
  9. Band Name Generator — You never know when you’ll need a musical group in your novel. Plus, you might even need one for your own present-day band. I don’t know about you, but I’d surely take time to hear a little Fleece Latitude or Condemned Elegance?
  10. Fantasy Name Generators – Not only will this generate thousands of character names, but also plant descriptions (The Coriandrum Comosum is an extremely common, tiny plant and can be found in most subarctic regions. It blooms in late summer. The wide, toothed leaves are usually bright green and it grows huge flowers, which can be purple, light silver and red. They can be used to help relief pain. But, as a defense mechanism, the Coriandrum Comosum taste extremely sour. They rely on animal pollination to reproduce and to promote pollination, they produce a delicious nectar.)                                                                                                                                                                                                              or potion descriptions                                                                                                                                                                                        (To brew a strength potion, gather the following ingredients and follow the recipe with exact precision or risk an uncertain outcome.
    – 1 teaspoon of Mercy Root
    – 3 heaps of Thorn Licorice
    – 1 heap of Tiger Cumin
    – 3 dashes of Viper Saffron
    – 5 tablespoons of Bruise Angelica
    Mash the Mercy Root with whatever does the job for you and put the result in a cup. Next, add some ice, let it melt to turn it into a lumpy cream, then add the Thorn Licorice all at once. Fill a pan with iced steam, add the mixture and slowly bring it to a simmer. Let it steam for a short while before adding the Tiger Cumin and Viper Saffron, all at once of one, then half at a time of the other. Now, bring everything back to a boil, turn of the heat, mix in the Bruise Angelica and let everything rest for an hour, you could do something else in the meantime, like make a potion. Whisk everything with a knife until you realize you look like a fool. Your potion is ready. Store leftovers in a dark, cold place. Like your heart. 


Hopefully, you’ll find what you need from the list above. Heck, you might even find inspiration for your next plot line, a new epic novel, or just a nickname for your dog. Post the most creative or fun name you generate in the comments section, you Bakery Crackerdong, you. (Can’t get enough of that B. Cumberbatch name generator!)

See you on the next page!


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