Happy New Year!

A new year brings about many promises and potential to exploit. May you fulfill all your goals in this 2016, and may you become the person you were always meant to be.

And for all the writers and literary colleagues out there, here’s a video to remind you why, even though ours isn’t the easiest job in the world, it’s still THE BEST JOB IN THE WORLD!

 

Writer’s Cafe: An Indie Writers Community

Indie WR

So, it’s been a while since I posted any writing resources here, and I’ve been wanting to introduce this one for quite some time.

Have you ever wished there was a place you could go to have all your important questions answered? I’m not talking about a writing group or critique circle. I’m not talking about the place you go to discuss your plot holes, or the people you ask for advice about narration style, phrasing or showing vs. telling.

No, I mean getting real, hands-on, advice about the publishing industry, about the ups and downs of it, how to publish, how to edit, how to market. Overall, how to sell your books with your budget, in your terms.

Now, those of you who still think a Legacy or Traditional Publisher is the way to go should probably get up and leave now. You must certainly won’t enjoy what’s coming.

But for the rest of you, those who took a look at the distribution of rights in your publisher’s contract and decided there had to be a better option, I welcome you to Kboards! 

KBoards logokboards.com stands for Kindle Boards, and it’s a forum for kindle users and readers in general, with a wide readership and very active community.  Personally, I haven’t really explored the forum in its entirety, and they have a blog and Facebook page I haven’t visited either. To tell the truth, I haven’t felt any inclinations to do it, mainly because there is a small, teeny-tiny corner of the forum I just spend all my time in: The Writer’s Cafe. 

kboards

At any given time, visitors can find new topics in this place, ranging from covercritique, to pricing advice, to independent editors offering their services and promo reports being given. Sales figures, progress charts, how-tos and whys. Numbers, people! Those numbers that seem so terribly elusive in anything to do with legacy publishing, are swarming the posts and comments on kboards.com, coming from people with real indie-publishing experience and years in the market. Most users have links on their signatures to their published books, websites and personal communities for you tocheck out and anyone is welcome to come in and soak on the fountain of knowledge of this site. No topic is too outrageous and there is no dumb question. The Writer’s Cafe is, overall, a community dedicated to support each other through the ups downs of indie publishing, and to make sure no newbie goes out to the real world blinded by his own expectations of what it’s possible and what it’s not.

Indie Publishing is not a dream, is not a lottery and it won’t make you a million in your first year (neither will Trad Publishing, by the way). It’s a difficult path to thread and only the truly business-minded writers can handle the amount of investment in money (editing fees, cover design, promotion payments…) and time (never, never, never stop writing!) that this endeavor entails. However, for those brave enough to give it a try:

WRITER’S CAFE: AN INDIE WRITERS COMMUNITY 

The Right Name Makes a Difference! (Part 2)

Hi, everybody!

Yesterday, I gave you PART 1 of this post about naming and the importance of it. We discussed the specific questions that writers needed to ask themselves before considering how to name their characters. Issues like Ethnicity/Nationality and Timeframe, play a major part in the process of naming your character, and should definitely be taken into account.

Today, we are going to discuss different approaches to finding (and creating names), and I’m going to show you a simple, effective way I use to create Fantasy names (Super Special Bonus!).

So, now unto the juicy stuff…

Question #3: Where to look for names? 

This one is probably the easiest and yet hardest question of the bunch. There are several naming resources available for writers to chose from. And all of them have their advantages and disadvantages.

Approach 1: The Baby Name Book

You have an assortment of hundreds of baby names books swarming Internet and libraries, that go from your typical Christian names, to names derived from historical personalities, celebrity names and names created with a Science-fiction inspiration (seriously, I’m not kidding).

You have literally hundreds of choices in bibliography, and every book carries at least 1000 names. Some go up to 100,000!

This are a very good choice, because they not only give you the name, but also the origin, and sometimes they offer the form of the name in other languages (in case you want to change it a little bit)

The problem I see with this approach: It’s too time consuming. You have to browse hundreds of names in order to find the one you like, and most of the times there are names that are just too weird for anybody to use. So you waste a lot of time trying to find what you are looking for.  


Approach
 2: Online Name Generator. 

This one is a very good choice. If you type the words “name generator” in your Google search bar (or Bing, if you are into that), you are going to get about 20,000,000 results for your personal delight and enjoyment. Sure, when you compare it to this, the hundreds of baby books seem like a smarter option. But the difference in this case is that you just need one name generator to do all the work for you. You just have to input specific information and the algorithm of the site will take care of the rest.

A good thing about this option is that you can make a customized search and optimize your results a lot. It’s great in the sense that you can focus on the exact content you want and find results more efficiently. Also, name generators are free (Yay!).

The problem I see with this approach: It’s not reliable. Baby Names Books normally go through an editing process that includes fact-checking. It’s not that way with name generators, which are mainly created by other users in the web. Therefore, one can say they are probably as reliable as, let’s say, Wikipedia. This is not a big issue if, after finding the name, you do your homework and fact-check the origin and usage. 

 

Approach 3: Creative Hybrid Approach. 

As the name indicates, the Creative Hybrid approach combines the options above with your own creative experience.

This one is my personal favorite, because it gives you more control over the whole process of naming which, let’s face it, it’s pretty important. It’s amazing what a few references can do for you when you are having a block, and sometimes, just seeing the right letter or letter combinations can light the spark of creativity that you need to succeed.

For instance, let’s say you are in search of a name for your Urban Fantasy character, who lives in New York, it’s a college dropout and hangs out with zombie bikers in a run-down bar. Great character. Now he just needs a great name. You want something trendy and modern, but not too common.

So let’s do this. You open your book (or online generator) and browse a little bit. You pick the “English Names” section (because he lives in New York) and the “Modern Names” sections, since your book is UF. At the end, you come up with three good results:

  • Josh Edison
  • Brock Hedley
  • Carter Maitland

There, good candidates. However, they don’t feel to Fantasy or Zombie-Biker-Friend kind of character, so let’s tweak them out a little bit, shall we? For instance, the first name.

Josh is nice. If we take the “h” away, it becomes Jos… which can be changed into Jossen, Jossian, Jossiah 

If we take the “s” away, it becomes Jo… which can be changed into Joralth, Jorel, Joed, Joran… 

Like that, you can tweak and play as much as you want. Sometimes from a single name you’ll get five. Or more:

Edison: Edissen, Edissey, Edarth, Edizar, Edan…

Brock: Brocen, Brockner, Broalth, Brom, Broslan…

Hedley: Hedlen, Hedlan, Hedler, Heddar, Hedd, Heddims…

Carter: Cart, Carten, Carrion, Carthax, Carthen, Carth…

Maitland: Maitlam, Maithl, Marend, Matlen, Mallin, Mattland…

Following this approach you’ll always have a reserve of names to chose from, and if you record them as you think of them (like I do), when you run out you’ll just have to find your storage files and you’ll have names that are exclusively yours and already curated.

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Hope you enjoyed this two page post, let me know how you liked it and tell me about your own naming approaches!

See you next time!

The Right Name Makes a Difference! (Part 1)

Many times in writing groups and forums, I’ve come across writers who ask for advice at the time of naming their characters. Apparently, it’s a rather nerve-racking thing to do. Suggestions come and go when the piece in question has a Contemporary setting (Kate, Laura, Drake, Ava, Jack, Brett, Larry…), and there’s normally not many problems when it’s a Historical Fiction piece either (Eleanor, Lucian, William, Alastair, Gertrude, Honor, Prudence…). However, if we are talking about a Fantasy or Science-Fiction piece, most of the times the commentators remain conspicuously silent.

It could very well be because Fantasy and Sci-fi names are not the kind of name just anybody can come up with (it takes a special brand of craziness). But shouldn’t these be actually easier to create? You can name your Fantasy character anything. Literally anything, and nobody would say a thing because it’s Fantasy. It’s supposed to be weird, it’s supposed to sound funny. Writers many times overthink things and tighten the noose around their own necks simply because they cannot believe something as crucial as what to name your main character can actually be simple.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s definitely an important issue. Personally, I’m most likely to buy a Vampire Romance novel if the main character’s name is, let’s say, “Jake” or “Demian” or “Aidan.” Bring me a tall, sexy vampire named “Wally” or “Howard” or “Vernon,” and believe me, it’s not going to go far. But again, that only means that naming is an important decision.

Not a complicated one.

But let’s discuss approach, shall we? First, there are some questions we need to ask before getting into what name I want for my character. One of the basic mistakes of the people posting in the forums and writing groups was the fact that they didn’t quite knew what kind of character they were naming. They didn’t have a sense of who he or she was and of the setting in which their story developed.

Question #1: What kind of character are you naming?

This is important. Your character’s name has to go hand in hand with the plot and setting of your story. For instance, if your character is a Japanese immigrant in post-WWII America, he is most likely to be named ethnic-specific things like “Hiroshi Moritaka” or “Keisuke Hakama” or “Kyoko Morino.

The same thing applies to other nationalities and languages. If your character comes from a Turkish background, he is not likely to be named “Edward Johnson,” and if you say your character is a Highlander serving under William Wallace, then you can’t expect readers to believe that his name is “Pedro De La Cruz” or “Stefano Grazziano.”

It’s easier to investigate a little bit and use the right name, than to create a whole bizarre background story explaining why your Tuscany-born character is named “Vladimir Antonovich Chekov.

So my Answer #1 would be: Be mindful of your character’s ethnic background, nationality and language before naming. 

Another major problem was the fact that they weren’t factoring in Historical Accuracy when fishing for names. This is a very basic, yet very troublesome mistake.

Question #2: Does your name go well with the timeframe of your story?

If your story happens in, let’s say, 45 BC, and your character is a centurion under Julius Caesar, you have to be prepared for his name to have a Latin root, like, let’s say, “Marcus” or “Lucius” or “Livius.” This doesn’t mean that you can go ahead and Latinize any name on your Baby Names Book and expect it to sound right. “Peterus” is not a Roman name. Nor is “Williamus” or “Henryus.” It doesn’t work like that. Historical accuracy IS important, and you are going to be loved (or hated) because of it. Make sure to always know the historical period you are writing about quite well, otherwise, it can get tricky in the long run.

For instance, during the reign of Queen Victoria, the name “Victoria” was a popular name among parents of little girls, but since this name has primarily Latin roots, before that time it was hardly ever used in England. The coronation of the queen popularized the name, so if you want to name your character that, you have to know that you either place her during the Victorian era, or risk falling into anachronism by using it during the Regency Era or the Age of Enlightenment.

Answer #2: Research (I just love this word!) to make sure your chosen name is historically accurate. 

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— This is it for Part 1, guys. Visit PART 2 for the rest of it! 🙂

World Building and the Mysteries of Creation.


World Building is probably one of the most difficult, yet most important parts of writing any story.

Fantasy and Science-Fiction writers need to be especially careful in this matter, since they depend almost entirely on the ability of their worlds to engage and compel the reader. Only through flawless attention to detail, and clearly set parameters, writers can achieve the suspended disbelief necessary for their stories to succeed.

Readers are much smarter than you think, and unlike agents, editors and publishing professionals, who are already set for disappointment every time they read a manuscript, a reader actually makes an investment for the book. As such, he is expecting that investment to pay off in the form of an enjoyable, cohesive, well-crafted experience.

While it’s funny to think about a news shopper flying over the medieval battlefield of a historical novel, readers are not that entertained whenever they find an anachronism or incoherence in a text that was supposedly revised several times.

And people, just for the record, they DO notice!

However, in order to avoid these intrinsic problems, there are several easy steps we can take:

1- Set specific rules:


Whether a planet in a galaxy far, far away, or a busy nightclub in the streets of The Bronx, you need to set up rules for your world. How does it look like? What kind of people are the inhabitants/visitors? What kind of language is spoken? Your world is
just as important as your leads and villains. You have to make sure it’s rich enough, with layers and complexity.

Just like you would for a character, sit down and write a couple of pages of background information. History, geography, traditions, mythology, language, dress code… any detail you can think of. Even if you are not going to add it to the final project, this information is going to be priceless as you move forward in the story.

Basically, it’s what’s going to prevent you from saying your club/planet is blue in the first chapter, and then red on the fourth chapter. (Believe me, it happens.)

2- Timelines are your friends:

Time, Time Indicating, Ball, Clock, Pointer, MinutesIf your story happens in several different timeframes, please, please (please!), do set up a timeline. Yes, they are bothersome. Yes, they need constant updating and consume precious time you can use to write, but they are also vital. Having a character being 25 in one chapter and 23 in the other, only because you messed up your dates, is not good for business. We are humans, people, we are allowed to make mistakes. But we can (should!) also do whatever’s in our power to correct those mistakes.
Setting a timeline of events is not a hard thing. You can do it by hand, in your PC, laptop, or even in your tablet. You can add your events all at once, or keep updating as you go. But it’s important to have them, because later on, when you enter the editing phase, this sort of incoherent facts are the first thing you are going to want to look at. It’s good to have a reliable source.

3- A needle in a haystack:
Sailors, All Hands, Navy, Military, People, Group, Men
Makes sure that your character blends in with your setting.
 I don’t have
to tell you that an astronaut does not belong in an Ancient Rome-themed story, however, there are more subtle nuances that writers also need to take into account when placing their character on setting.

For instance, if your character comes from a city background, and you setting is a farm, it’s highly unlikely he’ll know how to ride a horse. Or if your character is a Regency-time prostitute, chances are she won’t know the difference between a Duke and an Earl if you bring her to an Aristocracy ball setting.

Establish clear parameters about how your characters interact with your world and how they develop within it, and then use this parameters to set the limits. You have to know that not everything is justifiable, and that sometimes, you can’t just “do” what you want with your novel, even if you are the writer.

The characters just won’t take it. And neither will the readers.

4- Research and conquer:

Knowledge, Book, Library, Glasses, TextbookThe most critical part of world building is most likely research. How well-crafted your world is depends greatly in how much research you have. You can’t write a book about athletes, or doctors, or musicians, and expect words like “ball,” “brain” or “piano” to cut it.

No, you have to make sure to know exactly what is the 3-steps shot, what’s the function of the frontal lobe, and where in a piano is the A Minor.

Lack of good research and references are the death of many talented writers, because readers simply won’t take laziness from an author, regardless of how good he is. You are definitely not expected to know everything, but you have to research if you want to write about something you don’t know.

And that goes for Fantasy and Sci-fi authors too. A Sci-fi author who tells me his character can breathe in deep space, is a sci-fi author I won’t read again. Ever. The same goes for a Fantasy writer who thinks he can create a half-elf/half-orc character and sell it to me. Biology, people! It’s simple Biology!

There are many other strategies that can help you develop your world building skills, or improve the ones you already have. Regardless, if you remember to put everything to writing, and pay attention to detail, world building can also be a wonderful experience of freedom and confidence.

Let me know how you liked the post and what are your own strategies to keep your settings cohesive and believable.

See you next time!

My Writing Resources

I use several different pages and blogs to keep up to day with the writing industry and keep myself informed. Personally, I’m of the opinion that the job doesn’t end when you write down that last word, or place that last period.

Au contraire. That’s when all hell breaks loose. Writing is the easy hardship. The hardship you know how to deal with. You sit down, cry, bleed, type, cry some more, bang your head against the wall a couple of times and BANG! You’ve got yourself a novel. Afterwards comes the scary part. The unknowingness of it all that makes the prospect of publishing a rather terrifying thing.

To avoid the root of all evils (the lack of information), I have gathered a steady list of resources I use frequently as support.

Here they are:

1 – Writer’s Digest:

 An absolute given! Writer’s Digest is the writing resource by excellence. With their motto “Write Better, Get Published,” this online community of writers and literature professionals features as one of the most complete, most successful systems to help writers become better at their craft. They offer tutorials, classes, interview with industry leads, contests, literary services like editing and critique, as well as an annual Conference and their iconic, information-packed Writer’s Digest Magazine. All of this for a price, of course, but if you are serious about your career, then it is definitely a worthy investment.

On the flipside (the FREE side), you also have the Writer’s Digest Forum, where a community storytellers gathers up to discuss relevant topics, offer prompts and give encouragement and tips to help you improve. Have questions about writing buddies, beta-readers or need a good-hearted critique for your chapter? This is the place to go!

Whether you are a seasoned pro, or just starting out in the field, this is definitely a page to bookmark.

Some links for those of you who want to check it out:

Main Page

Forum

 

2 – Poets & Writers:

 Poets & Writers is a magazine that also offers some awesome writing improvement tools. I regularly check on whatever literary contest are open, just to see what’s out there, and this magazine is a great resource for that. It offers a detailed list, with many additional data like what kind of literature the contest asks for (poetry, novel, short story…) as well as entry fees and contest summaries. They also have a good database for publishing houses, agencies and journals, basically on the same line as Writer’s Digest, but while some of the services WD offers might be costly, Poets&Writers does it for free. 

It’s definitely one to check out, specially if you are a newbie and want to take your learning process slow. While Writer’s Digest’s sheer amount of information and links can be overwhelming to some, Poets&Writer offers a far more condensed approach that can be better for you.

Links:

Main Page

Tools for Writers

 

3 – Query Shark:

I love, love, love this one! Query Shark is a blog dedicated to the evaluation, revision and critique of query letters. It offers hundreds of real-life author submissions and their mistakes, as well as a list of success stories to learn from. It teaches you what the agents want and don’t want to hear, as well as what’s making or killing your query letter. The letters are broken down into individual paragraphs and revised piece by piece, with very useful comments about where it’s going wrong and what needs to get better.

The critiques can be harsh though (which to my masochistic writing self is like manna from the heavens), so you have to learn to be receptive and patient if you want to take the dare. Anyways, even if you never write and just benefit from previous posts, the site has an archive starting more than a decade ago, so you will have plenty to look at.

Links:

Main Site

 

4 – Box:

Box is basically your average cloud storage service, but in the last three years it has become pretty much irreplaceable to me. Once you sign up you get 10GB of free space to store your data, and you can sign up as many times as you want, as long as you provide a different email address.

This site also has an available app across nearly every platform. For avid Kindle Fire and above (HD, HDX, HDX 8.9′) users like myself, this little trinket is specially useful. It allows you to make real time changes to any document, and has an “Offline Viewing” option that lets you access your content in places where Wi-Fi connection is poor, or where there’s none whatsoever. This is a great way to have a good deal of data available to you without actually making a dent in your device’s storage capacity. I understand there are many other Cloud Services out there (Dropbox, OneDrive, Google Docs, etc.), but at least as a Kindle user, I have yet to find a better-working one.

Especially when you want to have your stories available so you can pick them up anywhere you go, this resource is of utmost value. Besides, come on, who doesn’t love cloud storage?

 

5 – Wikipedia:

 Yeah, yeah, I know Wikipedia is the devil in disguise and we should never trust its devious ways. However…

I come from a history of having to rely on hard copies as reference for my writing. As a result of this, my desk is always overflowing with all sorts of research materials. It could go from books on how the Egyptians lived in 3000 BC to Anatomy manuals about the internal ear or what is a synapse. With this in mind, a page that gathered information from several sources in one place was like a godsend.

When I look something up in Wikipedia, instead of reading the actual article, I instead go to the sources and reference links. Even if the article is bad or the information is inconclusive, from all the sources there’s bound to be at least one that’s reliable and has what I’m looking for.

That way, it makes my job a lot easier!

 

This are the main resources I work with right now. As I discover more useful links I’ll probably make new posts about it, and next time I’ll tell you about the pages I use specifically for writing Romance, so stay tuned!

For today that’s all. Let me know how you liked it, and tell me about what other pages and links you use to aid you in your writing and publishing endeavors!