Flashback: Obituary

When you see “Flashback” in front of an article, it means it is an article that originally appeared on Word Museum in the beginning before it was sold and then regained by Lori. We have reposted these articles, because we feel they add great value to the site. Where possible we include the date of the original article.

Written By: Joy Acey

I didn’t put my black dress on for the funeral. I felt sad I couldn’t attend the service. But Ms Joyner the English teacher at McDougle Middle School wore a long black dress to listen to the dirge and Mrs. Gerhardt said a prayer for the departed. The children waved good bye and solemnly engraved tombstones with the names of the dead verbs. They’ll miss the words, but dead verbs do nothing to add to the liveliness of their stories and the children agreed to try to find more active words to replace their over worked dead friends. Here’s a list of the departed words that slow work down by telling rather than showing:

am can be have been are could be has been is may be had been was might be could have been were must be may have been am being shall be might have been are being should be must have been is being will be shall have been was being would be should have been were being will have been would have been

Linking verbs buried that day include:

appear look sound become remain stay feel seem taste grow smell turn If you can substitute a “to be” verb for any of these words and have the sentence still make sense, it is a linking verb and doesn’t help the action. For example,

John felt tired. John felt the tire. (John is tired.) (John is the tire.) Yes, it’s a linking verb. No, it’s an action verb.

Now that the funeral is over the children have all agreed to try to write their stories with more showing and less telling and they are doing this by letting the dead verbs rest in peace.

****This piece has previously been published in Once Upon A Time.

Once Upon A Time, a magazine for children’s writers and illustrators.

Joy is a children’s writer. She lives in NC with her husband, 12 year old son and a silly Welsh Springer Spaniel who brought home a fish from the creek this week. She teaches writing in the schools and does workshops for her regional SCBWI. She hosts quarterly gatherings at her local Barnes and Noble books store for children’s writers. She also edits the NC Poetry Society newsletter and has received grants from the North Carolina Writer’s Network.

Flashback: Naming Names

When you see “Flashback” in front of an article, it means it is an article that originally appeared on Word Museum in the beginning before it was sold and then regained by Lori. We have reposted these articles, because we feel they add great value to the site. Where possible we include the date of the original article. Please note that many links may not work. We have tried to catch the ones we can where applicable.

Written by: Tim Waggoner
Date: 08/02/2011


In Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea books, magic is accomplished when wizards learn the true names of things. Discover the true name of fire, and it is yours to command. In fairy tales, if you learn Rumplestilskin’s name, the evil sprite is banished. Speak of the Devil, though, and he shall appear.

Names have power, especially in fiction. Use the right names, and the characters and places you write about assume added depth and resonance. Use the wrong ones, and your story at best will be forgettable, at worst, laughable.

While choosing the right names is never easy for writers of any stripe, authors of science fiction, fantasy (and to a lesser degree, horror) have an especially tough time of it. Mainstream writers can use the names of friends, relatives and co-workers. They can set their stories in their hometown and use the names of its diner, high school, laundromat, altered only slightly, if at all. But where can writers of speculative fiction go to find names for the characters and places which make up their more exotic dreamscapes?

You can start the same place many expectant parents do — baby name books. Sure, they’re full of ordinary names, but they also contain not-so-ordinary ones. A glance through one of my favorites, Beyond Jennifer and Jason by Linda Rosenkrantz and Pamela Redmond Satran, turned up the following: Adria, Amyas, Diantha, Doria, Garson, Kai, Merce, Sekka, Tamar and Zaraawar. All suitable for a science fiction or fantasy story.

There are other naming resources geared specifically for writers. The Writer’s Digest Character Naming Sourcebook by Sherrilyn Kenyon contains, as the cover copy says, “20,000 first and last names and their meanings from around the world.” The name lists are separated into categories such as Anglo-Saxon, Dutch, German, etc. I often choose character names by scanning the corresponding meanings. Want your fantasy warrior’s name to mean brave? Try Cathasach. Want your villain’s name to mean dark? How does Duvessa sound? Horror author Yvonne Navarro has complied a volume called The First Name Reverse Dictionary which makes this process even easier.

Another resource that I sometimes use to come up with names is the phone book. Uncommon surnames, when used as first names, often have an archaic or fantastical feel to them. Choosing at random for this article, I found Hython, Krabill, Maddala, Norrod, Uffner . . . I could go on and on.

Of course, these names don’t work only for individual characters. They could just as easily be the names of alien races, or countries in a fantasy land.

Foreign language dictionaries can be of great help. If I’m writing a medieval fantasy and I don’t feel like using the tired term wizard for my magic workers, I might turn to my Latin dictionary and find magus and veneficus. Neither floats my boat, so I start free-associating. What do magicians do? They perform tricks. I look up trick and one of the words I find next to it is artificium. With a little tweak, that becomes Artificer. And now I have a term that not only sounds good, it’s more original.

A thesaurus works well for this too. For example, in my (as yet unpublished) novel, The Harmony Society, I wrote a sequence which took place in a nightmarish hospital. I went to my Roget’s, looked up hospital, and eventually came across the old-fashioned term fever house. Fever House — what better name could there be for a place of madness and death?.

And then there are those happy accidents when names just come to you. While I was in the process of plotting The Harmony Society, I was listening to the car radio and heard the singer refer to “Brother Nothing.” Hot damn, what a great name! I thought enviously. But the next time the refrain came around, I realized I had misheard. Brother Nothing wasn’t a name; the singer was actually saying, “Brother, nothing you can do will stop me,” or somesuch. Thanks to the perversity of my own subconscious, I had a name for my novel’s main antagonist.

Lest you become too self-conscious about choosing names, I’ll let you in on a secret. Even such inevitable-seeming names such as Sherlock Holmes and Luke Skywalker seem that way only after the fact. It’s a bit of folklore that children will grow to fit their names. It might not be true for real people, but it certainly is for fictional ones. As long as your characters’ names aren’t strings of unpronounceable consonants or inspired by Saturday morning cartoons — “Look out, Commander Galaxy! Hear come the Sinistars!” — you should be all right.

Besides, I thought Luke Skywalker sounded pretty stupid the first time I heard it. And I hear the kid’s gone on to do all right for himself.

The End

Tim Waggoner writes both fantasy and horror and has published over thirty stories in various anthologies and magazines. He has also worked as a newspaper reporter, magazine editor, copy editor, and currently teaches college writing courses.

Flashback: Motivation

Written by: Lorraine Heath
Date: 08/02/2001


You have a dream: to write a romance novel.

You think about it constantly: while you are at work; while you run the children to and from their various activities; while you watch television with your husband; while you prepare meals; while you tuck children into bed.

The dream hovers around you, seemingly beyond reach. You want to touch the dream. Countless times you’ve started to write; countless times you’ve stopped.

Why is it that some writers finish a story . . . and others only dream of finishing a story?

A key factor is motivation. You have to want the dream badly enough to reach for it, to reach for it against all odds. And once you begin reaching, you have to maintain the motivation. Otherwise, you will never finish the book. Motivation is like a shadow without substance. You can’t grab onto it and put it in your hip pocket or set it on top of your computer to keep you going. When you are staring at a blank screen, it is easy to stop writing. So what can you do to KEEP writing?

TAKE A HARD LOOK AT YOUR REASONS FOR NOT WRITING. Are you afraid of failure . . . or afraid of success? For twenty years I dreamed of writing a novel. I even voiced my dream aloud on occasion. But I never sat down to write. I only dreamed about sitting down to write. I feared failure. As long as I dreamed of writing, I always held on to the possibility that I might one day be a writer. But if I tried to write a novel and discovered that I had neither the skill nor the talent, I would lose the dream. I preferred to have the dream over the reality.

For my “other” career, I took a technical writing class. The instructor asked the class, “If you had enough money that you didn’t have to work, if you could do anything in the world that you wanted to do, what would you do?” As fate would have it, she called on me first. I told her that I would sit in a room with a large plate glass window that overlooked the Texas hill country, and I would write a novel. The members of my class stared at me as though I’d lost my mind. They were going snorkeling in the Bahamas, skiing in Colorado, lounging on the Riviera.

But I wanted to write. It was at that moment that my dream began to take hold of me, but it would be several more years before I would work up the courage to test my dream.

FIND SOMEONE TO MAKE YOU ACCOUNTABLE. When I began writing, I would send my sister each chapter as I finished it. She was not my critique partner, but she was the one who would call and say, “Where’s the rest of it?” And so I felt obligated to write the next chapter and to send it to her.

FIND A CRITIQUE PARTNER. Find someone with the same dream, the same desires, someone who can give you the feedback that you need to finish the book. Someone who understands that a book is not written overnight, that rejects are part of the process.

WRITE THE CRITICAL SCENE FIRST. When a story comes to me, I usually can envision one critical scene that makes me want to tell this story. I write that scene first. In ALWAYS TO REMEMBER, that scene was the night when the men from the town confronted Clay, and Meg learned beyond a doubt that Clay was no coward. When I am tired from a full day of work, worn out from being a mother and a wife . . . and I’m looking for motivation, I read the critical scene, the reason this story is important to me. If I don’t finish writing the book, I can’t share this scene, this story with anyone. And so I sit down to write when I’m tired, or when Mel Gibson is on the television, or when the department store is having its sale to end all sales. Because if I don’t write, I’ll never finish the story.

SHARE YOU DREAM WITH YOUR CHILDREN. Children are wonderful motivators. They have yet to learn that not all dreams are attainable. When I started to write my first story, my oldest son was in the third grade. He told his friends that his mother was a writer even though I had yet to finish writing a complete story. He came home from school one day and told me that the teachers had gathered all the third grade classes together and they had gone around the room asking each child who his or her favorite author was. Then the teachers had told the children who their favorite authors were. My son told me, “They all said Danielle Steele. But, Mom, some day they’ll all say you.”

A child’s faith in your dream is a wonderful motivator.

Reprinted: Courtesy author Lorraine Heath and Painted Rock http://www.paintedrock.com (*Note: Link removed as site is no longer working)