Character Naming

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Alien Names It’s fun to make up alien sounding names, but can you make them pronounceable? A name like Fator is easy to figure out. Not Feignonae. Avoid putting two vowels together—and avoid names like Avignemonsorkei—that’s right, long, unfamiliar names (you could use the name one time, and for the rest of the book, have the character go by his nickname of Avi). It can be played up for humor. “What’s your name, alien?” “Avignemonsorkei.” “Okay. When I say Avi, … Read More »

Taking Your Career to the Next Level with Writers Workshops

My biggest conundrum upon attending my first FWA conference in 2011 was “Where do I begin?” I’d written for many years, but had learned my (questionable) craft from reading novels. The dizzying head-hopping that was the bane of my editor’s red pen? I picked that up from Nora Roberts. My characters grunted, laughed, moaned, and snarled. They never actually just “said” anything. That came from reading Robert Ludlum novels. At the FWA conference, faced with more writers’ workshops than I … Read More »

When Setting Becomes Character

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When I was in college, studying landscape architecture when it didn’t interfere with my busy beer-drinking schedule, the dean liked to hammer home a recurring concept. “Genius loci,” he would say, his eyes agleam, his bowtie aflutter. “Spirit of the place.” You must understand a site fully before you design for it, he argued. Ideally, one should sit upon the ground in the middle of the place and meditate. Throughout a full year. Feel the sunshine. See the dappled light … Read More »

The Once-Maligned Character Template

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In my college Creative Writing class, we were given a template to complete before we started writing our stories. It was basically a fact sheet – things I needed to know about my character before I wrote my first word. I thought it was the most ridiculous thing ever.             I wanted to write my story – I wanted to get on with it! Why did I need to know (and remember) mundane stuff like hair color, favorite foods, best … Read More »


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Juxtaposition is a writing device where authors place two contrasting elements side by side—be they ideas, actions, locations, or characters for the purpose of contrast. For example: a character can talk about the virtues of humankind at a restaurant and get robbed walking back to his car. In Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities, he starts out with a juxtaposition of many ideas: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age … Read More »

The Perfect Short Story

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A few years ago I wrote the perfect short story. I went to bed that night sure I had created a flawless first draft—no revisions needed. The next morning I re-read the first sentence. Bravado slumped into despair. Had a gremlin changed the words overnight? Had someone broken into the house and altered the perfectly worded manuscript? Even someone with my crazy imagination had to admit those scenarios were unlikely. My perfect short story needed work. I grudgingly accepted that … Read More »

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