R.S. Hunter

Science Fiction & Fantasy Author

Tag: writing (page 3 of 4)

Naming Your Characters

Naming the characters in your short stories and novels can be fun or it can be a huge nightmare. Sometimes you’ll write a character and you’ll already have the perfect name for them. And then sometimes this happens: you finish a chapter or story and it’s filled with characters with placeholder names. It happens to me more often than I’d like to admit. I’ve lost count of how many characters I’ve had to call Guy1, Person McPerson, or Girl3 until I can find more proper names for them. I’m sure it happens to even the most famous writers. Imagine Stephen King writing all of something like The Shining but with placeholder names for Jack, Danny, and Wendy.

But luckily there are tons of resources out there for writers who’ve hit a roadblock when it comes to naming their characters. Here are some of my favorites. Some of them are geared more toward science fiction and fantasy, but others can work for any kind of story.

Seventh Sanctum — This website has a huge collection of name generators. It’s definitely one of my favorite sites. Some of the generators are more humorous than others, but overall it’s usually the first place I turn to.

Squid.org — This website’s random name generator is geared more towards fantasy, but still some of the options are really useful. It can only generate so many names at a time, but its options more than make up for that.

Behind the Name — This website’s name generator is made up of “real” names from around the world. You’re able to choose what countries and cultures you want it to generate names from. Also most of the names have descriptions associated with them so you can find out alternate spellings and meanings.

Ever Changing Book of Names — This isn’t a web-based generator. Instead it’s a program where you can download a free trial version. It contains thousands of different names from all around the world. You can even download different “chapters” that can generate names based on other fantasy works and universes. It’s a great resource for when you’re looking for a very specific type of name.

There are other resources out there, but these are some of my favorites. They’ve definitely saved me from submitting a manuscript full of placeholder characters.

The Teller of Stories

Lately I’ve been reading a lot of posts by other authors where they talk about how they first started writing. Many of them say things that make us plebes feel left out like, “I started writing at age 2. I actually started writing before I learned how to talk. I got my first story published when I won a national contest at age 6 with my heartbreaking tale of a stuffed bear dueling a miniature unicorn. It was actually a commentary about the fall of the Soviet Union.”

Sidebar: I’d actually read that story about a Soviet flavored teddy bear & unicorn fight. That sounds rad.

For me, those kind of accounts (while probably rare in real life) make me feel like I’m missing out somehow. I didn’t start writing stories until I was in college. I’ve always been an avid reader, but I didn’t start creating and putting pen to paper–well, fingers to keyboard–until fairly recently. Then I realized something today. Just because I haven’t been writing very long doesn’t mean that I haven’t been a storyteller for years.

Back when I was growing up my brothers and I loved to play with Legos. Our favorite thing to do wasn’t following the instructions and building the sets properly. Instead we’d build our own spaceships–things inspired by Star Wars and videogames. Not only would we build them, but then we’d battle them. Mostly this consisted of us putting them on the floor, moving them around, and making “pew pew” laser noises and explosions. Somehow our Lego games evolved. I started developing a story for our battles. I came up with reasons why my forces were battling my brothers’. I drew maps and created coalitions, confederations, empires, and republics. An entire universe with characters evolved around our Lego battles. I was creating story.

I guess I forgot that being writer doesn’t just mean generating pages. A writer’s job is to tell stories, and I’ve been doing that for years; it’s just now that I’m actually sharing them with others. What about you all? Despite my good natured teasing up above, I’m really interested to know how other writers got their starts. Please sound off in the comments.

Me? I’m going to go start an outline for that teddy bear vs unicorn story.

Breaking Ground & Being a “Real Writer”

I’m having a very surreal moment right now. I’m breaking ground on my 2nd novel of 2011–my 3rd one all time. I just finished the outline for The Price of Loyalty after the end of a marathon day today. You’ll see what I mean when I get to the word count section. This is the longest outline I’ve ever written, so hopefully it’ll be easy to fill in the cracks when it comes to the actual writing part.

Let me break down the surreal part. I consider myself a writer, but in my head there’s a tiny voice that sometimes tries to tell me that I’m faking it. I’m not a real writer. I’m just someone who wishes they were a writer. When that voice kicks in the acceptances, the rejections, the completed stories, and even the two completed* novels don’t count for shit. It’s kind of annoying actually. I hate when that voice pops up. Well it’s kind of happening right now, but this time it’s a little more incredulous instead of discouraging. It can’t believe that I’m starting another book, never mind the fact that I just finished one a month or so ago. Writing yet another book is something real writers do. Okay, maybe it still is just discouraging.

Screw it! I’m writing another book. In a few months I’ll finish the rough draft, and then maybe that little voice will shut the hell up.

*By completed I mean I’ve finished one to the point where it’s suitable for submission. Its sequel has a complete rough draft but hasn’t had any edits or revisions. It’s kind of pointless to start really revising that one because it can’t really be sold on its own.

Here’s my statistics for this mentally exhausting day.

Project: The Price of Loyalty (outline)

Deadline: N/A (was supposed to be 6/1)

Word count: 7,964

 

In Situ Cover Art

This news is a couple of days old, but the cover art for the upcoming Dagan Books anthology In Situ is available. Here’s a slightly scaled down version of the full size image.

Personally, I think the cover looks amazing. My story “Jewel of Tahn-Vinh” is included in the anthology, and it’s scheduled to be released in May 2011. I’ll also have an interview up on the Dagan Books website sometime in the near future. I probably should the dates down… Oh well. Enjoy the cool art!

Space Opera Writing Updates

In all the excitement of writing my post about the definition of steampunk, I forgot to put up my writing updates. I’ve put the rough draft of Terraviathan aside for the time being. The Exile’s Violin needs to be published first before Terraviathan can be considered. I have plenty of time to work on edits, though I hope somebody picks up the book soon.

I started working on the outline of my science fiction, space opera novel The Price of Loyalty again. I’d first started it a couple of years ago when I was taking a break from The Exile’s Violin. I actually have a completed outline and several completed chapters, but they’re not up to my current standards. They feel very rough and unpolished, not what I’m capable of now. I decided to completely rework the outline and start over. So that’s where I’m at now.

Even though I define the novel as space opera, I’d like to think it’s not going to be generic space opera. Or at least it’ll be space opera with some nuances. Definitely not like this novel described (in jest) on Paul McAuley’s blog.

Project: The Price of Loyalty outline

Deadline: N/A (maybe 5/1 for the outline)

Word count: 12,477 since 4/4

 

How Do You Define Steampunk?

Steampunk. It’s everywhere right? But how do you define steampunk–as a literary genre. I’m more interested in it as a genre rather than steampunk culture, DIY projects, and the like. There are dozens of definitions and websites dedicated to the celebration of steampunk literature.

Personally, my definition of steampunk doesn’t get bogged down in the Victorian era or 19th century settings. I also tend to focus more on the -punk part of the word. To me steampunk is still linked to cyberpunk, just with different aesthetic touches: challenging authority, oppressive regimes, etc. To me the -punk suffix is perfect for writing things that challenge the romantic notions of the 19th century, a time where European imperialism was at its height.

At the same time I love worldbuilding. I’d much rather create my own setting than use even a fictionalized version of Earth. It’s fun for me, and at the same time I don’t have to worry so much about factual accuracy. If it’s my setting I can make it how I want. But can a work be steampunk if it’s set in a completely made up setting?

I ask because my novel just got rejected by a certain SF/F publisher. While the acquisitions dept. said it had potential and was tightly written, “The steam punk feel came through strongly enough […] It was very modern in language and dress.”

They remarked that this was a subjective view, and I agree. I don’t fault them at all. It’s their prerogative to accept whatever books they want. But I can’t help but wonder, were they working off a different definition of steampunk than me? I think absolutely. According to this publisher, steampunk needs to have an older–read: 19th century–feel to it. On that note I have to disagree.

Just because a book isn’t set in England and doesn’t have people riding pennyfarthings and speaking with faux old-timey accents and diction, doesn’t mean it’s not steampunk. I had airship battles, clockwork automatons, corrupt governments, violence, and other things that I feel fall perfectly within the realm of steampunk. I put this question up on Twitter and according to the responses I got (from a small sample size) people seemed to agree with my view.

Oh well. It is what it is. I’ll continue to describe my book as science fiction/steampunk. This particular rejection didn’t hurt too much. At least they took the time to offer up something more than just a generic rejection, plus it had a little positive something something in the middle. But the best part is that it sparked this little thought experiment.

What do you think? How do you define steampunk? Does it need to have 19th century trappings, even when the piece is set in a completely fictional, non-Earth setting? Let me know.

Small Problem–What to Do Next?

I just finished putting the finishing touches on the rough draft of my sci-fi/steampunk novel Terraviathan. I had a 7 page document full of all the names I needed to implement into manuscript. I just finished doing that. Man my hands hurt from typing ctrl+b to unbold all my placeholder names.

Of course now that I finished, I realize I have a small problem. Terraviathan is a sequel. While I tried to make it as standalone-y as possible, it helps a lot if you’ve read The Exile’s Violin. And this is where things get complicated. The Exile’s Violin is unpublished. It won’t stay that way forever, but I don’t think I’d be able to get this book accepted anywhere without TEV getting accepted first. Now if a publisher does show interest in TEV, I can tell them I have a sequel ready to go, but until that happens, Terraviathan is forced to sit on the sidelines.

So what do I do next? I have outlines for two more novels ready to go. Remember The Swarm? Yeah, I have that one. I also have an outline for a novel set in the same universe as “Runner.” It’s called The Price of Loyalty and it’s straight up sci-fi/borderline space opera. I want to work on it, but my brain’s a little worn out right now. So here’s what I think I’m going to do. I’m going to write some short stories for a couple of weeks; there are publications and anthologies out there I want to submit to. Then when I’ve had a little bit of time to decompress, I’ll start work on The Price of Loyalty. The funny thing is, I already have 6 chapters finished. I’ll probably rewrite most of them, but it won’t be like starting from absolute scratch.

I also have a vague, vague idea for a 3rd book in the TEV/Terraviathan universe set after Terraviathan. That’s always on the table. I also started thinking about a spin-off standalone novel featuring some of the characters from Terraviathan. It’d be more military oriented. That could be fun too. The possibilities are endless!

I’m interested to know what other writers do once they finish working on a novel? It’s in that phase where it needs to sit and marinate before any revisions are made. What do you work on next? Dive right into another novel? Short stories? Or do you just take some time off from writing altogether? I want to know.

Current Project: None!

Deadline: None!

Word count: 0

Terraviathan is Born!

I did it! Last night I finished the first (very) rough draft of my new science fiction/steampunk novel Terraviathan. I spent almost all of yesterday writing the last two chapters. I only took two breaks: one to watch the end of the Arizona game and one after finishing the penultimate chapter. My brain was just too tired. I went upstairs to play some videogames, but my brain couldn’t handle Killzone 3, so I played Donkey Kong Country Returns instead.

Sidebar: DKCR is a joy. The controls are a little different from the SNES iterations of Donkey Kong, but it’s still a joy to play. Definitely helped me unwind and prepare for the last writing sprint of the night.

It’s almost like giving birth. Okay not really. I’ve never experienced, and never will (being a male) experience the process of childbirth. But maybe the comparison works. You spend all this time putting all your blood, sweat, and tears into the process and then all of a sudden it’s done. There’s your manuscript screaming and kicking on its own in the big wide world. Welcome baby Terraviathan into the world, weighing in at 112k. Now comes the process of actually raising it and making sure it grows up properly so I can send it off to college–I submit it places.

I plan on spending most of today going through the thing and cleaning it up a bit. First thing on my list: come up with names for people and places. I leave notes to myself in all my manuscripts and highlight things with certain colors. I need to go through and address all the little highlighted parts.

But the important thing is it’s done. Well that’s kind of a lie, but one I’ll gladly tell myself. The editing and revising process can be just as long and arduous as the writing process. I’ll be ready for it.

Project: Terraviathan

Deadline: N/A (maybe 5/1/11)

Word count: 15,835 (since 3/24)

Why Word Count Isn’t Always the Best Method

As you may have noticed, I use a nifty (read: simple) little bit of html in my posts to provide a graphic that shows my word count progress. However, word count isn’t always the best way to keep track of your progress.

For short stories–or works without chapters–word count is a perfect way to keep track of your progress. Say you’re writing a short story for submission and the publisher/zine/whatever only accepts stories up to 4,000 words. You might not want to write exactly 4,000 words, but keeping track of your word count is a hassle-free way to keep yourself on track.

As I’ve found out working on this second novel, word count doesn’t always work. I set a total word count goal for myself: 80,000. A fairly standard novel length, maybe a little longer than standard. Some people like 75,000. Anyway, I just hit 61,000 today (and I’m still going). According to my spreadsheet I’m a little over 76% complete with my novel. Wow! I’m over 3/4 of the way there! Not quite.

I may be 3/4 of the way to my arbitrarily chosen goal, but when it comes to completing the actual story, I’m not at that point yet. I’ve started keeping track of my chapter progress along with my word count. Right now I’m on chapter 19 out of an outlined 28–or 67% completion. Not quite as impressive isn’t it?

Both keeping track of chapters and word counts are useful tools in measuring progress. I just have to remember that word count isn’t everything. I’ll keep posting my little graphic though, because I like seeing it go up. And even if it is a little inflated, it still represents progress. Honestly, I’ll be happy as long as the first draft of this novel is shorter than the first draft of my previous one. If I can keep it under 100,000 words, I’ll be ecstatic.

To all of you celebrating St. Patrick’s Day: have fun, stay safe, make sure to stay hydrated to avoid hangovers. As for me, I’ll be staying in and plugging away on The Exile’s Violin 2. Here’s today’s word count. (I’ll update it again later tonight.)

Oh yeah! Before I forget: There’s a reading/launch event for Growing Dread: Biopunk Visions at Neptune Coffee (85th and Greenwood, Seattle) from 8-10 pm. Go if you can! I can’t ’cause I’m in the wrong state. Right coast, wrong state. You can pre-order the anthology here. You can also read an excerpt from one of the stories, “Necrosis,” here.

Project: The Exile’s Violin 2 (working title)

Deadline: N/A (maybe 5/1/11)

Daily word count: 3,399 (as of 6 PM PST)

“Dark” Scenes are Easier to Write

My WIP novel is a thing. Yessir. It’s coming right along. Today I worked on a pretty pivotal scene where the main character has to get some information from a crooked cop who’d just sold her out. She uses some questionable methods that her best friend and accomplice doesn’t approve of. It creates tension between the two characters, and their relationship is already full of drama and baggage.

Some scenes and chapters are easier to write; I get that. But why is it the darker, the more disturbing the scene the easier it is to write for me? I’m not sure I want to examine the implications of what that means about me as a person. This “ease” with which dark scenes come to me has happened before. It happened during certain short stories, and now it happened again while working on The Exile’s Violin 2. I’m not complaining because it means I got a lot written today. Hopefully the rest of the project goes this smoothly.

What about you all? Are there certain scenes or types of scenes that just come easily to you? How do you map out these kinds of things ahead of time–if at all?

Project: The Exile’s Violin 2

Deadline: N/A (maybe 5/1/11)

Daily word count: 4,897 (today) & 2,382 (yesterday)

 

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