What’s in a Name?

Finding Names for Characters and Places

One of the questions I constantly hear from new writers is “Where do you get all those names?”



Here are some of the resources I use.

For Characters:

  • Telephone Books – especially if you can find one from the town where your story is set
  • Credits – check out the end of a movie or TV show for tons of names to mix and match
  • Online Generators – there are a variety of these to choose from
    • Online Name Generator – a database of different generators, from character names to businesses and band names
    • Behind the Name – you can choose from different countries, or even fantasy and mythologic names
    • Seventh Sanctum -not only does this site have several name generators, it also has story ideas, prompts, and a “what-if-inator”
    • The Character Name Generator – designed more for writers, with ethnic choices
    • Rinkworks – a fantasy name generator with some fun choices like very long names, mushy insults, and bad names

For Places:

Are there any other resources you like to use that I haven’t mentioned? Comment below!

What’s Your Sign?

(Astrology as a method of character development)

Thanks to Ken Farmer for reminding me of this trick.

WP_Astrology_SunMoon One of the things you need to know in order to develop your characters is their personality. One “quick and dirty” trick to getting a start on this is to use astrology.

I’m not necessarily advocating astrology – or even stating whether or not I believe in it – but any good astrology website will give you a great little personality profile. That will give you a starting place for your character’s development.

You can go about this in two basic ways:

  • Pick a random birthdate for your character and investigate the sign associated with that birthdate.
  • Read through an astrology site and see if any of the personality charts sound like your character.


Let’s look at how this works.

Here’s what the website has to say about Gemini (Chance’s sign):

A Gemini can change his clothes, his job, his love life or his residence as fast as he changes his mind, and that’s pretty fast. Find­ing a good example to study may keep you hopping. You could try a bookstore. He’s a browser, because he can get the gist of the contents in a brief scanning of the pages. (It’s no accident that John F. Kennedy was a speed reader.) Mercury people also have that nasty habit of reading the last page first.

When you’ve found this quicksilver person, study him care­fully, even if you do get exhausted following him around. The first thing you’ll notice is a nervous energy that fairly snaps, crackles and pops in the air around him. An occasional Gemini will speak slowly, but most of them talk fast. All of them listen fast.

Man or woman, Gemini is impatient with conservative stick-in-the-muds, or with people who can’t make up their minds where they stand on particular issues. Gemini knows where he stands, at least for the moment.

Unless there’s a conflicting ascendant, the Gemini build is generally slender, agile and taller than average. Many of them have small, sharp features, as if they were cut in a cameo. You’ll find some with brown eyes, of course, but the majority of those ruled by Mercury will have beautiful, crystal-clear hazel, blue, green or gray eyes that twinkle and dart here and there. Geminis never rest their eyes on one object for more than a few seconds. In fact, their alert, quick-moving eyes are often the easiest way to recognize them. The complexion tends to be rather pale, yet they usually tan easily, and that’s the way to spot them in the summer. (In the winter, they often have wind bums from swooping down a ski slope.)

There’s an eagerness about Geminis, an immediate, sym­pathetic friendliness, and unusually quick, but graceful movements. The hair can be light or dark or both-like, streaked. Twins, remember? The nose is likely to be long and straight or dainty-in either case, probably well formed. There’s frequently a receding hairline in the men (from all that activity in the brain, perhaps), and both sexes normally have rather high foreheads.



You can see that not only does a good chart give personality traits, but also some physical features. This can be quite useful for fleshing out that secondary character – or even figuring out what your main characters look like.

Try this technique the next time you’re wondering about one of your characters. I think you’ll be pleased with how much information you can get from an astrology chart.

Photo Shoot: Chance

Here are some of the character ideas I’ve checked out for Chance:

Chance_Idea1His hair is this curly but the bangs hang down into his eyes most of the time

Chance_Idea2More curly hair

ChanceIdea6This is his baseline expression … might even be Chance with his hair slicked down under control…

Chance_Idea6He’s kinda cute…

Chance_Idea5 Messy but cute…Chance_Idea4Love the curls, David!

How to Start Your Novel

All too often, a new writer will say “I’ve got this great idea for a book … but I just don’t know where to start.”


Getting started isn’t the easiest thing in the world, but here are some tips to help you figure it all out:

  • How is your book different from all the others on the same subject?
  • What purpose does your book serve?
  • Who is your audience? (Primary and Secondary markets)
  • Why will readers want to pick up your book?
  • What new angle in your book will surprise the market?
  • Why will people recommend your book to others?
  • How will your book impact your audience?
  • What changes will your book create in the reader?

If you can’t answer these questions, it’s time to do some brainstorming and rework your idea until the answers are clear. Only then should you attempt to write that book!

For You: A Night at the Theater

This is what’s going on now – the lads have taken Emily out to the theater to avoid the hubbub over the “arrest” of Devon Day and the Sweetwater Kid …


Chance’s baseline expression…

Emily leaned over as we took our seats in the box. “I am not certain that I quite agree with you, my dear.”

I was only half-listening, having caught a glimpse of the positively scandalous neckline on the dress Mrs. Scott flaunted in the box across the theater from us. That lady gave me a knowing smile and turned so that I could admire her silhouette. Emily slapped my arm with her fan.

“What?” I hastily put on a Contrite Face. “I mean, do forgive me, my dear. I must be feeling my age tonight if my attention could wander from your radiant beauty.”

She snorted and slapped me harder. “Age be damned, Chance Knight. If you’re 25 I shall eat my hat, feathers and all. And I saw what Eudora Scott had the audacity to wear at her age.”

I ducked my head as sheepishly as I could. My blasted curls promptly flopped over my eyes. Kye chuckled and I reached behind Emily’s back to clout him one on the shoulder. His answering punch was immediate and painful. I readied my fist once more.

“Boys,” our companion murmured, swatting each of us with the fan. “While it might be amusing to watch the two of you wrestling, I do feel that it is something we should save for the privacy of your own home.”

Kye’s ears went red. I hiked an eyebrow at Miss Sharp. “I shall have to remember that sometime. I had no idea that your interests lay in that area.”

“That is not what I meant, and well you know it. We were discussing Devon Day and the Sweetwater Kid.”

“We were not.” Ye gods, was there no escape?

“Do you really believe that all outlaws belong behind bars?”

My eyebrow rose once more. “I believe that I was merely asking a rhetorical question, my dear.”

An obstinate expression crossed her face. This was an expression I was familiar with, and I restrained a sigh. I was not going to be able to weasel my way out of an argument. And I knew from sad experience that even a sudden about-face to her side would not save me. I shoved my hair back out of my eyes and glanced upward in supplication. The ceiling had no answers for me, not that it ever had.

Emily crossed her arms. “You are prevaricating, my dear. Mr. Hamilton asked you a direct question, and you side-stepped the issue.”

Kye leaned forward, rubbing the bicep I had punched. “Chance don’t never give his opinion, Miss Emily. Ain’t you noticed?”

“I had noticed. And I am pinning the scoundrel down in this instance.” She turned to fix a glare upon me. “What is your true opinion of the outlaws in question?”

This was why I avoided such questions. I could hardly tell the woman the truth. I widened my eyes and tugged a half-smile onto my lips. “I cannot understand your interest in the subject, my dear. The question is moot at this point, as the law has caught up to them at last.”

This was the truth, though Emily would never know it. Having to give up our lives as Devon Day and the Sweetwater Kid was nearly as bad as actually going to jail. Damn Kirkham and his Association. I’d had my eye on the Deweyburg bank for months. All that silver from the mine … and now my plans were foiled forever. 

Emily kept up her glare. “The point, my dear, is that you are dancing around the subject. I should like a straight answer. My interest is irrelevant.”

Fortunately, at this point the orchestra increased their volume, signaling the beginning of the play. The lights in the house dimmed, and a spotlight focused all attention on the stage. I heard a sigh from my companion as I happily turned my attention to our evening’s entertainment. Perhaps by the intermission, the woman would have forgotten the entire incident.

No such luck. As soon as the gaslights came back up, Emily extended a hand, and as I helped her to her feet, leaned close to my ear. “Do not think that I have forgotten our conversation. I am going to get an honest answer out of you — one way or another.”

God forbid. The only time Chance Knight gave an honest answer was when there was nothing at stake. And even then, I have been known to bend the truth, just to keep my hand in. If only Emily weren’t so very sharp. She had an alarming tendency to see through many of my schemes. In fact, I had recently began to suspect the woman might actually be immune to my Faces. And a con-man without his Faces is … well, the thought just did not bear dwelling upon.

I managed to avoid the issue as we mingled. I also managed to get a close look at that scandalous dress. Emily thumped my shoulder as I angled towards the Scotts, but pasted on a smile as the lady turned to display her prodigious bosoms.

“Eudora,” she murmured, kissing the air beside Mrs. Scott’s cheek. “It is warm in here, isn’t it? So sensible of you to dress for the heat.”

Mrs. Scott, thankfully, was one of those women with more bosom than brains. She merely smiled happily and angled her best assets in my direction. Her husband took firm hold of her elbow and steered her toward the refreshment table. Kye, on his way back from the same area, stepped out of the way and hoisted his plate above the couple’s head. He glanced downward and his face went red. I elbowed him as he returned to our side.

“You need some air, partner?”

Kye’s elbow hit my ribs with a thump, nearly shoving me into a potted palm. He shoved half of a slice of cake into his mouth, probably to avoid answering me.

Emily turned her back on the retreating couple. “I trust no more will be said about this unfortunate wardrobe choice. The woman does not have the sense of a ground squirrel, after all.”

I leaned close. “She’s got a couple of things no ground squirrel has, though.”

“A gentleman would not deign to notice.”

Good thing I never claimed to be a gentleman. 

A House Full of Nerds

As I sprawl on the sofa with my laptop. here are some of the things the rest of the gang is up to:

Nerd card games...

Nerd card games…



Sunset walks on the beach...

Sunset walks on the beach…




Working complicated jigsaw puzzles...

Working complicated jigsaw puzzles…



Just watching the waves...

Just watching the waves…

and of course...

and of course…

So far, I’ve got the lads to the theater, where they will learn an important plot point…

Pina coladas anyone?


Tomorrow, we’re off to the coast for a week of relaxation and recharging. I’ll be working on the second Kye & the Kid novel – no title yet, but it’s all about some mysterious Hawaiian artifacts the lads must track down and return to their rightful owners.

Rivas B, Garden City Beach

Rivas B, Garden City Beach

I’ve always found the ocean to be a great place to renew my creative wellspring. Something about sitting on the deck (or porch in this case) with the salt air and the sound of the surf just inspires me to get back to work. I’ve got some good ideas for the latest book, and I’m hopeful that I can get a good bit of the novel reworked.

I know some people would think I’m deluding myself, saying I’m going to the beach to relax and write a novel. But for me, writing is very relaxing, especially when the creative juices are really flowing. I’m looking forward to getting back to the lads and their shenanigans.

2015 DragonCon Badge

2015 DragonCon Badge

Not that I’ve been sitting on my thumbs all this time. Here are some of my recent projects:

  • Planning for a Social Media panel at the upcoming Western Fictioneers convention
  • Writing my monthly Western Fictioneers blog article
  • Writing three e-books (10-50K)  under another pseudonym for a small-press publishing house – also have a short story coming out in one of their anthologies next month
  • Keeping up my supervisor duties over at WikiAnswers
  • Keeping up my daily FaceBook and Twitter posts
  • Attending DragonCon and taking their writing workshop

Wow … I’ve been busier than I’d realized. No wonder I’m tired! My next post will be from Garden City Beach!

More from the Writing Workshop

Advanced Characterization (Michael Stackpole)

All plot comes out of the characters – their needs, goals and interactions

“Your job as a writer is to torture and confuse your readers by torturing and confusing characters.”

7 Traits of Enduring Characters:

  1. They are always something of a mystery – it is a seduction of the reader by the writer
  2. They are worthy of redemption – something makes you think they’re capable of change
  3. They score high on one end of the loyalty-treachery scale
  4. They are internally consistent and reliable, but capable of generating surprise
  5. They consistently score high (or low) on self-sacrifice scale
  6. There is a love story attached to them somewhere
  7. They are able to succeed at tasks we cannot do


  • Character growth vs change – in episodic TV, the characters grow but don’t change (they end up in the same place as they started)
  • Change is temporary – characters do what they have to do to get the job done
  • Growth is permanent – an internal process as a result of external pressures where character makes a conscious decision to alter their behavior – that decision is key – the reader must know they have undergone growth
  • Negative growth is a refusal to change – this is really tough to write – it results in the dissolution of character, and is brutal on reader and writer both
  • Reversal – the character believes that a particular fact is true, but learns the opposite – they have to deal with brand new stuff they never thought existed before – the  reader will also be shocked – this can be little personal reversals or hidden motivations – look for things you can make not true
  • A great technique is betrayal – this creates an injustice, and readers inherently want to see it made right – the easiest are emotional betrayals – you can also have “reader betrayal” such as a love story that doesn’t quite sync up – also, betrayals that are mistakes – whichever sort you use, “emotional churning is absolutely what you want.”

“All fiction is the past erupting into the present.” ~James Sallis


  • The character wonders who they are, then you write out what they really are
  • Who does character want to be? Who does character need to be?
  • The character asks, “Who do they think I am? Who they want me to be? Who do they need me to be?”



Historical Fiction and Research (Bethany Kesler)

Start with Google/Wikipedia – get a general idea of what you want, then go for specifics.

Ask “What happened and why should I care?” Nothing happens in a vacuum.

Three Points:

  1. Authenticity (over accuracy – you’re not an actual historian)
  2. Plausibility
  3. Research

Research Tips:

  • Look for history texts – brief overviews (“Complete Idiot’s Guide to __”)
  • Books written in that era
  • Journals and diaries – try college websites/inter-library loans
  • Find a historian
  • Genealogical societies
  • Historical re-enactors
  • Historical blogs – Tumblr etc
  • Old maps
  • Antique stores
  • Family history
  • Census
  • Portraits, paintings
  • Try the BBC for UK history

Ask yourself who your characters are? When and where did they exist? Knights in Scotland are very different from Knights in Japan

How you get around can show what era you’re in as well.

Do your general research – then write the novel – add specific research as you go along for what you need – just remember to make notes instead of constantly stopping to search

Writing Workshop: Day 3

Editors for Hire (Chantelle Aimee Osman)

Once you’ve written “the end,” the journey is only half over. You must put out the best book you can – if it’s not, you might sell it, but they won’t come back for more.

A clean, polished manuscript can make all the difference – a copy editor is a must if you’re self-publishing and even if you’re going the traditional route, I recommend having your first 5-6 chapters gone over by a professional.

How much editing do you need? Most professional authors might get by with only one edit. Some people need 4-5 edits.

Do a read-only edit yourself before sending it to the editor – catch major errors and over-arching story problems before you send it off for a line edit or line and content edit.


The thing everyone is looking for is your passion on the page. Never write just for a trend. Write what you love to read, what you love to write.

Know your genre – don’t write a zombie vampire YA mystery with Western overtones.

The first two and last two chapters of your book are the most important – have a hook at beginning to make them need to turn the page – no backstory.


Style issues:

  • awkward phrasing, repeated phrasing
  • do not try to have a unique voice – just write your way and the voice will show through
  • the tighter, the better – cut unnecessary words
  • preaching is a no-no
  • watch for changes in tense or POV


“good dialogue is one of the most difficult and challenges a writer has”

Dialogue problems:

  • fake dialogue – not using contractions, very formal, awkward
  • dialogue to obviously advanced the plot “radio drama dialogue”
  • forced dialogue – do your research
  • too many trendy words date your work
  • show, don’t tell
  • make sure characters have distinct speech patterns
  • Read your dialogue (and everything else) aloud

Descriptive problems:

  • using the protagonist’s senses to relate information is a better way to show instead of description
  • avoid general descriptions (beautiful, nice, etc)
  • avoid laundry lists
  • watch out for repetition – favorite phrases and images, sentence structure – “crutch words”
  • combinations of words with the same meaning
  • a set of fresh eyes are valuable in catching these things
  • adjectives and adverbs – don’t use too many, never more than one together
  • cut 10-15% of your words
  • watch “to be” – try to avoid if possible (passive sentences)
  • no qualifiers like very or really
  • cliches (that also includes cliched descriptions and situations)
  • wrong word choices (towards instead of toward, affect/effect, etc)
  • watch for sentences with more than two commas – maybe two sentences instead
  • now it’s one space after a period
  • double check for possessives and plurals

“Punctuation is like a throw-pillow.” Doing the job without calling attention to itself

Errors in character:

  • characters must be unique, bring the readers back
  • know your characters well, give them clear motivation
  • must have goal and clear reason to work toward that goal
  • characters must grow
  • no stereotypes
  • outlandish names – names often paint a better picture than descriptives – you don’t want something that reader must stop reading to figure out how to pronounce it
  • misplaced or overly long backstory


  • if characters just go along without anything interesting happening, there’s no emotional attachment
  • every book should have basic essential question (who/what/where/how/why) – know what that question is and be able to resolve it in the end
  • don’t write about something you don’t know about
  • know your genre!

The End:

  • almost as important as the beginning – what’s going to sell the second book
  • resolution must make reader feel something
  • don’t keep readers wondering in a bad way (forgetting a plot point)

Now you’ve just started on your journey of queries, rejections, edits, cover designs, etc.


Social Media 101 for Creative People (Alison Sky Richards):

3 Points:

  1. Website (your store front)
  2. FaceBook (your billboards)
  3. Twitter (your conversation)

There are around 328 highly utilized social media sites – around 600 total



  1. Create an author (or book) page
  2. Create an author voice


  1. Be careful who you follow/allow to follow you – spambots and trolls
  2. Build dialogue and communication – look for your favorite authors and create communication
  3. Hashtags #amwriting, #amediting – scroll past photos to get to # feed at bottom of screen

Grab your author name on major social media sites – and URL


  1. Responsive design – allow for different devices
  2. Visual design – images get 10% more response than text
  3. Appearance – NO Comic Sans! Need an easy to read font like Verdana or Arial – nothing too trendy or crazy. Use tinted background instead of plain white – easier for most people to read. Red is also very visually attractive, but not fire-engine red
  4. Have your social media integrated
  5. Search Engine Optimization – takes a lot of work! Need to get a lot of people to look for a specific phrase and click on the website.
  6. Constantly re-evaluate your website. Check content for freshness and readability – average reading level is 8th grade – recommended website level 6th. Rebrand website to be most effective.