Thinking Inside the Frame: Using Photographs to Tell Your Story

When I teach memoir writing, my students are mostly women. Whenever we have a male in the classroom, the whole dynamic changes. Often, they don’t want to get too touchy-feely or pour their souls out for a public audience. That’s fine. There are as many types of memoir, as there are memoir writers.

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The exhibition.

In 2004 the Queensland Art Gallery purchased a collection of photographic images by the Australian society photographer, William Yang. These photos are a striking contrast to the gilt framed oils and quirky modern works throughout the gallery. They are a series of 30 black and white photographs, with one short paragraph hand-written under each photo: memoir in a new form… and even better, memoir in a strikingly simple and non-judgemental form. I took my class to view it, including our not so touchy-feely male (who was actually very warm and pleasant off paper.) Everyone walked out of the gallery inspired, considering how they could communicate conflicts and complex issues as easily.

William’s exhibition highlighted where his family had lived, their beliefs, their morals and their values. At no time was he ever judgemental about a family member or situation. He did release some skeletons from the family closet, but they were all his skeletons to set free. Out of respect, he waited until his close relatives were deceased before he did so. The picture he painted was realistic, but sensitive. I noticed that he honored his late mother in a simple and special way.

I was able to attend William's lecture at the gallery. He is inspirational in many ways.

I was able to attend William’s lecture at the gallery. He is inspirational in many ways.

As the Art Gallery owns the collection, they allowed me to take the photo shown above; but due to copyright, I cannot reproduce the works in an easier to see form. You can view their page on William here. Below is some of the text which was with the photos.

“In 1979 I had a bad case of hepatitis and I came back to the house of my mother to recuperate. My mother liked having me at home under her control. But I felt the life I had chosen to lead was not in Brisbane, and when I was half better, I went back to Sydney.”

“In his day your father was a very dashing man. He played saxophone in a dance band, and he wore silk shirts. He wouldn’t let me iron them, he did them himself. I couldn’t iron them good enough” I stared at my mother in disbelief. “He wasn’t like you know him.” She said.”

“Frances was my father’s favorite. She was the apple of his eye. I was my mother’s favorite child. There was a friction between my mother and my sister. They were both strong women.”

You can see how simple, but strong the message is. There are no angst-ridden emotional dissections, or lengthy one-sided speeches that could cause family arguments to erupt, or lose your interest amid the details. William got straight to the point. He chose the most important aspects of his family life and how they had affected him. That is always a safe place to focus on controversial topics: how they affected you, rather than who committed what sin.

So when you are writing, whatever your gender, use your freedom to be creative and original. Memoir doesn’t have to be a series of dates or plain paragraphs in a book. You can communicate through art, scrapbooking, photos, story quilts, music etc: it’s up to you. Any form of memoir should reflect your personality and interests in life. It should be representative of the main character: you.

It is your story to tell. Tell it your way.


Creative Commons License
This work, created and Copyright Cate Russell-Cole 2014 is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

#Search Engine Optimisation for #Indie Authors: How Far Should You Go?

There are many bloggers out there who still don’t know what SEO is. That is and isn’t a good thing. SEO is Search Engine Optimisation and for best practice, it is supposed to have a very large say in how you write book titles, web pages and blog posts. (There is an infographic explaining it at the base of this page.) A great idea? Yes, if kept in balance. There is one major worry with getting too carried away with it: you stop writing as yourself and allow yourself to be told what to do by a robot. Think about it…

Digital computations determine how easy it is for us to have our books found on Amazon, our Page posts read on Facebook, our web site or blog found on Google… They are awfully frustrating and if you want to claw your way to the top of the pile, you have to work – hard! You must sprinkle your keywords through your post, use meta tags on web pages, sprinkle matching keywords through your web pages, tweet, status update, Like, Plus 1, retweet, share and comment until your fingers fall off and your brain goes numb.

I did this asiduously throughout 2013 and got to the end of September and simply burnt out! I wasn’t tired of blogging, writing and people. It was those robotic demands that did me in. So I spent far less time on Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus. After reading a massive, endless stream of SEO and social media how-to posts, I came to the conclusion that as writers, we are possibly far better off writing in the attic, away from the computer and all this “wonderfully good advice.” Any available time I had in my week, was spent assuaging the gods of rank. So I quit! I’ve noticed that since I began to pull back in September, my visit stats and book sales didn’t drop much. They are growing.

1238999_450639671718505_835016741_nSo here is how I am now surviving online. I hope it inspires you and if you have further suggestions, I’d love to hear them!

  1. I will automate as many blog posts and shares as I can, so I can take time to see the sunshine and not be spending hours manually on social media. “I’m sorry Hal, I’m afraid I can’t do that.”
  2. I will not read any more SEO and social media how-to posts or books: instead I will be myself and stay tapped into my innate creativity identity.
  3. I will not get trapped in worrying about my statistics. If I get 2 Likes on a post and someone was inspired: I aced it! That is my main goal: encourage, equip, empower. Not rack up fat numbers.
  4. I will write the blog posts which are close to my heart, regardless of what posts pull in the greatest number of readers.
  5. I will market my books with titles that make sense to the content of the book and are not used elsewhere. I will not calculate words on what sells.

In business, if something does not pull in sales, you stop doing it. Yet online, many of us tend to jump feet first into the latest and greatest next thing, perhaps in the hope it will propel us to stardom? That doesn’t work. It simply chews away more of our time and sanity.

It is all about sanity. If I have to mutiny against binary calculations, the numbers game and everyone’s marvellous advice, then I will. Join me… your creative soul is worth more than this.


If you want to know more about SEO, check this infographic from nerdyface.com

SEO_IG


REBLOGS WELCOMED

IMG_0204Note from Cate: this post was published last year under a different title, but there was a technical glitch and it never got proper promotion. As it received great comments from those who did read it, I have updated, improved and published it again.

This article / blog post is Copyright Cate Russell-Cole 2013 and adapted in 2014. All rights are reserved Internationally. You may not reproduce it in any form, in part of whole, without Cate’s prior written permission. That includes usage in forms such as print, audio and digital imaging including pdf, jpg, png etc. A fee may be requested for re-using her work if it is for a commercial venture. Link sharing and Pinterest pins are most welcome as long as Cate is the attributed Author.

TRUTH BOMB: Sometimes (okay, lots of times) I Want To Quit

Cate Russell-Cole:

We have all been there… thanks Myndi for giving us reasons NOT to quit.

(Yes, I know I am on holidays, but this was too good not to log in and share!)

Originally posted on Myndi Shafer:

quitterLately I’ve been asking myself this question:

What would happen if I were to quit writing?

I think every writer gets to this point eventually (at least that’s what I’m telling myself). The new shiny has worn off. The over-the-moon-I’m-so-in-love-with-what-I’m-doing feeling goes away. Inspiration dries up to nothing more than a brittle bag of bones that if you shake together real hard might amount to a paragraph or two. And we’re not talking Hemingwayesqe brilliance that makes up for the scant word-count. We’re talking shaky drivel that makes I CAN HAZ CHEEZBURGR look like soul-stealing genius.  

And so I ask myself, what would happen if I were to quit?

Life would immediately become simpler. I wouldn’t have to structure my days so intensely. Family time wouldn’t feel so urgent because writing wouldn’t be putting any demands on our schedule. I could cook and clean and play when I want…

View original 523 more words

#Romance University for Writers: A Gold Class #Writing Site

Printhttp://romanceuniversity.org

Purpose: Dedicated to helping writers establish and advance their careers, introducing readers to a variety of authors, and delving into the ever-inscrutable male mind.

Monday: Crafting Your Career
Most writers begin writing because they love the process–using just the right word, crafting the perfect sentence, giving life to imaginary people. However satisfying the writing process, many writers begin to want more. The want people to read about and love those imaginary folks. Okay–they want people to pay to read about those imaginary folks. Join us each Monday at RU where we’ll discuss the business of writing or career topic. Visiting Professors (guest bloggers) often stop by the school to offer advice.

Wednesday: Anatomy of the Mind
This is the day we explore every facet of writing, reading, and men.

Friday: Chaos Theory of Writing
On Fridays, RU Faculty along with industry professionals and established authors will focus on the elements of manuscript writing. Tips to help you hone your craft and write a damn fine book. After all, it will be your writing that will catch (and retain) the interest of a lucky agent or editor.We’ll tap into our own experiences, share what’s working and what isn’t as we chase our dreams of becoming published authors. We’ll also discuss advice from our favorite writing reference books and websites. So join us each Friday to experience the chaos of writing.”

Gold class sites

Sanity Saving Blogging Resources

Be UniqueLife flies by at an insane pace… I constantly miss or have to dash past blog posts I want to and need to read. In case you missed it, here are the resources I shared during Blog Taming Month in February. A few extras are thrown in, just because I can… Happy scribing and remember, forget the musts, the have-tos and the myriad of experts. Your best success comes by being yourself!

Micro-Blogging: An Idea to Experiment With

Blogging Survival: Get Ahead by Scheduling

Services Which Make Your Blog Easy to Follow

Surviving BIG Blogging Mistakes

Blog Sidebars: Easy Ways to Add Whatever You Want

Are Your Blogging Goals Slipping? Help to Get Focussed Using Planners and Organisers

Building Community Spirit in the Blogosphere

Is Your Blog Trapping You or Helping You Fly?

Savvy Blogging Cover Image 2If you want even more… and why wouldn’t you? All blog maintenance and promotion posts here on CommuniCATE can be accessed by this category link. Or you can save yourself the trouble and download the free .pdf ebook, which saves you scrolling and reading through all those posts online. This is the download link. It is safe, with no strings attached and comes from my web site.

Chapters Include:

  • Blog Treasures Hidden in Plain Sight
  • Get Yourself A Second Brain
  • Slack, Fake and Egocentric Followers: How to Pick Them!
  • Blog Post Promotion on Social Media: Instantly Hooking Reader Attention
  • Sometimes, It Just Goes Wrong: When to Ditch!
  • The Best Kept Editing Secret
  • 10% On Top: Being a More Efficient Writer
  • Professional, Effective Author Sites: The Problems With Using Blogs
  • Cleaning the Cobwebs Out of Blogs: Reader Engagement and Content Value
  • Guest Posting as Advertising: How To Be Professional and Be Asked Back
  • Your Individuality is Your Greatest Asset: Writing and Marketing as You
  • Faulty-Tasking
  • The Road to Success is Paved by Free-Sharing

Have fun!


This blog post by Cate Russell-Cole is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. You are free to share and adapt it.

A Needed Reminder on the Rewards of Writing

We all stress as writers: bad reviews, low blog stats, poor interaction with readers, horrible sales figures, word counts not met, trolls and idiots, technological hassles… there are so many issues. For some reason we tend to focus heavily on them. Maybe the creative process just brings our insecurities to the fore?

While wandering around Twitter I found this profile which gave me a much-needed jerk back to reality.

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Guess which is more fun: it’s not hard. It’s the writing. That is why we got into it in the first place!

I decided to follow Mervat. I like her attitude and on bad days, I hope it rubs off on me.

Go have some fun.

 

N.B. This image was used without her permission, but Twitter is public. Please follow and support @miminov70


This blog post by Cate Russell-Cole is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. You are free to share and adapt it.

#Character Archetypes Treasure Troves for #Writers

I promised myself this year, that I would get back to fiction writing and I will… write that is… once I stop having a field day planning characters personalities, strengths and weaknesses; and plotting about how I can weave all that into plots.

Delve into the inspiring world of character archetypes and see what comes out. There are a few hundred to choose from and you will be intrigued by how assigning roles to people (especially couples), fuels ideas!

If you are asking, what is an archetype, here is the definition: a recurrent symbol or motif in literature, art, or mythology; mid 16th cent.: via Latin from Greek arkhetupon ‘something moulded first as a model.’

Original Source Embedded in Graphic

Original Source Embedded in Graphic


This blog post by Cate Russell-Cole is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. You are free to share and adapt it.

Writing Historically Based Books: Author Philippa Gregory

The-Other-Boleyn-Girl-by-Philippa-Gregory“Philippa Gregory was an established historian and writer when she discovered her interest in the Tudor period and wrote the novel The Other Boleyn Girl which was made into a tv drama, and a major film. Now, six novels later, she is looking at the family that preceded the Tudors: the magnificent Plantaganets, a family of complex rivalries, loves, and hatreds.” Sourced from her web site, http://www.philippagregory.com

These videos are on how she researches her books and is drawn to work on the main characters. It’s a fascinating process, which I enjoyed hearing about. If you are a lover of research or historical fiction, you’ll be inspired by watching these clips.

How NOT to look like a total loser on #Twitter: Social Media Professionalism

2014-02-24_08-58-36There are services out there which are incredibly useful to have, particularly if you like proper stats on where you’re at. However, openly advertising that you use these services can make you look like a woeful failure if you don’t have a massive following. For example:

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That was one of the more cheery ones I saw this morning. 224 people walking away is a lot! I would be worrying if these were my stats.

I see numerous notices like this go through my stream every day. They are auto-generated. All services spit out these ads. If I use one, I go into Twitter fast and delete them. Plus, if I pay to subscribe to a service, I will remove all automatic options to have these services air my private laundry at their will.

I would never advocate not using these sites to clean up your following. They also removed dormant accounts and have many benefits. They are too good to ignore. Benefits include:

  • Finding inactive users and your unfollowers.
  • Finding relevant users to follow.
  • Keeping track of how your social media updates affect your follower/unfollower stats.
  • Checking the relationship between any accounts and doing a whole lot more (for a price on services this good).

I would recommend you never auto-follow anyone using them though: not only do automatic DMs mean I know you are insincere and have never seen me; you also follow every spammer out there, thinking you’ve got great stats when you’ve only got snake oil merchants and porn…

So be aware of who advertises what in your Twitter stream and how it makes you look. You won’t be sorry you did.

P.S. May I present to you the other side of the argument? Note that when you have many followers, this isn’t an issue but if you have a small number, the above still applies.

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This blog post by Cate Russell-Cole is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. You are free to share and adapt it.

realisticfiction

Do You Write by Heart or Head? Technique Overload

Complexities that put me off my game.

Complexities that put me off my game.

When does studying the craft of writing stop you or inhibit your work? That is a question which some of us need to ask. Writing has become more than a plotter or pantser issue, it can come down to science vs your instincts as a bard.

I like to know I am doing things the right way. However, in branching back out into fiction, I am finding the more I read about what to include, the more nervous I am becoming with my writing. I look at images on Pinterest, like the one on the right, feeling bemused, hemmed in, inadequate and I am stunned into inaction by a fear of failure. What if the “right” way is not my way? Jane Austen wrote without all this!

Since I originally studied writing, main characters have become protagonists and there are also antagonists, contagonists, deuteragonists… what? Deuteragonists are the main secondary characters. Why can’t we just say that! How many aspiring authors are being scared away? I often get the feeling you I am being told to be perfect and write a specific way, rather than being allowed to just write down that story I need to tell.

There are things I need at the beginning: plot arcs, descriptions, body language, emotional reactions which are realistic, archetypes as a guideline and character profiles (such as the Enneagram); however, I need to begin to ignore many technical articles or stash them for later in the writing process.

Things that freak me out when I am writing a new story for the first time:

  • Dos and Don’ts for the Last 10,000 words of your story.
  • What you should write and when : hook, plot point, response, mid point, attack, plot point, climax, resolution… complete nervous breakdown?
  • Structuring Your Story’s Scenes, Pt. 5 (What if I don’t fit neatly into all that? Did I fail?)
  • 200,000,000 ways to say that, went, and or whatever, which makes me feel like I need to watch every word as it comes out.
  • Revealing secrets, pivotal information etc. for maximum impact on a very detailed, precise manner. (What if I don’t fit neatly into all that? I really stink at this, don’t I!)
  • The First Five Pages. A writer’s guide to staying out of the rejection pile. (That has to come with editing, you can’t get that right, straight off the bat!)
  • The most annoying type of story conflict / the most hated antagonist readers will throw the book down after reading etc.

You get the picture.

My answer: learn slowly as you go; be open to new ideas but don’t let them mash you into a one-size-fits-all, formatted cliché like a Hollywood blockbuster movie… You need to get that story down before you can start working on perfecting it.


This blog post by Cate Russell-Cole is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. You are free to share and adapt it.

#Blogging and Realistic Goals: Don’t Be Crushed by the Pressure

ROW80LogocopyIn 2012 I discovered A Round of Words in 80 Days (ROW80). One thing we all have in common with our writing is life sure does get in the way! It’s unavoidable and you just have to go with it. Even taking a day off to have fun can be necessary in our creative lives. The trick is, to do it without the guilt… and in people’s update posts, I frequently read an awful lot of guilt!

ROW80 shares the same blogging philosophy I have. “We are all different and we all have different demands on our time. Why should we all have the same goal? The simple answer is that we shouldn’t. If you want to be a writer, then you have to be able to roll with the punches and adapt to your changing circumstances. If that means changing your goals when your life blows up, so be it. ROW80 is the challenge that champions the marriage of writing and real life.” (The next round starts in early April.)

I like the emphasis on the goals being achievable. That is the secret ingredient to any goal. There must be flexibility and a sense of reality. However, despite how Kait Nolan has emphasized the easy-going nature of the challenge, I keep seeing writers listing masses of goals: far more than 80 days worth! NaNoWriMo is another example that concerns me in as far as mental and creative health are concerned. The word count allows for no days off for an entire month and a very high output. It’s too short and writers stress, particularly when they hit plot problems and again, real life gets in the way. Why we are so insistent on deliberately placing ourselves under high-achievement related stress?

sunriseThe happiest bloggers seem to be the ones who have three goals at the most. These goals aren’t back-breaking and they have a balanced attitude which accepts that some days they may fail; some days they may come close; some days they will achieve above and beyond and that is all good. The strategy which brings a cheer from me, is seeing writers list the rewards they will give themselves on achieving their goals. A small treat, some ‘me’ time, a fun activity which refreshes and pulls them away from their desk. It’s a great idea. I love it!

Reaching your goals and dreams by making small changes, seems to work the best for most people. Trying to revolutionize our entire lives in one effort leaves us tired and discouraged. Small changes are the ones that stick. They are less likely to fizzle into failures and regrets.

Go easy and be kind to yourself!

Work, family, finances, holidays, sickness and the occasional crisis will always be there to keep you away from putting words on paper. Your success as a writer depends as much on how you deal with that, as it does on how much output you have. As a writer there is a massive laundry list of demands you are supposed to meet to succeed, plus I know how easy it is to get enthusiastically carried away with everything you want to achieve. However, please do take the time to step back, reassess your direction and see if you need to cut back on your goals to maximize your creative energy. It is not a sign of failure to do that, it’s a sign of wisdom.


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All rights are reserved Internationally. You may not reproduce it in any form, in part of whole, without Cate’s prior written permission. That includes usage in forms such as print, audio and digital imaging including pdf, jpg, png etc. A fee may be requested for re-using her work if it is for a commercial venture. 

Link sharing and Pinterest pins are most welcome as long as Cate is the attributed Author.

The sunrise is a purchased istockphoto.com image licensed to me. You are not legally able to re-use it in any manner, neither may you adapt it without risking litigation from the source.

Controlling How Much of YOU Appears in Your Fiction

SlidingthroughyourfingersAs you write, you write out of your own experiences, no matter what the genre. It is a cliché but parts of you are always going to bleed through your keyboard to the reader. Your life is teaching you plot, characterization, behaviour traits and all the essentials needed to build a fully-formed, believable work of fiction… and that is good. However, you may not want your novel to be a kiss and tell where your subconscious has dobbed you in, through character personality traits, conflicts and experiences.

Consciousness is the key to control. If you have journaled about your feelings and experiences in life, you will discover themes and events which will enable you to identify what is too much you. Plus you’re building a resource you can use to craft a better story. It could be likened to a mini self-service and/or character psychology course. It’s a lot cheaper than taking your novel to a therapist!

The act of physically writing out something which has happened helps to clarify events, giving you a new perspective on how and why things happened as they did. It’s a great plot formation tool that will both inspire your fiction… and keep you off the page! You are creating your own privacy control options, enabling you to effectively edit out the parts that are too close to the way you think or act.

However, don’t become paranoid about self-revelation:

“Let some of you come through. You’re obviously not writing a memoir here, but this book is still partly about you: the world you see, the way you think, the experiences you have with people. And trust me, readers are interested in who you are. So don’t be afraid to let bits and pieces of your personality and even life details seep into the text. It will breathe a lot of life into the book.” David Shenk

May I challenge you to get a journal and start to write about your life, your feelings and how you see the world. Look at how much may have slid through into your fictional work… and what comes out that you didn’t expect. It is a journey that will reward you in many ways.

For helpful information on journalling, go to Journal Chat with Dawn Herring, or Write for Life with Nathan Ohren.


REBLOGS WELCOMED

This article / blog post is Copyright Cate Russell-Cole 2014. All rights are reserved Internationally. You may not reproduce it in any form, in part of whole, without Cate’s prior written permission. That includes usage in forms such as print, audio and digital imaging including pdf, jpg, png etc. A fee may be requested for re-using her work if it is for a commercial venture. 

Link sharing and Pinterest pins are most welcome as long as Cate is the attributed Author.

What is Nagging for Book Sales, What is Marketing? The Difference…

qqffb_1285058022796Trying to get the balance right in promoting blog posts and book sales gives me nightmares. I have looked at what Twitter recommends and what the social media marketing people recommend and there is a notable discrepancy. It seems Twitter wants to keep spam and server overload to a minimum, whereas the marketers understand the need to stand out from the crowd. Here is the balanced middle ground:

1. Only Tweet 7-20 times a day: no more or fingers will itch over that Unfollow button. All Twitter makes an interesting point about over-tweeting. Which proves that tweet nagging will knock you out of the game:

TrackSocial took a look at the tweets from top brands to determine whether brands who tweeted more saw more retweets. And the findings are interesting… we begin to see a “sweet spot…” When they tweet 4 to 5 times per day, brands see over 300% more retweets per tweet than when they tweet just once. But the percentage of retweets per tweet drops when brands tweet more than 5 times per day…”

2. Mix your content! I unfollow anyone who tweets the same promotion multiple times a day, every day of the week! Post relevant videos, images, interact with people, promote your blog posts with quick content quotes in them etc. Have a series of different tweets for different books that you rotate over weeks.

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3. There are many different opinions on what time of day is the best time for Twitter. It depends on your time zone, type of followers… you will slowly get to know what works for you. If like me, you work Internationally, there is no easy answer.

4. Talk to people, be genuine and be a real face online: not just a hard core seller. Twitter recommends you cover behind the scenes information too, not just sales and marketing. Tell people a little about how you work, what you like etc. Don’t err on the side of putting your personal life out there too much, but be human, not just “buy my stuff!”

6. Be professional. If you are selling your work, Twitter is not a good place to list your writing battles and insecurities. You can appear completely incompetent!

7. Follow about 10 new people a day to build your presence without spamming. Never or rarely mass unfollow people who don’t follow you. That is identified by Twitter’s watchdogs as spam activity. New research also shows that paying for followers achieves nothing: as do using gimmicks which guarantee follow backs. They just add you to their numbers, they don’t “see you.”

social-media-sins

Infographic Source:

http://info.reallyb2b.com/blog-hs/bid/332063/The-Seven-Deadly-Sins-of-Social-Media-INFOGRAPHIC


This blog post by Cate Russell-Cole is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. You are free to share and adapt it.

When You Feel Like Originality Has Passed You By…

Meridan PlainsIt was during the early 1990′s that I started to write “The Chronicles of Mirchar.” This was before the Internet, it had never been published and I felt my place and character names were pretty safe. I’d never seen them anywhere.

Then around 2003 or so, my husband and I were on holidays in a coastal area I had never been to. This area was fairly new and the suburb name: Meridan Plains. They had “stolen” my continent name! Even though my series was long since abandoned at the time… and had never seen the light of day outside my desk… I still felt the sting of losing my exclusive name. As I had (stupidly) destroyed my original manuscripts, I didn’t even have the satisfaction of storming into their local Council office to demand answers. “Where did you get this from, it was mine!” You know how it is when you get attached to your work. You take the oddest things rather personally…

I went online, checked all my old character names, had a little cry at my lack of originality and vowed to never, ever repeated the mistake. I would research all my names in case I had subconsciously “acquired” someone else’s idea. Then I was working on a name for a key character earlier this year and liked the name “Mirabelle.” I hadn’t read anything where it was used by my favourite authors and it looked safe to me. I did no further checking. It was just an old fashioned girl’s name. A few weeks later, I opened the cupboard. Months earlier we had changed light bulb types and voila!

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[Epic facepalm!] I named a favourite character after a light bulb. Please hold back on the “she must be a bright spark,” jokes! So much for learning that lesson. Though there is one thing I did learn from that: no matter what the genre, you don’t have to be perfect all the time… have fun and do what you want anyway. As one idea leads to another, then yet another, you never know what may come from it.

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If you ever need it, this is how you name characters, places and construct languages in fantasy stories.
keepcalmandloveminions

Character images property of Universal Studios.

1. Base them on known sounds and words so they strike a familiar chord with readers and don’t sound fake. Case in point, in the movie Despicable Me 2, the Minions call an apple “papple” and their banana language comes from a mix of many languages including Spanish, French, English etc. They will say “belo” instead of “hello.” You get the picture, it’s just close enough to sound right to our ears.

2. Building a fantasy language is a mammoth task! Try and stick to key phrases such as patriotic slogans, greetings and commonly used words, unless you head goes spinning off or you feel a strong need to sue someone, when you find out they used YOUR word!

3. Link your language into cultural elements: eg. In the Game of Thrones, in the Dothraki culture the word graddakh means “one who walks.” This is a status inference. You are worthy or unworthy as you are able to ride, or are too weak or forbidden to ride. It reflects your societal value. Using words like that gives them a great deal of power.

4. Document your language very well so you don’t contradict yourself, can build a glossary on your web site or into your books, and hey, if you get to the level of Sir Terry Pratchett, you can make a mint out of it. Or have people playing your equivalent of Klingon Boggle (video below for the Big Bang Theory fans).

5. Learn to be at peace with the fact that you will probably never get a totally original name or word and that’s OK. If it is recognisable as a possible native tongue, you aced it!

Creative Commons License

This work, created and Copyright Cate Russell-Cole 2014 is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Lessons Learnt by a Slightly Lost, Irish, Novel Researcher

20141703Last week on Triberr I read another writer’s post about seven crazy things she’d done in the name of novel research. Some were so risky, I am amazed she didn’t get arrested! It made me feel somewhat better about myself. As today is St Patrick’s Day, it’s a good time to share the lessons I am learning in my own novel research.

Quick Background: I am resurrecting and updating my old “Chronicles of Mirchar” series with a Celtic identity. It is set within a solar system of seven related planets; features warriors who are several thousand years old who still work with daggers, swords and warhorses… and the whole process of putting it together between migraines has been an epic learning curve.

celticshamrock

The Lessons:

1. If you want to write descriptions well and understand a little more about your character’s discomforts, challenges and joys, it helps to actually own or be familiar with objects they use. For example, horse tack, daggers, swords, saddles: all the cool stuff! I went and bought a bitless bridal that hangs over my desk. Being able to handle the leather, see how non-slip reigns are constructed (and how much they would hurt your hands, gloves or not, after a few hours) is invaluable. I can’t ride for medical reasons, I had to find out somehow. Don’t let “you can’t,” get in the way!

2. If you are dealing with tricky subjects like weapons, which are frowned on in this part of the world unless you own a farm, check with Customs import rules, before you get up the sales hopes of an awesome bladesmith and fall in love with the dagger you have to have. (Sorry Jeff, I can’t get anything remotely that good here.) They don’t like untreated leather products and all kinds of things, so if using International mail, check before you get your heart broken.

3. When you see a HUGE sign that says, “Pattons Big Gun” and it is in a semi-rural area… before you drive the 14 miles back to visit the gun shop, (hoping they will have a dagger or some blade advice,) C.H.E.C.K. Google to find out what that business really does.

Here is what I saw:

Underwooda

If I had looked at the full signage and not the gun, I would have discovered it was a butcher. Plus… the one I went to had just gone out of business and their shop was being refitted for someone else. Epic facepalm! We couldn’t even buy dinner for our trouble.

Underwood

4. Horses drool. Can someone please keep reminding me of that one? I will need that reminder when I go to the local Riding School to bombard them with equine behaviour questions. Knowing my luck, I am expecting a horse to eat my question list. ;-) Just after I’ve written down the answers too…

5. Don’t be afraid of criticism, stupid questions, or of taking pride in your work. Yes, I own a mane comb, hoof pick and bridle (they help me remember how big those animals are. I am a city dweller, I need help with proportions.) They sit in a public spot in my house where people are in and out… and we are just waiting for someone to ask if the bridle hanging off the curtain rail is actually something that would feature in a More Cowbell post. (Love your work Jenny!) No, it’s not… but it does remind me of some of the awful back braces I had to wear as a kid.

So want one!!!!!!!!!!!!!

So want one!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I have found most people I have talked to (non-writers) think it’s great I am writing, doing something new despite my health and my horse-loving friends are looking at me with new light in their eyes. I have learnt to talk to my husband in a calm, confident voice, when visiting the local Saddlery. “That hoof pick is for Charlotte.” (Actually, it is, as I need to learn about what she needs. Charlotte is a 16 hands, Thoroughbred, bay coloured, brood mare; bred to Turbot, latest foal is Danae; no bit required due to horse-rider spiritual connection – I have totally got this!) I can now do things like that without feeling like an idiot and when asked by saddlery staff why no bit, I have an answer.

I have lifted saddles to test the strain they put on riders backs when saddling a horse; showed disgust at the time-saving el cheapo options for horses (no class and you don’t bond with your animal as much) and on staff request, could demonstrate a clear understanding of why I have to use saddle soap on my bridle. All in public, which normally I would cringe at… How: I have read, read, read and read. And thank God for Youtube how-to channels and a very patient husband, who still thinks I am a bit weird in public. I know she is not real… but how do you define real when you are working with characters and the horses will function as secondary characters.

If you work hard, you can hold your head up, have a great deal of fun (minus anything involving weapons) and learn things you never knew.

Now all I want is a miniature donkey as a pet. Why not? It’s research! (And a Clydesdale… ok, can I have a Scottish Claymore sword too? Plus a Celtic dagger, a complete horse grooming brush set, a Dublin Riding top, funky cowgirl boots…)

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