Utilizing Name Generators Feels Like Cheating

I’ve never been interested in using a name generator. I first found out about them earlier this year, and from the get-go they struck me as cheating. Why do I bother writing if I can’t even come up with my own names?

For anyone who doesn’t know, name generators are exactly what they sound like. You hit a button, and they populate the screen with random names that you can use for characters, cities, geography, pretty much anything you can think of.

I usually don’t struggle with naming characters. That comes pretty easily to me. Anything else, though? That’s pretty hard. Cities. Villages. Lakes. Even the kingdom in my fantasy project is currently unnamed. I feel like a name should mean something, not just be a compilation of letters, but I can’t seem to figure out what it should be. The regions of my kingdom? Northern Region, Central Region, Southern Region, Lakeshore Region. Fairly unimaginative, I know, but appropriate for the role they play.

Whenever possible, I try to find a play on words and incorporate foreign words into my naming. For example, the Southern Region of my kingdom is based on Celtic names, so one of my main  coastal cities is named Halvard, which means “defending the rock”.  Hodder River runs next to the capital city, Hodder meaning “peaceful”.

I really struggled this past week. I needed to name a mountain range, and my mind was just drawing a blank. So, against my better judgment, I turned to a name generator. I don’t remember which one, it just happened to be the first of the search results listed. I prowled through the list, and nothing really resonated with me. Many of the results simply looked like someone pulled letters out of a hat and stuck them together to make a word. And, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get used to the idea of using a name that something else chose for me. It still felt like cheating.

So, I closed it out and started doing some mountain research. Searching mountain ranges got me nowhere, since most of those are easily identifiable: Rockies. Alps. Cascades. Andes. But individual mountains, not so much. The Northern Region of my kingdom is based on the Vikings, so I focused my search on Scandinavian mountains, and I finally hit home. When you find the right name, something just clicks inside your brain. There’s a mountain in Sweden named Areskutan Mountain, so I stole it and named my range the Areskutan Mountain Range. I think it fits, and I’m completely comfortable using it.

I don’t know why I feel differently about using name generators versus names that already exist. Someone else came up with the name “Areskutan”. I didn’t. Yet stealing that name sits just fine with me, while using a name generator doesn’t. I wish I knew if published authors use name generators, but I don’t have a way to find out. I posted a question about it on a writing forum, but I only got a handful of answers. Three, to be exact, from people who do use them when writing fantasy or paranormal works. But they’re in the same boat I am, so I don’t know how much weight their opinion carries.

I know that in the end it all comes down to personal preference, just like any issue that arises when you’re trying to write a book. It’s all subjective, which is sometimes good and sometimes really bad. For now, I’m going to continue to eschew name generators. I’m not comfortable with them, and using them would make me less comfortable with my story, and that would be a bad thing indeed.

Writer friends: Do you use name generators? What are your thoughts on them?

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Divine By Blood

I finished P.C. Cast’s Divine By Blood this weekend, and I can honestly say I have no intention of ever reading these books again. It wasn’t terrible, truly, I know a lot of people who would probably enjoy it. They’re casual readers, who enjoy light reads and don’t have the same high standards for their books that I do.

If you’ve read my other posts on Divine By Mistake and  Divine By Choice, then you’ll know that I’ve had my reservations throughout this entire trilogy (and, even though it is a trilogy, I’ve had a hard time finding an exact name for it). Even though I was hesitant, I was still a little excited about the third book because it was the only one I hadn’t read before. Once I started, though, I had a bit of a hard time getting into it. I made it halfway through and had to stop for the night, and it took about a day for me to convince myself to pick it back up again.

Overall, my concerns with this one mirror my concerns with the others. The main character, Morrigan (grown-up daughter of Rhiannon), experiences extreme changes in a matter of days and has reactions that I don’t think are believable. She was raised in Oklahoma, and found out about Partholon only hours before she gets drug through a cave and into the other world. Despite this, she is perfectly content to stay in Partholon and take up a new role as priestess to a goddess she didn’t even know existed.

She meets Kegan (a centaur High Shaman who is the mirror of her crush, Kyle, from Oklahoma), and in less than 2 days they’re pledging their love for each other and deciding to get married. Seriously. Nobody falls in love in less than 2 days. Lust, yes. Love, no.

These faults aside, my main issue is with the overall structure of the book. It doesn’t simply tell Morrigan’s story. As the last book in the trilogy, it spends time wrapping up Rhiannon’s story, Shannon’s story, introduces and tells part of Shannon’s daughter, Myrna’s, story, in addition to telling a complete story about Morrigan. It’s a lot to juggle, and it’s a bit messy. I feel like these pieces were simply thrown in to wrap everything up in a neat little bow without giving the stories due diligence or attention.

Morrigan’s story also mirrors Shannon’s, almost exactly. Little details are different, but the basic arc is the same. As I already mentioned, Morrigan is pulled through to Partholon to find herself priestess to a goddess she didn’t know existed. She decides to stay and take up this role with no desire or attempt to find her way back home. There’s one character who knows the truth about where she came from (Alanna for Shannon, Birkita for Morrigan), and coaches her through her responsibilities so she can “fake it till she makes it”. She falls almost instantly in love with a centaur High Shaman, seamlessly adjusting to the fact that centaurs exist.

During her whirlwind relationship with Kegan, they share conversations that are nearly identical to conversations had by Shannon and ClanFintan in Divine By Mistake: Centaurs are real. As a High Shaman, they can shape shift into human form, so they’re perfectly capable of mating with human females. Centaurs run hotter and have more stamina than either a man or a regular horse. Shannon/Morrigan is hesitant about touching the centaur, but is won over by their boundless lust. The act of riding the centaur (like a horse) is an act of extreme intimacy, and is used to draw Shannon/Morrigan in close. It makes sense that new characters would need to learn these things, but it’s painful for the reader, who already knows them, to have to reread everything again.

It’s obvious that I’m not impressed with these books, and my opinion of them has steadily gone downhill with each subsequent one. I will still carry fond memories of Divine By Mistake, since it is quite a unique story and I have good memories of my first time reading it. I’m glad to have read all of them, if only to broaden my reading experiences and have books in this category that I actually have negative opinions of. It was a good learning experience.

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Reworking My Goals

I’m not going to finish this draft on time. I don’t know if I mentioned it on here (I prowled through my old posts, but I couldn’t find anywhere I explicitly stated it), but my goal was to have a complete first draft by the end of the year. From there, I figured about a month or so for rewriting and editing, a month for it to be out to my beta readers, then another month or so of more rewriting and editing. All told, I figured I’d be ready to send it out sometime in the early spring.

That isn’t going to happen. To get there, I needed to be writing 2 chapters a week. And I just spent 3-4 weeks on chapter 10. Now, with only 8 weeks left in the year, it’d be highly unlikely I could finish on time, even if I were able to put in the 2 chapters a week. I don’t know how many chapters are left in my story, but there’s every chance it’ll be more than 16. Not to mention my current rate of work. I’ve picked it up a bit, but it still took me a whole week to do chapter 11 (which isn’t quite done, but one more session should do it).

My available time to write may well be shrinking within the near future, too. Financial concerns have me looking for a part-time job, and, while I haven’t heard anything yet, the possibility is still there.

It’s a bit of a bummer. This was the first project where I really set myself a deadline, and now I’m not going to make it. Still, the deadline is burned into my brain. I’m going to push for it, and see how far I can make it before time is up. Only then will I have a realistic idea of how far I need to extend that deadline.

I’m still proud of myself. And, truly, the only one who’s pushing me to meet that deadline is me. It’s still important to keep commitments I make to myself, but also perfectly okay for me to decide it’s not working and make a different plan.

Talk to me in the comments. Do you set deadlines for yourself? How often do you keep them?

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NaNoWriMo is upon us! For non-writers out there, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, which is, of course, the month of November. The point is to set a daily writing goal, and complete 50,000 words over the course of a month (you can find the official website here).

I have a confession to make. I’ve never done NaNoWriMo. I first heard about it a couple of years ago, and I really wanted to do it, but at the time I was working a lot and honestly didn’t believe I would be able to put in the time necessary. I wasn’t writing consistently at the time, and the daily goal of about 1,600 words seemed impossible.

Some days that daily goal still seems impossible. There are some days I don’t write at all. Some days I try, and only manage to eek out 1,000 words or less. Even on my best days, I’m lucky to hit 2,000 words. So each year I think about it, but I never really have the desire to sign up.

NaNoWriMo is somewhat disputed in the writing community. I’ve heard arguments on both sides of the issue. On the pro side, the challenge helps writers by giving them a static goal, allowing them to track their progress, and to focus simply on getting words onto a page. They don’t have to be the best words, and editing is discouraged. The sole goal is to just throw them out there and see how far you can get. Some writers may need that, that motivation to just write and not re-think everything.

On the con side, the challenge makes writing a forced activity. The idea of having to meet a specific word goal puts too much pressure on the writer to write those words and doesn’t allow the story to flow the way it is supposed to. The challenge is marketed as “Write a novel in a month!”. But 50,000 words is only 50-75% of a novel, if that, depending on your genre and target audience. So, even if you complete the challenge, you still haven’t written an entire novel. Another con is the quality of the writing. If your sole goal is put words on a page, then you’re not putting them there in the best way possible. Even if you finish, your story will still require significant editing and rewriting to really shine.

Both sides have merit. I’m not taking either one. I don’t feel drawn to do it, and I’m not passing judgment on those who do. But I do love what it represents. Check out the following statistics from wikiwrimo:  in 1999, the challenge only had 21 participants. Fast forward to 2016, and there were 384,126 participants! That’s 384,126 people who made a decision to take their writing to the next level, who made a commitment, who tried. And that’s inspiring.

Talk to me in the comments. Do you participate in NaNoWriMo? What are your thoughts?

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